Wednesday, December 22, 2010

reconsidering .

I wrote a blog a while back about music being the dream that I always wanted to pursue, the thing that I would love to be doing instead of going to school. But I never really had that "ah ha!" moment.

I read Adam Young's blog, (if you don't know who he is, he's the man behind the magic called Owl City, Swimming With Dolphins, and Sky Sailing) and since I came into it partway, I decided to go back to the beginning and read all of the entries (which you can read here if you so desire).

One of his entries, entitled I Am a Moonlighter, described how his uncle loaned him his first guitar, and he couldn't tear himself away from it, playing until his fingers bled, loving every feeling that instrument gave him.

To put it short, I've never had those feelings.

Sure I love playing guitar, and I love love love music. Listening to it, singing along with it, creating it (although I am never satisfied with what I create). Granted, I've really only gone in 1 direction with music -- that being acoustic guitar. I've always wanted to learn piano. I feel like the complexity of the instrument begs for it to be taught, as opposed to learn on your own. Despite the fact I've taught myself guitar and drums, piano would be a completely new endeavor.

But reading about musicians and their first inspiring experiences, especially this particular one, makes me wonder if that is what my dream really is, or if I just say that and don't really believe it.

I've owned a guitar for maybe 2 or 3 years now. Never have I rushed home to play guitar. I'll admit I write a fair amount, songs/lyrics/poetry or whatever you'd like to call it. But recently, not so much. Many times I'm very pleased with the words I come up with, but can't make it happen for me when I get to the music. I throw a few simple chords along with it and then just record it. A few hours of editing and I'm done with it.

Makes me wonder -- if I really wanted to do this forever, and I mean REALLY wanted to to this forever, wouldn't I be constantly compelled to write, play, sing, edit so much more? It would be like I'm married to the music, like I could never get enough of it no matter what. But hearing these other kids who would run home from school and drop everything so they could get to the guitar, or whatever it was that brought them into the musical community, well that was just never there. My routine when I came home from school was always eat a snack, poop (because let's be real, who wants to go in the school bathrooms?) and watch tv, play on the computer, or play video games until my mom told me it was time to start homework. As I got older I would just sort of start my own homework.

Maybe I'm too practical, too worried about not getting my work done. I always say I want to play, I want to record, but then I never do. Could be just procrastination. But I think it goes deeper than that. It's hard to find that one thing that you want to do, love to do, and could never live without. Because, after all, isn't that the goal in life? To be happy what you're doing in life? To wake up every morning and say I cannot fathom how the heck I get paid to do this because it's just fun and games? All that makes me wonder whether I'm on the right path at all. I clearly have some serious soul searching (how's that for alliteration) to do.

Maybe I just need to go in a different direction with my music. I've been overdosing on Owl City lately, and I love the sound. Someone who commented on his blog described his lyrics as 'whimsical'. How true. They're simple, but they mesh together perfectly, cohesively, like the words are naturally supposed to go there. Specific lines that stick out are 'but the spaces between my fingers are right where yours fit perfectly' or 'as many times as I blink I'll think of you tonight'. It's just magical. And it seems so easy.

Writing the lyrics has always been the easiest part for me. One bit of inspiration, and I can run with it. Needless to say it's a great outlet for those trials in life that cannot be overcome just by sitting around, and I can really have fun with literary flourishes and fluff.

But then there's those things I'm constantly disappointed with: My guitar ability for example, and how I don't know scales, can't solo well, usually make songs with just chords, and nothing special or out of the ordinary. I have a friend (Bryan) to whom those things seem to come so naturally, and I have witnessed it. (I'm pretty sure he's majoring in musical therapy, so dude, since I'm pretty sure you're reading this, from my point of view, you are doing what fits you best!) Secondly there's my voice. When I sing along with things I'm constantly disappointed how I can't sing as high. I used to be able to, but then puberty happened. I've always been a fan of those higher voices like Dashboard Confessional, Owl City, Death Cab for Cutie, and the list goes on. My voice is more at a Jack Johnson or John Mayer range, which is fine, but in my music I generally try to pursue a voice that is higher than that.

Not to mention there's the feeling of hearing yourself sing after you record it. I could write an entire blog on the things that bother me about my voice. How it sounds so breathy, how my vocal chords can't just hold one freakin note without wobbling all around all over the place (and not in a vibrato sort of way). Granted, there are things you can do with recording these days to fix the imperfections in music and in voice, and I guess to some extent that makes the ability to make your own music less impressive these days, because it has gotten so much easier to do.

Gosh there are so many loose ends I've created in this blog that I need to tie up now.

Okay, in terms of the music, most people are content with what they are able to do, and if they're not, they just try to learn as much as they can, soaking in everything. I have the unbelievable programs (Logic Pro, Garageband). I have a guitar. My brother has another guitar. We both also have an electric guitar, and small amps. I have a microphone. We have a full size piano, even though it's not tuned correctly. We have a keyboard. We have a synthesizer; it's not great, but it exists. I clearly have music options. But I don't know how to use that stuff very well. It's easy to get lost in programs like Logic because there are so many detailed options and things you can add. Thousands of loops, hundreds of thousands of combinations. Loops are great, but I want to create the beats myself, I want to make it mine. I don't know why that seems to be so hard but it does.

In terms of the instruments themselves, I've never really challenged myself to play something difficult so I can get better. I'll go at it for a bit, and if I don't get it, I'll just sort of give up after awhile. I bought a book on the basics of piano so I could teach myself that, and that only lasted a few hours. I've bought tons of guitar books with tabs of songs or even techniques or chord diagrams. I never really use them.

But despite all of these things I still record -- but it almosttttt feels like a chore and that I have to make myself do it. That's going a bit far and a bit too harsh of a wording to correctly express how I feel in regards to that, but that's the closest I can get.

There are also all of the technical setbacks I have. I don't know how to mix music, I don't know how to use all kinds of things like sequencers or condensers, much less even know what the heck those are. I don't even know how to correctly record something without just plugging a microphone into a computer. And I mean literally, into the mic port, without sending it through anything first. Take the people on Youtube for example, who are so great with their music. Alex Goot, Tyler Ward, etc. Their music sounds professionally produced. How do they do that?! It blows my mind, and I wish I knew how/had the setup to make that happen. But the thing is maybe I really don't need a lot of things to make it happen. Let's be honest, that's a lot of money I simply don't have to spend.

Maybe what I need to do is just invest in a really nice mic and work with that. That certainly can make a big difference. I'd love to work with a basement artist like Alex Goot or Adam Young or shoot, even just watch them do it so I can see the whole process start to finish. The thing is, no one taught them either, they taught themselves. If they can do it, why not me? Lack of motivation? Lack of money? Those are just excuses. In the end I begin to think that that's not what I'm supposed to be doing. I don't even know anymore. If something begins to feel like a chore rather than fun, then it's probably not my life's dream. But there must be another reason while I still pursue it, or say that I really love it. Is it in hope's of becoming famous? I would assume not, given that I usually don't care much about that. Making money? Could be, but early in a career in music the possibilities of immediately making it big are slim to none. Don't think so. Maybe because it just sounds cool to say you're a music man? Probably a good bet.

I also wish I had different topics to write about than the same old thing all the time. Or at least if I wrote in a different sort of manner. When I listen to Adam's words, it represents a celebration of life, even if the topic is not the happiest. He constantly describes his music as optimistic, and I don't believe there is a better word for it. I seem to prefer to wallow in my sorrows and record those undertones on the page, and maybe that's one of the reasons I'm not motivated to do it. Who wants to sit in grief and stress and sadness and loneliness for hours and hours, revisiting those feelings over and over as they record it?

There's a lot to think about. And I think if I try to cover it all here and now, I'll never finish. So, let's make a list of goals.

Short term:
Learn some piano chords, start to try something new. Keep it simple. Write about the things that amaze me, the ones that give me chills, the ones that make me want to jump and scream out that I love the world. Stay away from relationship issues, heartbreak and the usual things I write about. Start out using loops to create some beats and things like that, keeping it simple. Loops are easy to make songs with. Experiment with some effects and just see what they do, and how it changes the music.

Long term:
Play daily. Whether it's guitar, or piano, or synth, play daily. Maybe invest in a really nice keyboard at some point (Christmas present anyone?) Research the sorts of things that go into editing and recording. Figure out what makes things sound better, in terms of vocals and such especially. Most importantly, figure out if this if what I want to be doing -- if I'm not having fun doing it, don't. It's that simple. Begin to produce my own beats, sounds, loops. A lot can be done with a repeated phrase. Make magic for myself, give myself chills.

And I guess that's about the best I can express all that just went through my head in about the 5 minutes it took for me to read Adam's one blog entry. Amazing how stuff like that inspires you. If you have any words of wisdom, or comments, this would be the one entry to comment on. I need the advice, the suggestions, new ideas. I'll thank you in advance. Until tomorrow.

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