When I was in college at UALR, I minored in Information Technology. I learned a lot of useful stuff about web design, writing code, and creating databases (very little of which I use today). There was also a great emphasis in the program on group projects— which I hated. My arrogant belief was that I just as easily could have done these projects on my own and I’d rather not be slowed down by some dead weight classmates. In fact the most personally inspiring moments in IT class came when I was learning about web services that would allow me to get on with my life all on my own.
My dream was to write, record, release, and perform my own music, and I discovered things like TicketFly, Pond5, CD Baby, and Soundcloud which made me believe that my dream was a realistic possibility. Apps like these point to the “do-it-yourself” ethic that is the current zeitgeist in everything from music, to comedy, to fixing your toilet. I am certainly a part of this song and dance: I am a self-employed gigging musician attempting to keep a blog and record/release music all on my own.
Yet if you take do-it-yourself to mean literally doing it all on your own, then you are actually just talking about masturbation. Anything good and fun done completely alone is just masturbation. You’re cooking decadent meals, but not sharing them with anyone? That’s masturbation. You’re working on your jump-shot, but not playing in pick up games? That’s masturbation. You’re writing and recording songs but not letting anyone hear them? Masturbation. This isn’t a knock against masturbation. I think a moderate amount of literal or metaphorical masturbation is healthy, natural, and fun. But if all you are doing is masturbating, you’re missing out on the most important thing in life: connection. So don’t take do-it-yourself literally. Find some folks with similar interests and do-it-together.
You literally cannot do it alone in the field of music (or in any creative field for that matter) and expect to succeed. Your lifeblood as a musician is other people. You need other people to teach you how to play (and don’t come at me with that “self-taught” BS— if you claim to be “self-taught,” you’re just saying that instead of taking formal lessons, you learned by directly listening to other musicians); you need other musicians to play your songs; you need bar and venue owners to book your band; and most importantly, you need fans to support your work.
In addition to basic musician’s needs like these, there’s also the fact that you probably want your actual creative work to be good. If this is the case, you’ll benefit from bouncing your artistic ideas off of other creative minds. So as much as it pains me to admit it, being forced to do group projects in my IT minor program was not the worst thing. It is certainly effortful (and often a pain) to have to schedule meetings with other people, and lobby for your ideas, and come to compromises; but the purpose of group work is not to make the project quicker and easier—the purpose is to create better work than you could have on your own. John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney all had great solo careers (sorry Ringo), yet their greatest works were made when they were working together (with Ringo) in the Beatles. Music is simply made better when other creative minds, expert ears, and skillful hands are contributing to it.
Yet I confess that none of the songs I’ve released online to date have been collaborations. This is not a point of pride—throughout the course of this project I hope and plan to release many songs that feature other musical artists. Last week I took a serendipitous step towards this end when a couple of young bass players from Bloomington, Indiana came over to my house. My college buddy Noah McNair and his friend Brenton Carter were in town to play with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and they popped over to my house during the day to jam. I’ll forgive them for forgetting the beer, because I roped them into helping me record a song of mine. We started jamming on a song that I had written and I decided to hit record. After they departed the song was left with a much better bass line than I could have possibly played, recorded on a much better bass than I could hope to afford.
But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear that one (remember, I’m posting something every week for nine months). For now, here’s another one of my do-it-alone efforts. Enjoy Opus 2.