Wednesday, 31 August 2016

So What Are You Really Making Music For?

I've repeated many times over the years that I hate advertising myself. There is something about it that just makes me curl up into a ball inside and squirm. I have become a naturally private person. I value being left alone and anonymity. I want to be left to my own devices because my chief ability, I think, is having ideas. Left alone I can have these ideas and try and make something of them without interference from other concerns. My idea of hell is to be famous. I literally cannot think of anything worse. I would go crazy very quickly if I was constantly getting requests or comments about not just the things I do but me myself as well. But you're probably wondering what the problem is as you sit there reading this. Surely, you're thinking, there is no danger of me becoming famous anyway? You're right to think this because there isn't. And even if there was I'd probably stamp on it as soon as I noticed it anyway. I've done the fame/money equation in my head a few times and I think the money would not be worth the fame.

My name is Andrew and I make electronic music. I put this music online and, to some, this suggests that I want attention, for it if not for myself. Up until now I would have reluctantly agreed with you. As a girlfriend of mine once remarked, "Why are you putting it online if you don't want people to like it?" This may seem a reasonable question to you and you may think she had a point. I am a fairly prodigious producer of music. Over 3,000 tracks in hundreds of albums in 8 years is my guesstimate for my latest spurt of activity. Pretty much all of that has been online at one time or another. Most of it now isn't save for my latest new album, not yet one week old, and two albums of "greatest hits" that I have let stand on my Bandcamp account as examples of pieces of music I am most proud of. But I find myself asking again why it is there at all.

I had a thought the other day which was pre-meditated by the fact that my new album, U8, received zero attention in the first two or three days it was online. I don't garner much attention really but zero attention is just as rare. I can usually expect a few plays and maybe five downloads for anything I do. If the stars align maybe an album will hit ten or even twenty downloads. The things that get more are rare exceptions. But there are exceptions. I have one album this year with ninety five downloads. It occurred to me in the moment I recognized my latest work had produced no attention that, actually, I was now free, free of having to make music that somebody else, somebody out there, might like. I started to ask myself, yet again, why I'm making this music and if making this music for reasons other than to count my plays and downloads was enough. I had an allied thought too. I considered that if I liked music by some third party then I wouldn't care who else liked it or how popular it was. In that case it would be wholly good enough that I liked it. So why couldn't this be good enough or sufficient with my own music too?

OK, I admit that everyone wants to be popular. Everyone wants to feel loved, liked and appreciated. Why does social media have like and favorite buttons if not to garner cheap appreciation for things you post? But what does it say about the person who finds self-worth in such things? I'd like to believe very much that I'm not so easily pleased. So, to get back to my conundrum, I ask myself again why it can't be good enough that I like my music. I think that now, having had the insight of no plays or downloads, it can be. I'm fairly realistic about my own music, I think. Its not all at the same level and the way I work means that its only in retrospect that I can sift and filter the better from the worse, the stuff that grows from the things that fade. All my music passes a basic "instinct" test I give it before I put anything online and that test is to ask if I'd want to be associated with it. But, over time, I can figure out the really good bits from the rest. My album A Maze of Electronic Sounds is seventy bits of music over eight years that is "better" than the rest. Time has helped me make that decision and I think every track of that album is fantastic. The album currently has twenty one downloads. But I don't care. I play tracks from it every day and it eases my path through this vale of tears called life. Job done.

Of course, there's more to it than that, especially if I want to be seen as some kind of artist and appreciated not simply for "product" but for having a set of skills or abilities or insights. Does the idea of this tickle my vanity? Yes, of course. This plays into ideas of identity and self-worth again. I am a human being. I have a human psychology. People want to feel appreciated and appreciated for definite reasons. My self-image is of an artistic creator. Now its extremely rare that anyone will comment on my music. This is partly my fault in that I've deliberately put it somewhere people cannot comment as they listen. Someone who wanted to comment to me about my music would have to go to the lengths of deliberately going to my social media and expressly addressing a comment to me. It seems that for almost everyone this is a step too far. I've had bad commenting experiences in the past. I made the mistake of putting work some years ago on You Tube and let's just say that You Tube has no filter when it comes to commenters. Some very hurtful things were said which, being the person I am, it was hard to get past. When thinking about comments its strange that we always imagine only good ones. But some are more than ready to give you both barrels without thoughts of consequences. 

The thing is that we usually take what we do very seriously and we imagine that others will too. But to others what we do might be a joke. Are we ready to hear that? What we do is for us often a very personal matter. In my case this is very true. My musical work is basically a narrative about my life experience in sound. It is "honest not good" as I have phrased it on my Bandcamp biography. To criticize it is basically to criticize my experience and say there is something wrong with it. So, for me at least, there are stakes involved here. I imagine this is true for other musicians, painters, poets and all types of artistic people too. But this only makes me go back and ask myself the "What I am doing this for?" question all over again. It makes me ask what role "the general public" have in this scenario. Do I need other people to value my experience of life expressed in sound? No, I don't. My experience is what it is whether you like or agree with it or not. And all genuine experience is valid as well. So I don't need anyone to say that what I did has any validity. The fact I did it is all the validity it will ever need.

So I find myself thinking that I need to start seeing my own music like someone else's. If I like it that's good enough. No one else's validation is needed. Its perfectly fine for it to be my secret if that's what it is to be. It can be like that record you hear which no one else has and it feels a little special to you because of that. If the music has its effect on me then its work is done. As I write I'm listening to my track "Sad Song" from the album Lousy Marketing Strategy. This track always gets under my skin. Not only is it one that I actually play keyboards on (rare), but it expresses perfectly my own sense of melancholy that I carry with me everywhere. Yet, at the end of this track, a dance breaks out. It, thus, tells me a little story about myself. No one else has this relationship with this piece of music for no one else realizes or experiences this. It occurs to me now so strongly that this is enough. It doesn't need to be appreciated by others or seen for what it is by someone else. Every time I hear this track it tells me this story of myself again. That is its work and it does it well. 

And yet, even after all this realization, I still feel pangs of vanity. "This is all true but, still, if a few people liked it and told you how great it was that would be OK, no?" I suppose it would. But its neither necessary nor sufficient. If I made music just so someone else would tell me they liked it (assuming I could even do such a thing) then I would feel so hollow and fraudulent thereafter. I'm only making music at all to give expression to my experience of life. It absolutely must be true to that or the process of making and listening would be a destructive one for me personally. I suppose this leaves the question hanging in the air of its worth to other people. Apparently, that worth is not much. I cannot say I have any fan, not one that I'm overtly aware of anyway. Clearly some few people are in that five people who seem to download most things I do. Thank you if that's you. Its just that I think I need to make sense of my music without factoring in outside influences. To be prey to "likes and faves" is to be a cork in an ocean I do not control. I'd rather make sense of what I'm doing in a more stable atmosphere if that's at all possible. The world is fluctuating enough already as it is. Indeed, as Nietzsche knows well, all things are flux. (Nietzsche himself, I'm reminded, was not popular in his own lifetime. His books sold only a few hundred copies each. He would be amazed at what a philosophical superstar he has become. And probably also appalled.)

I don't know what this means for the future or whether I will just stop putting music online. I've been less than motivated recently. However, the Bandcamp counters don't lie: I know how many plays I get and how many of those are barely 30 seconds of my track that might be fifteen minutes long! Do I really need the distraction of that in my life like some silent, anonymous critique of my art's worth? Is it true that it would be better not to know? Of course, there may be those reading this who are thinking "No, don't take your music away, blah, blah, blah....". But you already know my reply to this: if you value it then why isn't it being listened to and downloaded? Now I'm coming across like some bitter and disappointed fellow who is sad because no one likes his music. But, truly, I'm not sad at all. Quite the opposite. I know my music's worth to me. I know how hearing it back tells me things about myself, how it helps me explain my experience of the world and that is a huge help to me. The rest of you listeners out there don't even enter into this equation. Other listeners are, as it were, a side issue.

As I finish writing this blog it occurs to me that there was one comment a couple of years back that really did touch me. It was by someone who has now sadly died and he was a musician himself. A couple of years ago in 2014 I made a track called "Lament for Existenz". It was as emotional and melancholic as you might imagine from that title. This other musician, a young man half my age, went out of his way to tell me that this track really touched him. It meant a lot to me that he did that because, knowing a little about him, I knew that he had health issues of his own and so knew something of the personal struggles that life can bring. So I felt, upon hearing his comment, that, somehow, my track had managed to communicate to a like mind. I've always remembered that I treasured this about the track whenever I hear it again. I suppose I hope that this is what my music can do for others as well. But I'm not doing it for that reason. It was touching to know that I had created something that someone else could feel though. Because most of all I think I'd like to believe that what I'm communicating in my music is something real. Because if its real then who cares what anyone else thinks?

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