About Naivete

One of the most important qualities in a songwriter, or any other artist for that matter, is that of being naive. I think that being naive is one of the main reasons that artists tend to throw away their money left and right and get into bad relationships, personal as well as professional.

As you grow more into your art, you see the reality of the business behind everything and you realize how the game is played. That’s when cynicism tends to take over. Nevertheless, we tend to remain naive even when we’re being rational.

I’d like to mention though that naivete should not be mixed up with foolishness. Some artists have had long careers without making money and are offered the “big” contract, the one that will bring them money and legions of fans. These people know it’s not so, but their naive side tells them that it must be true, hence they will jump in. Often they will regret doing so.

Eric Clapton’s jump into commercial rock is probably due to naivete. But for someone like Britney Spears, she dove right into the big thing believing everything she was fed even when she saw what was going on behind the scenes. That’s foolishness. Understand the difference?

I’ve seen an “artist” lately who won a highly publicized TV contest and is about to release his debut album. Two weeks before the release date, the album was available on the Internet for free download. In an interview, he was crying, literally crying over the situation.

At this point, the only people who could have uploaded the album are the folks at his label or his management. Why? To create even more anticipation for the album, get an early buzz going on and selling more albums. People who wouldn’t have bought the album and saw him crying in the interview will go out and buy the album. But this “artist” surely doesn’t know that either the label or his management (or both) are responsible for this. This happens, coincidentally, at a time when a huge campaign against Internet downloading is going strong.

But in more practical senses, naivete has its place in our lives as artists. It’s actually even very important.

Look at any artist who decides to record and release an album. The reality of the situation is:

  • it costs money which most artists don’t have
  • it takes a lot of time
  • it’s a lot of work. Much more work than fun
  • there’s very little output for it: very few labels will be interested in carrying it
  • with the sheer amount of music out there, there’s very little chance of people hearing it
  • the odds of success, even limited are very small
  • promotion of it will be more work than you can even imagine

On the upside:

  • you’re doing something you really like
  • it’s a worthwhile experience

But every artist who records an album, although he knows all this, does not believe it. There’s that little persistent voice that says this album will break new ground and be successful. It’s ridiculously naive, yet there it is. Should you listen to it? Of course you should. Because some people who record an album by themselves become successful. It’s that simple. If you don’t listen to your little voice, you’ll never make it.

Any artist who has attempted to make it in the business understands the reality of the situation. You go out and play live every night, just like 200 other bands in your market and you have trouble drawing a crowd. It’s tough to hold your band together because some of the guys get tired of it all and drop out. People from the business see you play and don’t like your songs and/or your image.

Most people drop out. Only a rare few persist. All of these, without exception, eventually make it. Some call them stubborn, some say they are driven. In reality, it’s largely due to naivete. They simply listen to that voice that says “it’s coming”.

Naivete is also useful for other things. As a songwriter, you must evolve. If you don’t, you’ll spend your life rewriting the same song.

Suppose you’re a country artist. You’ve heard jazz before; you like some of it and simply flip over a few select pieces. Suppose you have no formal training and cannot read music. Suppose you’re not a particularly gifted musician. Logically, you would think that there is no way you can ever write a jazz piece. Nevertheless, you try. And succeed. Why? Because even if you think you can do it, you don’t really believe it. That little voice is there again saying that if somebody else did it, surely you can.

So, listen to the voice and encourage it. Next time you have an idea that’s out to lunch; composing a symphony, recording an album, whatever, and that all your sense are telling you you’re not qualified to do it, encourage that voice to talk to you. And try.