The Content Consumption/Creation Ratio

I’ve had this topic vaguely in mind for a little while now, but after a couple months of self quarantine, it seems more appropriate than ever…

With people losing jobs, being furloughed or working reduced hours, musicians without gigs, and well, nowhere to go, it seems like plenty of folks (myself included) are consuming a LOT of media.

I don’t just mean “news media” or current events. I’m talking about all of it, from books to Netflix, video games to YouTube channels, and everything in between (yes, social media feeds too). We’re all filling our time in various ways, and when we’re mostly stuck in the house, these outlets are a great place to turn.

Not all media consumption is bad, and I don’t want to indicate as such. Hell, if we consider ourselves to be any kind of “content creators,” we want people to consume media. I want people to watch my videos and read my words, and the giant teams that make movies, series, and games certainly want us to indulge in their wares as well (more on that later).

The trouble, however, is when consumption becomes the default mode of operation – especially for we creators. If you don’t make “media” of your own, this isn’t really for you…

But for those of us that do (in any capacity, even if it’s just music to perform for others or audio-only recordings), I think it’s important – especially nowadays – to strike some kind of balance between intake and output… And if nothing else, to be mindful of how and why we’re taking this stuff into our brains.

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Bad Guy Brain: Personifying Struggles with Mental Health

Before I even dig in, how many caveats can I put at the beginning? I am undiagnosed, unmedicated, untherapized… I am not a medical professional, and I’m sure this is all woefully unscientific. I know for an absolute fact that I don’t have things half as bad as millions of people on this planet… I know the severity of my purported mental illness pales in comparison to so many others…

And yet, I have depression. I get depressed.

Not “sometimes I feel sad.” Not “sometimes my empathy gets the best of me” (though it certainly does).

I experience, at times, and continue to experience, a sensation of apathy, sadness, listlessness, pointlessness, self doubt, and downright misanthropy that is untethered to specific experiences or ideas… A weighted blanket malaise that makes it hard to care about anything, and focuses the majority of my thoughts toward some vague hopelessness that doesn’t have a single solution in sight.

This has been going on for as long as I can remember, and while sometimes it’s just a matter of wallowing in it, I’ve learned one huge mental “trick” to changing my entire outlook on this plague of my personal mental health.

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Make Stuff, Put it Out

I started this topic well before all of the pandemic insanity, but perhaps now it’s more important than ever to flesh it out, as creative habits have been essential to my wellbeing, and a ton of us have drastically different schedules than we’re used to…

I’ve been slacking on this blog like crazy. This is only my second post since September of last year. I could give you all kinds of reasons, doing other writing, focusing on practice and booking, not making it a priority…

And while those things are true, there’s something else going on as well.

I haven’t felt very confident in my ideas for this project – or my writing about them – and that makes me hesitate. Like any other area of creativity, there’s the age-old problem of imposter syndrome, and it can leave me wondering why I’d have any authority to speak on these topics, why anyone would care what I might have to say…

But that’s only part of it. The other source of my waning confidence as a music/drumming/creativity blogger is, well, depth.

I tend to look at everything as a vastly complex nebula of ideas and sub-ideas (nerd alert). Eveything has near-infinite details that bear investigating… And I’ve accidentally convinced myself that if I can’t tackle a subject with all its myriad subtleties, then I have no business writing about it in the first place.

This post is my attempt to throw that thought in the garbage, and hopefully pull some others out of the wastebasket in the process.

Say this with me: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. 

You can make and share work that has flaws and shortcomings, and so can I. Just because I can’t cover every nuance and chase down every angle of one topic or another, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to write about it at all… Or more accurately, fine tune it into infinity, and never actually let anyone see it.

Every piece of creative work we do is a representation of us in that moment in time. We use the skills we presently have, the headspace we’re in, and a current understanding of our ideas to make something, and the thing IS WHAT IT IS.

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Dear Gigging Musician: Pandemic Sucks, Right?

I was supposed to be in Ohio last week. I busted my ass for just four dates out of state with Flexadecibel and The Brandino Extravaganza… Now it’s a wash. The album release show tomorrow is canceled too…

And with longer stretches of mandated distancing, the whole calendar is under threat. We’re already out three festivals and the dominos are just beginning to fall.

It sucks bigtime.

BIG OL’ CANCELED

These are hard times for performers of all stripes, especially those that make the bulk of their living that way. And while I don’t purport to offer advice about dollars (beyond some unemployment or other hustles if you can get ‘em – maybe more on that later), I do want to talk about how we now gigless players can spend this trying time for good.

I intend to broach some of these topics as best I can, even though I don’t feel terribly qualified to do so, and to continue as time goes on. Still, if I can offer any insights, or just start some conversations, I’ll feel positive about my contributions. 

So, here are a few ideas for what to do with your newfound free time. 

Practice

You knew this one was coming. If your gigs are canceled, you can’t write or rehearse with your band, and there aren’t performances on the horizon to prep for, it’s time to dig back into PRACTICE. 

A lot of the people I know are pretty good about practicing, but even more of them are not. They make excuses, can’t find the time, build themselves mental roadblocks for why they can’t… But most of those have disintegrated right along with the gig schedule.

Real practice is ugly. It’s often repetitive, sounds bad, and comes with a tremendous amount of frustration. Great, that means it’s working. If you aren’t already a diligent practicer, start small… Just carve out a few minutes a day. Pick one thing to truly work at. It’ll occupy some time, provide a small sense of accomplishment, and add a few bricks to the tower of skill you already have. 

Try New Things

Being a creative person (and I believe that inherently, we all are – or can be) doesn’t necessarily have a singular medium. If you’re a drummer like me, maybe try your hand at some drawing or graphic design (Canva is a good way to dabble). If you’re a singer/songwriter, maybe it’s time to work on some leads on your normally accompanying instrument. Try to make some beats, experiment in the kitchen, write a story… The point is to do something with your brain that’s outside the norm.

Is it going to be great your first try? Doubtful!

But that too is part of the point. Let yourself suck at something new, tap into creative thinking that isn’t tied to your instrument or medium of choice, and pass the time exercising your imagination in a novel way. 

Get Your House In Order 

I mean this both literally and figuratively. I’m terribly guilty of letting myself live in a “messy” space, not spending the time to take care of it, and letting the physical clutter translate into mental clutter… Maybe you do this too. Now’s the time to clean, to organize, to tackle some of those backburner projects that never seem to be a priority in “normal” life.

This is true for things beyond your physical space as well. Maybe you need to take care of some accounting, update a website, fix a piece of gear… Maybe it’s time to change those heads or strings.

Not only will the sense of accomplishment make you feel nice, you’ll also build some momentum for anything else you may want to tackle. Maybe you don’t have a kit at home, but you still have hands and knees… You have YouTube for theory lessons… You can use Google’s metronome to ear-train for new groupings or subdivisions…

You can use this time to clean up just about anything.

No Seriously, Practice

We may not be able to get on stage, or even get together with our musical collaborators, but we can ALWAYS chip away at the lifelong pursuit of skill development, period.

Take Care of Yourself

Shit’s weird… And no matter who you are, that does something to your brain. We all handle things differently, and are going through all kinds of individual struggles. This isn’t necessarily an excuse to indulge in bad habits (though I’ve certainly been doing my fair share of that), but it is a reminder that feeling listless, lonely, afraid, unmotivated, and a litany of other emotions is okay… 

While these bizarre times are an opportunity to use quarantine for creativity and development, they’re also taking a toll on our collective psyche. Be good to yourself, and if you’re feeling fragile, don’t fret about a lack of productivity. 

Remote Collaborations

I plan to tackle this more deeply in a future post, but it’s worth mentioning here. If you have a smartphone, you can make digital content. It might not be fantastic quality, but it’s still something. You don’t have to be an expert to experiment, so hit up your friends and see what you can make together without being in the same room. 

 

Most of this is pretty common sense, but because I’m also doing my best to stay creative, writing it out feels good – and maybe that’s the bigger point. With so many things on pause, our future uncertain, it’s seems necessary to partake in activities that both a: provide some normalcy, and b: help us fight back against the dread hanging in the air.

Make stuff. Learn stuff. It’s good for you. 

The Fluidity of Skill

You can look at almost anything we do as a skill, from speech to tying shoes, mountain climbing to trading stocks. Broad categories like these are full of microactions, too: pronouncing certain words, getting the lace loops the right size, etc.

Consciously or not, we learn the little bits through repetition, and develop the “skill” of… Whatever. That brain process is basically the same. The more you do something, the more skillful you become.

But it isn’t reallthat simple.

People learn at different rates or excel in certain fields. Some skills are relatively permanant, like walking or wiping your ass… Others are shakier, and you run the risk of “use it or lose it.” Our bodies and minds change with age, too, and that affects deftness in its own ways, for better and worse.

Skill, then, isn’t just the ability to do something or not. It’s a spectrum, and a changing one at that. We can get a little better (or a little worse) at all kinds of things over the course of our lives – or far shorter periods of time.

This idea of fluid skill lets us off the hook a little bit. Instead of lamenting a deteriorated ability or feeling embarrassed by novicehood, we can think of many skills as “present tense.”

If skill is fluid, you can only be where you are right now.

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Hustle Culture

Look… I’m a “busy” dude. I have a job, I have bands, I have the ocassional freelance project… I’ve got relationships and booking and practice to tend to. I also waste plenty of time on Netflix and bullshitting over a pint.

When I talk to people casually (like strangers or loose acqauintances), the subject inevitably comes up. They see me gigging and making stuff like this, lunchbreak videos and the day job… And at some point the topic turns to time, motivation, productivity, and all that zeitgeisty jazz.

Some folks ask for advice, other “hustlers” offer it, and everybody talks about how they just don’t have time to do all the things they want to. I commiserate.

Why do we do it?

In short, it’s because of hustle culture.

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Fighting Through The Slumps

Perpetual positivity is a myth. The reality of humanity is steeped in peaks and valleys – good days and bad. This is as true for diets as it is conversations with your spouse… Dayjob performance or sleep cycles.

Sometimes the downs are brief, fleeting even. Other times they persist.

As artists and musicmakers, these pendulum swings can be even more extreme. Work you’re proud of; work you hate. Periods of fiery inspiration, and bouts of doubt so thick, you consider burning your instrument…

So, what can we do when the chips are down? When the gigs suck and we feel stuck and the whole thing feels like a chore?

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The Truth About Gear

really like gear…

I already have some piles of it, and if money were no object, I’d surely have an awful lot more.

Every cymbal has its own personality, every snare drum plays just a little bit different… The brands, the finishes, the hammer marks… There’s an infinite amount of beauty in these percussive instruments while they’re just sitting still – and at the hands of a player, they come to life!

It’s a universe of its own, with history and nuance and drama. There are loyalists and eccentrics, innovators and traditionalists and downright hoarders.

To be an instrumentalist of any kind is to have some kind of relationship with the instruments themselves. There’s no wonder we place such value on these devices, that the objects of our music making become (to us, at least) more than mere tools. They become extensions of who we are, and identifiers of our heroes.

There’s a reason we know what a “Bonham kit” is… That Jimi played Strats and Jimmy played Les Pauls…

We know the names of iconic instruments we don’t even know how to play, and underneath it all, is the desire to accumulate these things – to get to know as many of them as we can.

There are hobbyists and collectors and historians, and worse – those misguided folks who think great gear is a substitute for skill or ideas… And that, friends, is where we get to the topic at hand.

Gear is fantastic and fascinating. There IS something to be said for using the best available tools… But the moment you put the equipment above the player, you’ve gone right off the rails.

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Grind With What You’ve Got

This is as much for me as it is for you (as usual)…

If you want to do something, anything really, you gotta go for it in whatever ways you can. This isn’t one of those “get out of town or you’ll never make it” posts, or advice about dropping everything else in your life to chase your passions (well maybe a little).

It is, however, a reminder to stay vigilant, to be aware of – and focused on – what you can be doing RIGHT NOW to get closer to where you want to be, wherever that may be.

There’s a big difference between excuses and legitimate reasons. We don’t always get to choose our lot in life. We do, however, get to choose what we do with it…

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I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

So… I know a few things, but only kind of.

Broadly, though, I don’t have a god damn clue what I’m doing – on stage, at work, booking shows, teaching lessons, simply existing as a human being… It’s a work in progress at every single point, and likely always will be.

The good news is, depsite what anyone may tell you, it’s that way for everyone.

Total confidence is a spectre, and vague notion on the wind – and we should all embrace that.

Almost every day, I experience unfamiliarity, but with the right approach, it’s an adventure – a chance to refine what little information I have into something a little more actionable – or in some cases, the barely-informed actions present bits of wisdom I can add to my growing (but forever incomplete) body of knowledge.

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