Safety or the Muse?

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After more than 7 years of merciless touring that, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, led to bone-deep exhaustion, mega-band Mumford & Sons finally stepped away from the road. What they were about to step into is something nobody saw coming, including them…

 

mumford2A few months into their break, they came back together and start noodling around with new ideas. They’d built a global reputation and diehard fan base on a wildly original unplugged indie-folk sound. But, now, in a small studio in Brooklyn, they’d find themselves called in a radical new direction.

It was time, they realized, to plug in. To walk away from what many of their fans would say made them so very different. To add electric guitars, soundscapes, effects and breathe life into more produced ethereal sound.

Many artists have tried this before. And it’s meant death to their careers. Once you become known for a sound or look or style, people often become so attached to it, they don’t ever want it changed. They love “it” as much as they love “you.”

A certain expectation sets in that you owe it to your fans and followers to give them what they want. I mean, they “made” you, right? Plus, if you stop now, they may go away, and take your ability to earn a living and the life you’ve built with them. That’s the reality of the bargain you’ve struck. And, it’s true. They may.

So, when a mega-act like Mumford & Sons decides to break from the sound that’s made them, the sound that’s harmonized millions of fans to come to their shows and buy their music, it’s a big deal. It’s a risk.

The big question that’s really being tested is:

Do they love it, or me…or both?

And, close behind,

Am I willing to walk away from it, in the name of me?

That’s exactly what Mumford & Sons have done. Stepped from a place of relative certainty back into the abyss in the name of integrity, expression and evolution. To see how profound the shift is, check out these two videos. The first is the unplugged, signature indie-folk style that got them where they are. The second is the plugged-in, trippy electronic sound they’re evolving into.

Can it work?

Sure. It’s all about those two questions. The more your fans have a relationship not just with your work, but with you, the more you’ll be able to bring them along with you. And potentially, to open them to experiences that they never would’ve trusted someone else to invite them into.

milton-glaser-glp-postIconic designer, Milton Glaser, is a great example. He fiercely rejected the notion of having one particular style, and often rejected those who sought to hire him to simply do a variation of what he’d done before.

Instead, Glaser would tell prospective clients to trust that the thing that led them to love the particular body of work he’d created to date would allow him to approach their job with fresh eyes, unbound by a predefined style, but with the same ability to create, innovate and elevate.

This process of creative and professional evolution, stepping from known success and adoration back into a place of unknown is terrifying. But, for the creative professional, founder or artist, there are two things even more terrifying…stagnation and repression.

Staying the course in the name of consistency with a past that no longer houses your Muse is death to the creative soul.

Simple fact.

Creativity builds pressure, if you don’t let it out, you’re gonna blow.

The question is, as you look at where you’ve been, where you are now and where you feel called to go…

Which will you choose, safety or the Muse?

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22 responses

22 responses to “Safety or the Muse?”

  1. Mitko says:

    Muse always seems like a temptation, but I would choose the safety.

  2. Monica says:

    “The more your fans have a relationship not just with your work, but with you, the more you’ll be able to bring them along with you. And potentially, to open them to experiences that they never would’ve trusted someone else to invite them into.”

    I love this post. And so timely for me. I love what you said about being trusted and bringing in people to something new. That’s what life is all about.

    Personally, I’m all for the muse and the creative soul.

    Thanks Jonathan.

  3. Asata says:

    It is the muse that brings the world to you in the first place, thus I will always answer that calling. I’ve learned from experience that growth means some supporters may drop off, however new ones will connect to your newer path. I’m very glad you posted this because I was mulling over this topic deeply during the past few days. Thank you Jonathan for following your own instincts to keep sharing!

  4. Beautiful and such an exquisite journey… and exactly why we are helped by cultivating a practice of non-attachment and stillness. Going within, learning to hear and trust the voice which has always been there.

  5. I coached direct sellers for years and when a company would dry up and blow away it was the consultants with the best relationships with their clients (and teams) that could transition to a new company with some level of relative ease. Changes happen, and if people are invested in YOU, change is easier. Not EASY, but easier. They understand the evolution. They understand the logical next step, because they can connect with you and get clarity.

    Clarity creates safety at a new level. In that way, you can always choose the muse and a new level of safety follows… at least that’s what my clients and I have been experiencing. When I chose to jump back into music and record 300 songs, there were a lot of people who didn’t get it… but most of them were people who hadn’t built a relationship with me. They were the 300+ subscribers to my email list that only opened when there was a “free something” inside. They’re gone and my life (and list) are much healthier. 🙂

  6. I’m totally going with the Muse. She is loud and proud and asking for a completely new direction from me. I am scared, but exhilarated. I’m confused and so clear. I’m a “YES” for this awesome blog post.

  7. Merry says:

    Never not listen to the muse. When constantly depending on the new, the creative, the innovative, take the risk. It always pays off even if the big ugly of failure drops into your lap. You learn. You can get excited about what doesn’t work and incorporate it, twist it, intensify it. Accumulate risk taking. It does pay off. Some followers will embrace and encourage, actually admire you for ability to transform.

  8. Araz says:

    Choosing safety will work for a while but it’s not sustainable if you plan on living with integrity.

  9. Melissa Ng says:

    Love this topic. It’s interesting especially since you’ve been playing around with new formats– “9 Things” and “GLP Riff.” But seeing how some of your key messages have always been to embrace serendipity, innovate and provoke new ideas, seeing things that are “a little different” from you is a welcome sight.

    I’ve made some drastic changes (i.e. b&w illustration –> 3D printing). Despite my fear of what other people might think, I was glad to see that many (not all) saw my work as an evolution rather than as an abandonment of a medium. “Staying the course in the name of consistency with a past that no longer houses your Muse is death to the creative soul” just sums this up beautifully. Thank you, Jonathan.

  10. “Creativity builds pressure, if you don’t let it out, you’re gonna blow.”

    Safety is an illusion. The Muse is truth.

    LOVE this post, Jonathan.

  11. Kristina says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  12. Jason says:

    Loved this post, Jonathan. I really resonated with Milton Glaser and was especially hit by this:
    “This process of creative and professional evolution, stepping from known success and adoration back into a place of unknown is terrifying. But, for the creative professional, founder or artist, there are two things even more terrifying…stagnation and repression.”

    Perhaps this is why I’ve been on the fence for so long about where to jump in, because I desperately want to be all in. But reading this gave me a sense of freedom and permission. Time to obliterate the broken record that’s been playing in my mind for decades…and record something fresh and new.

    Thank you so much,
    Jason Garey

  13. Rosalie says:

    I don’t know that I consider going from one kind of music to another a giant risk. They’re still following a proven business model – make music, produce album, tour. Will they lose some fans? Probably. But there will be new ones. It’s not like they decided to make a drastic switch, like becoming restaurateurs or something. They’re still doing the same thing but doing it differently. What about when your muse takes you to a whole new as yet unexplored facet of yourself? What about when you go from doing spiritual healing to being a financial planner? Or transform from a bodyworker into a jewellery designer? A personal trainer to a videographer? When you move from one thing to something that is entirely different, the only link between the two being you and your interest? Will people follow? Maybe, but it’s a whole lot riskier.

  14. “Staying the course in the name of consistency with a past that no longer houses your Muse is death to the creative soul.” Um, like, wow… #truth.
    Jonathan, beautiful message and as always, touched my heart and has me thinking, reflecting.

  15. Jarkko Laine says:

    Great post, Jonathan. This is important stuff! And I really like the new Mumford & Sons song 🙂

    It’s been a long time since I last commented here, but I come back for inspiration regularly. I’m glad I did today.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Jarkko – So great to see you here! Been a minute. 🙂 #bread #yum 🙂

  16. Susan Leitch says:

    Safety & muse are overrated. Possession of a muse is not actually a good thing. It’s like cheating on a test in high school or taking steroids during the Olympics. Channeling is so fashionable these days.

    Risk it. Go with your OWN heart, mind & soul. That’s the only way you can truly OWN IT!

    Mumford & Sons are awesome. Thanks Jonathan.

  17. Bartosz says:

    Good point Jonathan!
    Although, I would risk saying that music industry and the blogging world are two different things…

  18. Margie says:

    I love them even more. The muse is always the safest bet for me. Life is so much better when the muse is loose.

  19. Your site is amazing! It is so beautiful and your content is great. Wow, I am really really impressed!

  20. Nikki Cole says:

    Choosing safety in what we know or the beauty of the unknown land the Muses would take us to is an everyday activity. In creativity, entrepreneurial ventures, and everyday life, we make choices that guide us to either inspiration or stagnation. This choice requires radical trust, both in the Muses and in ourselves.

    “I set out on a mission to let go of fear, to free fall into myself and trust that I would learn to fly. Learning to let go of fear wasn’t easy, it had become such an engrained response, those neural pathways had been dug into trenches and it was going to require conscious effort to change. I am just passionate enough to keep on doing it, to keep on fighting for it. It comes a lot easier now…the trusting, the art, the intuitions.”

    http://www.lightinmyhands.com/blog/art-radical-trust

  21. Muse for me, I love taking risks 🙂 It takes conscious effort not to fall for safety – or operate from habituation.

    Thanks, Jonathan, love your input.