Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why a 9-5 job is like an addiction

So it's been a while since I posted and to be honest it's been a little while since I composed an original, though I have still been honing my craft in mixing and tweaking the stuff I've already recorded and implementing some new sampler instruments that I've purchased.

This post isn't going to really be about that though, I want for it to be about food addiction.  Ok, not really but I'm simultaneously trying to avoid foods that I know have been adding pounds.  They were very comforting and nourishing during my wife's pregnancy and our son's first year of sleepless screaming adorable life, but now they are causing me unwanted side effects.

In my research on the music business I see a lot of successful artists have been devoting their entire lives to developing their music, their fan following, their brand, their compositions.  It's all about music for them 24/7.  I looked at my own life and saw that at least 75% of my waking hours are devoted to my job.  In a lot of ways the job is like the junkfood, or caffiene, or whatever it takes to get you through the day.   It's necessary and habit-forming, but in a way it's also damaging.

If you told me today with a gun to my head to quit my job and compose music full time I honestly would have to think about it first.  Not because I don't like writing music or I think I couldn't do it.  But because I have a responsibility to make money to provide for my family and I greatly dislike the idea of not knowing how or where I'm going to make it next.  A salary job provides security, security keeps my wife from being frantic and stressed which in turn makes my life easier and helps us both give our little toddler the attention he needs.

But that security also equates to stagnation if you accept it.  For the first year of my son's life I chugged along working day-to-day without giving any thought to what would come next or how I would fulfill my uncontrollable urges to create.  After I finally had some time (and sleep) to think about it, it became clear I'd need to make a change.  I read story after story of people who quit cold and couldn't sustain themselves so I knew that wasn't ideal.  I have skills (albeit ones that need to improve) but no network and networking in this business is everything.  Today I started thinking: what would it take to kick this 9-5 habit.

When rehabilitating from drugs or food or cigarettes it's helpful to provide a replacement.  The real problem with my 9-5 job, the real source of my addiction, isn't the job itself but the complacency and dependence on it.  If I wanted to break free of that, I'd need to replace complacency with productivity.  So every time I came home I'd force myself to sit at the keyboard and at least practice, record that practice and play it back.  I'd force myself to pick up the guitar and noodle or keep sharp with my scales, take the violin out and go over bow strokes.  On my commutes instead of listening to just my favorite music, I studied it, added music that inspired me and that had elements I wanted to emulate.

Building those skills further I began adding something else: the business.  Musicians and composers cannot ignore this any more and while I don't have time or energy to go into it here I recommend you all check out Tommy Darker's site for more information of "Musicpreneurship", a term he coined for the new renaissance wave of musicians kicking ass in a business even major studios can't seem to hack anymore.  I started not only listening to music on my commute but to podcasts.  Doing some cursory music courses, downloading and learning to use accounting software and some extensive research on how to set up a business legally.

These steps all do 3 things to me:
1. They sometimes make me feel uncomfortable and sometimes downright stupid
2. They sometimes cause me physical exhaustion and erode my will power tremendously
3. They give me concrete goals to strive towards

They also all make me a better, more marketable, music professional.  Taking a look at the food analogy, I've been subbing healthy alternatives like fruit and veggies for chips and salsa.  I've also been exercising.

This lifestyle makes me feel:
1. Uncomfortable and sometimes downright stupid

Truely it does.  Every time I have to order a salad at a fast food place with guy friends I feel like a wimp.  Every time I get exhausted after running at a pace that would lose to tortise and hare alike I feel like an idiot for putting off exercise and regular routine until it was far too late and I'd put on more pounds than I could easily carry.

2. It makes me feel physical exhaustion and erodes my will power tremendously

Anyone who has worked out to the max knows what I'm talking about.  You run or lift or do calisthenics or yoga and you do it to your 100%.  The next day (or in my case for the next week) you're going to find it harder and harder to get up and do it all again.  Especially when the rewards only show up in the long term.  Same with food, you skip out on the french fries and the next day all you want is that egg mcmuffin to start your day instead of the yogurt you know won't quite hit the bottom.

3. It gives me concrete goals to strive towards and makes me a better person.

I've laid out my own groundwork and I've asked for the suffering.  I must endure through it and push myself or I won't get the results.  This goes for kicking any habit, a very small fraction of success depends on method, the majority of it depends on the willpower to follow through.  I want to follow through and finish strong and the goals that I set are not performance based (that sets you up for failure) but action based.  I don't aim to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks... I aim to work out for x amount of time.  And I don't aim to compose a great symphony before next week; I aim to never let a day go by without touching my instruments, and I aim to never let my 9-5 job be an excuse to stop learning or producing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

To build a house, gather bricks.

I run across musicians who have told me plenty of times "I'd love to start writing my own music but I didn't go to school for it or anything, I just took some instrument lessons/was in a band/was a great whistler.  I don't have the education really for it."

I've thought this myself at times.  In fact the first music I wrote that was ever played was for a band I was in.  It was certainly nothing impressive though and it makes me cringe to hear it now.  Because of my search history google regularly tempts me with ads for Full Sail and Art Institute of Chicago among other schools with music production and composition degrees.  Every now and then the inadequacy creeps in when I feel overwhelmed learning a new concept strictly through googling it.

Or podcasts, I love listening to podcasts on my commute to work and actually want to butt in with a story and to give a shout out to a great podcast for composers who want to see inside the minds and processes of other composers.  The podcast name is similar to this blog's name (but I think Charlie got the cooler name)

It's called Composer Quest and it's hosted by Charlie McCarron.  He, like me, once worked in videography and switched to music composition as a career focus (though I'm still straddling that fence until the music work really picks up).  Tune in for some great meaty material made accessible without all the really heavy and heady music major jargon, all in a very laid back but professional presentation style.  You can find it at the previous link or on iTunes.

Anyway that plug over, Charlie's episode this week was with Rick Sowash, a Cincinnati-based composer that writes and arranges chamber music and says he's made that his business for 25 years.  He's a delightful fellow with a really positive outlook.  He mentioned his college education and that it was a frustrating process for him because there was little to be learned that he didn't already know from his grade school music education and experience.  I thought this odd since most successful composers I know put a lot of stock in their education, but he had something very profound to say about it:

"You can't teach creativity, and anyone who says they can is a charlatan."

And that's really what it all boils down to isn't it?  You can teach the TOOLS of music composition, like melody, harmony, rhythm, scales, triads, and even music history and appreciation.  Learning those things will make you a very smart person and I highly recommend you do so!  But none of them will make you a creative composer in and of themselves.  Creativity isn't learned in a classroom, it's learned by being willing to play and experiment and try new and interesting ways to express a musical idea.  Creativity comes from assimilating the knowledge you obtain and being able to mold it into something else.  Simply put... There's no reason you shouldn't learn everything you can, but the fancy education isn't the important part, it's how you put your knowledge into practice.

BTW if any of you are looking for some educational resources without dishing out tens of thousands on music school tuition, check out some of these links below (I've decided not to include the obvious ones like wikipedia that are obviously a first choice for looking up musical terminology):

MacProVideo.com/ - While the name matches its business model of being a mac software resource, there are also some fantastic tutorials on general music theory, jazz theory, recording and production, not to mention that most audio DAW software that you'd use for recording have interchangable concepts and plugins and Logic Pro is really the only major one that doesn't have a PC version.  I highly recommend it if you want the most info very quickly.  It is a paid option but at $25/mo for all you can watch it's a deal if not a steal.

Composer Quest - Gotta plug Charlie again.  Great for those of you who are super busy and want to take advantage of those commuting minutes (or hours here in DC).  There's some other music podcasts out there you should check out but this one is the most on point for the widest range of composers in my opinion.

WeAreTheMusicMakers - This is a great subreddit for composers and music makers of all kinds.  This is where you can get free feedback and advice on questions that are a little tougher to find on google.  A great open community with loads of members looking to help each other out in their musical endeavors.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ok time to get serious (Song #1: Senator Happy)

Here's the first week's submission of the song a week challenge.

It's a rocky start for now.  I'm coming off another composition that I'll share later too of the orchestral variety.

If anyone else is interested in joining me for the rest of the year in making a song a week then check out this link.  It makes a huge difference to have a goal to strive for and a community to support that goal so doing the reddit song a week challenge seems like a great thing for accountability.

About the track:
The challenge was to use the notes "G-G-G-Eb" in a composition, those also being the first 4 notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony (you know the "Da-na-na Duuuuuun" one).  I decided to mask the motif pretty strongly by using chords that contain those notes rather than the specific notes themselves, as well as doing it in an 8-bit light house music style.  The title is completely arbitrary, though I suppose it could be used in a vintage style game where you're a senator voting and debating or something.

In other news, I took down a previous post about a polyphasic sleep as it was irrelevant and unhelpful to me in the long run.  Sleeping 2 hours a day is way too extreme for my busy life.  I hold a 9-5 (actually more like 8-6) video job in addition to composing so it just wasn't working out.  What I DID discover recently was a book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.  It's a pretty superficial read that makes no overarching assumptions, and I've been listening to the audiobook version on my commutes over the past few days but when I finished it, I summarized 4 things that I learned from it:

  1. Artists and composers that were prolific were the ones usually kept busy by work besides what they were famous for.
  2. It didn't need to be work related to their preferred field.
  3. The majority of them remained consistent to some kind of routine which separated specific times of day for creation, leisure, and dayjobs (with occasional and very human lapses of procrastination).
  4. Almost all of them either involved waking up early in the morning before the sunrise or going to bed close to or after midnight.
In light of this information, I have been trying to keep to a routine of my own.  I set my alarm for as early as 4:30am now and wake up slowly but surely, review the previous day's composition work and add new ideas as they come to me in my groggy dream state before my critical mind is fully awake.  It is agonizing to keep my eyes opened at time but important for my mood the rest of my day.  When I break about an hour later to get ready for my dayjob, I already feel productive and like I'm being true to the parts of me I genuinely love and wish to cultivate.  No matter what distractions come through the rest of the day, I never go to bed feeling unaccomplished.  While at my dayjob I take notes on new ideas to solve some of the problems I hear in the track from the morning, my critical brain now doing its part.  When I get home I spend time with my wife and son, eat dinner, and then go back to the computer to resolve and solidify my musings and solutions from the day.  If I run into a block, instead of beating my head against it, I practice scales or learn a new cover song.  I either end up being inspired by the effort, or at the very least, keep my other musical abilities sharp.

What about you?  Do you have a composition, writing, or creative routine that you keep to in order to stay productive?

Creating Creative Rhythms...

So if not aforementioned for you readers something you should know about me is that I work (for money) as a Technical Director and Editor for a live webcasting/video production company based in the Greater DC Area.  It's one of the best jobs I've ever had but it takes a toll on my creative faculties.  Similar to the attitudes of most employees, my job is something I'm good at but it doesn't satisfy the things I want to do creatively or fulfill the things I'd like to achieve.  It does however take up a good portion of my time, effort, and energy and I know I'm not alone out there.

So then how can we go about making music again?  Every day we go to work and come home (hopefully on time) and just want to veg out and recover.  We walk in our front door saying "Oh, Television!  Be my moderately entertaining solace and salvation!"  But when those 5 hours of sitting and staring have passed do we feel any better?  More inspired?  Or do we look at the clock and see that in just a few short hours we're going to have to get up and do it all over again?

I've been in a very busy time at work lately that does not even allow me the opportunity to veg... much less make music.  So what do I do then?

I've resolved not to let myself slip back into old habits and so I have been going through an ebook on my ipad in any spare time that I find between meetings or while traveling from place to place and it's saving my determination.

It's called The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry.  I highly recommend this book for any creative people trying to balance their lives and still be able to come up with creative ideas all throughout the day.  One of the biggest things that I've been implementing to get back into a creative mindset is to take the extra time I find during the day (such as right now) to do things.

One of the most important aspects of Henry's outline for finding creative "rhythm" (perfect for a composer) is to surround yourself with inspiring stimuli.  He has separate sections for energy and relationships but I'd lump those two into stimuli as well... it makes a huge difference to do things that will energize you, spend time with people who inspire you and push you, and to take in art and information that makes you want to write music.

So even during this busy time at work I've been using google music to keep my inspiration up get my mind flowing with musically creative thoughts again.  I've assembled a playlist of only music that makes me want to write music... quite a variety but also very specific.  As I notice patterns and elements that I want to try I make a note for myself.  I use Evernote because it synchronizes to my iphone and to my computer at home where I'll do the eventual composing, but making notecards or writing in a notepad could be just as good provided that note-taking system is with you whenever creative inspiration may strike.

If you're looking for tools to help keep your motivation high and to capture inspiration even during time-crunches check out the links mentioned.  It really is working and I have a host of ideas ready for me to pursue on thursday when I may actually be able to sit down and record some of them.  oooh!  Another idea!  Better write it down...

The road goes ever on and on...

"It's a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road... and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." - The Lord of the Rings
So now's where it begins... Now's when I introduce myself to you all in the world of blogging and introduce myself to the journey.

You see as a child learning the basics of music we all know what it was like to have nothing between us and our instruments. We could sit with our pianos, guitars, drums, or whatever instruments we played and tinker and fiddle to our hearts' content without the worries and cares of our lives getting in the way. I was such a child. I put in the practice. I tinkered. I fiddled. I came up with new ideas and built on old ones. I had the time and the energy and the focus to create for hours on end. After high school I signed up for an internship with a video production company to score videos for them and found that I really excelled at capturing moods and supplementing storytelling. I love soundtracks and being able to create them was a dream come true.

Then the internship was over and I suddenly had to support a life.

Now we all know a different reality. Those of us who love to play or create music also have to pay bills, take care of spouses and long-term relationships and families, and lets not forget eating and sleeping (he said with a gaping yawn while realizing he hadn't eaten all day). For those of us who want to just LEARN to play SOMETHING our hope is almost gone. It's hard to justify writing music when you don't even have the time to take care of responsibilities much less the extra stuff. This isn't limited to music either it can be anything you're passionate about. It may make us happy but are we required to be happy to live or are we required to be productive? Are we supposed to enjoy ourselves or supposed to avoid things that don't make us money or further our careers?  If we begin answering our own questions does that mean we're crazy? (I'm not the crazy one you are!) (Shut up!) (No you shut up!)

Why do what you love it if it's not bringing you results?

This is the summation of my limiting belief... why do it if it doesn't bring results. Over the years since I've given up writing music I've discovered that I need it in order to function. If I don't pick up a guitar or sit at the piano I will become homicidal. So my solution thus far has been to only tinker around enough with music to avoid creative frustration and then go right back to working on the latest project for work, taking care of home stuff, catching up with those friends I haven't seen in forever, spending time with my wife, or trying to grab sustenance and sleep.

I feel like a hobbit. Being both a fan of Howard Shore's score for the films and the little-known-in-the-US musical The Lord of the Rings, it's the connection I make most readily for this sentiment. Nerdy as it sounds I'm a hobbit... I'm a busy little bee but my life is pointless. I live in a hole in the ground running around like a chicken with my head cut off but there's nothing new to experience in my life because I've removed the adventures. I've removed the unknown. Well it's time to go on a journey again. A journey back toward making music.

In order to make this journey a worthwhile quest I've added some treasure to it.  I will be writing a song per week.  By the end of the year (since I'm starting the 10th week of the year) I should have a total of 42 songs to add to a portfolio/demo that will be able to generate work scoring films, games, shows, videos, and other fun composition collaborative projects.

Luckily, I know where to start...

During my internship I wrote some pieces that never made it into any of the projects the company did. As it was unused I uploaded them to http://www.productiontrax.com/profile.php?id=1330 and they've sold to a few people. It's not my best work and was not really designed for stock consumption but my account is there and it's accessible and it's a start. I also signed up for ASCAP for representation and I still have Logic Pro 9 (which I recently upgraded to Logic Pro X) and my mics, instruments, and gear. The path is all laid out in front of me... all I need to do is take the first step and keep my feet.  I encourage those of you reading this blog to join me on the journey of restoring music, art, expression of all kinds, to your lives.  Share with me!  Let's journey together!

The road goes ever on and on... down from the door where it began...