There are a lot of events in life in which there aren’t really any prizes for coming second, let alone any further back. Job interviews, for instance. Room / house viewings. Bidding for dep / last-minute gig openings. One person gets it, some others might be assured their details will be held on file in case of another vacancy / dropout, but that’s nearly always a dead letter. The most you can do is try and use the experience to improve what you do (or at least do less things wrong!) next time – and in a lot of cases that is sheer guesswork. I can’t really email one of Stornoway back and say ‘OK, so you picked someone else as your new housemate and I respect that, but what things would have made me more likely to get the room?’ It’s OK for long-term job applications and I often do it, but you can’t really do it as a freelancer or outside of work.
The thing is, despite me previous post on being only as good as your last gig, there’s no necessary connection between how the last one, twenty, a thousand applications went and how the next one will go. Likely, but not necessary. It’s like flipping a coin: on average, you get equal numbers of heads and tails eventually. But within any finite observable number of experiments, it is possible to get any combination of results, up to and including all of one and none of the other. And however many heads you’ve had, it doesn’t make getting a tail next time ‘inevitable’; in fact, it doesn’t change the odds of getting a tail next time at all: 50%.
Now, you can rightly argue that none of the situations I’ve mentioned above, some of which are really frustrating me right now, are random and invariant in the way that flipping a coin is. Surely the better and/or better-promoted musicians get hired; surely the more likeable people with more compatible interests and schedules get picked as housemates. Which is true of each instance. But the pools of applicants in each case are so large and potentially different that you can argue there is a large element of randomness involved. And in the meantime, my standing in most of those stakes does not significantly change. In the house case because my work, personality and interests aren’t changing from one room viewing to the next (!); in the music one as much as anything else because new promo material is slow to come through and my experience is the same until someone hires me, which isn’t happening. So if you consider the pools to average out similarly, then I’ll be in a similar standing relative to them and the situation is replaying only small objective differences (except perhaps taste of the person getting to choose).
As I’ve already uncovered a certain amount of my old maths studies in this post, let’s grab another one: Fibonacci numbers. These occur in lots of places in nature, they have relevance to flowerheads and spiral shapes and numbers of petals and they’ve been used as inspiration from music to architecture. The underlying principle is very simple: you get each next number by adding the last two together: so 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8 and so on.
Did you notice how I started there? Of course, for most advanced mathematicians you don’t start anything at 1. You at least want to be able to trace back what it would be at 0. But 0+0=0, and 0+0 carries on being 0 to infinity. The way you get the sequence started is to arbitrarily sling in a 1; so the normal version of the Fibonacci sequence goes: 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 etc.
I think this freelance music lark may be a little like that. Someone will have to more or less arbitrarily sling something (or more likely there will need to be a handful of somethings – the metaphor is creaking here) my way, in order for me to list the experience and look more like a pro where it counts, in order to make contacts and be taken seriously and get hired more, etc. etc. And until that happens, arguably all the effort – even the hundreds of pounds and tens of hours I’m anticipating putting into a showreel, and all the time, money and effort I’ve already put into the website, demos, photos and sheer hustling, is only trying to very slightly imbalance the coin my way – like rubbing at it on one side with a cloth.
So much for independence and autonomy.