A few months ago I was fired from producing an album weeks short of wrapping it up. The reasons remain very much unclear but they seemed mostly unrelated to music. Still, IT SUCKED. This came appropriately timed in the middle of a major life purpose crisis, forcing me to seriously second guess my career choice to the point where I considered quitting.
It wasn’t the first time I felt like that. Self-boxing is my national sport, and in times of emotional drought these matches are far from an exception. I just didn’t know where the feeling came from.
My Middle School Spanish teacher said that communication was a two way street and I believed her because she was tall. I was only 11 years old - that might explain my bizarre judging of truth based on anatomy - but I still stand by her words. Someone speaks, someone listens. A connection is made. Unless you’re Fidel Castro, information goes both ways.
Being a language, music can be understood in similar terms. But the substance is way more complex. It involves emotions, which makes the interactions very subtle and often very personal. Someone gives, someone receives. A connection is made. This is also a two way street, of course, but the exchanges can take many many forms. (I know this because I’m tall).
After distilling enough anger to out-rage this kid, it dawned on me that there was something wrong with my approach to music. I was angry because I had been deprived of the opportunity to receive from an interaction where I had given a whole lot, and I cared WAY too much about that.
I leaned heavily on expectations – some I deemed good, some were not that swell. Regardless of their nature, this dynamic had become extremely unhealthy. I had to fix it, or I had to quit.
A friend of mine once bought me a rear view mirror FOR MY MOUNTAIN BIKE. This is as useful as a motorcycle ashtray. Still, she expected nothing in return. Gifts - honest ones at least - are emotionally self-sustained. You’re content just by giving them. A connection is also made, but a very different one. Reciprocity is deeply appreciated but not expected. It’s a different kind of street.
Music is a language, but it is also gift. I’m not talking about a gift in the way your mom thinks you’re a “gifted” singer and OMG I can’t believe you haven’t been “discovered” yet - no. I mean a gift in the mountain bike rear view mirror way. You’re just happy you can give it.
As I start to think of music in these terms, my expectations have changed radically and my relationship with creativity has improved dramatically. I find myself caring less and less about the outcome and more and more about the process.
(I’ve produced plenty of motorcycle ashtrays since then)
Music is a gift.