Shorter post this week; I’m heading up to Seattle in a few days to attend a friend’s bachelor party. I’m the best man, so I’m kind of a big deal. I’m not trying to say that I’m better than other men, the pinnacle to which all other men aspire, or anything. It’s all right there in the title though, so you be the judge.
This week, I wanted to talk a little bit about what it’s like to work in a creative field. My favorite thing about being a composer is getting to immerse myself in music, day in and day out, and getting to interpret how to handle each new project my way. Yes, I’m still just getting my career started, struggling for work. And yes, I know that once I am more established, it will mean long hours, and a lot of rewrites to get exactly the kind of sound the client is looking for. But even on a really restricted project where my contractor is looking for a very specific kind of music, I still get to be the one to figure out what might best suit their needs. That’s my favorite part of the job, really. Getting to be creative, to make something new every day, and often getting to problem solve while you’re at it.
But sometimes punching notes into sophisticated music production software from the comfort of your home studio is, like, super hard, and junk.
That’s the main problem with working on anything creative, and it’s something we’ve all experienced. Whether your a musician, an artist, you make designer track jackets for dogs, or you can remember ever writing a final paper in college, you know what it’s like to need to get something done right now, and have no inspiration whatsoever. I’ve learned you have to be ready at all times to snatch any good ideas that might come to you, whether your currently working on the thing in question. I’ve had days where I’ve written a few minutes of something I’m really happy with in under an hour, and days where I’ve sat at my keyboard forever just trying to come up with a bassline.
Often, it’s the case that, when I’m out of the house and have no way of putting anything down on paper or into logic, I’ll come up with something I really like and have to wander around humming it on an infinite loop for the rest of the day so that I don’t forget it. Even then, often by the time I get home where I can work on it, I have this nagging feeling that the melody or rhythm I came up with earlier has changed slightly here an there throughout the day, and that it was waaaaay better before. But no matter what I try, I can’t seem to recall the initial tune that came to me while I was standing in line at Home Depot, trying to figure out why they sell their own brand of gummi worms. Inspiration is like having a really rich uncle who only drops by to ask if you want to swim in his giant money vault when you’re already doing something.
This was the case a few years ago. A while back, my wife bought me a little recorder to carry around with me, so that if an idea struck me while I was away form my work station, it was no big deal. And like with all horror movies, everything was great at first. But either because I left it too close to the A/C unit one night and the moisture got to it or because the Best Buy it was purchased from had been built over a Native American burial ground, it soon became apparent that this thing was haunted. Lights would blink and it would emit beeps and chirps for no reason. It would switch the file I was recording into at random, ensuring that I had to go on an enchanted treasure hunt through the bowels of its circuitry if I wanted to find the melody I’d thought of minutes ago. Sometimes, after I’d finished recording, it would refuse to turn off because silly human, you’re not finished recording until we say you are done. Sing for ussssss. Sing and weep at the ruins of your life.
My lowest point came about a six months ago. It was December, and I was still in grad school. The library study area was packed to capacity (about 300 people) including myself, all busily studying for finals. Now keep in mind that every track on this recorder is just a file of me singing some fragment of melody into the mic like a tool. “Bee bop a doo-dah, dwee dow,” etc. It doesn’t need to sound great, just has to be enough for me to remember it later when I want to punch it into y software.
My recorder was ready, though. It had been waiting for this day. It waited until there was a moment of absolute silence, the kind of quiet that you only hear right before the killer stabs some sorority girl in the neck. Then it picked the most embarrassing file on the drive, and, despite the fact that I had the safety button clicked on, cranked itself up and went to town.
“BEE BOP A DOO-DAH, DWEE DOW. Bip bippity boop bop bop bop BOP BOP BOP.”
Too top it off, it was running low on power, so my voice came out more like the Crypt Keeper’s than my own. Do you know what it’s like to nearly fall out of a chair because you hear your own voice suddenly break into a hellish, freeform scat composition in your back pocket? Do you know what it’s like to jump around, tripping over a backpack as you slap frantically at your pants while 300 onlookers begin to wonder if a family of demons is hosting a karaoke party in your butt?
Do you know what it feels like to battle madness itself, and lose?
Don’t be like me, readers. Especially those of you who need to be creative on a daily basis. When inspiration comes, its great, and it when it doesn’t it can be a setback. Make sure you’re prepared to capture good ideas whenever they hit you, even if you won’t use them for months. But for God’s sake learn from my example. Don’t leave expensive electronics near a running air conditioner all night.
Because they will come to life. They will come to life and destroy you.