Saturday, 8 December 2012

Productional culture

I want to say, to start, that I want this to not be a snobby thing. It is a value thing, but not a snobby thing. Anyone can take part in it. So.

This afternoon I was moving some data around, off external hard drives and onto the schmancy 2nd hard drive I put into my macbook pro where the optical drive used to be, and so I was confronted with maybe 300 GB of old song demos and recordings, which I find kind of embarrassing for the most part these days. Part of me wants to keep this stuff forever, but I have been thinking for a couple years— since moving to the UK I suppose— about how letting old things go is often necessary for growth, even when you're not always ready to actually let those things go. You know, like forest fires. Right? So part of me feels like, as long as that's sitting around on a drive somewhere, I'm going to keep writing things like that, which I'm not happy with.

So I deleted the folder.

Don't worry, I still have some record of my past. But this giant folder of "ideas" that I was theoretically to bring out and dust off and sculpt into something good... gone. Gone! It felt liberating. If I'm going to write more music, it's going to be drawing on everything I've learned since then and who I am now, not finding some idea from years ago that was somehow "right" and working it into a polished gem. (I have done the other thing in the past, usually when I needed something for a play on short notice, but that was mostly taking finished work that had never seen the light of day and putting a final mix on it, not taking these little isolated verses / choruses / bare chord progressions / piano licks and sculpting something from them.

And then, feeling liberated, I spent some time trying to be Owen Pallett, basically, but on the piano. And, you know, me, instead of actually Owen.

And the whole time, Downstairs Neighbor was playing the TV at maximum volume. Not to drown me out— or at least, she was doing it before I started playing, so it wasn't to drown me out at the beginning at least. Just because that is what she does.

Emma and I are always making and doing. Our friends are (generally speaking) always making and doing. But lots of people I only kinda-sorta know, they don't make. They observe. They watch. They consume.

And while observing and watching and consuming— being passive, "just relaxing"— is good sometimes, it's a mode of being that wasn't available to us until fairly recently. Our squirrelly mammal brains are used to being entertained by making and doing, and I'd go so far as to say that's when we feel most satisfied, most engaged, and happiest: when we're making something.

The something doesn't even have to be good. Professionalism, in fact, takes as it gives. It's great to have geniuses (like the aforementioned Owen) who make things that blow our minds, and it's great that they can travel the world making a living showing them to us in person. But one thing that I think keeps a lot of people from doing and making is the fear that it won't be good enough to show other people, that it won't be fit for public consumption. And, very often, it won't be. But that's no reason to stop doing it. The curse of having access to all the media produced across the entire world is the same as its benefit: we get the best (and the trendiest, and the most shocking, but let's say that by one metric or another something that rises to global prominence has the ability to engage and entertain and is put together deftly and generally well-executed) of so many people's efforts that we don't see (unless we make a special effort) the rest of the pyramid. In 1950 you could put on a record and hear world-class music, but for the most part you went to hear musicians at your local pub (or whatever). In 1850 the same, but without the records. Because we mostly interact with professional products, many people tend to consider the making of music— and other art forms— as the domain of professionals.

Let's not do that! Let's have a productional culture, where people do and make and then use that, their hands-dirty lived knowledge of a discipline to inform what they decide to consume when consuming is what's in the cards for that day. How do we do that? Downstairs neighbor needs a hobby.



P.S. If you're thinking of doing and making tomorrow, and need a little push to get started— a little confidence boost— here's that great quote from Ira Glass about such things: 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”