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Dear Readers,

I’m pretty sure it’s not a big secret in the tech industry that sometimes we take interviews or accept calls from recruiters just to see what happens. Sometimes I just want to know, what does that company think I’m worth? How is the interview process these days? Could it be better there compared to where I am today? Of course, the grass is always greener so you have to be careful with that question.

Anyway, the point is, I was interviewing for a position. It was the very first interview where the recruiter asks some simple questions to see where you are in your career, make sure you are applying to the right thing, and that you’re not a complete weirdo. This recruiter, though, asked me: “Where do you see yourself in five years?

Mitch Hedburg would have responded, “Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me this question.”

I’m pretty sure I could respond with that and get away with it because the interview process is optional for me since I have a job that I’m reasonably satisfied with but it has been a very long time since I’ve been asked that question.

My five year plan? I can’t envision where I’ll be in five years. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last five. I’m mostly just living my life putting one foot in front of the other, getting on from day to day… my five year plan? I don’t recall what I actually responded with. Probably something about how I have no desire to be in a management role and that ideally, in five years, I would just be doing the same kind of work albeit with new technology and new problems.

Writing this now, I wonder if perhaps the right response should have been: “Well, Mr. Person I’m Talking to Right Now, where do you think the world will be in five years?”

I know we’re supposed to have plans and I do. I want to continue learning guitar, music, and art. I want to learn another language. I want to spend the latter half of my life doing everything I can to enjoy the time I have. The years of striving to give everything to my company, plotting out every move to try to advance my career… well, I think those are behind me.

As I continued to think about that question over the following days, which I absolutely did, I started to think about how incredibly personal that question can be. So why ask it to begin with? For previous generations, perhaps it made more sense since you could honestly expect to work your entire career within a single company. But in the tech industry? Staying in the same place has often been seen as a negative. If you spend too much time in one place, it’s bad. (Not spending enough time in one place is equally bad. You have to spend just the right amount of time which seems to be somewhere between two and three years.)

And there’s the answer – it’s a personal question because my career objectives likely don’t involve staying in the same role or company for very long. In five years, I’ll most likely be in a new job. If I’m really lucky, it’ll be one that I’m passionate about and love. Otherwise, it’ll be another job like this one Dear Recruiter – one that pays the bills, keeps my family fed, and hopefully keeps me interested long enough to stick around for a couple years.

My question to that company should be: where do you see me in five years? It’s a question they can’t honestly answer so why should I?

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. I know I don’t have many followers but should you be a repeat reader of this blog (thanks so much!), you might wonder: “Hey, where’s the tie-in to music or arts?” There isn’t one, really.

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Dear Readers,

Being a writer has been forefront on my mind lately. My lovely partner is a writer, and I watch her struggle with the business side of things – researching literary agents and publishing houses, writing query letters, dealing with rejections, and all that. I’m impressed by her commitment and fortitude, truly, but I also get to think about my past desire to be in the writing game.

There was a time when I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories as a youth and poems as a teenager (of course I did). Somewhere in my digital archives I’ve managed to keep works from my early adulthood: there are poems, stories, and even a book! I haven’t read them but I can assure you that they are terrible and probably quite embarrassing. I’m not willing to open them and find out.

That unwillingness to open up the archive, refine the work, and pursue the story until it’s finally told and in the world – that’s why I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer because it doesn’t interest me the way other artistic pursuits do. Sure, if I were famous enough where I could just get that book deal – I’d do it. Putting in the time and effort, though, to actually make it happen? No thank you. This blog is the maximum amount of effort I’m willing to put into writing and this basically sums up to being a public journal.

I try harder with music. I research song structures and how other producers make music. I submit to contests in the hopes of getting my name out there. I submit songs to playlists. I release to Bandcamp and successfully submitted to the editorial staff for my last album. I always release my music with a release date that’s 30-60 days in the future – for playlist submission to Spotify mostly. (Fun frustrating fact: you can only have one active pitch to for a single song to Spotify for playlist submission and it’s only available during that pre-release period. You get zero notification if the pitch is even viewed and zero notification when you aren’t put on a playlist.) Every now and again, I remember to get on Twitter and see what other musicians are doing.

Maybe next year, I’ll figure out how to actually do the marketing part…

Obviously, my past self was naïve. My past self thought that publishing a single book would bring untold riches and allow me to live the most luxurious life. It wouldn’t take any work and everything would be easy, because that’s exactly how the world works. It is nice to dream…

I can’t say I remember exactly where I was trying to get in this post so I’ll just wrap with this. If you’re among the creatives out there struggling to be heard, don’t give up. There is an audience for you, it just might take some time to find them.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

I think I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m fortunate enough to have a day job. A day job completely different from music and art, but I get the bills paid and am happy for that. Thing is – making music is a job too. It’s a job that takes up a lot of time. Probably a little blood, sweat, and tears too. I see it as two lives contrasting from each other with very little overlap.

How do you keep those lives separate? Depending on your generation, you probably have a different approach. It seems the older generation would keep these as separated as possible while the younger generation would take every opportunity they could to tell you all about their side hustle and why you should support it. You can probably tell which side of the generational gap I’m siding with on this topic. (To be clear: it’s the side that keeps things separate.)

I don’t announce anything at my day job about my artistic pursuits. Sure, there are a few people that are more friends and less work associates these days, so I tell them a little bit. Sometimes, people will ask when we’re on video calls about the paintings in the background and I might give them a quick tour around my office – beyond that, it’s all professional.

One thing I’ve noted over the years and through a number of jobs is that it’s becoming more normal for people to share about their personal lives. And now, when so many people out there are using video conferencing for the first time ever, things seem to be getting even more personal. I don’t approve. I won’t drag this out but the next time your company leadership goes on about how “we’re all Company family” – you should think about that.

I know this much: I’m not allowed to fire my family members for not making money.

Anyway… separation. It can be incredibly difficult to enforce separation between your job (day) and your job (night). Everyone’s circumstance is different so let me explain mine a bit.

I’ve been a remote worker for about eight years. I have an office. The office has one main desk that houses my music equipment, personal computer, some art supplies, and work supplies. In another corner are the art supplies. Somewhere in the middle of this room, right now, are guitars. During the colder months, I also bring exercise equipment (small weights, mats, etc.) into this room. I pretty much live in this room. (Inside the Red Room. Get it?)

Keeping these lives separate becomes a real balancing act. I have to place things in my office just right to ensure they are out of camera view so I don’t have to deal with questions. I can’t make too much of a mess when I’m painting because I need a clean space to work in and, when it’s colder, I need room to exercise. This also limits just how much gear I can acquire since there’s a limited space in which to put the kit.

The main problem, though, is that all around are the various temptations of things I’d rather be doing than my actual job. And when I’m actually doing the things I want to do, I’m right next to my work computer where if I only spent 30 more minutes on that project, I could get it done… (Which almost always spirals to hours because there’s never enough time to do all the work.)

How do I handle it? Well… there’s a Chris Rock stand-up comedy special where he makes a few jokes where the main punchline is, “A mortgage makes you act right.” I can’t argue with that! But what does it mean to act right?

In my case, I keep a consistent schedule. I work the same hours throughout the day and I unplug at a predefined time. Sleep gets, more-or-less, the same priority with a set number of hours and timing every day. The remaining hours are split for all the other things where I try to keep some flexibility. On some days, I’ll work on music for hours while on other days, I spend all that time with my family instead.

And I’m sure you’ll love this circular logic: the most important thing to keeping things separate is to keep them separate. You know, setting boundaries. If I were to sit around talking about my artistic pursuits all day, I would feel a stronger desire to work on it during that time. Even if I were to refrain, I would still be watching the clock waiting for the exact minute I could be done with work in order to get on with the better pursuit.

Many years ago, that’s exactly how it was with my coworkers. We would play video games together in the evening, show up late to work, and then sit around and talk about those games all day along with strategies for that evening. With all that talk and planning, we were all itching to get out work, often trying to find ways to leave a few minutes early so we could get started on the all important game.

On the other end of the spectrum, in more recent years, I was so attached to work that I was never able to more forward on any artistic pursuit. I’d work all day and sometimes in the evening to wrap up sometimes and then I’d communicate to work contacts through all the waking hours – I never unplugged. So every time I went into my office, I felt pulled to my work device… because there’s always work to be done.

Ultimately, blurring the boundaries between things that should have stayed separate was a terrible idea.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Yes, you could say that I have one job and one hobby because I could walk away from music. I consider it a second job because of the amount of time I put into it and the effort spent on things like this blog. For as long as I continue to do this, I’ll continue to think of it as my second job.

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Dear Readers,

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.

Sincerely,

Achira

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!

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Dear Reader,

I’m not sure if it’s really failure if you never tried. That’s the thing that always stopped me from putting anything artistic into the world – what if people don’t like it? What if it’s terrible? Quite honestly, the first few things you put out there probably are terrible and people won’t like it. At least I’m sure that’s true for most of us.

It’s because very little comes from just having natural talent. I will, of course, leave myself some wiggle room and say that most of us don’t have a born ability to be amazing at any one thing. When I used to hear about “child prodigies” doing some thing or another at such a young age, all I could really think was, “Yeah, sure, they are young and fantastical… but they still had to put in the hours to practice.” Nothing good happens without putting in the time to get there.

Thus, my biggest failure. Until now, I’ve never really tried to put anything out there. I never blogged, I never tried to adapt to the modern world and make a presence for myself on social media. I had one of two ideas, which go something like:

Idea 1: My art or music is so terrible that no one will like it and therefore it’s not worth doing.

Idea 2: Something will be so perfect that someone with power and authority will just reach out and all my dreams will come true! I only need to create that perfect thing...

Sadly, neither of these are true. (You may think otherwise!) It took a long time for me to make it to where I am today and I’m still learning all the time. For example, it’s only been a month or two since wrapping up my first attempt at music and I’ve already learned so much that I wish I could go back and re-mix the whole production. The same is true of anything that I’ve drawn. It’s okay, not great, but a hell of a lot better than it was some years ago.

So over the years, I convinced myself of those two ideas and never really advanced in any meaningful way in my artistic passions. To be clear, I still haven’t tried really. I have never applied to an artistic job, gone to a gallery and asked them to sell my work, or stood on a street playing music. There’s a lot I haven’t tried because it’s a lot of work, it’s new and scary, and I stand to lose a lot by trying to make that change.

Which brings me to 2021 where things have changed. Mostly, I realize, there is no recovering from my past failures. There’s only moving forward and trying again, trying harder, and accepting what comes. An important part of moving forward is also setting reasonable, attainable goals. My 2021 goal is to put some music into the world, figure out how to make the best music that I can, and try to get out there in front of people (digitally, not in person) to find an audience receptive to what I have to offer. If it’s one person (it better be at least one person), cool. If it’s more, that’s even better!

A few years back, though, my main goal would have been: quit my job and sustain my life through art. Ultimately, that goal led to stress, pressure, and disappointment when it didn’t happen. It was too lofty of a goal to jump right into – it didn’t account for the years of hard work and effort that would be necessary to get there. Worse, though, is that having such an unattainable goal also led to a reduction in my own creative output because I was more worried about ensuring as many people liked what I did rather than first making sure that I liked the art myself. And if you want to sell it, you have to love it enough to want to buy it.

I’ve written a bunch about failure, but what about criticism?

Criticism is hard to accept when you’ve done something that you love and all you want is for the people around you to love it too. It can be even harder to accept when you disagree with the criticism. And, trust me, I’m no stranger to this concept. In my household, I’m always asking my wife to give me feedback on my work and she sometimes asks that I offer feedback to her writings.

After all these years, you know the main thing that I have to share? You can’t be angry when someone gives you feedback that you asked them to give. It seems silly to write that down but it’s 100% true. Here’s what happens:

  1. You fall in love with your art.
  2. You think you finished it and immediately call in your partner to give you a review.
  3. Your partner is not as happy as you are and points out some flaws.
  4. Immediately, you’re defensive and a bit angry. How could they not love it like you do?

It can be difficult but that’s the real secret – controlling your anger and disappointment so that people can give you honest feedback without fear that you’ll be hurt. Though it also helps if you ask the right questions or approach the situation in a different way. Here’s what I would advise:

  1. Wait a little while before you ask for feedback.
  2. Don’t ask for generic feedback, ask specific, pointed questions.
  3. Remember that you’re the artist and feedback is something you don’t have to take.

Item one is pretty easy but what do I mean about asking specific questions? Well, don’t ask the question “what do you think about this song?” Instead ask questions like, “Do you experience any specific emotions while listening to this song? Is there any visual that comes to mind when you listen to this song? Did the transition at X:XX sound natural?”

As the artist, you probably set out to create something that evoked a specific emotion or told a specific story. Maybe you’re a writer and you just need to know if the reader could predict your story. Whatever the case, these are specific questions that you can ask and can be helpful in guiding your artistic process. If you wanted to evoke a feeling of loneliness in your song but your listener feels like the song is bright and happy, you’ve probably done something wrong. Better, though, is that the person isn’t being asked to give you a slew of negative comments about your work. They are simply providing the answer to a pointed question.

Granted, you may still be disappointed by the answers you hear and when that happens, you make a choice: Do you revise the work or do you leave it as-is? I typically lean towards setting the piece aside and revisiting it much later and I almost always end up revising the work. Why? After a nice break, the flaws always become more apparent.

I wish I could give you something akin to the “secret sauce” but it seems like this post could be summed up to: Work hard and keep your feelings in check. Also, it helps to adopt an artist name to hide behind…

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Reader,

I thought it would be best to set a baseline of what to expect in this blog. Before I dive into my creative process, handling failure (lots and lots of failure) or handling the disappointment of being an artist of any kind, I thought you should know who I am and what drives me to want to create.

My musical life progression went something like this:

1. Classical / Opera
2. Country
3. Rock / Rap / Grunge / Anything My Parents Didn’t Listen To
4. Electronic
5. Listening to All the Things
6. Learning How to Play the Things

As a young pre-teen, I had two favorite albums: the 1984 recording of Phantom of the Opera and some music that combined nature sounds with flutes. Country came into the mix because that’s pretty much the only thing my parents listened to which is probably also why I came to not listen to it for many, many years. I’ve come back around to it in recent years largely fueled by SomaFM’s Boot Liquor. (I am a long time listener and contributor so if you’ve got a few dollars to spare, give it to Rusty at SomaFM. If you want to keep in the spirit of this artist and blog, might I recommend checking out Space Station Soma?) This largely gave way to the rock/rap/grunge years which, as I’m sure you guessed, coincided with my teenage years.

It was during those early teen years that I stumbled on electronic music (you know, techno) and it became a mainstay for me. I loved it! I still love it, with some exceptions. However, back then, I didn’t know anyone that found enjoyment in the music. In fact, I was playing Orbital for a girlfriend at the time. I remember she looked at me and said something like: “It’s just repetitive noise, how can you like this? No one is ever going to listen to this music.” Her favorite band of all time was a popular grunge band which I’m pretty sure only knew how to play three chords and repeated them in every song. Just sayin’.

Let’s go forward maybe 10 years and my life drastically changed around 2008. I’ll just say it: I had found out my first kid was on the way and upon so doing, I realized I wasted the previous 10 years and needed to change my life! I wanted to be healthy and creative so I started exercising, trying to draw, paint, and thus enters my first official piano teacher! (Admittedly, he was my last real teacher as well. I tried lessons with someone else later on and couldn’t handle the new person’s style.)

I lived in the same town as Kieron for about a year and he happened to be offering piano lessons. I was super busy with my life and I needed someone willing to come to my apartment to do the lessons. I didn’t get to work with him for as long as I would have liked (he moved on to bigger, more amazing things) but the lessons he gave me where he snuck in some music theory and jazz foundations have really stuck through to today. I’m not a world class piano player by any means but what I do know, I owe mostly to him.

My playing the piano ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I would keep up with it and play, play, play. Other times, I had to put it away because I felt like I was going no where. I loved sitting and just playing but I didn’t have any particular music that I wanted to learn. Meanwhile, my office job was eating up more and more of my time and I still wanted to improve my other creative pursuits so I mostly gave up on it.

In 2018, another amazing moment of inspiration struck when I went to a concert for one of my favorite groups: Ghostland Observatory. We (my lovely wife and I) got to the venue super early – because it was the first time in a long time we got to leave the kids behind – so we scored front row viewing. We weren’t sure what to expect when this one guy walked out onto the stage. Maybe it was a sound check?

Turns out, it was the opening act, Gibbz. This guy came out onto the stage with a MacBook Pro and a couple of instruments (guitar, keyboard, etc.) and put on an amazing one-person show. You know what stuck out to me aside from this one guy being amazing? The Arturia products. This led to research and discovery and soon after I bought a keyboard! (Specifically, I bought the entry level Arturia Keylab-49 Essential which I used until very recently when I upgraded to the Arturia KeyLab-49 MKII.)

I spent a lot of time in 2018 and 2019 trying to figure out the digital audio workstation (DAW) software that came with the keyboard. I felt like I was constantly banging my head against a wall and I got no where.

Somewhere during this pain, I transitioned nearly all my sketching and drawing activities to an iPad Pro and anytime I start messing around with new technology, I like to see all the other things I can do too. That exploration brought me to GarageBand – something that I had previously discounted as bloatware on my Apple devices but now I was willing to try again.

There’s more to be said on the DAW topic but I will save it for later. GarageBand saved my musical life and I’ve since upgraded to Logic Pro and am obsessed! Kudos, really, to the development team behind it.

When we got to 2020 something big happened that impacted so many people in the world but also, I got a year older and I’ve reached another major life milestone. Specifically, I’ve crossed over the point of pure, debilitating fear of not being accepted and came to an understanding that what I create is not the greatest, it won’t support my family in any financial way, but it makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it might make someone else happy. I’ve decided to stop waiting for perfection – to be in a place where I can dedicate my whole life to pursuing artistic passions and give up on the corporate life – because it may never come.

This is where I am in 2021. My music, my art, my life will never be perfect but it doesn’t need to be. I don’t need to have acceptance from anyone except me (and probably my wife). If someone out there doesn’t like my music, thinking it too repetitive, boring or whatever, it’s okay because we don’t have to like the same things. In fact, I hope it inspires you to create better music than I can and to put something positive into the world to bring joy to someone else.

To Gibbz, thank you for being so damn inspirational that I had to buy a keyboard. To Kieron, thank you for teaching me so much that has lasted with me for all these years. And finally, thanks to those around me that support my creative endeavors even through all the failed attempts that I make you listen to.

Until next time, write me and tell me about your journey at achira(at)achira.art

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Want to hear some of my favorite music? Check out this Spotify playlist.