Tools of the Trade

I watched the waves that make up the music pass by at 102 BPM’s. They made a sound that hadn’t always been me, but was becoming me. I was exploring and finding that, actually, maybe what I once was isn’t what I always have to be – that maybe the tools I was using were the things that were actually defining what kind of art I created. 

The process of making music, writing songs, and wearing your heart on your sleeve always varies, but more often than not, it starts with some sort of instrumentation – and the lyrics come after. It’s a beautiful thing because you can get wrapped up into a hook, singing gibberish to a melody, and the seed grows from there. But, like it or not, the seed is the starting point – that zip line that guides you to the other side, and you pretty much hold on until you get there.

In other words, the tools a musician has at his disposable inevitably influence the final product. In my case, that tool is an acoustic guitar – it’s practical, I’m good at it, and I can write songs to it. Why branch out? Well, it starts to become a box, and no matter how big that box might be, the end result is confined to it.  It becomes habitual, and because I have a guitar in my hands ninety percent of any given day, it was just natural that songs sprouted from what I would play. But, just because you know something, doesn’t mean it’s the only thing – it might not even be the best thing, and before you try something else, you’ll never know what could have been.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been diving into Logic – recording software that’s sworn on by some and shrugged at by others. For me, it was recommended and relatively cheap, so I thought, “Why not?” What I didn’t realize was how much the creative process would be widened by simply being able to layer tracks, add a percussive element, and simply see a song to its relative finish over the course of a few days. Whereas normally, I would write a song and have it professionally recorded over the course of years at a time, I’m now writing and producing on a daily basis, adding layers to a skeleton of vocals with tons of software instruments at my disposal. Sure, it’s not professional quality, and sure, my “studio” is nowhere near “studio quality,” but it does the job in that I’m able to know a song more intimately.

Don’t get me wrong. A song should be able to be stripped down to an acoustic guitar and vocals, and still be able to stand on it’s own.  For some songs, a stripped down acoustic guitar and vocal track is all you need – all you want. But, other songs (and I’d go as far to say most songs) need more that just a skeleton to start moving. Sometimes, it takes more tools than you’ve been using to make something great, but you have to take a step back from (or a step beyond) the habit to realize it.

Water the Seed

“Something will happen soon,” I said. “I know that much,” and I looked to him for confirmation.

“That’s good,” he breathed, and needing to say more, he added, “Keeping a fire in the belly.”

The weight of his words hit me square in the chest as we walked through the empty hallway to our friends’ apartment. From their balcony, you could see the city from the center, growing outward and multiplying like bacteria – but I couldn’t relate. In the midst of it all – the honking horns, the people with places to be, the skyscrapers reaching higher and higher – I felt motionless and watched as the doers did. I’ve been everywhere this month: gratification, aggravation, abjection, and everything in between, but the common denominator is stagnancy – that dark shadow of complacency that rears its head from restlessness. It’s a new feeling for me – or at least, this is the first time I’ve been mature enough to recognize its face – and I had to address it.

I’m a beginner creative by profession, which essentially means I’m constantly producing intangible work and reaping no tangible reward. Of course, I knew this was part of the gig, so I planned on it – saved as much as I could, while I could because, unless I’m playing covers, money is basically removed from the equation. That’s fine – for a while. And, when I say this, I’m not even considering the actual need for money to, you know, live. I’m simply talking about the emotional state of being in a completely intangible-work-for-intangible-reward state. It’s draining because we inevitably use money to value ourselves, our progress, our art, and when it’s not consistently made, it affects our egos – that prideful, no-one-can-hold-me-back mentality that we have to nourish to even consider taking the leap of artistry as a career. But, I’ve come to realize that it’s a near impossible standard to meet – at least in such stages of infancy.

Anything worth having takes time – especially art for art’s sake. It’s a seed that’s watered and fed and protected. Initially, it won’t be able to provide because, really, overnight beanstalks with gold at the top are just fairytales. Initially, it won’t bear any fruits because it hasn’t been given the time to set its roots. Initially, you have to be the one to shelter it because so many things are constantly trying to sweep it from the ground. But, if you care for it with discipline and a belief in its progress, it will grow, and it will return the favor.

I turned away from the city, still standing on the balcony, because I didn’t feel a part of it – its flowering or its evolution – and I didn’t reap the benefits of its life at night either. I went back to my home, on the edge of its evolution, to water the seed.