Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mind the Gap

I've just uploaded the first Longing for Orpheus album, Skye, to Bandcamp, and had to listen to it to make sure all the uploads went good.  I say "had to" because it wasn't the most pleasant experience.  It forced me to closely examine the deepest point in my journey through the Gap.  If you don't know what the Gap is (hint: not a clothing store)...

Ira Glass, best known as host of the public broadcast radio show "This American Life," articulated a concept he calls 'the Gap' in this well-circulated segment.  While Glass' background is in broadcast,  it's widely accepted within the arts community that the concept is applicable to any creative endeavor.  If you'd rather skip the video, it's also been widely circulated in this graphical form:

The painful thing about the Gap is that it can be really heard to tell whether you're still in it or not.  I might still be.  If I'm going by Glass' yardstick of "once your work is as good as your ambitions", I definitely am, but I've found that many great musicians find their work falling short of their ideals, so this may be a permanent state.   In any case, I'm comfortable asserting that I've made a lot of progress since Skye.

None of this is to say that I regret releasing Skye.  If I'm to trust Mr. Glass, it was a necessary step for my artistic progression.  But, there are things that really bother me about the album - poor mixing decisions, unrefined vocals, lyrical cliches, a general lack of polish... 

So, if I have all these reservations, why make it easier for people to find Skye?  Why not just call it a learning experience, and pull it from distribution?  Partly because, despite the rough edges, I do think there are quite a few good musical ideas on the's mainly their execution that bothers me.

Also, I want to avoid creating an air of mystique around the album.  All too often I've hunted down an artist's first, out-of-print release, sometimes paying five or ten times the list price, only to find that it was far below their usual standard.  This shouldn't have come as a surprise, particularly in those cases where the artist explicitly stated that something was out of print because it wasn't very good.  I don't think Longing for Orpheus is inspiring that kind of intense fandom, but I certainly hope it will eventually.

My final motivation brings me back to the concept of the Gap.  I think doing creative work is important and meaningful, and something everyone should be able to experience.  I think acknowledging the Gap,  and demystifying the creative process will help others understand, anticipate, and work through it.

There's an insidious myth embedded in our society, sometimes called "the cult of the genius"; the myth that things of beauty emerge whole cloth from a brilliant minds.  Yes, I think that type of genius probably exists, as exemplified by musical minds like Mozart.  But, there have only been a handful of Mozarts in human history.  Most art is created by normal people.  The notion that, unless you're born with a divine gift of creation, you'll never be able to make substantive art, is an idea that's prevents many people from even trying.  It robs them of joy and catharsis, and it robs the world of what they might create.  I think the genius myth persists because it makes a great story; It's the way creativity is presented in film and television. Most importantly, it persists because it's advantageous for successful artists to promote themselves as the embodiment of it.  Kanye West is probably the most egregious example in recent memory, but it's has been going on for hundreds of years - Michaelangelo went to great lengths to maintain the illusion of genius.

Now, we have a counter-movement, aiming to dispel the genius myth.  We have blogs like the one I linked to in the previous paragraph.  We have heated debate about the "10,000 hour rule," and how it might apply to creative work, all over the internet.  I think keeping Skye accessible helps, in a small way, to demonstrate the reality that people become good at doing creative work by doing creative work.  And that's how anybody can learn to make beautiful things.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The finish line

I hate the 'polishing the mix(es)' phase at the end of the music production cycle.  Okay, I don't hate it...there are exciting elements to it, in that the end is in sight, and soon people will actually be able to hear what I've been working on...but I do find it pretty painful.  This is mainly because I never finish a song to my's always short of the ideal I hear in my mind.  Rather, I just keep making smaller and smaller tweaks until everything I'm doing is making it sound slightly different, rather than slightly that point, I throw in the towel, and while I'm confident I've made the best music I possibly can, it always feels like I'm compromising.  Alright, that's enough moping...time to finish album.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Out of Touch

Occasionally, I've seen reference to one musician or another* being out of touch with the current music scene, and it completely baffled me that this could happen.  How could a person who loved music enough to take it on as a career despite the dismal odds of "making it", a person willing to dedicate the copious time required to master their craft, let themselves get out of touch?  I've come to realize that it's a loaded question.

The fact is, being a music fan takes a lot of time - it may not seem like it, but I think that's because the activities that comprise being a fan, even a serious devotee, are easy to do in small chunks, and may not seem like "doing anything" at all.  Pressing play on a Pandora or Grooveshark station, reading Facebook or Twitter feeds, browsing Rolling Stone or Pitchfork, these are the type of things you can do with a few spare minutes between serious tasks.

But, as a pure fan, you can listen to something new every time you hit that play button, if that's your preference.  When you have music you need to learn, or mixes to evaluate, every time you want to listen to something it's a choice between listening to something productive...perhaps for the 17th time...or listening to something new and fun.  If you keep this up over a period of years, and with an intense workload, I've no doubt you could become out of touch, if not completely disillusioned with music. 

Though it feels like a second career, the truth is that I'm an amateur musician in a busy spell...I started playing Irish Traditional Music a couple of years ago, and have recently had a number of opportunities to perform in public, which I've jumped on (opportunity being notoriously fickle, and all that)...and I'm desperately trying to wrap up a Longing for Orpheus album in the remaining three months before there's a newborn in the house.  It seems as though the only music I've listened to in the past six months have been items on a todo list (in truth, I've done some recreational listening, but it's all been old favorites - no exploration). Soon, though, the  pressure will be off,** and I'll be able to catch up on the scenes and genres I typically follow.  I suspect the pros that make it in the long run figure out that they have to do this, too, and find a way to make it happen.

*Speaking of professional musicians here, and predominantly those in popular music...classical musicians have the upper hand here due to the comparatively slow pace of change in that arena.
**Yes, I get that the newborn thing will replace my current concerns and then some...but that's my current, individual situation, and I'm trying to make a general point, so just play along, k?