I recently bought one of those signs I never said I would buy. One of those mass-produced, intentionally rustic and “weathered” commercial art pieces that I loathe. But I bought this one for its words.
Grow where you are planted.
I bought it for a friend of mine, a well-established and active local musician. We’re both residents of the hard-core planning camp: if we want something, we reverse-engineer like it’s hot and plan like it’s going out of style. We equate this process to the perpetual rolling and re-rolling of proverbial balls, each one demanding a different push when momentum stalls (+1 rhyming).
She wants to eventually relocate and realizes the inevitable work involved with a move. For anyone, relocation implies a restart. For a musician, a new locale means starting from scratch. Rebuilding from the ground up. Reconstructing and re-weaving an intricate web of groundwork that goes into a well-connected musical career. So much work.
Our city is a 5-year town. People tend to either stay for five years or 25 years. I’ve unknowingly stopped shopping for friends that aren’t homeowners, because it means they’re in the category of people who plant roots for five solid years before deciding they can get more out of another town. There’s something to be said for wanderlust and transience; I myself have a penchant for minimalism and “vacation-duds”: anything you might need to subsist on a vacation. Nothing more, nothing less (if only this were practical in practice; mama needs her soda stream). In some other life, I might have been a nomad.
But there’s advantages to staying in one spot: growing your web of connections and constantly rediscovering where those webs intersect. Challenging yourself to cross into other markets. Bringing people from diverse markets together. Witnessing a particular market change and evolve and riding the tides of change alongside an ever-cresting whirlpool of growth and recession. There’s no rule that says musicians have to be constantly relocating in order to be successful. The narrative that staying in one town works to a musician’s detriment is misleading: staying in one spot actually demands constant change and renegotiation of your own story and its place in a gig economy.
My town is two hours from two major metropolitan cities, 3-4 hours from 5-6 more, and a day’s drive to Chicago and Nashville. Local songwriters who have moved to Tennessee to “make it” come back to my local bar to gig. In a midwest town of about 100,000, I make 100% of my income from music. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot more work to be done to create a more robust and diverse local scene for independent creatives, but…it’s a privilege to get to maneuver that and be able to subsist and thrive in an unassuming locale.
“Why commit to that type of restructure?” I asked my friend.
She paused and thought about it.
“To empty my cup and re-fill it.”
So when I gave her the sign, it came with the addendum that “where you are planted” could be anywhere.
If and when you’ve saturated your own market, moving on might be a solution. Re-learning what it means to be at the bottom again, to have to be on top of your game in a city you don’t “own” – that is a valiant intent.
Especially if your new target area happens to be near a beach.
F*** it. Let’s move to the water.