I remember a couple of years ago, I was teaching my daughter how to hold a guitar. I gave her this little guitar, about half the size of a regular acoustic guitar, that I had bought several years prior to take with me on trips and what not. I’d place it in her lap and have her hold the neck with her left hand and the sound hole facing away from her, while I held her right hand in a way where I’m making her strum the guitar. But every time I’d let go, she’d lay it down and attempt to play it like a lap guitar. Eventually, I just let her do whatever she wanted to do with the it. That’s when I thought to myself, “who am I to teach her how to properly hold a guitar?” She’s a person with the right to freedom to do whatever she wants with whatever is hers. She can hold the guitar body up to her mouth and use it as a microphone for all I care. And considering the many styles of guitar-playing that I’ve seen, I can only conclude that if we were all taught one specific way and method, then there would only be one kind of music. But more importantly, if we had chosen to follow only the established way and method, then there would be no innovation.
I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote in his essay, Self Reliance, “Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare.” You can’t re-invent the wheel, even in art. And yet, the current design of the music industry is built off of copycats copying copycats–and it’s a double-edged sword. The music executives and marketing experts group, categorize, and label music to fit a specific demographic’s taste and preference in music. While on the other side of fence, most listeners choose to stick to what they already know. Consequently, the ambitious musician plays to the ears of the music executive and to the indifferent listener, in hopes of catching both their attention by playing something they already recognize.
To think that nothing is original anymore is to disregard the individual’s genuine emotion, brought upon by his or her unique circumstance, that which fueled the need to create art and invent technologies. It also leads to people overlooking future innovators, while extravagantly idolizing past innovators. I see this happening all the time on Facebook. Listeners post music and videos of “the greats” from the past, as if the high point in music had already come and gone. And listeners who post new music for their Facebook friends to see are faced with a social network full of musical cynics and skeptics.
Where do I stand in all of this? For the past couple of years, I’ve always stuck to my guns. I stay away from playing cover songs, even though I do have a couple of them in my back pocket in case I need to play them to an unresponsive crowd. Sure, I do play the game of music categorization, since navigating the music business involves being able to describe your music in terms of someone else’s music. However, I choose to create music on my own terms, based on my own experiences and my own tastes.
The unfortunate effect of choosing not to conform to popularly accepted traditions, methods, and procedures is that one risk’s alienation from the rest of the community. It’s easy to truly be yourself when you’re alone. It’s easy to be like everyone else when you’re in a group. But it’s not easy to truly be yourself when you’re in a group. Consequently, it’s also not easy for the group to accept you when you want to truly be yourself. Obviously, groups are groups for a reason–that reason being that there’s one or more commonality that connects the individuals together. However, the problem is that, to truly be yourself and to truly develop yourself, you have to eventually break from those commonalities. You have to eventually separate from whatever is most commonly accepted as normal; while accepting the fact that you will likely cause yourself to be alienated by the group you’re currently in.
I, myself, had faced alienation for the path I chose in music concerning my decision to produce my own music. When I dove into the world of producing, mixing, and mastering, everyone else disappeared. Singer/songwriters were skeptical of anyone that was not an established producer with a studio, established producers only provided their expertise for a fee, and the cost of paying that producer was too great. Attempting to recruit band mates also faced similar problems. So when I chose to create and develop the big sound on my own, I had to learn through trial & error, never-ending research, and interpreting it all to apply to my limited resources. Eventually, I did develop my own methods that I’m satisfied with. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but regardless, I enjoy the path that I took, since I’m free to do it however I want.
When you’re in an established studio, you’re limited on time since you’re paying by the hour. Creativity suffers due to limited time and money. When you’re learning how to do this in a school setting, you’re limited to your teacher’s syllabus. Creativity suffers due to a need to follow a specific lesson plan. True artists know that creativity is not derived from books and is not proportional to how much time and money one has. Yet, many artists consider it a requirement to traverse those routes. Sometimes all the artist needs is trust in his or her own abilities and confidence in his or her own potential. Sometimes the artist needs not to be so self-conscious of his or her lack of experience.
For example, I met a jazz singer last month who said she had been wanting to write her own songs, but felt that she needed to read more. I think a lack of knowledge or experience should not hamper one’s desire to write. All one needs is thought. If one can think, then one can write. I myself don’t declare to be a master songwriter. I only declare to choose to write songs. Over time of course, the content and arrangement in my songs develop as I grow and experience more. It’s counterproductive to choose not to act on account of a lack of confidence in one’s own ability. For it is really the act of simply doing it that contributes to the development of that ability.
(to be continued in a follow-up blog post)