The Act of Finishing

I’m a 36-year-old musician. I’ve been playing music seriously since the age of 16. Over 20 years most would expect to see a large catalogue of music…they don’t. Why? Because most everything I’ve ever written is unfinished. It sits in a notebook, or in one of two massive 4 terabyte hard drives or it’s been clanging around in my brain like an itch that can’t be fully scratched. I just cannot seem to cross that finish line and because of it, I’m still out looking for meaningless work and always keep at least one leg in the box 📦 of depression I keep in the corner of my studio.

In that box lives moments like my father telling me he showed an unfinished track off an album to a very well known producer and that person said “he doesn’t have what it takes.” In that box is two separate, career boosting gigs (opening up for Toubab Krewe and Willie Nelson’s entitled prick of a son Lucas Nelson) that fell apart at the last-minute (literally, I was stage left trying to load my gear on stage to play before the noise ordinance while his crew just sat around, eventually preventing from playing at all). Anyway, the point is, I’ve gotten ridiculously close several times to some sort of milestone only to “hit the wall” right before crossing the finish line and feeling like a total failure. While risking sounding like the whiniest bitch ever, the real point is that I, like the thousands (maybe millions) of bedroom musicians out there, still refuse to give up.

To be honest, saying I refuse to give up is much cooler than the reality; I can’t give up, I’m addicted to making and playing music and without it, I am bit more of a sad-sack asshole than normal. With that all said, I discovered somethings recently, not top-secret tips or new ideas by any means, but somethings that kinda clicked in my mind all at once and let me finally compile an EP that I released and I’m very proud of. Hopefully they will help you if you struggle to finish things like I do.

1. Even if someone outright begs, refuse to sit and listen with them when sharing your music: Sounds silly right? If you made something quality, people should enjoy it… NOPE! The quick “no shit” reality is everyone likes different stuff. Plenty of people I know think Radiohead is garbage, Steely Dan is stupid and dated and Kanye West is the greatest musical mind on the planet! All three of those statements are possibly the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. The first two need no justification and the last, Kanye, is the most overrated “musician” (notice the quotes on that) possibly of my lifetime.

The point is, no matter what you make, as long as it’s made well, there is more than likely a group of people in the world who will LOVE IT!! So getting feedback from a 75-year-old producer who thrived during the Motown days doesn’t necessarily mean much. Or expecting your spouse or family member to get excited about a new track instead of just politely saying, “it was good,” deflating your excitement, doesn’t really help. Being a creative person means knowing the true judge is yourself. Other’s opinions do matter, but you need to find the audience who understands the nature of your art and get constructive feedback from them, if you even want that. To be fair, sitting in the room with the artist listening to their track can be uncomfortable for the listener even if they like the music. I’ve been there and found myself having a hard time enjoying something that seemed pretty good because of the awkwardness permeating the room. So the point is, share your music with whoever, but let them ingest it on their terms. I ask only twice for their thoughts. If they say “still haven’t had a chance to listen” after the second inquiry, don’t waste your time. And if you find an attentive, fair but critical listener willing to give constructive feedback, hang out to them as they can do more for you than possibly anyone else when it comes to finishing virtually anything.

2. Limit yourself: I started making recording on a Roland VS1880, an extremely limited hardware DAW device. Despite its serious limitations, I was pumping out demos on that thing like nobody’s business. When I eventually graduated to a Mac laptop with Protools and Logic, the amount of options and overall control at first were amazing, but in hindsight they were debilitating. I would cut a mix and would of course hear some slight imperfection which I would have to back and fix. This became an un-winnable war and was the leading reason why I have tons of unfinished tracks.

The EP I finally released that I mentioned above was actually conceived and completely finished entirely on an iPhone using Garageband, a very capable DAW which is also fairly limited, a few plugins and a mastering app. I fought the urge to open up the projects in Logic X (nifty little feature right there) as I wanted more eq and automation control. I at least won that battle and it is precisely while I was able to release a flawed, but overall quality piece of work.

In summation, options are great, but limitations are better. Think of any song created before digital audio was the standard.If you listen closely, there are plenty of what some might call imperfections. Others might call this character. Regardless, these songs are still fantastic and it’s possible a lot less would exist if an overzealous, picky engineer with a DAW got their hands on them first.

3. You are going to die!! – 100% guaranteed. Someday you won’t be here and at some point, despite the obviousness of that statement, it’s gonna smack you in the face. It hit me a few days before my daughter’s birth. Everything is temporary and you only have the capacity to perceive the smallest of small of what’s happening right now. So consider yourself a radio tuner. There are tons of frequencies coming at you all day long; good and bad. Why not tune yourself to the better ones when you can? Ignore the trolls in the comment section, ignore the family member who thinks your wasting your time and ignore the supposed “Pro” that thinks you don’t have what it takes. Trust me, if you are really putting yourself into your craft, there are hundreds, if not thousands and maybe even millions out there who will love it. But not one single person of those potential fans will know what they are missing if you don’t put something out there.

With that said, check out some my music here http://www.masterleadernusic.com/music.

There will be much more soon. Or check out some of my other blog entries. If you dig something, stick around and or reach out. If you don’t, that’s cool to. Either way I wish you the best as life is too short to do anything else.

Cheers,

M, L

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