New year, new me!

“The point is I felt compelled to do it because I thought it was what people wanted.”
That’s the plan anyway right? It’s about this time of year that we decide we are going to become completely different individuals and then, if you’re anything like me, whittle down the list of things we commit to to the bare bones. I want to say this year is different, but I’m not sure it will be.

One of the things I did manage to do in the last month though, was to read 3 books. One was an autobiography which, well quite frankly the less said about, the better (I think I’m going to stop reading about the lives of people I hold in high regard; I generally don’t by the end of the book). The other two were much more practical. I’ll talk a little more about Atomic Habits another time, but after reading Rick Rubin’s - The Creative Act: A Way of Being, I found myself thinking differently about art.

All music is art right?

Now perhaps this is a controversial topic, but it is something I had never really though too much about before. I made music, because I made music. I didn’t delve too deeply into the what’s and the why’s. I thought I was doing what everyone else was doing. Making my music, putting it online, and hoping beyond all hope that the streams would come rolling in. Spoiler Alert, they didn’t. I declared myself an artist and spoke about how empowering it could be. Yet honestly, I hadn’t really taken the time to think deeply about what being an artist actually meant. I spoke definitively about posting what you wanted, and not what others wanted. But it goes deeper than this.

Art is to satisfy the maker

“Yet honestly, I hadn't really taken the time to think deeply about what being an artist actually meant.”
The primary purpose of art is to express yourself. The primary purpose of art is to satisfy the maker, the author, the composer; ergo you. If you are making your art for another purpose, it’s quite possible that it isn’t art. Now, that doesn’t mean that others can’t appreciate it. It doesn’t mean that others can’t classify it as art, but when we create art we are doing so, to express a feeling we have to the world. We are taking a snapshot of a feeling that we have and sharing it with the world.

Making music to satisfy someone else’s wants and desires, is usually going to be a commercial endeavour, or at the very least, it’s rare that our, and their desires align completely. In that case, what we create will not be as authentic as it could be. That’s OK! Let me get that out of the way. That’s totally OK! Making music for sale is not a bad thing. I’d actually love to do more of it. The problem comes when we are in one of two misaligned states.

1) I’m making art, but no ones buying…

I’ve been here. I crank out what was dwelling deep within my soul. I pour it into a track. and cast it unto the digital ether. Nothing. No one streams it, no one plays it. I was so happy with it. I thought it was great. It was exactly how I envisaged it to be. Yet no one else seemed to like it. The problem here was that I was making art. Art is to satisfy me; and it did. It doesn’t mean it gets to automatically satisfy others.

Maybe it does! - Maybe my track becomes lauded by others as a truly pivotal moment in music history. Maybe it’s streamed by 10 people. Perhaps 50,000 sales. Perhaps zero. None of that stops it from being art. None of that stops it from being mine. None of that should stop me from being happy with it. It’s art. It’s intended for my pleasing. That’s not selfish. That’s me creating something to express and satisfy a very deep pull within myself. It’s incredibly cathartic sometimes and can be incredibly rewarding.

2) I’m making music for others, but it’s not what I want to make…

I’ve been here also. I created a cover track of Super Mario Brothers Main Theme. It is, to date, my most successful track on Spotify. Yet I’ve repeatedly thought about deleting it, because I actually don’t like it. It wasn’t well produced, it doesn’t sound as I wanted it to, (it probably is the most played because it has Super Mario in the title), yet that’s not the point here. The point is I felt compelled to do it because I thought it was what people wanted. Though I had fun doing it. IT wasn’t a reflection of me. I did it to satisfy others. It was not art.

Where am I going with this?

“...I found myself thinking differently about art.”
Perhaps knowing which mode of operation you are working in will help you the next time you start a track. I hadn’t considered it before and I do sincerely hope I’m not the only one. I often believe I’m doing one thing, when really I’m doing the other. I believe I’m making art, I believe I’m self expressing, but the actual point of the track is to do something someone else told/asked me to. The impetus is different and I need to hold that in mind. Working on art is something different. I had personally never made that distinction before, but now I’m really starting to.

When I finished up the pre-master for a Hip Hop track that I had finished working on. I showed it to a friend. She told me it sounded great and that she was so proud of me. But then she also said: “I’m not an expert in this genre, you may want to get someone else who is more familiar to listen.” At that point it dawned on me for the first time. I didn’t care what an expert said. This track was art. If it fit into a genre or not - it really didn’t matter. It was coming deep from within me, expressed through rap, using something that resembled Hip Hop. Yet, be it genre fitting or genre warping, it was art; and as such, it really didn’t matter. Because I loved it.

Photo by tabitha turner on Unsplash