Updated: Jan 1, 2022
I'm extremely hard on myself. I'm the harshest critic, the biggest instigator of (sub/)conscious pessimism, the most stubborn murderer of motivation and inspiration, and the grandest creator of molehills with which I set myself an inability to climb.
Where does this come from?
Like many others, I idolise certain people: artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers. They embody influence that passed onto me at a young age, and everything I want to be and do.
Having just made my first song in 2 years I am now feeling like I need to get straight onto the next thing. I feel like this song encapsulates extra learnings I've adopted in music production, and proficiency of the software, and so I consider it to be better than much of my material prior, and in some ways, the best thing I've done.
With this comes a fear that I've 'peaked', but I know that I felt this with other pieces I've done in the past. The next thing comes along, I just don't know when. But now I have this itch that I want to make more, and that I want to do better. As I have been wishing for some time now, some of my passion for music is coming back, I am just unable to fulfill it with what I consider to be quality.
I keep falling back to the approach one of my musical heroes, Josh Homme, once said. He doesn't push an idea. If it's not working, he sets it aside and moves on to the next thing. Maybe the thing that was left gets revisited, maybe it doesn't, that I don't know. While I follow this, I do worry I follow it too much, and that maybe I don't give things a chance to develop...But then if I work on something that's not working, I get frustrated, and think I'm just trying to build a house of cards on an open toilet.
I always try to set myself up for this precedent of being like all the other musicians out there, my influences, the popular artists, and even my friends, who all seem to be writing new music all the time. Yet I currently feel able right now to only be able to come up with a new idea that I like once in a blue moon. This thought makes me feel intimidated, because I only ever stick with the ideas that really move me inside, and being so judgemental and perfectionist about the things I create, these ideas come slow and sparse.
The thing is, is that I become uninspired to work with musical ideas that I'm just not 'feeling', and I think, surely, that's normal?
As a musician, you want to love the things you create, because a lot of the time, you're creating from the depths of your soul, and if it's not exciting, then it's just difficult to work with, and then it becomes a chore to continue.
Having not created anything for about 2 years, and not really picked up an instrument for the best part of a year, I'm somewhat enamoured with my latest track. I enjoy it, it's why I stuck with it...Once I'd come up with the main chorus piano line, and listened back to it, I felt that rush of excitement that I had when I was making music when I was younger, when I was discovering things and learning how to record and use DAWs for the first time. It's what pushed me to finish it...And I'm really happy with it, even though I feel like some things might be maybe missing, or that it might not be the best mix in the world...But true to form, I'm also battling my perfectionism whilst doing this, so I decided to be hard with myself, make quick mixing decisions and go with it.
During none of this did I stop to question who I was doing this for, why was I working so hard, why I was working myself into such a stink making one song, when ultimately, I am doing this for myself. I have no intentions of pushing it to wider circles, and my pessimism dictates to me that nobody really cares about or likes the things I make. So I'm certainly not doing it for the dream of any sort of stardom. I made it, because I wanted to make it, because I liked it.
So now I've made this, I feel like I need to better it. I've shed the need to compare myself to others, and am now only trying to please myself with my creations. But in using myself as my benchmark, I'm trying to match or be better, and unaccepting of anything that I consider to be lessening in quality.
“Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” - William Faulkner
As much as I try to be better than myself, and make aforementioned statements of nobody caring, truthfully it is difficult when creating art to not care about what people think. I make music for myself, but, I don't keep it on my hard drive once I've finished the song...I publish it, to be publicly available, to those who might find it, because I want people to enjoy it too. So just like the entirety of all that social media encapsulates, it's not just internal, it is in fact inherently external in the sense that you do care what others think. I do want praise, and admiration and for people to tell me I'm good. Telling myself I don't need it, is only an attempt to nullify any expectations I may instinctively conjure.
Thus becomes a contradictive conundrum - I want praise, but I won't push my content out there, for fear of criticism. Criticism that I tell myself I don't need, because I'm only creating for myself, except inherently I cannot be, because I want praise. Part of me wants to hit those wider circles somehow, and draw attention to myself, and try and obtain a fanbase. But if I'm pressuring myself now to make the next thing and failing, then this mountain will only be that much more unsurpassable with the additional expectation of said fans wanting more from you.
I remember when Youtube started when I was about 16 or so. It was great, everybody just posted whatever the hell they wanted, and had fun with it. There was no concern of when, what, or why to post anything, it was just a fun thing to do.
You "Become a Youtuber"
You have to have a theme, establish a style, create a schedule, and deliver consistently and regularly. Failure to do so offends the increasing ADHD that has been nutured into us over the years by the ever expanding capriciousness of our ability to enjoy content.
The idea of developing a fanbase on any platform in of itself becomes hard work, and when I'm working myself to the bone trying to create something I'm happy with, expending an equal amount of energy on spreading the results around begins to seem like a brick wall, on which the other side lies a plethora of public expectations I worry I'm not able to meet. All of which lying on top of fulfilling the requirements of the day job.
But this is the thing, the day job is entirely manageable. I know what's expected of me, I know where to get the support and guidance if I need it, everything is clear, defined, and regimented, where linearity and routine quell any concerns over my capabilities.
I've always worked best when I'm working for others. I loved working sound design because I had the freedom to embrace creativity, but at the same time, was working under a mentor who would give me guidance, where I could learn from and know where certain boundaries were, and where I had gotten things right, or simply entirely wrong. When circumstances changed and I had to find ways of seeking work solo, I couldn't do it. I didn't trust in my abilities enough to meet client criteria and expectation, and with concern over your ability to deliver comes the natural result of underselling yourself...Or not selling yourself at all.
I am constantly intimidated by those who are successful, whose content I don't like, because I feel like they've made it doing things that aren't worthwhile. Meaning that when my creations, that I do believe are worthwhile, receive no attention, it leads to frustration. All the while, forgetting not only the reality of the situation, but by being shackled by the constraints of how human attention exists today...In that it is in short supply, hence why the majority of content we experience seems to represent itself as clickbait and fake news.
Eric Andre said it best...
Wait, not that..."Give the people what they want"
Eric Andre is an extreme sign of the times. You gotta shock and stun to get attention. Content that gains traction the quickest and most effectively, is that which gets a reaction. But I don't want to make stuff to get a reaction, I want to make stuff that's honest and true to myself and my experiences. Maybe, I'm just not that interesting. Maybe my experiences are not that relatable...Or, they are so relatable and ordinary that they don't offer anything that people haven't already experienced or dealt with themselves.
Reaction is just the beginning of it though, in creating a fanbase I think we can comfortably apply Simon Sinek's statistic from his TED talk on 'how great leaders inspire action'.
"The first 2.5% of our population are our innovators. The next 13.5% of our population are our early adopters. The next 34% are your early majority, your late majority and your laggards."
Once you've established that fanbase, or that client base, or whatever it is, and you begin to develop traction, things can begin to move on their own. I believe in my head that if I can ever find it in myself to make it to that 34% market, that my inspiration will take weight and follow the same trajectories of reception. But reality has taught me that my expectations are likely ill founded, and I may very well still experience the same struggles with creativity.
I'm setting out to create content for myself, but unfortunately, it's impossible to do so without the need the please others. These things are conjoined, and it's naive of me to think that I can create and publish content without the manacles of narcissism.
So, I end up pressuring myself to be better than I might be capable of, or become harshly critical of that which I do create, without taking a step back and letting it be what will be. These things are all a numbers game, and as Ira Glass says, the key is volume. In some ways, strength in numbers. I need to fill my hard drives and spend my time creating rubbish, because the only way to that thick crude oil, is by digging through a lot of shit.
The toughest part is allowing myself the time. Some people find deadlines effective, but for me, not being able to create within a timescale I've defined for myself only increases the internal pressure I am already putting on myself to be good, to be noticed, and to be liked. Personally, I need to allow myself the freedom to let things happen when they will. I've overcome a massive obstacle in my recent song by actually making the damn thing, and being proud of it. So I can't now diminish that, by beating myself up for not being able to jump onto the next thing, for fear that it may be another 2 years for the next thing to come along.
If I can free myself up, and allow myself the liberty to not like my ideas, but to in fact, make ideas, then by sheer determination of volume, eventually something will stick. If I can alleviate the artificial pressure I am creating for myself, by recognising the reality that, there is no pressure...
...Then hopefully I'll find the next thing comes along sooner than I imagined.