Zia Hassan

Beloved Artists

There was a time in my music career when I wanted to be famous. I dreamed of playing to huge audiences at large amphitheaters. I loved the idea of thousands of fans buying my records. If there was a word for what I wanted, it was glory.

Then I read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and in the first chapter, he talks about how this kind of thinking is the behavior of an amateur. That wanting fame and glory and rose petals thrown at you is detrimental to the actual creative process, which can be grueling, lonely, and thankless.

The book, which I highly recommend to any creative, focuses on the idea that creative work needs a practice. It needs to be done without thinking about fame and glory.

So I began my pursuit of a music career in which I worked solely on my craft. A career in which I was productive and proactive. I focused on the craft and let the idea of fame sift into the back of my mind.

I started playing bars in my 20s, background music mostly, for very little pay. But it was part of growing my craft.

Then I started playing more specialized shows, concerts where people actually paid a ticket price to come and listen. And some of the concerts I played in my late 20’s resulted in some pretty good money, too.

Soon, my audience started to grow. As a result of my focus on craft, I had actually attained a small but perceptible level-up. I was well on my way to fame. I had opened up for some of my childhood heroes. I had finally played a venue that I had dreamed about playing for about a decade. And on that night, someone asked me the question.

“So what’s the next level?”

I looked around at many of my peers who had been grinding for years in the local music industry. Many of them were doing the same thing as me, just more frequently. It turns out that there’s a difference between being a professional musician and a beloved artist.

Professionals grind. They show up every day. They improve their skills. Sometimes things are good and sometimes they’re hustling for work. They meet the needs of a customer.

Beloved artists make and share art that speaks to their heart. The number of fans they have can vary from person to person. But a beloved artist would be satisfied if they were only loved by their spouse.

There’s overlap, of course. Prince was both a beloved artist and a professional. Bowie also comes to mind.

Then there are people like Steve Gadd, who has played drums on so many famous studio albums, but unless you’re a musician, it’s unlikely you’ve heard of him. But he has a following in the music community, and that following has allowed for creative freedom, so perhaps he’s a professional that eventually became a beloved artist.

As for me, I eventually made the choice to be a beloved artist, even if the loving audience is my friends and family. I realized that the work I do is better if I’m not under a deadline, or if there’s an expectation from a record label, or a legion of fans.

So I don’t want to be famous anymore. I don’t care about a record deal. I don’t care about millions of fans. I don’t care about hustling my music around and trying to fit my art into whatever box the world wants. I’ll leave that to others who are much better suited for it.

For now, I’ll just settle for creating, sharing, and creating again.

What a joy.