Success And Stuff Nobody Tells You

19 Sep

NOTE: I contradict myself from one month to the next, either in my actions or my words. So be wary of that fact, that I’m a human who says one thing and then does another while believing something opposite… (See my last post for clarification)

At some point I messed up and started putting all my hopes in music.  For too long in the back of my head I had the echo of a thought “Well then eventually my music will pick up and…” and never finished the sentence.


Instead of writing the steps that would have to come before that, possibly hundreds of pages of steps, I would skip to that end part, that was inevitably going to happen. Or so I thought, as long as I kept making music. The 10,000 hour rule would kick in. Something would click.  And then a few fantasies about how that would feel flare up in my mind.


Then 10,000 hours came and went, hours spent making music and refining my skills. I noticed how things hadn’t clicked yet for me. Mostly I noticed how I had not defined what the hell that even meant.


I probably hit that when I was around 30, having been spending at least an hour every night since I was 16 or so making music. After I’d spent that much time on music, I started to doubt anyone’s chances of “making it work” (read: earn a living) with music. That thought was obviously a slippery slope, because if you start telling yourself “Nobody can make it work” then you’ll give yourself an excuse to give up.

  What nobody tells you is that success isn’t guaranteed, and that it’s not something you just wait for.  Even if you are putting in work.

Having a wife and kid somehow coincided with me becoming aware of how much of my 20′s I had spent treading water. And this created a sort of desperation in me.  A hunger, to be sure, that lead to me trying more things than I ever did in my 20′s.  Like trying new approaches, letting myself create totally different stuff, and reaching out to total strangers, trying to engage with people who felt like I do.  I started to notice how the lack of attention I had paid to engaging with people had cost me tons of opportunities. I only recently really started paying attention to how it’s being done these days. People are inventing the future of music and reinventing the way art is discovered and how a following is created. People have been putting in years of effort in gathering a following of dedicated fans, and they’ve shown how well that pays off after awhile. It’s also made me see how behind I am, that new people are coming up with new music and new approaches and it’s time to figure out how to copy them.


And yet I still comfort myself with this dream, of things working out.  And it might turn me into a myopic person the more time passes.  Because really, my dream is always just around the corner.  Even if it isn’t.  I see it as just around the corner most because of where I’m at at present.  Just like dreams, a person’s fantasies likely say a lot about them.


Every once in awhile I’m lucky to get a moment of clarity where I realize what is wrong with my approach to this dream. The problem with these dreams is that I don’t see myself striving in them, I just imagine the fruits of that striving.  This is where dreaming and fantasy really is just a poor shade pulled over reality to disguise things.  Not a good idea, especially when the line becomes blurred between striving and struggling.


At my worst moments what I am likely looking for in music to fulfill was not an escape inward–but an escape from the external circumstances that I am in, the things I see as limiting in my life.


Freedom, or the notion of it, is pulling at me, making me long for something like you might long for a foreign place in a foreign film.  And although longing is a great thing, it doesn’t make sense if that is the only thing you feel.  You’ll end up with music that is just slightly off, the joyful parts always dampened with melancholy, always missing something real.

To hide yourself from this, you’ll end up striving for music that feels and sounds “cool” but has no real soul or substance. This is a common error mostly because it’s easy to mistake what is on trend for what is genuine.  Whether that means sounding deliberately vintage or if it means sounding aggressively sublime and brooding in a grandiose way, like a big black balloon full of hot air.

These things are not bad, but when that is ALL your music is, when true joy is missing, you are compensating for that missing element, that lack with smoke and mirrors.

Just like a sickly melodramatic ballad sung in a karaoke bar, music tinged by longing and desire to be something it isn’t will always be a victim of trends, of time, soon becoming impersonal and out of touch with that human element.  This is what happens when you let your ego assign some role to your music, when your creativity becomes like an accessory that you wear.  It takes over and sucks the vitality out of everything you do, just a little bit.


The plan fact is that it’s a long journey on the way to a truly personal style. There are no shortcuts. Your style is not what’s on trend, either. Being a copycat following the latest trends may teach you technical things, but it also stamps an expiration date on whatever you’re making. I have to wonder why you are making stuff at all, if it is doomed to be passe, and whether you will continue to jump on to new trends like ditching an old lover for a new lover, thinking you’re making progress.

We love stories where through almost sheer belief a person achieved something.  I would suggest that instead of putting your hopes in music working out, that you put your faith in yourself, in creating that style that is truly yours.


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