Day 3: Why? How?

Two questions that can often present a barrier to learning or improving:

Why am I doing this?

How does this relate to that?

Those questions often have subtext in my experience.

Why am I doing this? often translates to What is the payoff?

How does this relate to that? often translates as How do I relate this to something that matters to me? 

The question of worth and what matters is subjective and often poorly formed in our minds. There’s always the image of yourself as the end product. Smarter, better, slicker, and yet the same age and with the same daily activities, if you even think of those factors. The end image that we have in our heads might not even be true or what we actually want. This is a really good article on the subject, but grab a coffee before you start reading. Specifically it discusses techniques for unmasking yearnings in your life and how they interact. Image from the article:

octopus-3-segmented-1

Fundamentally both questions boil down to is it worth it?

We can’t offer anything except platitudinal assurances to anybody else, because we don’t know how those different values are balanced.

Defining goals is tough. Interrogating your hopes and wants is deeply uncomfortable. Neither of those facts constitute an excuse not to do both.

Setting goals for this challenge didn’t work until I started using my day job to inform my work. Why is that? Because in my job, the work gets done. Why does it get done?

Aside from the fact that I am not currently an independently wealthy person, and need the job, the why and how are answered. Why am I doing this? has a clear answer.  You build in a specific way because it works best with an existing architecture. Music, despite its fluidity, does have architecture and can be addressed in those terms.

How does this relate to that? also has a clear answer. Structurally. It’s not just applicable in databases, or cooking, or even carpentry. All of which I have worked at. It’s because you break a task down into smaller bits that make sense.  You identify the thing you will need first. You work out how long it will reasonably take you to do that, before you can move on to the next milestone.

In music, you have some flexibility on determining your milestones, but I do quibble that certain ones need to happen in order. Whether you think that a melody or beat needs to come first, or lyrics, or understanding of a system, that’s what works for your process. I’m not here to dictate that. What I am here to quibble (somewhat) is how we perceive each.

I propose the following:

  1. Concept
  2. Lyrics/Mood/Theme
  3. Instrumentation
  4. Recording
  5. Arrangement
  6. Mixing
  7. Mastering
  8. Releasing

As a basic layout that’s fine, provided you never care that anybody hears it. Concurrently you need to be working on marketing, collaboration, release venues, dates, cutoff times, studio time if you can fit or afford it, flagging any external professionals you may need (engineers, promoters, publicists, etc). As well as that, you better have budgeted for the track costs alone, before you get to video/promo shoots/publicity/event costs if you decide on any or all of those.

All of these elements are great. When positioned next to a why, they make sense.

Hey, do you want to learn accounting? No? Because it’ll help you structure  your earnings, so you can actually afford new equipment or repairs for your instrument/physio you couldn’t afford.

Do you want to learn the physics of sound? No? Well, it will probably make your beats sound bigger and actually like a real drum, not stock, to give one example.

Do you want to know about chord structures? No? Good luck.

The point is that taking any of these elements in isolation of the bigger goal is myopic. Focusing on how boring the individual tasks are, even though I do it all the time, is counterproductive.

With all that in mind I’ve psyched myself up to work on this better, even if I still have difficulty grasping many, many concepts.

There’s a Bojack Horseman monologue that really kicks the aspiration side of me in the teeth. It’s Princess Carolyn, one of the more driven characters in the programme.

Princess: You want to know what I do when I have a really bad, awful, terrible day? I imagine my great-great-granddaughter in the future talking to the class about me. She’s poised and funny, and tells people about me and about how everything worked out in the end. And when I think about that, I think about how everything’s going to work out. Because how else could she tell people?

Bojack: But it’s…fake.

Princess: Yeah, well, it makes me feel better.

Why did I choose to bring you down to my level? Because this is what it is when you let your aspirations remain aspirations, in your head, and don’t take the steps. Often painfully small, slow, dull steps, to even approach where you want to be. Because it’s easier to remain one or the other and not be in between. A thing or not a thing. Stepping into the bridge between the two is horrible and you feel stupid. Most of the time.

Because we can’t guarantee a payoff. Nobody can.

So, I’ll tell you how you can circumvent that and keep going.

Embarrass yourself.

No, really, I mean it. Embarrass the hell out of yourself. Don’t bother by halves. Be egregious.

Allow me to tell you a story of how I got over myself and started going to the gym properly. It’s not my only or even most embarrassing story, but it was productive. Back to the days of the iPod Nano, which was still more robust than my self-esteem at the time.

I’m on a treadmill, flailing along, and one hand catches the earphones cable and catapults the iPod clear across the gym to the other side. In shock, I hit the emergency stop, and don’t realise that it stops after three seconds, so I also fall off the treadmill. I pick myself up and try walk over to retrieve it as nonchalantly as possible, then return to running.

Five minutes later, I did it again. At that point, I noticed that nobody had even looked up.

Your perception of embarrassment is rarely the same as anybody else’s. The stuff you remember versus what other people remember is rarely analogous. Except maybe for siblings.

So just go for it. Worst case scenario is that you end up on stage dressed as a giant bird talking about your feelings.

Whoops.

What’s the payoff though? And how does it relate to making music? Or anything else?

Very simple. It means you don’t really allow judgement (that may or may not even exist) to interfere with following something you actually want. Judgement and creativity cannot live in the same house, to paraphrase Yanni.

Frankly, the payoff means you stop giving a shit. And that is massively freeing.

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