Is This Thing On?
“Everything usually feels so serious - like if you make one mistake, it’ll all end in disaster. But really everything you do is just a test: an experiment to see what happens.” - Sivers
Why so serious?
As I discussed at length in Trepidation, I have struggled to overcome my fears of releasing my music due to my perception that my compositions are an extension of me and thus I have felt that by releasing them, I am exposing myself - walking down the street naked, showing far too much of my heart and mind, and leaving myself rather vulnerable to judgement and ridicule. This kind of insecurity has been crippling and I know it to be a rather common feeling for many, especially in our current age of hyper-connectivity where the internet means we are incessantly accessible and all too aware of everyone’s life’s performance.
Fear of failure may well be common in society, but it was not always the case in our lives; Shane Parrish explains this perfectly, so I’ll hand the mic to him for now:
“A huge obstacle to success is a fear of appearing foolish. When we learn to walk, we fall over and over again until we can do it. We look foolish until the minute we don't. That is how we learn. As adults we often tell ourselves that failing in front of other people is bad, so we don't try things that might make us look foolish…So much advantage in life comes from being willing to look foolish in the short term.” - Parrish
Unfortunately, with time, we develop this fear of failure (due to many factors, including our paternal upbringing, cultural positioning, societal conditioning and a plethora of other influential factors) and since psychologists have yet to discover a way to get a baby to speak in psychological jargon, it is down to the individual to unlearn/overcome this deeply rooted aversion to embracing their fear of failure.
“The way you present your art, and what people know about it, completely changes how they perceive it...Therefore, your art doesn’t end at the edge of the canvas. Your creative decisions continue all the way to the end.” - Sivers
I completely agree with Derek Sivers on this view that the way we present our art is a continuation of the artistic process and that can make the idea of marketing yourself (building your brandentity) far more enjoyable for the creative (there is also a difference between marketing and advertising, the former being far more genuine in my opinion and focussed on sharing your art for its own sake, and the latter relating more to commodifying your art, tailoring it for an audience, all for the goal of maximising profit - gross). While this idea can make marketing a more pleasant experience for the creative, it quickly becomes a double edged sword; if the way you present your art has an effect on the way it/you are perceived, that can be extremely daunting when you want to make sure it’s ‘right’.
For myself, I made the creative decision to be transparent when sharing my work, as a push back against how a large portion of creators cherry pick what they share online, in a way that I deem a disingenuous portrayal of the highs and lows (or lack thereof) that accompany the creative process. Sivers actually thinks the opposite to me, stating that:
“Maybe due to social media, artists are less mysterious than ever. It’s kind of sad to have everything so transparent. Once something is explained, it stops captivating your curiosity.” - Sivers
As much as I have enjoyed reading his book Your Music and People, and I know my grievances are not exactly what Sivers is getting at, I have to push back on this point: It’s not sad to me, what IS sad is seeing an inaccurate and shrouded presentation of the creative process that may well lend itself to mystery, but can also lead to aspiring creators (and general viewers of the art) to feel inadequate, uninspired and not Good Enough.
With all this in mind, I had to find a way to expose myself in a way I was comfortable with as well as in alignment with my method of transparent presentation; a fine line to dance around since by sharing all my ‘failures’ during the creative process meant I was running the risk of amplified ridicule. How was I able to to get past my insecurities? By reframing how I shared my work as a test.
Testing as a way to preserve the self
I knew all too well that I was primarily just a guitarist; not a high-end audio engineer, experienced videographer, or of the professional calibre required for all the creative roles that are involved in producing the portfolio in the way I previously perfectly envisioned. Like a foosty old dragon, I felt like I was sitting atop a great wealth of music in my cavernous lair where no prying ears could drop their eaves. However, by hoarding all these riches for so long, I felt that they had become an obsolete currency that no modern man would see any value in and I had yet to find a way to convert them into the legal tender of current times. Continuing with the fantasy analogy, the question ‘If not now, when?’ has played a recurring role over the past year as the wise old wizard who guides the protagonist on their quest. That said, like most sage advice imparted on young (ignore the grey hairs in my moustache) adventurers, it is often shrugged off until they learn for themselves the value in the lesson, and normally the hard way.
It’s taken me the better part of 10 years to learn this lesson and get over my insecurities, and despite the changes in mindset I have gone through, I was still riddled with Trepidation so I needed to find a way to get my music out there, while negating the judgemental effects of the digital Argus Panoptes - the ever-watching and never-resting Internet. As a way of exposure therapy, I framed some releases as a test; to consciously create something I knew was ‘unfinished’, or not ‘perfect’, to see what happens, how it made me feel, and ultimately force myself to let go of the attachment I had to my music. Just like Rose on her spacious debris in the aftermath of the Titanic, I had said I’d never let go, but somehow I managed it. With a portfolio of releases planned for the end of the master’s course, I knew that I was in great need to get over this insecurity and with Movember fast approaching in trimester one, I knew the time had come to get silly and get to work.
SETTING DEADLINES AND GETTING SILLY.
Moustache Song Mk I [MOVEMBER 2021]
With Movember just around the corner and since it was the ninth year of my moustache running wild and free for a month, I felt like it was high time I did something other than posting a silly selfie. And what an opportunity to use a daft wee tune to test the waters of sharing some music without the worry of judgement. This track had several points to hit in terms of testing and getting over myself, and the month of Movember meant I HAD to post it before the end of the month. So I set myself the deadline of the 23rd of November and all credit to Past Neil, he pulled it off. That said, I was very new to video editing and was using old equipment (2012 MacBook, Pro Tools 11 and a 2009 interface). Initially seen as a hinderance, these restrictions became a blessing as they justified why the release was going to be a bit rough around the edges; I was doing the best I could with what I had and the time given to me.
The outcome of setting the deadline and the subsequent positive reception was a massive confidence boost to my ability to produce something and not be ridiculed for it, and I rode that high into the following week where I shared the profanity ridden blooper reel. Again, this was another test because I wanted my master’s project to share the entire process, and what better way of showing all the failures that lead to success than with a compilation of all the fuck ups it takes to finish something.
HOT OFF THE PRESS AND THINKING LESS.
PT I - DRUNK RIFF
Inspired under the influence of inebriation, this tune was a slightly more condensed version of what the Moustache video intended to achieve. I wanted to show how a shitty drunken idea can turn into something good, all the while testing out my equipment and searching for a decent guitar tone. I learned from this tune that sometimes you can't polish a turd so it was time to invest in myself and upgrade my equipment.
PT II - IMPROVISED LOOPER
As with the Moustache Song and the Drunk Riff, a very important part of my testing was picking songs that were new, and this track is the epitome of that since it was written and recorded in the same 2 hour practice session (of which this part took up half an hour). By being so fresh and hot of the press, my attachment to the music was much less ,so letting go and sharing it with the world was much easier.