Know Who You Are, Use What You’ve Got…And Let The Rest Find You

Know Who You Are, Use What You’ve Got…And Let The Rest Find You

By Myk Gordon

The '60s and '70s heralded the Golden Age of singer-songwriters in the recording industry. The arrival of FM radio created a broadcast and consumer market for Album Oriented Rock (AOR) that paved the way for the labels to forefront singer-songwriters as feature artists without the immediate pressure for a hit single. Artists like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young to name a scant few, had the opportunity to develop and grow over multi-album deals.

Along with the label support though came the ultimate pressure to come up with a commercial success. Bruce Springsteen was heralded as the ‘new Dylan,’ but despite two brilliant and critically-acclaimed albums, until Born To Run was released as his third into what became a juggernaut success, he was under enormous pressure of being dropped by the label.

Far into my own career as a singer-songwriter/recording artist, I can only dream of the kind of commercial success and longevity Springsteen has enjoyed. Even he, as remarkably self-aware as he is, is surprised as anyone, and has said repeatedly he would have done it all anyway. That’s music as a calling. While I have struggled many times with this existential dilemma (how to survive, whether to keep going, measuring success) it only occurred to me recently that I have always invested in my own artist development. A recent sit-down with a major music executive verified this. He told me my music is great, that I’m a ‘journeyman’ artist, and just because I had yet to write Born To Run doesn’t mean I won’t. In other words, not breaking through to a wider audience is not the measure of success or career-trajectory.

 I’ve been blessed along the way to have had other inspirational feedback on my talent. In the early '80s in Toronto, Jake Gold, manager of the Tragically Hip (and later, Canadian Idol judge) excitedly told me backstage “get yourself a band, you’re gonna go far!” In the '90s I met with Zack Werner (music lawyer, A&R, also Canadian Idol) who assured me I was “a world-class songwriter.” Well, as the saying goes, all that praise and five bucks gets you a cup of coffee these days.

 There’s one conversation however that really stood out. Around 1997 I was again in Toronto playing regularly around the club circuit—I even had some residencies. One regular gig was at The Cameron House. After a particularly punchy set with my power trio, the sadly recently-departed and much beloved Toronto musician, producer, mentor and publisher and collaborator David Baxter grabbed me aside and gushed: “I’m a little drunk, and a little giddy as I’m just back from my honeymoon in Paris, but you’ve really got something amazing!” He continued, “But there’s just one thing. And I saw this with Alanis (Morrisette) before her big success—you haven’t quite figured out who or what you are yet.” His suggestion was to “go be a side player for other bands for a while” to develop my own voice and sound. It was difficult but sound advice, and I followed it. Until recently, it dawned on me that the artists I idolized and even tried to emulate—say, Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townshend—don’t sound like anyone else! As obvious as that sounds, it freed me up to realize that I do have my own voice as a writer, singer and guitarist, and that greatness comes from owning and honing that uniqueness.

 Myk Gordon is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and recording artist who just released his second album, Born To Be, with multiple Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos). He also holds an MSc, PhD, is a psychotherapist and 6th Dan Aikido teacher.