I won’t lie to you, the most unappealing part of being an independent artist is watching all the other artists work so hard. Specifically, it’s watching just how hard they work to gain an audience. They are putting out music constantly, promoting themselves daily, and just constantly grinding away at trying to build out some sort of fanbase – all of which I have to assume nets them some sales, right?
That constant release cycle, though, seems unsustainable to me. What happens when you miss one of your scheduled releases? What happens if you run out of ideas? Assume that you put out something new every month for a year. You build up a following during that and have people that like your music and look forward to the monthly release – but you hit a wall. Everything you create sounds just like what you created before or some new sound you were trying to nail doesn’t work out right.
You’ve set an expectation, at this point, to have frequent releases and suddenly you’re not meeting the same quota and maybe you start losing the interest of some of those new fans. That’s a lot of pressure to be under for seemingly very little gain. Those followers aren’t subscribers or buying your work. Most of them are probably in the same boat as you – struggling to get a start on their music careers.
I get it, I’m in a similar hamster wheel. I spend my free time writing up these blogs, trying to stick to a schedule in order to appear consistent and active. When I’m not writing this, I’m spending mornings and evenings playing music, recording it, mixing it, and trying to get new releases out there… Because, it feels like it’s the only way to grab someone’s short attention span.
Maybe it’s less about the fans’ short attention spans and more about our own. It doesn’t take long, before I get tired of the grind that is music promotion for a new release. I figure if I promote for a month and get little traction, six more months isn’t going to help with that. More importantly, I just don’t have the time and patience – if I spend six months on promotion, I won’t be able to make more music and I’d rather be making music!
While I can’t offer any advice on breaking the cycle, I will say that if you are feeling that pressure, it’s okay to take a break. Walk away for a minute, push back that next release, focus on the love of the craft. Your real fans will stick by you through that and the ones that leave? Well, I doubt they were supporting you financially anyways. Really, the most important thing is to take care of yourself. If you feel good about your work, others will too… it just might take some time for that day to come.
P.S. Did I mention I have a new release coming out? May 28th is the magical day and I’m excited!
Why do you make music? It’s a question I see sometimes in the Twitter-verse and the answers, I think, are exactly what you might expect. My favorites are the “Why not?” responses. Because, really, why not make music? Why not put that art into the world?
As to why I make music, I’ve got a bunch of reasons that I’ve partially written about before, but maybe the more important question is who am I making this music for? Sure, it’s for me, but it’s also for my kids. Maybe, anyways, I’m still figuring it out.
It can be incredibly soul-crushing to work in a job where there is no tangible output. By that I mean, when you finish your day of work, there’s nothing to point out saying, “I helped build that,” or, “That’s my design.” There’s just nothing that comes out of it and leaves you a feeling of satisfaction like a job well done.
In some ways, it reminds me of the movie Office Space. At the end of the movie when (spoiler alert!) Peter decides to work on the road crew instead of going back to software development? I totally sympathize. He’s outside doing a hard job that leaves him feeling satisfied in a way that fulfills his life which development never could. Stressful? Sure. Underpaid? Probably. Honest work that’s making him happy? 100%.
I don’t want to get into a massive debate over it. Satisfaction in any activity will vary for each person or personality. Someone working hard labor might see a cushy office job as their ideal future while I look at someone building a house and think – that’s satisfying. It probably also varies based on age. I used to derive a lot of satisfaction in my work but as I’ve gotten older, I just feel like I’ve done nothing to leave my mark on the world and that means more to me right now.
Anyway, back to the arts. The paintings I have on my wall, the drawings I post online, the music I produce – these are all tangible things that I can see, hear, touch, or whatever. When I get into the car and put on a song I’ve created and the kids like it, “Your dad made that.” Or when I make little drawings for their birthdays or special occasions, it’s a little memory they can hold. Selfishly, it’s great that I don’t have to spend time trying to explain why the thing is important or good – they can just look at it or hear it and make their own decision.
Why does it matter? Honestly, it’s just something I think about every now and again. What will I leave behind for my children when I’m gone? What will they remember about me? I want them to remember more about me than I remember about my childhood but beyond that, I just want them to have something they can hold on to. They can listen to the music and maybe remember the person that I am in this moment. They can listen to the music and wonder what I was thinking about when I made it or what I was feeling in that melody. They can listen to the music and be with the person I am today, even after this time has passed.
It’s important because we all grow over time and things change. We change. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And in twenty years time, I expect to be a different person with a different outlook. Creating something that will live on for the decades to come is basically my version of a time capsule that we can unwrap someday and relive the feelings of today.
P.S. On reading through this, I could see the nicer audience out there thinking that I need a pep talk but I assure you that’s not the case! My life is pretty great and I’ve still got a lot of life left!
Music production, based on school-age band class, should be as simple as picking up an instrument and recording playing said instrument. Or in the case of a band, recording all the different people playing at the same time. This is, of course, not the case at all. Playing the instrument is only but a tiny piece of the puzzle. My adventure into music has involved a lot more research than I’d like to remember and I’ve come across various opinions on music theory in particular… and, well, I’m throwing my hat in the ring.
Most of the tutorials I’ve read or watched seem to say, “You don’t need music theory… until you do.”. Of course, some places have articles that tell you don’t need music theory but then they’ll have “top chord progressions every producer should know”. If you’re going to learn chord progressions, you’re going to need to know some basics in music theory. I mean, if you don’t get into some basics, how are you supposed to understand all that nonsense about chord progression anyways?
What is my short answer on whether or not you need music theory? It’s situational. I would argue that if you are doing any sort of traditional composition, you absolutely need to take the time to learn the basics. On the other hand, if you focusing on experimental music or work exclusively through samples – this endeavor may be a waste of your time. Sometimes, just using your ear and listening to the music is the best way of knowing if it works for you.
More importantly, spending a lot of time on music theory may lock you into a box that impacts your experimentation. So if that’s your target, perhaps skip the lessons because I feel this is one area where things are more science and less art.
In an art course, you will most definitely be told that you need to know the rules so you know how to break them. Music theory? Maybe that applies but it feels harder. Breaking the rules produces sounds that you now know are wrong whereas before, you may have found them interesting. And in so many cases, it’s not that you broke a rule: you just invoked a rule that you didn’t know existed.
Like now, I know better when to throw in borrowed chords from a parallel scale or how to switch from a major scale to its relative minor for added interest. Before? I just got lucky.
As with anything else in life, you’ll get what you put into this study. If you want to be a faster composer and spend less time experimenting or less effort on guessing why things sound good or bad together – spend time to learn music theory. Power through it, you can do it! But on the other hand, if you’re happy with the sound of your music and don’t want to learn music theory? Don’t feel bad about that choice because it’s totally fine.
Also, you should accept that if you want to learn music theory, you’re not going to get it done quickly. I don’t care how many of those videos you watch where the tag line is “learn music theory in 5 minutes!”, it’s not enough. Even now, as I write this article, I spent some refresher time and came across concepts I had completely forgotten and other concepts that were totally new. I have stacks of notes, books that I bought, and tons of bookmarks on the subject… because there’s a lot of information on it.
Point is: no one becomes an expert of anything over night so don’t sweat it. Just do what’s right for you and keep making your art!
P.S. I don’t know if I said it adequately enough above but learning music theory can help speed up your music making process by giving you more tools with which to assess your music… but it’s only one part of the puzzle. If you have to choose between this and some other skill – say, how to mix your music – do the thing that’ll give you the most return for your time now and come back to the other thing later. Don’t fret because you aren’t 100% knowledgable in all things right now. It takes time to learn a skill.
I’m pleased to announce that I’m releasing a new album on all platforms May 28th, 2021! Over many months, I worked on creating this chill music combining city life with dreamy synth textures and I can’t wait for release day to hear your feedback! I truly hope this music brings you the same level of chill and inner peace it brings to me every day.
For this release, I wanted to dive in a bit on what makes this album different. So, a quick recap:
“Inside the Red Room” was my first full length release which contains 17 songs mostly combining piano sounds with sound samples geared towards yoga and meditation music. The album was produced entirely in GarageBand as a labor of love and passion but with very little technical knowledge of the music making process.
“Exodus” was an EP created in the month of February for the RPM Challenge. When I created this music, I was already a month or two into the process of creating “City Dreams” but I took a timeout for the challenge. I learned a lot leading up to this EP and from creating this EP – relying a little less on samples, moving to Logic Pro, starting this blog, and learning about all sorts of things along the way.
“City Dreams” is different in terms of applied knowledge – I just know a lot more about the process now than I did when I started making music. (For the record, I still have a lot to learn.) It’s also different because I had very specific targeted goals like wanting to target a lo-fi feel in the production. Some other things were done for consistency which I didn’t bother with before: using the same BPM across most of the songs, creating and using the same drum kit across all the songs, etc. The end result, I feel, is a more technically accurate sound.
The drum kit component was also very different this time. “Inside the Red Room” was done purely with samples – any percussion in those songs was chosen from purchased samples and used, pretty much, as-is. “Exodus”, given the speed at which I needed to complete the songs, was done using the Logic Pro drum sequencer and a stock drum kit. With “City Dreams”, all the drums were programmed via MIDI which was a painful process at times but I felt led to better outcomes.
You may also note that the raw piano sound is missing from this album. I really love the sound of a piano but I decided to switch that out for an Alchemy-based sound that I customized a bit. When I was chasing that lo-fi feel with my piano sounds, I kept backing myself into this corner where the piano either sounded far too distorted or was still too piercing. I just wasn’t getting to the sound that I wanted – so I tried a lot of different things and finally got there.
Why move away from the piano sound? The highs were just too jarring for the dreamy feel I wanted to get to.
Enjoy this preview from Track 1 of the album taken from the middle of the song!
As always, thanks for sticking with me and I hope you enjoy this album when it comes out!
P.S. Don’t worry about marking your calendars, I’ll post a reminder on release day!
In my day job, we frequently talk about the “sunk cost” problem in technology deployments. The idea basically goes like this: a company will invest a million dollars into a technology based on the sales pitch. Then they invest thousands of hours into deploying and adopting the technology across numerous personnel. After some time, though, the company realizes they are millions of dollars into a project and have zero returns to show for it because the product didn’t work as advertised. Yet, they continue to push the product because, “We’ve already invested so much…”
If you want to read more about that, do an internet search for the “sunk cost fallacy” and I’m sure you’ll find plenty. However, if you don’t want to read up on it, just keep this in mind. The more you invest in a thing, the harder it becomes to walk away from it.
This applies to artists of all types. Maybe you have a painting or an unreleased song that you keep returning to in the hopes you can finally finish it off. I have a few of these too. I have songs, I have paintings, I have drawings – things that I return to but am never able to finish. One song was added to a previous blog post a couple months ago that I’ve invested so much time in, yet, it remains unreleased. No matter how much I’ve changed it or worked on it, it’s just not right.
I’ve modified the song multiple times including replaying parts, changing the lead instrument, adding new instruments to the mix, completely reprogramming the drum track, and so on. Despite all that work and effort, I can’t release it because it isn’t right and I haven’t been able to fully delete it yet either. I’ve just spent so much time on it.
With paintings, I have this problem less because I’m working completely in a physical medium. Paint is mixed with mediums and applied to a support suitable for the type of paint I’m working with. When you add too much, everything becomes a muddy brown and there’s no real way to back out of it. Sure, sometimes you can just go over the top with an opaque medium and essentially reset back to stage one. But depending on your support, you might hit weight limitations.
Point is, I’ve hit those physical limitations many times with paintings and that led to a very natural end point. “This painting is not done and there’s nothing I can do to change it or make it better.” It gets thrown out.
Working with the music I create is similar to digital painting. Every component exists on a separate layer and it becomes incredibly easy to remove a layer or add new layers. So it’s easy to keep going ad infinitum…
So how do we know it’s time to walk away? You have to take a break from it. When you return to it again, if you feel inspired, keep working on it! But if you don’t feel inspired and you just want to work on it because you’ve already invested so much… walk away.
Your best work will come when you feel inspired and that inspiration will lead to a finished product. It’s not likely that you’ll produce your best work when your goal is to simply finish.
If you have some unfinished projects you want to tell me about, feel free to hit me via email or at Twitter.
P.S. Hey, don’t forget – walking away from something that isn’t working isn’t a sign of failure. Getting fixated, stuck, and frustrated leading to you being unable to get your whole creation out into the world because you didn’t walk away? That seems more like failure to me.
I’ve said it on this blog in the past and I’ve seen it written in a lot of places, “Art is subjective.” It’s typically added on as this reminder that when your art is rejected by someone, for whatever the reason, it’s a subjective opinion. Unfortunately, this is only part of the truth. Sometimes, art is just not good.
The hardest part is putting your finger on specific things that make art bad. Is it bad music if the vocals aren’t in tune? A bad singer is a bad singer, right? Is it a bad movie if the acting is terrible? Is it a bad drawing if the shading is inconsistent? What if these things were done intentionally as a statement within the art?
Two paragraphs into writing this and I’m already losing track of my original thought that some art is just bad because every single example that comes to mind really is just my subjective view. What I consider bad, someone else might really enjoy – something that is very easy to spot by visiting your nearest art museum and keeping track of just how much of that art you don’t like. So now where do I take this entry?
I’ll detour. One thing that stands out to me, as an artist, is that mediocrity in art is a harder place to be than in the bad art section. People appreciate really bad art – either because it was intentionally bad to be funny or because the creator thought it was the greatest thing ever but it really, really wasn’t. In both cases, those of us on the outside are getting a laugh – and people like to laugh.
People also appreciate great art. You know, the kind of art that was obviously created by someone who is a master of their craft. The kind of art that when I say “great art”, some image or song just pops into mind and you smile. The best of the best.
You know what people really don’t appreciate? Mediocre art. Any art that’s between really bad and really good falls into a tough spot because it’s not at the extremes that people go out of their way to promote/share/whatever.
I feel a lot of my artistic efforts fall into this category as well. It’s most often not bad enough to make someone laugh at the effort but it’s not good enough to make people need to have more of it. Or more specifically, most of it is not bad enough or good enough to compel people to share it with their friends.
There’s a lot of mediocre art filling the world. There’s plenty of music you’ve enjoyed but don’t know who performed it because you weren’t motivated enough to look it up. There are a lot of paintings that fill walls around us which you appreciated but didn’t think to invest in any of them. This is all around us thanks to people showing up every day, putting forth effort, and producing something decent.
Coming back to this whole “art is subjective” thing, when you submit a piece somewhere what you are really asking is: “Is my work commercially viable enough that you are willing to support it?” That is a hugely different question compared to, “Is my art bad?”, but it’s still a pretty subjective thing. How many stories do you know of artists being rejected only to have them move on to be famous for that same work of art later? (Living with a writer, I know a few.)
So, how do you know if your art is bad art? Honestly, you have to soul search and figure that out for yourself. For me, I know it’s bad if I don’t love it. Beyond that single qualification, there are questions I ask of myself depending on what type of art I’m producing – but mostly, I just accept my art as mediocre and that’s a great place for me to be. There will be a small audience that likes what I offer and I never wanted anything more than that.
Feel free to send me your take via Twitter or email! Until next time, take care of yourself and keep creating.
P.S. I should say that I don’t use the term mediocre here to mean anything negative. Some people won’t rise to the level of superstardom because there’s a finite number of positions at the top. Others probably don’t want to be there and are content with just steadily working in the field they love. You know those actors that are in a billion movies but you still don’t know their name? They aren’t superstars but they show up, put in a good day’s worth of work, and have success. And, frankly, we wouldn’t have superstars without them.
It sounds old to say things like, “Well, in my day, we didn’t do …” but that’s often how I feel about social media. I did not grow up with the idea that we should spew every waking thought into the void in the hopes that someone out there would like it. I’ve never been in a place where I thought what I had to say was of interest enough to clutter up the internet. Yet, here I am: writing this blog. It will go off into the void and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t gain a follower or like from it.
Honestly, every time I sit down to write an entry or post to Twitter, I have this internal conflict. Why am I writing this? Is it unique? Does it have purpose? Should I post personal feelings? Stories about my life? Take a political stand? My initial reaction is, no. No, I should not do any of this.
Unfortunately, I’ve read that social media is a necessity for artists of all types now if you want to be successful. I’ve read it in guides for visual artists. I’ve read it in guides for musicians. It’s just accepted now and here are some “tips” that I’ve read in my brief research:
You should post frequently, but not too frequently. Maybe three to five times daily.
You should time your posts to coincide with peak viewing times.
Share across multiple platforms to increase your potential audience size.
You get the idea. If you don’t, just search up “how to social media” and you’ll find plenty of guides, videos, and words of advice.
Anyway, why am I writing this? It is a business decision. Being an independent artist means you have also chosen to be an independent business owner. As a business, I have to market my goods and services to consumers and social media is a good way to connect to potential consumers. That means, I have to market my brand which is me. Therefore, I have to do this, in the hopes that you’ll find it, like it, and want to support my work.
If you struggle with social media the way I do, I’m truly sorry. I have no advice to help you with that. Every post is hard for me – every single tweet is an hour long struggle of “now I’ve written it, should I post it”? I’ve deleted more drafts than I’ve actually posted. Every blog entry I put together is a week long struggle of editing and wondering how it could be perceived by readers. Often times, I go through this struggle only to hit “publish” and then get informed by some English major I know that I messed up a word!
But hey, I manage to get through it, so I’m sure you can too!
P.S. I had a thought writing this entry: If you’re an open book to the world, how do you differentiate between the world and your closest friends?
I’m not going to lie – this article isn’tgoing to make you rich and successful. If anything, I hope it will give you a reason to support your local artists next time you’re out and you see an artist selling their goods at a local market or shop. Because that small amount of support could go a long way, if we all invested just a little bit. If you’re not the type to go out or you live away from a big city, check out Bandcamp for music or find local artists on Etsy.
Anyway, let me give you some background and tell you what I have spent thus far on my musical journey. These goods and services are things that I’ve invested in to help with music making and marketing. (Costs are rounded for simplicity or estimated where appropriate.)
Service / Good
Purpose / Additional Info
Arturia Keylab 49 Essential
This was the MIDI keyboard I started with.
Arturia Keylab 49 MK2
This is the MIDI keyboard I am using now.
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Closed-Back Studio Headphones
Bought for music mixing.
Logic Pro X
While I used GarageBand for “Inside the Red Room”, I wanted to step up and chose Logic as my DAW.
Mac Mini (M1 Chip)
I traded in an older Macbook Pro to get a new M1 Mac Mini. I love it, by the way.
I used Tunecore for distribution of “Inside the Red Room”. I later switched because the annual recurring cost of this service seemed… excessive.
Note that this is a yearly cost per album. $30 for the first year and $50 for each year after.
This is a yearly fee paid for unlimited distribution through LANDR.
Yearly payment for premium WordPress stuff.
I actually own numerous domains but I’m only going to count achira.art in this post for simplicity which runs $14/year.
This is a monthly cost of $20 for automated mastering. I’d rather pay a proper sound engineer but… you know, costs.
I’m paying for the $8/mo plan in order to easily get access to samples.
$6/mo plan for more samples and to compare against Splice.
Here are some items that I know I may need to pay for at some point but I haven’t paid for as of the time of this article:
Audio Control Interface
Additional Plug-ins/Software Instruments
Additional Hardware Instruments
Band Name Trademark
Music Submission / Marketing
One thing I have purchased that I’m not including here is an Acoustic-Electric guitar which I don’t need strictly for the music I’m making today but I wanted to learn and incorporate in the future. I also didn’t include things like computer accessories/monitors, that digital piano I owned for a while, groceries, rent/mortgage, and a number of things that have costs and have been part of the process over the years… because you have to draw the line somewhere.
So, my initial first year costs come out to$2,688 dollars. My current recurring requirements assuming no changes or hidden renewal fees come out to $608 per year or about $51 per month. Though I do expect this to grow as the modern world relies heavily on subscription fees and those monthly fees are often easier to swallow than massive upfront costs.
So now, let’s add in something a bit more nebulous. Let’s assume that I spend 20 hours per week working on music, marketing, or any of the things related to my project and my initial hope is to make a minimum hourly wage of $15 per hour. According to one calculator on the internet, at $15 per hour, 20 hours per week, I could expect to bring home approximately $300 per week before taxes and deductions. Assuming I work 45 of the 52 weeks in a year, this is approximately $13,500 pre-tax dollars.
Running with that, to recoup material and labor costs for the first year I would need to make roughly $16,188 in streaming royalties, sales, or selling a kidney. Given that streaming revenue will be pennies at best – my main hope would lie in selling music and merchandise directly to fans. Assuming that, if I were to set a full-length album price to $7 per sale, I would need a minimum of 2,313 album sales just to meet my goal, and I still wouldn’t make a living wage or be in a place to make this my full time job. (Note: Okay, the platform gets a cut of sale, the payment processor will get a cut of the sales, and you have to account for taxes. So the actual need is higher.)
I know artists and musicians have been saying this for a long time and I’m just another voice lost in the cacophony, but I chose to write about this and be transparent in my spending in the hopes that you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have over the last few years: support your local artists. If you have a few extra bucks to spare, give one to an artist because art is important. Art makes our lives better. Art can make the world a beautiful place and you’re doing humanity a favor by supporting those artists.
For the artists out there, if you happen to see this, do me a favor and set up at least one digital way to accept cash. It’s 2021 and so many of us don’t carry cash – I never do and I always feel bad when I want to chip in a couple bucks and can’t. Cash has advantages, I’m aware, but you should weigh out if it’s still worth it when so many of us are going full digital in our money transactions. (For the love of all that’s holy, if you’re going to use Venmo or similar products, set your profile to private. No one needs to see how you send or receive money.)
Anyway, that’s my plea, get out there and support the great artists in your area and if you don’t want to go outside – find a way to support local artists online. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but you could be helping someone else with their grocery bill.
P.S. You should know that I am aware of my own privilege that I can afford the things I’ve listed above and this, in part, is why my article is not a plea for you to support my work. For now, I’m just asking that the next time you have the opportunity to support an artist in your community – do what you can. It’s tough for everyone out there.
Also, to play with numbers more, in America the definition of poverty for a four person household is $26,500. (Reference: here and here.) Sticking with the $15 per hour rate and assuming you worked 40 hours per week, you’re looking at $600 pre-tax dollars and after 45 weeks of work (of the 52 available weeks in a year), you could expect about $27000 pre-tax dollars. At $7 per album sale and no streaming royalties, you’d need 3,858 salesper year to meet the minimum goal. More is required if you need to cover any new material cost. (See my previous comment above about how you don’t get the full $7 per album… so you actually need quite a few more sales.)
Thing is, all this talk about money… none of it is even targeting being ultra-successful. It’s just about making the “minimums” so you one can eat, live, and produce some art they love.
Patience is a hard thing to learn and practice that mostly just comes with time. I won’t say it’s universally true, but with age comes patience. There’s a willingness to sit back and just accept things as they come – to sit back and listen. I think you can practice patience by doing things that require you to just be still and in the moment but mostly, I think it just comes with time.
Perhaps it’s less about age and more about acceptance that there are things you can’t control in life. When you are younger, so much of life is out of your personal control and you don’t really accept that thinking, “Hey, I’ll get out of this house someday and do whatever I want!” You eventually get some freedom but then the reality of life steps in – turns out, you can’t do just do anything you want without consequence. It also turns out that there are just some things in life, these days, that you can’t change.
My life experience was exactly that.
As a teen, I had about zero patience but I was also willing to walk away from something when it wasn’t going my way. In other words, my teenage version of patience was apathy and the ability to walk away from anything not specifically going my way. In my early 20s, it was much the same except I wasn’t able to walk away so apathy turned to anger – anger at bosses for being so slow to take my suggestions; anger at co-workers for being so dumb as to not know the basics of our job; anger at the parents that took days off because their kids were sick. Misguided anger, everywhere and for everyone.
Mid-to-late 20s? I had kids. I can honestly tell you that nothing changes your outlook on life quite as much as having kids but it can take some time to fully set in. In terms of patience? I gained some, sure, but probably not as much as you would think. In fact, having children really pushed me to change my life and left me feeling like I had wasted the first 20-some years of my life. (Which is a broad, incorrect generalization, but I’m sure you understand.) Feeling that way spurred me to change a lot, mostly for the better, but was a source of anxiety and stress for a long time.
It still is in some ways. I was an avid video game player – it consumed my life for many years – but when I had kids, I walked away from the worst of that. As my kids get older, though, they play video games now and I struggle every day with my own past – I want them to have fun with their friends while also ensuring they don’t waste years like I did. But hey, this isn’t a parenting blog, so moving on…
Getting to 30s, well, I finally found more patience. I think it was the cross-section of a lot of things in my life. I’ve achieved some goals and as my children get older – I have more free time to get back to pursuing dreams. Also, there are some fundamental differences between me now and the person that existed 10 and 20 years ago – differences rooted heavily in those life changes I alluded to but continue to provide zero details. The main point is that I finally found something.
Maybe it’s better to just say that I found some peace. For a lot of my earlier years, there was a sense of urgency tied to every pursuit: “If I do this, I need to be amazing so I can make a bazillion dollars and never work again.” Even in more recent years, I stressed about my paintings and how I needed to produce something that would get me known. The goal was less about adding something positive to the world and more about how I can walk away from my current career.
Reality hurts. As it turns out, all of these pursuits are extremely hard work and require a lot of effort and first attempts are rarely as good as we’d like to think. Even when you do turn out something great, you’re unknown so money doesn’t just pour in through some funnel without stopping. Even with my career – the reason why I’m good at what I do in my day job is because I now have years of experience and accumulated knowledge behind me that puts me above a lot of the competition. I haven’t crossed the peak into a place where new technologies are completely foreign to me and the younger generation is taking my place. That’ll come in the next decade, I’m sure.
These days? I have enough patience to understand that it’s a long game I’m playing. I might have little successes along the way but I expect to be struggling to get this off the ground for a long time, depending on the amount of effort I can realistically put into it.
So that brings me back around to our core topic. Looking back, there are a few things that I wish I had known which contribute heavily to my ability to be patient. Those items, in no particular order:
Don’t put off doing the thing you love thinking that life will somehow afford you an opportunity later. Life will never work out that way. You have to make time and chase those things.
You’re never as good as you think you are at first. That first album? Not the best. That first painting? Not the best. BUT, that’s okay.
When you suffer a setback, don’t give up. Just keep working at it.
Define what your version of success looks like in realistic terms. “Being rich and famous” is not a realistic goal when you are starting out, so don’t make it your measure of success from the start.
If I had practiced these things from the start, my anxiety would have been reduced and perhaps I could have been more patient, stuck with something for longer, and found modest success earlier in life while following my dreams.
If you have some secrets for staying patient, send them my way via email or twitter, I’d love to hear it!
P.S. Patience also comes from acceptance that failure is a potential outcome and accepting that it is better to have tried than to have done nothing at all.
I love technology, generally, and the things it has done for us. But technology has created an interesting problem as it relates to cheating. Some of us are old enough to remember when calculators were forbidden from math class because you needed to know the steps instead of just getting to the answer, right? Now, computers are so ubiquitous in our lives that *not* using a calculator seems like the poor choice. Are we cheating somehow when we use the calculator?
If the calculator example doesn’t hit home for you, how about the last time you went to a music concert? (You know, back when we could still do that.) Or, honestly, to any event. Were you one of the people recording it on your phone to never watch it again? Were you one of the people silently hating the people with their phones out recording this once-in-a-lifetime event?
That is technology enabling people to experience an event in two different ways and we are left wondering if one of those people is cheating themselves. Either they didn’t record the event and can’t relive the moment later or they didn’t pay enough attention to the current moment and missed out on some emotion. I certainly can’t say which approach is right. Having grown up in a different time, I don’t record these events because I just want to be in the moment and know that I’ll never watch the recording anyways.
So what does this have to do with art? Well, technology has enabled artists in the same way and I’m left wondering – what is cheating anyways?
For a very long time, I subscribed to a purist attitude on this. Consider photobashing – or the concept of taking a photograph and blending it into your digital artwork in order to add textures or specific elements to your final art. I hated this concept. I felt like, “Are you an artist if you didn’t really draw the thing yourself?” It felt like cheating because it seemed like it removed the necessity of traditional art skills.
Fast forward many years and here’s a layout in one of my Logic Pro projects:
What you are seeing here is three different piano instruments overlaid in order to produce the song that I was going for. You can see my sections that I’ve labeled with specific chord progressions (3->5->6 or 1->1->5->1->1->6) that I reused. You can see where I loop parts and so on. This is very much a work-in-progress so it’s rough, but as shown above it sounds like this:
This is my cheating.
This is me taking shortcuts to achieve the desired end-goal because I finally came around to a different view which you can look at in one of a couple ways:
Technology enables me to compensate for my otherwise mediocre skills; or
Technology enables me to take shortcuts to get to my end goal and thereby saves time.
If I had to follow a more traditional route, I would have to pound out each of these parts on a proper piano and when I landed on something I liked – write it out in note form. Then I’d have to add in each part I wanted to play to those sheets of music. Eventually, I’d land on the same composition and then I’d have to play it and practice until I was adept enough at playing it error free – I could record it. (To be fair, the recording process could have multiple takes with a sound engineer taking the best parts of each take in order to produce the final recording. So, still kind of cheating!)
Past me, from so many years ago, would have considered this cheating and said: “How dare you call yourself a musician or artist!” Today?
Well, today, I see it as a more efficient workflow that helps compensate for areas where I’m not so great but most importantly, allows me to land on a final composition faster. I hit the record button multiple times and capture my notes in MIDI form. I listen through it, pick out the parts I like the most for the feel I’m going for, and I create a composition. I’m still doing the work to create a finished product.
I also get to take advantage of the process. Accidentally hit an E note when I meant E flat? Fix in post processing. Accidentally get off beat when you didn’t mean to? Quantize it in post processing. Having troubles playing left and right hand pieces at the same time? Play them separate and combine them in post processing.
Quite honestly, I’m not sure it’s much different than using samples and loops in music which happens plenty. But taking these shortcuts, cheating, leaves me with an important question. If you can cheat your way to a finished product, what makes you an artist?
Really, we have to answer that for ourselves.
I think it’s different for everyone. For me, I consider myself an artist because I practice hard and work at it every day. When I’m not producing something of my own, I am reading about other works or researching information that might make me better. One of the most telling things is that when you look at my desk, you won’t see a single book related to my day job but you will see lots of instruction books and printouts related to drawing, painting, and music.
Feel free to tell me what makes you an artist via email or at Twitter!
P.S. Another way to think about whether or not you are an artist is simply this: are you creating art? My partner once relayed a quote to me that went something like, “You are a writer as long as you are writing every day.” If you are doing the art you enjoy, actively pursuing it in your life, then you get to call yourself an artist regardless of your commercial success status.