Tag Archives: singer-songwriter

Who cares if you’re a one-hit wonder?

who cares if you're a one-hit wonder? mary kastle musician bowen island bc canadaA musician I know and respect recently posted about the Grammys on Facebook saying that he “doesn’t follow pop music”, but wondered “if most [Grammy] ‘winners’ create anything of lasting artistic value.” Wow. I found that to be a very bold statement given that he claimed not to know any of the music these artists produced. Shortly after, I saw another post by an established folk musician ranting about the quality of the music featured on the Grammys. And by the size of comment thread after both of these posts, it seems like a common sentiment among musicians in many alternative genres.

I think that we do ourselves a disservice as musicians to start debasing the “value” of certain music over others. Back in college I took linguistics and the very first lesson my teacher taught us was that when analyzing language one could never attribute a value to one language over another. Or even to the “level” of language, for example how slang is considered lower class than Shakespearian English. Why? Because fundamentally language develops among people to communicate. And if it is doing that, then it’s serving its primary purpose. We can certainly observe the different qualities of each vernacular, but to ascribe a value to any language is a slippery slope because it quickly becomes a subjective judgement of something that is merely a representation of an idea.

I agree that the Grammys are a bit of racket celebrating sex, showmanship, and money in entertainment. But there are lots of people who love the music produced by those artists. Who are we to judge what they may or may not take from it? If any of those artists creates even one song powerful enough to break through the gatekeepers and capture the world’s attention for a day, then all the power to them. It’s a noisy world now, and I can understand that maybe you need to have really simple chord progressions with one syllable words pumping to a super loud beat to get the world’s attention. And if you have the gumption to hump onstage or wear a meat dress to help your cause then maybe you deserve it.

For those of us that can hear and appreciate more complex chord changes, lyrics, and subtleties of tone, there are myriads of musical shades to explore. But I will deliberately refrain from using the word “sophisticated” to describe that sort of music, because that is subjective. It may be different and more complex, but it’s not necessarily more “advanced”.

I hope that we musicians will be able to rise up and hold a neutral space for all kinds of music-making rather than judge it. Because like it or not, those Grammy musicians we denigrate are our colleagues and they are closer to us than we think. The longer we choose to divide and conquer amongst ourselves the more we give away our collective power and dilute the ultimate goal of communicating through music. The music world is in dire need of mentors and that means being confident that all versions of music have their place.

So, who cares if you’re a one-hit wonder? I don’t. In fact, I respect you for it. And if I like your song, I will even sing along. Because if I feel your groove then you’ve touched something in me, and if you’ve managed to capture the world’s attention through music, even for a moment, then your work has resonated. I’d rather talk about the attributes of what you’re doing that are getting people excited and have a conversation around that. In fact, maybe our biggest challenge as musicians is to practice having analytical conversations that themselves have more “lasting artistic value”.

Why I will never quit the music business

Mary Kastle Why I will NEVER QUIT the music businessThis past year I’ve seen a growing number of my musician friends post “I quit” letters on various social media. The letters all have a common tone – “I can’t do this anymore. The music biz is bottomless pit. I’m going to settle down, get a real job, and hopefully be happier. It’s been fun, but now it’s a drag. Thanks for your support. Sayonara!” These posts undoubtedly prompt a whole stream of comments from friends and supporters. Usually a mix of “please don’t quit”, to “yep, blame Napster”, to “don’t worry, I’ll still come hear you play at the pub”, that sort of thing.

I find it disappointing, but I can definitely relate. After my last record, I was so burned out, I had to take a long break from touring, hustling, the whole scene. It took YEARS for me to replenish, reconnect, and get inspired to get back out there. I’m still not “back out there” fully, and maybe I never will be now that I have a child. But I will do what I can.

Because while I contemplated the word “quit”, I made a conscious decision to not choose it for my own trajectory. I might choose other words, like “evolve” or “grow” or “change”, but it became crystal clear that I never wanted to make the status of my music career the result of roadblocks, whether internal (frustrations, burnout, etc.) or external (dead business model, lack of funds, family commitments, etc). Thankfully, I never lost interest in going to gigs just to listen. I never lost interest in playing just for the sake of it. And most importantly, I never lost the feeling that I had something to say through music, even though it was buried far beneath my day-to-day artist survival tactics.

I had a lot of reconciling to do. It’s hard to swallow that you’re not “there” yet – wherever that is, arenas, world tours, throngs of fans, whatever. But I realized that I didn’t want to throw away all the ground I had covered. And yes, I might need to rebuild some broken bridges along the way, but those relationships I’d forged in the business were more than just a ladder to climb for me. They are my community.

So here’s my letter to you, my dears. I’m NEVER quitting the music business. EVER. I might need to take breaks. I might need to apologize for stupid things I’ve said. I might need to promote a lot sometimes, and less others. But I will NEVER QUIT. I will never stop trying to make records, or play shows, or tour, and honestly and gracefully share the music I make with you.


Because why would I deny myself the path, the long evolving journey of trying to figure out how to move forward and get better every single day?

And why would I deny YOU the opportunity to see what music I might come up with down the road? What if it’s something we both fall in completely and madly in LOVE with?

And why would I deny us both the chance to meet, literally or figuratively, and share our love of music, and then share it collectively with all the other people who might interact with it. The potential is endless and creative in of itself.

So even if I continue to toil in complete obscurity until my dying day, I will never stop writing or playing music, or calling myself a professional working musician. Because I have paid my dues. And I continue to pay my dues. And I’m still on a journey that is teaching me how to be vulnerable and humble in the wake of a force far greater than myself.

That force, of course is MUSIC!

I’m not here to criticize. In fact, I congratulate anyone who “settles down” and gets a “day job”. God knows I did. It can be an incredibly grounding force.

But, please, think carefully before you use the word “QUIT”. Why do that to yourself? Why do that to the world? We need you to take yourself seriously. (Ok, well maybe not too seriously!)

So here’s to growing and evolving and changing through music, through the music business.