Guitar Zen: More Thoughts about Creation & Money in Music

I really wish this video had gotten the views I think it deserves. Does that sound egotistical? Yep, but wait, there’s more! It isn’t really about the views, to me it’s about the message.

Perhaps I didn’t package it as well as I could have. I find that talking deadpan to a camera is really disconcerting because you get nothing back. No feedback. Just stillness. That’s why I decided to get better at this kind of speaking and make this Guitar Zen series in part for myself to develop better skills at ‘giving away’. I try my best to strive to be better than I was yesterday, not to be in competition with anyone else, just myself from the other day.

Stay with me on this.

Ultimately? Life is about giving. Art is about giving. Giving of yourself in a profoundly personal way to those around you. If you do it honestly, it hopefully will work out for you, if you do it dishonestly and it works out for you? You’re definitely in for trouble down the road.

Why would you hold onto an album or lifetimes worth of musical material? And in the microcosmic sense, why would you hold onto a song? Art is meant to be shared, truly, as the internet reminds us every day that sharing things has become the absolute norm. You can always try to charge for premium content, and for regular content, but ultimately if people want something they’d rather have it shared or given to them via a free avenue.

This issue of worth in music is unfortunately quite fundamentally broken right now: it’s fantastic that I can listen to the new Obscura record ‘Akroasis’ before buying it, but unless you put in the monetary worth yourself, will you buy it? It comes back to the whole ‘try-before-you-buy’ way of shopping.

We can do that with music now, whereas many years ago you had to perfect singles to get people to listen to the other, usually more meaningful and artistically personal songs on a record. Now, singles are still used in the same way, but they are much more accessible: internet killed the TV, TV killed the radio. You can feature other famous musicians on a single and push it and explode in popularity, forcibly pushing your music into new ready and eager listeners. This is great for marketing, and usually awful for art.

But because of the mass distribution, saturation and the amount of ‘free’ people have, it makes me question why I am in this business. Trying to break through the brutality of the industry is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I believe you have to be extremely masochistic to be a musician in today’s times especially if you wish to actually turn a profit. Here in lies the dilemma.

To be a musician, you must be much more than a musician. You must be able to market yourself, produce yourself, learn how to do simple video and have some skills in editing, be a businessperson, network, organize manufacture and maintain merchandise in (usually) an online shop, get artwork that is cohesive to your vision visually and sonically, and the list keeps going on and on from there. It’s really ten jobs in one. Most people do not realize this.

And to expect to give the most important part of it all away really is bittersweet. Everyone is doing it. And as such, again, cutting through the fat is really difficult for fans too. So why pay for music? Ultimately I believe if you feel moved by a song, it should be given its due payment. It really is pennies for an experience.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote.

People would gladly pay hundreds of dollars in one evening on alcohol and unsavory powders and pills for an experience people sometimes have no recollection of. Usually people do this to have a ‘good time’, to forget their troubles, and to ‘be social’. On the other hand, people will not pay more than $10 for a collection of songs that might move them spiritually, heal them emotionally, or change their world view. Because you can get it for $9.99 on iTunes and they have this sale coming up because it’s winter and blah-blah-blah. Artists have now short-changed themselves to such a degree that it begs the question, why?

Know what your product is worth. Know your value. If you are a musician who is ready to give it all away, realize that the people who made the products you purchase every day do not do that. Your guitar/trombone/cello was made by hard working people who got theirs. Not for exposure, not for anything other than to help you create something.

We as musicians pay to create with time, blood, sweat, tears and money. We give our lives to a noble pursuit in order to uplift our selves and others to new heights of emotional and spiritual peace – damn that sounds romantic, I’m gonna run with that line anyway.

There is the issue, right there in front of you. And I believe it is a deeply philosophical one. Some people have a mindset of lack, and some people have a mindset of richness, of daily improvement – of seeking a better experience. Not sticking to the same old tired and repetitive story of “I got so drunk last nite lol #hangover.”

Finding Inspiration

Usually when there is thunder in the sky a lot of people like to duck and cover in fear and in expectation that their day will be ruined by some cosmic alignment of molecules destined for their day to be ruined. I like to think of thunder storms as the release of energy, which is what it really is.

It’s up to us as to what we do with that energy, are we afraid of it? Do we utilize it? Do we teach what it’s meaning is? Do we give it spiritual value?

I choose to give it inspirational value. What is more primordial and raw than a thunder storm? The feeling of the earth shuddering beneath your toes coupled with a raging tide of rain falling seemingly endlessly from the sky – what could be more poetic?

Of course earthquakes, volcanoes, and tornadoes as well as other natural disasters are infinitely more powerful, but we only get the occasional thunder storm here on my part of the world.

I enjoy the fact that humans are absolutely powerless, even in their understanding of how the world and it’s forces work. We can understand it, we can even to a certain small scale reproduce these things, but we can’t do anything about them on the planetary scale.

This powerlessness brings power, I figure, as we remember that we are beings who have divined the earth with our creations. I mean to say, we rule the earth, but we are still subject to it. There is never going to be a power struggle, there is a hierarchy. We are second on the food chain to a global catastrophe, are we not? Could not the earth swallow us in tsunamis and hurricanes?

It’s an interesting thought.

Alas, this post is about finding inspiration. So to get to my point quite quickly and plainly: if I can find inspiration in a thunder strike or two, where can you find it?

A New Way to look at “Creative Imbalance”

So I’m writing a book right now that is basically a self-help guide to being a musician in a world of distraction and of time wasting opportunities that we always do instead of what we’re supposed to do.

The inspiration behind it is that even now as I’m typing this I feel I should be doing something creative, even though that notion is kind of ridiculous.

Or is it?

The idea that we need ‘balance’ in our lives is truly an absurd notion simply because in our lives we love to have an imbalance of certain things: sex, alcohol, and other things. We call those addictions but really it’s a wanted imbalance that becomes a dependant imbalance of doing something potentially good or bad for yourself simply because of the amount of pleasure you associate with it.

So why don’t we condition ourselves to have a healthy imbalance of being creative 500% of the time? Or at least the amount of time that we would need it, say for 5-6 hours of song writing you were really creative during the entire period.

It’s a bizarre way to look at things and I kind of prefer it this way myself simply because then I can trick myself into thinking I could write an entire song in a day by just starting simple and building. Eventually everyone gets tired and has a snack or juice or something but the idea is to be constantly creating to the point where you are too tired to do much else. For a musician this is ideal, I think. Because then you can have a few albums instead of one after 2-3 years of working on music.

Anyhow I hope this has been stimulating. A playthrough of one of my songs called “The Maxim of Hassahn” will be coming up very shortly.


Collaboration & Co-Creation

So many things that are exciting are happening in my life right now. I could sit here and whine about some negative things or things that I wish would happen but aren’t – but instead I have chosen the path of the champion. By being grateful and thankful for my blessings: in whichever sizes they come in. I received some cash the other day – that is always welcome! How much was it? It was a gift in itself to receive it, therefore the amount in itself is always an added bonus. Start thinking of things as blessings and you can begin to see the beauty in life.

I bring up Collab and Co-Creating things simply because a lot of that seems to be going on in my life. And that’s how dreams come true. So really, the reclusive and the people who aren’t very responsive to their environments or their lack of changing environments suffer the most because they remove themselves from the opportunity to make something really cool.

And that’s just what is happening with me right now. Several projects all at the same time. Several people wanting my attention asking me for help as well as people that want to work with me that intellectually and personally inspire. I’m a normal human being like everyone else, but man, some ideas that come together due to the collaboration between seemingly normal folk really begin to shoot into these ideas that are just astronomically genius. It makes me really proud. I have a team coming together. Music is coming together.

As ASAP Rocky says, Extraordinary Swag. In my case, this is in the vein of amazing ideas and amazing people coming together in my life. Useful acquaintances and good friends.

Be happy.

Be grateful.

Drink some water.

Get playful.