Plateaus

Every creative person hits a plateau sometime.

It’s a natural part of the growth process; you ascend, expand, move forward and move further out towards the edges.

Plateau’s can be dark, scary and frustrating.

But if you wait them out they’ll pass and you’ll be back creating inspired work again in no time.

You can also try engage yourself and seek out the inspiration. This may work and it may not. For me, it just makes things harder.

Don’t let the plateau hinder you, though. Seek out new things that resonate with you and then come back to your original work. Often, coming back with fresh eyes is just the break that we need to get the creative work going again.

Being the voice of your work

The artist knows that they’re the one that must give a voice to their work.

There is nothing more depressing than meeting the artist who is sitting alone, in their apartment toiling away in obscurity waiting to be discovered.

To be discovered means that somebody must be looking for something. However, if truly original work is being created then the searcher has no idea what they’re looking for. It’s up to the artist to show them, to put it in context and to be the voice for their work.

This might be as important as the work itself, but not more so.

Musicians Wanted…

I exchanged emails with a guy I met on Craig’s List. We’re both looking for musicians. He’s interested in a lot of the same stuff I am, but he’s into his own thing. I think that he plays guitar. They all play guitar. I play guitar. He talks to me about Obituary, Overkill, Megadeth, Pantera and early Metallica, as well as a bunch of other bands I don’t recognize, fortunately, the last one I know very well. This isn’t going anywhere, though. We’re cordial. Conversation dies slowly. I accept it. We both want something. We don’t see eye to eye, though, on what it takes to get there.

I exchanged emails with another guy I met on Craig’s List. We’re both looking for musicians. We have similar ideas about what we want to do, but again don’t agree on how to get there. We both love Bluegrass and acoustic music, but he doesn’t want to do anything post-1950, I only want to do stuff post-1950, hell, post-1970, even. He’s old timey, that’s what he calls it. I’m thinking something else, like narrow minded or something. I’m a snob. I get that. I want to do new stuff. I don’t want to play Little Maggie or Hot Corn, Cold Corn for the millionth time. I want to jam and gain new ground in a Bluegrass context. JD Crowe and the New South, but an even newer south, Chris Thile or something. The guy’s not interested.

I exchanged emails with another guy I met on Craig’s List. We’re both looking for musicians. We have similar tastes, but he wants to give up his family of four kids and an underwhelming job to go on the road. I get the dream. I’m no square. I’ve been around. I want this just as bad as him, but abandoning my family to live in a a Ford Econoline that smells like ass and feet with exhaust seeping in the cab, as they so frequently do, doesn’t really sound like a solid plan. Apparently, I’m not dedicated enough. Ok. Not sure where that dude ended up. I imagine he’s trucking down some highway in North Dakota right on his way to the next dream gig playing for donations. We never even got to the music part.

One time I met this gal, a new age type through an ad. She was a singer and guitar player channeling some kind of earth mother vibe. I like the Grateful Dead. I can dig it. We talked a bit. We had similar interests, musically. We met to jam. She didn’t know any chords, but played her shitty acoustic with her pointer and middle finger, which would have been cool if it didn’t sound like ass, but what rhymes with ass, but alas, and alas it did sound like ass. That was the end of the jam. She was embarrassed. I was embarrassed. Little was said. I used to smoke cigarettes then and we smoked a cigarette on the porch of her duplex and talked about Shawn Colvin. I never cared for Shawn Colvin. That was a long conversation. Longest smoke ever. I packed my guitar. Jam over, man.

This other time, I exchanged emails with a guy, a jazz fusion bassist. Whoa! He was good. He could tap, and slap and pop and rock out a solid groove. He was good. He was like a James Jamerson meets Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was impressed. I was thinking that this guy could really jam it out. He asked if I was into jazz. I told him I was. He beat through a forty-seven chord vamp and asked if I wanted to jam on it, apparently it was a new tune he was working on.  About thirty too many chords for me, man. I was better than the Ramones, but I couldn’t hang with all these chords, augmented, dimished, minor, major with sustained octaves and sliding harmonics. Jaco Pastorious on a speed ball. Damn, he was good.  He looked at me the way I’m sure that I looked at the earth loving Shawn Colvin fan. I couldn’t blame him. I knew what was next. I packed my guitar and left.

I met this guy through an ad. We had similar interests. He was nice. We talked about our love for funk, and DC punk, ala Dischord, Fugazi, Smart Went Crazy, Embrace, etc… He plays bass and like’s Flea and old Chili Peppers. I’m digging the vibe. We make a plan to play some music. We don’t just yet, because he’s in between basses. Ahh. We talk on the phone. Soon, I’m picking him up to meet for coffee and talk about our would-be band practices… if he had a bass. I like this guy. He talks a good game, but nothing’s happening. I’m becoming impatient. We have a few more chats, but meanwhile I’m getting something else going on. This is going nowhere.

A couple months pass.

One night he calls me up. Tells me he got a bass. Well he’s supposed to get a bass, a nice one, graphite composite or some such. There’s a lot of noise on his end, beeping and stuff. Looking at the caller ID I realize I don’t recognize the number he’s calling from and so I ask him about it. “Where are you at?” I ask. “The hospital” He says. “The hospital,” I ask, “why’s that?” “Oh, no real reason,” He says. Curious now, I ask: “Are you a patient?” “Yeah, sort of” He says. “I tried to off myself today” ‘Off yourself…?’ I said out loud. Really. Did he just say that? “Off yourself?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, “I took some pills, and they pumped my stomach,” he said non-nonchalantly. Feeling some combination of speechlessness, concern and disbelief, I ask “Are you alright, man?” “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” He says, “Look, I should go… ” He said, “Doctor just came in…” “Ok,” I said, “Good luck.” “Yeah, Matt, thanks, I should have the bass real soon,” Unsure of what to say, I say Ok, and he hangs up. I never heard back from him.

I’ve met a lot of people in ‘musician’s wanted’ ads. This isn’t even 1/100th of them.

Lots of stories.

Always an adventure…

What’s music worth to you?

Things continue to be dark for the working musician. As a working musician friend noted, ‘when adjusted for inflation, I make less than my father did, by 30%, when he was a working musician 40 years ago.’ It’s easy to blow that off or rationalize it some way; another friend told me that his dad said ‘when the DJ came into existence it was all over for the working musician.’ I agree with that, in some instances, especially the bar/pub paradigm – who needs the overhead of a band when a CD player will do? – Sure, for those of us who think “live” music matters a CD player would NEVER do, but that’s not the masses and the working musician works for the masses not the niches and the sophisticates, except in the rarest of circumstances. The working musician faces a real hustle and Jaron Lanier makes some radical points about the working musician and the challenges they face even with the ubiquity of music on the web and low cost of entry to get the music up there. Things don’t get better for “live” music until we realize, as consumers, that we get what we pay for.

Just like with school’s losing arts and music funding, community’s losing arts and music funding make those community’s much less desirable to live in, but what are we willing to pay to have a cultural community to live in? What’s music worth to you?

 

The Neatly Packaged

What the artists knows, or at least comes to learn very quickly is that nothing ever wraps up into a neat little package.

Creativity and the experience of the artist rarely comes easy. That’s not to say that the artist doesn’t know it’s a perfect fit or feels good right away, but it takes some time and some catharsis to come to terms with the power of inspiration and the hold that it can take.

It makes sense if you think about it, really, because the artist has an idea, a vision or just a passing thought and from that they bring something from the intangible realm of their imagination into the tangible physical world.

Art and creativity is taken for granted, but it’s a profoundly powerful experience.

When put this way the artist’s pain of giving birth to something the world has never known is, understandably, painful, especially when the umbilical is cut and the artist has to release their creation to the universe… come what may.

Of course art and creativity can’t be neatly packaged because no aspect of it is clean or certain.

But that’s also what makes it so exciting.

Musician | Producer | Writer