October 2018: Doing What I Want

 

Hey, everybody! K. A. Parker here with your promised monthly update.

In September, I posted about digging deeper–how to sit back and listen to your creative work so that the truth can come through. For this post, I’m going to be talking about the inverse a bit.

Ready?

Some Background

I started taking piano lessons when I was about 7 years old. I quit taking them when I was 12 going on 13. Looking back on those years, I’d say that I was pretty decent at the piano-playing part. What always seemed to trip me up, however, were the theory parts: reading sheet music, memorizing chord progressions, and all the other technical aspects that I couldn’t feel emotionally. I had a great ear for music, though, and I think I still do. Before I even learned to play the piano, I’d often sing harmony to songs without knowing what harmony was just because I liked the sensation of hearing two different notes somehow work together (thanks, relative pitch!). This is why I think I played pieces “by ear” most of the time, even at recitals.

So what made me quit, you ask? Well, the technical aspects, sure. But in addition to just a general lack of motivation to practice, I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t need piano lessons anymore because I thought I knew how the piano “worked”. I knew that of its 88 keys, each one pressed made a different sound. Pressing certain keys made music happen. Moreover, I didn’t want to be a pianist. I didn’t want to play songs that I didn’t want to play. I want to write my own songs (and have someone else play them) instead.

I mean, even when I was 5 or 6, I remember messing around on our little Yamaha 65-key digital keyboard with built-in MIDI disco grooves. And again, I didn’t even know what chorus or a melody was or what key was C or what key was E, but I knew how to make something that resembled a song at the very least. From the beginning, I’ve always had the urge and drive in me to become a composer.

The question is, though, why don’t I make music more often? Why do I like writing so much?

To that I answer with a single title:

Audiences: The “Necessary Evil”

For art to flourish, it needs an audience. For music to be appreciated, it needs a listener. For writing to be a appreciated, it needs a reader. Sure, the listener or reader can be the creator themselves, but you know what I mean. In general, for the art to have more power, it needs to be seen by more people.

Most of the time, though, it’s really hard to get new people to listen to your stuff. And that’s not their fault. They’d much prefer listening to Drake or whatever Spotify playlist they’ve got going. So, what happens is that artists tend to meet their potential audience members in the middle by making covers/arrangements of songs that both they and their audience members like.

And I did that, for a little while. I didn’t think I was doing that, but I was. I got a bunch of virtual Japanese instruments and made Undertale OST covers in the style of traditional Japanese music just because I liked Japanese music and Undertale. When I saw another artist doing the same thing, I asked if I could collab with them, and that’s when things took off. I got on the map and gained like 30 YouTube subscribes in a month. And for a little while, I was ecstatic.

But then, reality kicked in. What started as a personal experiment became an obligation, a chase for views and algorithm pushes. It started becoming less about what I wanted and more about what others wanted. And in my experience, that’s never been a healthy course of action for artists or anything in general. All it does is just lead to hurt feelings and confusion on both sides.

So, where’s the happy medium? How can I, as an artist, be pleased with my creations and creative process while also courting the “necessary evil” that is my audience?

Ironically, I think the solution behaves the same way a Chinese finger trap does: being loose, staying relaxed, and demanding no conditions at all.

Doing What I Want

I keep saying that Dungeons and Dragons has been a boon for me creatively, but what I didn’t know it would be was a creative boon for me in terms of musical composition. I hadn’t been at my piano in months, and all of sudden, thinking of the players in the campaign I’m running, I have the urge to write music about them not only as an expression of gratitude but for experimentation. I let myself go in without any expectations of reward or praise or obligation, and I just let my hands fly across the keys. I let myself do what I want for the simple reason of doing what I want, and it has been an absolute joy to watch.

As for the audience part of the equation, I can’t control that. I like what I like, and I can’t make my audience like my work anymore than my audience can dictate to me what work they want to see. There might be times when I ask for their opinion for critique, but at the end of the day, it’s up to me whether I follow that advice. The audience members that can’t see that don’t deserve to be in my audience, anyway, because they refuse to like me as I am. Those that do, I owe the world to.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep creating and see where this new stage takes me.

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