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Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: art

Avoidance, Creative Work, and Balancing Multiple Interests

Writing, Reading, Hacking and Making Music: My Room
My Room

This is a bit of a personal ramble.

Gerald Klickstein had a great post on the Music Think Tank blog about avoiding avoidance:

Do you ever dodge your creative work? Say, your practice time arrives, and you race off to do some chore. It might be a chore that you detest, but now it calls to you. Then, instead of refining your music, you start cleaning the house or doing whatever. […]

When we practice, write, or otherwise innovate, we stretch our limits. We strive.

But striving takes us into the unknown, and that brings uncertainty. […] If the uncertainty of creating unsettles us, then, to escape the discomfort, we might seek refuge in a mindless task: “This really needs doing,” we’ll congratulate ourselves as we reach for the mop.

So true. I set aside afternoons to work on my music, but often end up catching up on email, cleaning, doing laundry, or running errands. It’s so easy to avoid that difficult creative work.

Klickstein has a solution:

First we have to notice an avoidant thought before we fall under its spell. Next we must act to do what we intend. […] As I see it, we’re all going to have avoidant thoughts, so we need to keep countermoves handy. Here’s my anti-avoidance formula:

Counter Avoidance

  1. Notice an avoidant thought.
  2. Dispute it. (Laugh at yourself or just say “no.”)
  3. Replace it with an affirmation: “Music feeds my soul.”
  4. Act with full intention.

It’s great advice, but I still find myself struggling. I have so many distractions that aren’t just chores or busywork. I spent a lot of my “music” time in the fall revamping my website, which is important for my music, but it isn’t my music. Also, there’s always the temptation to put more hours in to my other jobs, especially when I have clients waiting on me; it’s hard to spend an afternoon focused on songwriting when I have a separate deadline with a client bearing down on me. And, lately, I’m spending a lot of time on music, but not my music; I’m writing arrangements for the Hart House Chamber Strings pops concert, which is an amazing opportunity for me to write arrangements and work with some of my favourite local artists, but only a small percentage of the concert involves my songs. Even when I work on music, it’s not always my own.

Then, there’s the issue of multiple creative endeavours. I’m a songwriter, but I also try to set aside time for writing (like this) and for programming. It’s easy for one of these activities to overshadow the others.

I defer to Adam Singer, someone whose several steps ahead down a road I’d like to travel:

By day I work for one of the top search/social marketing firms globally. At night I keep this marketing/media/PR blog and participate in industry conversations around the web. I also write music. In between all of that I read 1-2 two non-fiction/sociology books and some 300 blogs monthly (I’m a knowledge-junkie). I also don’t do any of these things halfway, they are not fleeting interests – I’m fully committed.

[…] It took me years to develop the self-discipline necessary to split time across interests and get fulfilling results in all of them.

Today I thought I would share the process I took to get to the point of balancing multiple pursuits. If you also have multiple interests and are frustrated you’re not able to devote enough time to them, this might help.

He lists 10 pieces of advice (I’m just listing the titles, but you can read the post for more detailed descriptions.)

1. Internalize what outcomes you want from each interest first
2. Define what specific activities support your desired outcome from that interest
3. Remove everything else

It’s an ongoing process, but I’m inspired by the steps I’ve made in the past few years in narrowing down the sorts of things I want to accomplish in different areas. The picture is constant evolving, and becoming clearer. One of my goals going forward is to speak more publicly about the things I’m working on.

It is a challenge to remove everything else though. I have a hard time saying no to many things (e.g. I need to do less Windows tech support…).

4. Automate or outsource all collateral activities

I lot of the time I’ve spent working my website, or figuring out 64 Studio factors into this… At times it feels like I’m spending so much time not making music, but I’ve been streamlining my process of recording and sharing recordings, which is essential going forward.

5. Your career should be an interest

Check.

6. Learn to ignore others who tell you to focus on one thing

This is incredibly encouraging. One of the common sayings that haunts me is “jack of all trades, master of none.” (I prefer “master of some.”) Sometimes, I feel like I’m spreading myself too thin, trying to be too many things. There is a way.

7. Focus time where your mind is naturally drawn during free time

This is also encouraging, given the variety of my pursuits… but, I think it’s also essential to make sure there is time set aside for each activity in the long run. While it makes sense, on a micro-level, to focus where the inspiration and motivation is present, on the macro-level I’m still trying to find the best way to make sure that none of my interests are neglected for too long. That’s the real challenge.

8. Learn patience and dedication
9. Be grounded in reality, realize life is short

Sound, but basic advice.

10. Remember that focusing on one and only thing is mentally limiting

I don’t need to be reminded of this. Some people have one thing that they can do well and focus on, but I’ve always had multiple passions.

About 10 years ago, I remember my mom sitting me down for one of those overly-concerned parental talks. “It’s great that you’re so passionate about music and computers,” she said, “but… you need other interests too, you need to be balanced.” After listing off a variety of other hobbies at the time (basketball, skiing, cross country—just in the athletics department), I reassured her that I was interested in a healthy balance of things—and that I just really enjoyed music and working with computers.

That was Grade 7. Five years later, applying to universities, I was looking at music and computer science/engineering programs. I ended up choosing computer science at U of T, not just for the program (which is fantastic), but because it allowed me maximum freedom to study other things as well; music and engineering programs offered very few electives. I began thinking I’d do a music minor, but ended up choosing English instead. Last June, I graduated with a major in computer science, and minors in English and philosophy (as I like to say: Plato, Python and Shakespeare).

And now, I’m continue to work part-time at Alleyne Inc., while the rest of my time is spent on music and writing. (I’m also doing a couple graduate-level credits in theology this Spring, but not quite sure where that will lead…)

For me, it would be extremely mentally limiting to focus on just one thing.

The challenge, moving forward, is to find balance between multiple creative interests, avoiding avoidance and narrowing in on my creative goals.

Rambling out loud like this will likely be part of the process…

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Love is desire for the beautiful

This may be over the top, but it’s the kind of crazy I’m feeling right now.

This is as close to pregnant as I’ll ever get.

I am teeming with desire, overflowing with a yearning to release this energy, to create something beautiful. So overwhelmingly fertile, I strive for that moment of giving birth in beauty. Overcome by the potential for real unity, I move forward with purpose and resolve, with being and intention, in search of the complete, of an expression of a truly generative love.

This is creativity. This is sex. This is beauty.

More to come…

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Free Doesn’t Mean Devalued

I’ve tightened up my post on why free music doesn’t mean devalued music for Techdirt. If you’ve read the original, it’s largely the same content, but cleaned up a little and much more concise.

Free Doesn’t Mean Devalued:

The concept of zero took ages for societies to recognize, let alone understand. Mike has explained before how it’s been a stumbling block in economics for some libertarian and “free market” types more recently. People who think about economics in terms of scarcity get upset when abundance pushes price down towards zero, as if the economic equation were broken. But if you flip the equation and think of it as a cost of zero, you realize that the trick is to use as much of those abundant goods as possible, adding value to complementary scarcities for which you can charge. Zero doesn’t break economics, it just requires a different approach.

But artists and other creators hit a different stumbling block than libertarians (libertarian artists aside…). Zero is a problem because they feel like their art is worthless; they aren’t hung up on scarcity, they’re hung up on “devaluation.” We’ve heard it from journalists. I hear it most often from fellow songwriters. The economic theory makes them feel as though their work is just viewed as some sort of cheap commodity. The thing is, value and price are not the same. Price is monetary value, but value is so much more than money. Price is what gets driven down to marginal cost, but value factors into the demand side of the equation. Expensive things aren’t necessarily valuable, and valuable things aren’t necessarily expensive. I value oxygen a lot, but it seems silly to pay for the air I breathe each minute, given the abundant supply.

More importantly, songwriters who get hung up on “devaluation” confuse recordings with music. They equate the two. A recording is not the song, it’s just an instance of it, and a digital audio file is just an instance of the recording. Equating these reduces music to recordings to files. As important as recordings are, there’s so much more to music. When you think of a song, do you think of the recording, or a memory you had connecting with the music? Do you think of the file and how much it cost, or the emotions, people and experiences that the music conjures up? The recordings are just a means through which we experience the music. Songwriters (of all people!) should know that the value in music is so much more than the price of a recording. It’s not devaluing music to give it away for free, but it can increase its value by allowing more people to connect with it, to know, love and understand it — to value it. It’s through that experience that music is valued, not price!

Ironically, the underlying concern ends up being economic — how will we make money? A price of zero for digital audio files doesn’t mean that no one values the songwriting profession, or that no one is willing to spend money on music and keep songwriters in business. Sharing digital audio files makes the music more valuable and leads to more opportunities for monetization. When you give music away and connect with an audience, the opportunity for monetization is in the associated scarcitiesaccess, containers, community, merchandise, relationships, unique goods, the creation of new music, etc. — by giving people a reason to buy. Getting hung up on “devaluation” is a distraction from the opportunity — the necessity — to experiment with new business models.

So, can we please stop complaining that free means devalued?

Check out the lively discussion in the comments. Also, usually I’m pretty obsessive with backlinks, but somehow I missed an obvious post worth a link: Free Doesn’t Mean Unpaid

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Pat Lee on Art and Originality

One of my closest friends, Pat Lee, has a webcomic, The Fantastical Adventures of Caspian the Sea-Devil. The “about” section contains this fantastic gem on art and originality:

This comic, like all comics, consists of written and drawn elements. The written element, the story, will be somewhat guided by my hand as the author. Mostly though, it will be the result of zillions and trillions of books, movies, videogames, TV shows, albums, magazines, websites, and other comics entering my brain, being processed and compiled by the unusual factory within, and emerging the other side transformed into what you see here. On the surface it may look like I’m “writing” the comic, in the traditional sense, but I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m really just manipulating, mutating, repurposing, and reinterpreting the countless stories that have come before mine. Hopefully I can reorganize the impossibly cluttered contents of the Culture Sponge I call a brain into a finished product that is interesting, exciting, fun to read, challenging at times, will make people think, and most importantly, will trick people into thinking that these were all my ideas.

Outstanding. Webcomics, music, writing, even software applications — every creator builds on the works of others. How’s that for recognizing it upfront? (Lest anyone jump on the last line, it’s a joke!)

Now, Pat, how about dropping the “no derivatives” and switching to a Share-Alike licence, like you mentioned?
😉

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Free Music Doesn’t Mean Devalued Music

Update: A more condensed version of this post was published on Techdirt.

Mike Masnick does a great job of explaining why some libertarian and “free market” types freak out when they see a zero dollar price tag. The concept of zero took ages for societies to even recognize, nevermind understand. It’s not a number, but the absence of a number. A stumbling block for mathematics and physics in the past, it’s now misunderstood in some economic circles. Economics is often defined by scarcity, but with digital goods and “intellectual property,” we have an infinite supply — abundance instead of scarcity. Prices gets pushed towards marginal cost in a competitive market, and these “infinite” goods have a marginal cost of zero… so that’s where the price gets pushed. This upsets some people, as if it were a “divide by zero” type error that breaks the equation.

But a lack of scarcity isn’t a problem. Instead of thinking of it as forcing a price of zero, you “flip the equation” and think of it as being a cost of zero. If something can be reproduced for free, the trick is to use as much of it as possible — give it away, leverage the abundance to add value to other complementary scarce goods. Zero doesn’t break economics, it just requires a different approach. (This is all just a condensed version of Mike’s post.)

Songwriters, however, hit a different stumbling block than libertarians (songwriting libertarians aside…). Zero is a problem because they feel like their music is worthless; they aren’t hung up on scarcity, they’re hung up on “devaluation.” A lot of artistic types hear the economic theory and feel as though their work is just viewed as some sort of cheap commodity.

The thing is, value and price are not the same. Price is monetary value, but value is so much more than money. Price is what gets driven down to marginal cost, but value factors into the demand side of the equation. An expensive thing isn’t necessarily a valuable thing, and something that’s available for free isn’t necessarily without value. I value oxygen a lot, but it seems silly to pay for the air I breathe each minute, given the abundant supply.

More importantly though, songwriters who get hung up on “devaluation” confuse recordings with music. They equate the two. A recording is not the song, it’s just an instance of it, and a digital audio file is just an instance of the recording. Equating these reduces music to recordings, to files. As important as recordings are, there’s so much more to music. When you think of a song, do you think of the recording, or a memory you had connecting with the music? Do you think of the file and how much it cost, or the emotions, people and experiences that the music conjures up?

When I listen to Reflection, I am in Rosedale Valley, running a cross country practice in Grade 11 with a friend, as the meaning of the final verse hit me in all its pain and glory. When I listen to Dispatch live albums, I’m at the Hatch Shell in Boston, or Madison Square Gardens, at one of the reunion concerts. When I listen to the Good Lovelies, I’m in Ottawa at the OCFF conference in a packed hotel room full of folk musicians listening to a raw, passionate acoustic performance. You don’t connect with the files, you connect with the music. The recordings are just a means through which we experience the music.

I would hope that songwriters, of all people, could realize that the value in music is so much more than the price of a recording. It’s not devaluing music to give away your music for free, but rather increasing its value by allowing more people to connect with it, to know, love and understand it — to value it. It’s through that experience that music is valued, not price!

Furthermore, a price of zero for digital music doesn’t mean that no one values the profession, or that no one is willing to spend money on music and keep songwriters in business. When you give music away and connect with fans, the business opportunity is to monetize the associated scarcitiesaccess, containers, community, merchandise, relationships, unique goods, the creation of new music, etc. — by giving fans a reason to buy.

Music still has value, and there are still plenty of ways to monetize it. Getting hung up about “devaluation” is a distraction from the opportunity and the need to experiment with these new business models. Recognizing that digital recordings are an infinite good and giving them away for free only makes the music more valuable, and only leads to more opportunities for monetization.

So, can we please stop complaining that freeing up music devalues it?

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Girl Talk On Remix As An Art Form

This article originally appeared on Techdirt.

Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) recently participated in a live chat as part of a Download Decade series run by the Globe and Mail. Gillis makes music entirely from samples, combining existing songs in creative ways to make something new. His last album, which was offered as a pay-what-you-want download, used over 300 samples. Even though he’s been held up in Congress as an example of why traditional copyright laws might no longer make sense, it seems like a lawsuit is inevitable because Gillis doesn’t license any of the samples he uses. Yet, there has been no legal action to date (knock on wood!). Gillis argues that his sampling is fair use because it’s transformative, but that hasn’t been tested in court.

In the chat, he responded to a question I raised about why he uses a noncommercial license for his music (as he makes commercial use of others’ works), arguing that transformative fair use would still allow commercial use of his music and noting that his label suggested the noncommercial license as a “safe move.” Gillis was also asked whether he’s surprised that he still hasn’t faced a lawsuit, even though his profile has been much higher in the past few years.

Kind of. I believe in what I’m doing. I do not think it should be illegal. But at the same time, if you look at the history of sample-based music, it is somewhat surprising. Biz Markie, 2 Live Crew, Danger Mouse, Negativland, etc. Those are the people who laid the groundwork. They all had issues.

He notes that he was under the radar with his first couple albums, but since 2006, it’s been hard for him to ignore publications like the Rolling Stone and the New York Times talking about how he’s going to get sued. Yet, no lawsuits. He says times are changing.

The way the general public views intellectual property in 2009 is much different than in 1999. Look around the internet. So much content comes from pre-existing media. We’re used to it now. Christian Bale goes crazy on the set of T4. That turns into a techno song, which then turns into a cartoon on YouTube, which will then turn into a T-shirt. Everyone is constantly exchanging ideas and building upon previously existing material. So the idea of a remix being a real artform is being validated in our culture every day.

Certainly, artists like Girl Talk, as well as others ranging from DJ Kutiman to the creator of the “rap chop” video, have been debunking the myths about “original” content, showing people that remixing can be creative and original and that it contributes to culture. Still, there are plenty of people who believe otherwise. Hopefully, Gillis continues to avoid legal troubles, though I don’t think things have changed so much that this isn’t still a huge risk. But, insofar as the remix is increasingly validated as an art form, perhaps a lawsuit would end up highlighting the limits that copyright law places on artistic expression nowadays.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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The Importance Of Realizing Your Content Is Probably Available Online For Free

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

We talk a lot about how it makes sense for people to make their content available online for free and adopt business models that take advantage of that, rather than complain about “piracy.” While unauthorized file sharing is usually illegal, it’s pretty silly to pretend that it doesn’t happen or that you can stop people from sharing stuff they like with others. That said, artist Evan Roth has launched an “Available Online For Free” prank-style promo campaign for his new art exhibit (via Urban Prankster) by creating stickers that can be snuck onto products in a store to advertise the fact that… well, they’re probably available online for free. (“Available Online For Free” is the name of the art exhibit and the exhibition book is, not surprisingly, available as a free download.) While it’s probably not a good idea to go around putting these stickers onto products in a store (disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend it — the pictures are kind of funny… but you likely won’t make friends with the store owner), the campaign is a pretty creative and humorous way of stating the obvious — anything that can be, will be available online for free, one way or another. Making your content freely available online doesn’t mean that you can’t still find ways to sell it, but you need to recognize that this is the lens through which a lot of people see products on a shelf. If you don’t realize that yet, you may be in for a lesson via sticker sometime soon…

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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