Last night, I stumbled across a documentary on, of all things, the 70s/80s hair band Twisted Sister. While not a fan of them necessarily (metal has never been my thing), I didn’t actually know much more than their Top 40 hits and some stuff lead singer Dee Snyder had done since the band broke up.
What surprised me most about their story (the documentary covers the evolution of the band from high school kids to their first record deal) was just how long and how hard they had to work in order to secure their first recording contract. They were well-known as a band who could sell out 2,000-5,000 seat theaters (and outdoor shows of tens of thousands of fans) in the Tri-State area, but outside of the New York region, they weren’t known at all, and no record companies were even slightly interested in signing them.
Over almost 10 years, the members of the band changed here and there, they missed out on huge opportunities (selling out the Palladium theater in NYC with no radio play or records, only to have to cancel the night of the show due to a medical emergency, having a recording contract signed only to have the executive collapse with a heart attack on the plane going home with the paperwork, a bankrupt record company in Europe) and yet they’d gear up and play 5 nights a week, basically putting it all on the table every night.
Throughout it all, the band was convinced that they’d either make it or flame out completely, but they kept doing the work. Now, the work was fun and they loved being rock stars, but it was definitely a grind, and nobody beyond their local fan base wanted to give them the time of day.
The main reason Twisted Sister ever got to where they are was due to that grind. They had talent and an extremely large, loyal local fan base, but many bands do and never really get anywhere. The thing that set them apart was the fact that they kept showing up, kept honoring their contracts, kept promoting themselves, and kept looking for opportunities.
There’s a real lesson in that. Many of us who are creative people think that we have stamina, but we tend to give up after a very short period of time. A year or two is nothing in terms of building your skill set, building an audience, and knowing who you are as an artist, but many creatives, especially creatives in digital spaces, are impatient to make it and think of ourselves as failures if success doesn’t come to us right away.
The grind can definitely be a….grind, sometimes, and it feels like we’re not getting anywhere and may never do so, but often it’s the best way of getting where you want to be. More practice, more promotion, more experience getting our art out there into the world and seeing what sticks is what’s necessary to climb up each step, sometimes by clinging with our fingernails to the edge to get a few millimeters, but it’s one of the most common denominators of those people who have made a long-lasting career out of making art.
Don’t give up.