Due to our home’s serendipitous location high up in the Wasatch mountains, I was the only person in my high school who could receive the full signal from KJQ in all of its stereo-encoded glory. At the time, the burgeoning metropolis of Park City, UT, only had two radio stations of its own, so we were dependent on the radio stations from neighboring Salt Lake City for most of our music. As such, in those pre-internet dark ages, my group of friends generally turned to me for news about new artists and other music-related goodness–sure, they had MTV, but I had access to KJQ, one of the most perfect and adventurous modern rock radio stations to ever exist (eventually, it degenerated into X96 and 107.5 The End, but we’ll save that topic for another post). As I listened religiously, I was always “in the know.”
The first time that I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was during a quiet fall afternoon. Whether due to shock or extreme curiosity, I could not turn away from my radio, and after the song finished, I sat there, at attention, for an additional fifteen minutes, eagerly waiting for the DJ to back-announce who the artist was that had just blown my teenage mind. Sure, the radio station played the isolated track from Anthrax, Ministry and Faith No More, but nothing so simultaneously anguished and authentic and loud had ever come through my speakers! I listened to the radio for an additional three hours that evening, cassette tape at the ready, in the hopes that I could present this song to my friends the next day. Needless to say, they were similarly impressed, and soon it seemed that they whole world felt the same.
As I reflect back on that time and how much Nirvana was a part of my life up and through Kurt Cobain’s death (fifteen years ago today), I am reminded of the power of music, whether it is pop or rock or metal or classical or any other genre. I may not be much of a Nirvana fan today, but any time I hear the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I become that bumbling,wide-eyed teenager scrambling through random boxes for a blank cassette tape. I can not count the number of friends who started a band after hearing that song, nor can I count the number of friends who felt the transformative power of music for the first time back in 1991 through “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
As a musician, you are someone’s Nirvana. You may not sell millions of records or send sonic tsunami’s throughout popular culture, but, somewhere, to someone, your music is having a profound impact. As an independent musician, it is very easy to get caught up in the struggle and the stress that comes with being independent–booking gigs, marketing yourself, wondering where the money is going to come from to pay for the studio time you just confirmed, as well as the dozens of other little things that take over our lives–and we sometimes forget the powerful emotions that others feel upon hearing that which we create.
Today, rather than worrying about anything that has to do with the business side of being a musician, I want to invite you to take a moment and think back to whatever artist it may have been that first inspired you make music. Then, put on that album or that song, and actually listen to it. Don’t check your email; don’t clean the house; just listen to that song or that album, and recall what it is that spoke to you then, that made you say to yourself, “I need to do this.”
Done? Now go figure out how to make others feel the same way about your music…
What did you end up listening to? How do you respond to it now? Please share in the comments below or via Twitter.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for more articles and useful goodness for independent musicians.