An Exposition

Yesterday, I tweeted. This is not a signficant event anymore, but a friend responding to it directly can still be seen as something to make note of. The tweet was as follows:

As a composer, my biggest failing is continuously accepting mediocrity. Also, trying to compete in the age of the Internet.

Said friend asked for me to expand on this in an LJ post. I feel like the best way to do that is to actually start with the second statement first, as it’s more of a global issue, and to finish with the first, which seems more personal. Here we go.

COMPETING IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET
Competition brings to mind a contest, wherein there is an established forum for battle, as far as writing notes and recording them can be a battle. As cool as it might be to have a Collosseum devoted to such ends, what reality shows is that it’s more of an asynchronous test of egos.

Before easy mass communication (which is pre-Internet, even), we were much more entrenched in our local ponds. Whatever we were good at, if anything, was tried against ourselves, and then our peers. Later, we might compare ourselves to feats featured in books or newspapers. Then, TV brought all kinds of accomplishments of people in our town, our city, our state, our country, and even OTHER COUNTRIES (beyond the vast seas, man). Still, it was probably enough to just be good amongst our peers, because that’s who we interacted with the most.

Enter: Internet.

Each day, I read through hundreds of articles via Google Reader, which brings me interesting news in text, picture, audio, and video form from all over the globe. Add to the mix status updates via Twitter and Facebook, so that I can get my local tribe’s goings-on into the bubbling cauldron of happenstances occurring in the world outside my small circle, and we’ve got a lot of people doing a lot of things. I enjoy the aggregation of information from all kinds of topics, however, and it’s a modern marvel to be able to know about anything instantly, whenever I want.

Unfortunately, what it really is is a feed — a Glut — of information, and I have only a limited ability to process, let alone enjoy, it all. However, what little content I successfully glean from the Glut still has a powerful effect on me, and it’s probably eroding my self-esteem even more than I thought my own self-doubt could ever do.

You see, the ease at which anyone can create content and then expose it to a mass audience is amazing. I can whip out my guitar, play some chords, sing some words on top of it, all being captured via webcam, and within a few minutes, it’s on YouTube for all the world to see. If it meets with appreciation, the viral aspect of the Internet takes over, and my distribution woes are for naught.

On one hand, this is awesome, and means control is really put into the end user’s hands, and not wrapped up in contracts with companies, getting the artistic output of any person out there without jumping through the hoops one had to maneuver pre-Internet. On the other hand, this just made the pond into a ridiculously ginormous MegaOcean. And I bet that you, the person reading this, are tuned into the feed I mention, which means we’re all a part of this new tribe, and I have to say that it’s INSANELY OVERWHELMING to someone who is not quite a terrible musician, but also not a great one.

I freely admit that I can’t read/watch/listen to every cool thing that comes across the Internet. And as a Creator, when I want to add to the Glut, I have to know that many people are going to just whiz right by what I’ve contributed. In fact, it doesn’t even matter what the quality of the thing is, because on the Internet, all Cool Things tend to get lumped together because there are just so goddamned many of them. Furthermore, even after selecting some Thing and enjoying it, it’s readily tossed aside for the next Cool Thing. It is a truth, and it is sad. I fall pray to it, too, even if it’s a friend’s Thing in question.

This is the crux of my statement: I create. I share my creations. I share my creations because I want people to pay attention to them, and share their thoughts about them with me, be they positive or negative, because the worst thing someone could do is to just ignore it altogether. Ahem. I know that just sounds like it’s dripping with tortured artist anguish, but no matter how I color it, the stark white light of how I feel is contained in those words. All artists who create feel it at one point or another. It’s just a matter of how much and how often. We’re no better than athletes doing a victory dance after scoring, or an actor delivering a line to an audience, or a painter hanging something in a gallery. And the Internet both allows for a really huge gallery with free admission that’s open 24/7, while simultaneously allowing ANYONE to do that, which means the gallery gets a lot of neighbors really quickly, and you’re most likely going to get edged out.

Feel free to visit http://nebyoolae.com and give a listen to what I create. I’d love for a community like any other web site to get created on there. People listening to stuff as it’s uploaded, ranking it, commenting on it. I love making music and sharing it with people. It makes me really happy, and it excites me. I don’t put songs up there to just amuse myself (although that’s part of it). There are links to rate and a box to comment. You’ve been on the Internet, and you know how it works. This LiveJournal is not seen by the Internet at-large, even if it’s available to them. This LiveJournal is seen by people I know and care about, and it’s the compromise I seek: my local tribe still trumps the tribe of the Internet in terms of weight of opinion. I’m going to be intimidated by the whole of the Internet’s prowess, that ever-growing skillset that never sleeps and is always creating, so I can only hope to capture the attention of my friends, the only people I can reasonably expect to give a shit about what I do.

And what do I do? I create music.

CONTINUOUSLY ACCEPTING MEDIOCRITY
Whether you end up going to my website, listening to what I create, and/or commenting on it or not, I want you to know that I have a problem with composing and recording: I suck. OK, I don’t really suck, but I’m often not happy with my final output. This could be a product of a lousy handle on musical theory, less-than-virtuosic talent, or subpar recording techniques. Most likely, it’s all of the above, but in the end, I let it go, anyway. I let my output be mediocre. I just want to create. I don’t want to spend endless hours tweaking EQ and plugins to make it sound as good as a professionally-recorded piece of music. I want some new tunes to listen to because my old stuff has been played out.

I’m glad I have this gift of music in that I can usually make something real out of noise that’s been primarily in my head. I can play some instruments and I can use a sequencer. However, what’s in my head never fully translates to the real world. The frequence balance is off, or there’s too much noise, or my guitar playing is not as good as I want it to be. Also, I’ve never really paid much money for samples, so I often get the “this sounds like MIDI” even when the sounds employed are NOT AT ALL GENERAL MIDI. I brush it off as “I’m just an amateur, so don’t expect much.” I’ve sold myself short, like I always do.

Mediocrity.

I am competent, but not noteworthy. Join the club, Mike! That’s most people! But I want to be better than most people. I want to be noteworthy. But I get so wrapped up in the magic of taking an idea and getting it recorded and saving it to an MP3 and listening to it in my car. OMG! I think. That’s me! I made that. This kind of rocks, I’ll continue to muse. Of course, the drums sound a little mechanical, there isn’t enough bass, and those strings and horns don’t sound “real” enough. Sigh.

While doing things in actual General MIDI when I first started has given way to using more realistic samples in Apple’s Logic Pro, there’s still a noticeable gap in fidelity. If I listen to the subpar stuff enough (and I listen to chiptunes constantly, so I think my brain accepts much more than most people) then it begins to seem normal, and people’s complaints of realism just seem like negativity and pretentiousness and quarrelsome. Stopping to listen to a “real” album done by a “real” band and the quality of instrumentation comes creeping back into my mindset again, and I feel stupid and immature and loathsome. Can more practice and better resources really make much difference at this point? I’m almost 30 and I have no real musical background besides years of late-night reading and weekend sequencing/recording.

Also, what do I hope to achieve? I don’t want to be a traveling rock star. I don’t necessarily want to direct an orchestra. I want some intangible respect that comes from being awesome without knowing what that means or how to get it. The Internet has blurred the distinctions of amateur and professional when a Hollywood blockbuster’s orchestral score could be as important as a retro 8-bit reimagining of “Dark Side of the Moon”. All I know is that the allure of music-making is as strong as ever, and yet when I look back on my record, there’s still too much of my output that seems negligible and amateurish. Surely, spending this much time on a pursuit (however many hours shy of that magical 10,000 I am) should’ve improved my prowess a significant amount, right? Then why do I still feel shame at even talking about what I love to do with others who don’t already know about it (and even then, I hesitate)?

FOR THE ROAD
Ugh. In the end, 140 characters was probably more than enough characters to spill on this.

One thought on “An Exposition

  1. I’m glad you wrote this. Thanks.

    Although I know nothing about music and this creative process, I think we’re similar in the sense that deep down we need validation to feel good about our endeavors.

    Take Charles, for example. He made his lamp, and there was the potential for thousands of people (or even one) to order one. Did that happen? No. Did that make him feel less satisfied that he had created it? Not at all. It wasn’t the best lamp out there, but that didn’t matter to him. He was happy with it.

    I’m not sure if I would have felt the same way. If I took a bunch of photos and no one said anything about them, I’d maybe feel like it was a waste of time. Or even my job. I find that I thrive on compliments and recognition and I feel crushed when I encounter criticism.

    But here’s the kicker — if one cannot just be satisfied and happy with his/her creative output, then at what point does that person just stop creating it? When does the pain outweigh the joy?

    Big introspective questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *