In the summer of 2009 I was given the honor of being selected as one of the twelve attendees of Skip Ewing’s Horse and Writer event held near Dubois, Wyoming. While there we learned a great deal about ourselves as writers and communed with the glorious landscape of Wyoming while on horseback. One of the things I realized while I was there is that horses, and people in the race to make it in the music industry, are more alike than you think. When you are in Nashville trying to be successful in the music business you have to be patient, strong, sure footed, yet still adventurous. All of these qualities mimic those of a horse.
Horses can be categorized into “hot-bloods” and “draft-horses”. Hot-bloods are groomed as riding horses and tend to be spirited, bold, and learn quickly. Draft-horses on the other hand are bred for strength, but also to have the calm, patient temperament needed to pull a plow or a heavy carriage full of people. People pursuing a career in the music business have to be a little bit of both. Quickly learning new techniques or reading up on cutting edge trends will help them stay ahead of the pack. While it is good to be a hot-blooded musician, you can’t let impulsivity result in poor decisions. This same “hot-blooded” temperament can encourage people to come and go more quickly than what is necessary in Nashville. It has been said that this is a ten year town. Some people come to town unrealistically thinking they will be the new breakout artist by next year’s award show. This mindset gives way to Nashville being a revolving door of people going just as fast as they came. People can learn patience and strength from the draft-horse. Nothing worth doing comes without a cost. There is definitely hard work and dedicated time that must be put as a realistic priority if you are going to last.
Musicians tend to be creative, free thinkers that don’t believe in times and protocol. People like this are great for conversations but they often miss appointments, are poor with follow-up, and want to “stick it” to the proverbial man. There are a great many people in this town that think success will magically appear on their doorstep one day while they take this laid back, no big business approach. Since there is no formal equations for success in the music business, this could happen, but it isn’t likely. Wild horses, or mustangs, are like this; strong free thinkers that go their own way. The word mustang comes from the Spanish word mustengo, which means “ownerless beast.” Creative people have to walk the fine line of being unique and interesting yet still enough in the box that they don’t become an ownerless beast. If you are too “out there” with your approach to business, record-labels and publishing companies may not want to risk working with someone that “free” yet difficult.
While at the Lazy L&B Ranch in Wyoming I got to interact on a daily basis with the horses of the Ranch. The trust you have to place in them as they take you up and down the mountains and through river beds is intense. There were times that if I were one more inch to the left, my horse and I would be the newest addition to the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. The more I connected with my horse, the more I trusted her. I knew she had been there before and didn’t want to fall either. There is a peace that comes over you once you settle in to knowing you have to let go of the control just enough to balance out the relationship.
Here in town, it is the same thing. We are all on a ride – up and down the mountains, through the waving prairies and the rolling rivers beds of a musical career. I believe that God will get you through whatever it is you are trying to control or not be afraid of. He doesn’t want to see you get burned and fall. But sometimes you need to get burned to avoid even bigger flames. This shake of confidence reminds us we are not in charge and to trust the one leading the way. A music mentor of mine told me if a career in music is meant for you, there is nothing you can do to stop it. Conversely, there is nothing you can do to make it happen either. As you “show up” this week to write, network, sing, play, etc. you are doing just that, showing up. You have no control over who says yes to working with you. You have no control over who you click with. You have no control over what bars will book you. What you can do is show up and give it your all!
There are so many directions I could go with the horse analogy – but for now be a hot-blooded-draft-horse. Be one that patiently endeavors to creatively pursue your adventurous musical journey. A career in the music industry will involve pulling plows and running races – remember that and never give up! I leave you with a few horse quotes to get you thinking…
“The wagon rests in winter, the sleigh in summer, the horse never.”
~ Yiddish Proverb
“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.”
~ Sharon Ralls Lemon
“Spending that many hours in the saddle gave a man plenty of time to think. That’s why so many cowboys fancied themselves Philosophers.”
~ Charles M. Russell
“In riding a horse we borrow freedom.”
~ Helen Thomson