The title assumes immediately that something, in my opinion, is an unquestionable empiric reality, so I will start by trying to take care of the reason ‘why’ this actually happens.
Obviously this old proverb doesn’t only apply exclusively to bassists, musicians or artists, it really applies to almost everybody in this world, no matter what this person does for a living.
The bigger problem is that we the artists and mostly we the musicians have to deal with a variable called “subjectivity”, which is something that does not apply in the same way to sports or science. Let’s set an example for an athlete from any country that officially beats the 100mts dash world record with a 9.49 seconds time or a scientist that invents the absolute cure for cancer (you take a pill and in 5 minutes you are cured, no side effects). It’s obvious that these guys won’t have to wait for any “subjective opinion” from their own country, so to be glorified and exalted to the level of living legend; their native countries and towns will reflect the same opinion and admiration as the rest of the world. But in the case of an artist, it’s quite different, even if you get to win a Grammy or an Oscar there’s a lot of people that don’t give any credit to this kind of artistic awards and prizes. As you can see, we submerge ourselves into the deep and dark waters of subjectivity.
What are the exact reasons why this subjectivity always shows a very clear statistical pattern in which the local environment seems not to appreciate the careers of their very own artists as much and as easy as the foreign environments related with that artist?
IMHO the reasons are completely anthropological, and are mostly based on the fact that we, the humans, have always embraced the Mysteries and the Myths as fundamental components of our very deep being. When somebody has a background that we don’t fully know and understand we have the tendency to unconsciously assign mystical qualities to him/her, in fact we need it, and in my opinion that’s one of the main reasons why the religions exist.
The old prophets, those ancient wise men that walked hundreds of miles from town-to-town spreading their own truths… we can clearly see that their “convincing effect” on the different town’s populations was directly proportional to the distance from their native towns; the farther any town was from their native town the more they drew attention and influenced the people, hence the proverb, “No one is a Prophet in his own land”. I could cite tons of historical examples, but this column is obviously not about religion, anyway I’m sure that you got my point.
As you can imagine, I travel a lot. I’m playing out of my country for almost 200 days every year, and it always amazes me how frequently I’m able to see famous and amazing musicians playing in their native towns (or the towns where they lived for many years) for about 30 people in a local bar, very different to when I see them playing overseas in front of hundreds and thousands of people for very different money. The interesting phenomenon is that when these musicians actually live in any big, important and developed city/country, in most of the cases any “Secondary foreign fame” seems not to positively affect the validation and credibility by the people from their very own towns. With due respect to Liechtenstein, the fact that a New York native musician could be a music star in Liechtenstein will mean nothing or almost nothing to the NY audience… so again, “No one is a Prophet in his own land”.
But, what if we reverse that example? It seems clear to me that the fact that a Liechtenstein native musician could be a major music star in New York will indeed mean everything to the Liechtenstein’s audience, and even more, as it will surely be a major success to the whole country! So this specific situation seems to not comply with the hypothesis, which is the title of this article, but it doesn’t?
I don’t think so… I call this, “The Certification Effect”, and in simple words it means that the audience of any small town or country absolutely needs the indispensable validation from any “Certification Agency” in order to decide if they are going to credit and support their native artists in their towns, as they deserve. That “Certification Agency” is indeed any bigger country, town or musical environment, which is “supposed to know more”. This gets to the extreme of not only happening between countries but also inside the countries, i.e. being great in Alaska means nothing to California, but being great in California means a lot in Alaska. I’ll tell you up-front that I think this is completely stupid, but unfortunately it’s the crude reality, so again this never fails, “No one is a Prophet in his own land”.
The reason why I think this is stupid is quite simple, and it’s because at the end what really matters is playing music, the skills have no country or town, you play good or you don’t, you play clean or you don’t, you play in tune or you don’t, you play the right notes or you don’t, you play a lot of techniques or you don’t, you play a lot of musical styles or you don’t, you’re able to groove and play pocket or you aren’t, you are innovative or you aren’t, you know about theory or you don’t, etc. What the hell does the place you come from or the place you are playing have to do with it?
What to do?
We the musicians just need to go after people’s ears, just think that the whole world is waiting for your music and for what you have to say. Play for anybody who wants to listen to your music, forget about your own town’s opinion; your town’s feedback is perhaps the worst place to measure your musicality and your “success” (if that really matters). They will always be late for you. I know what I’m saying here because when it comes to this, my country has probably been the most ungrateful country with its artists that I have encountered in my whole life… no contest… and I say this because this has been my direct and personal experience as an artist.
I hope you liked this article, please leave your comments and share your opinions, as they are very important to us. What have been your personal experiences in your own country?
See you in the next one!