After releasing my first album in 2012 (The MessAge) I found myself stuck and not able to make any significant advances as an artist. Besides a few gigs and a few dozen albums sold, I was disheartened about my prospects… things were not getting better, I was getting nowhere. Although making the album was a great personal achievement, it was a commercial failure. The only support I had was my girlfriend Joana (now my wife) and two good friends that were playing live shows with me. Without any money to invest in promotion, without a record deal, without a label, without management, without agent, without PR – things did not look bright.
Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing or what I was expecting it would happen… Even today, I am still trying to ‘find a way’.
I had to make a change. I needed to start making real money, and my music was far from being the provider. I decided to stop it and just focus on teaching and playing covers.
In the years that followed I grew my student’s numbers and managed to have some financial stability. On occasions I would do building work for a friend, and in 2013 I got into sales with a technology company in education. I was paid on commissions only, and it was a very challenging job. I had never done sales before and I had to learn a lot about the intricacies of the product I was selling as well as the education system. It took me a couple of years before I made my fist sale! This job was taking a lot of my time and effort – and not being financially rewarding. Suffice to say it was a very frustrating time – especially because I could see ways where the product and strategy could be improved – but I could not do anything about it. I would spend 70% of my time in this business, but it was the remaining 30% of my time teaching music, performing, and doing building works that provided the income I needed to live on. I had my ‘heart and soul’ in this business, I was determined to grow with it and make it my career – because the product was amazing! I also had placed immense trust in the people behind it, and I never doubted that it would eventually be a success. But, as it happens, there were many problems ‘behind the scenes’ which I was not aware of and eventually the whole business collapsed in the Spring of 2016. The company wasn’t making any money, and those leading it were adamant to make the necessary changes. This was unsustainable…
Although I made a handful of sale, my ‘return on investment’ was as low as it could be… I practically worked for free. But I am not bitter, because even though I had no financial reward, I gained many skills and learned a lot of business and life lessons. Experiencing failure on a daily basis, facing fears and resistances, and trying to make something work which is flawed by design can really change a person. To me, it made me hungry and eager to make ‘something work’.
When the business failed I found myself asking ‘ what am I going to do?’.
Three years earlier, I had to make the hard decision of having music as a hobby when I committed to a career with this company. I had to ‘kill’ the dream of becoming an artist. When the company collapsed, I got another emotional blow. Once again, I had to ‘kill’ yet another future and I life that I had imagined for myself.
‘What am I going to do?’
It took me a lot of introspective writing to be able to make a decision. This time, though, the question was not ‘what am I going to do’ – but rather, ‘Who am I?’
This was a question that my friend Bernard Poolman had asked me when I visited him in 2012. At the time he told me that I was ‘doing musician’ – I was not ‘BEING a musician’. He would ask me with a low pitched voice, as he puffed on a cigarette, ‘Who are you, João?’ – and I could not say ‘I am a musician’. There was something inside me that stopped me from saying ‘I am a musician’. In self-honesty, I could not say ‘I am a musician’.
Bernard said ‘you have the desire for success and the fear of failure coexisting inside you.’
I could not say ‘I am a musician’. And I asked him ‘why?’ He said ‘It’s a decision. You have to make a decision – and then prove it.’
The question always lingered within me… ‘Who are you?’
Four years later I am asking myself ‘Who am I?’ It took me a lot of written and spoken self-forgiveness before I could utter the words – and mean it. I had to look at the fears, the self-judgments, the resistances, the ‘what ifs’… There was a lot of shit blocking this decision. But I was finally able to make it and say:
‘I am a musician’.
In time, as the decision cemented, I started to be able to change it and specify it. ‘I am a musician’ turned into ‘I am an Artist‘. And in turn it became ‘I am a Heartist‘. This statement is very important to me because it is the foundation of what I do. I can play instruments, write songs, and perform. But there is more to my art – there is a ‘Heart’.
This ‘Heart’ is the ‘Earth’. The ‘Earth’ is the spring of Life.
Thus, my ‘art’ and my ‘heart’ are standing for Life. This has always been in my music – you can read it in the very first song I wrote when I was 15. That has always been ‘The MessAge’. That has always been the ‘Higher Purpose’ of my music.
‘I am a Heartist – and I am going to make a new album.’
This was in May 2016.