The guide to surviving a life in music, by those who know best...

The hungry heart of Steven Van Zandt, star of the E Street Band, The Sopranos, and his own Disciples Of Soul...

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The first is learning your guitar. The second is analysing records, so that you can understand the beginning of what is called arrangement; you have to sort of pull songs apart and put them back together again.

The third craft is performance. You get your three or four friends and you form a band, then you learn to interact with an audience and you learn to interact with other band members, and you learn what effect those songs have on an audience; what’s the purpose of those songs? Is the purpose to make people cry? Laugh? Everything has a purpose, right?

This all helps when it comes to the fourth craft, which is writing, composition, and then the fifth craft is recording. Those things don’t change. Those things have been the same since the very beginning, and those things are never going to change.

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You wanna have some kind of identity where people can recognise you and relate to you. It’s the role you’re going to play in their lives.

You want to have relationships between the artist and the audience, so what is that relationship going to be? You want to be consistent, you want to be consistently entertaining or consistently compelling, or consistently insightful, whatever you choose for your identity.

Or maybe you could just be a pop star making people happy, which is fine. You don’t have to be a poet or a genius in this business, but consistency matters. You want to have a high quality of your work in general, no matter what it is.

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Everybody these days has five or six bands. You can’t dilute your energy that way and succeed. Once a band is together and successful and then they want to do solo things, I always tell them as strongly as I possibly can: do not break up that band to do solo work.

Do the solo thing every other year, but do not split up. It’s never gonna be the same as that band; it’s a different communication. Do your solo thing if you want to, that’s fine, but don’t ever break up the band.

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You can’t possibly be high enough to function at the quality level that you need to function at on stage. You need to be firing on all cylinders. You need to be really present.

I plan on taking the audience somewhere; I’m not there passively, providing some background noise for your picnic, I’m there fully intending to transport you somewhere, bring you some place, bring you back, and then have you leave the room with more energy than you came with. And to do that you gotta be right there, and to be right there you can’t be high.

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You play to 20 people and you’re all getting off on it and you’re making their evening after they’ve worked hard all week and you’re entertaining them? Hey, that’s success.

If it gets bigger, it gets bigger, but you gotta measure success on a moment-by-moment basis, and the best way to do that is to keep your head down and keep it focused on what you intend to do.

Steven was interviewed at the Hard Rock Café London.

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Words: Simon Harper

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