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.


I’M BACK Y’ALL! I’m back. But Lucas, where did you go? Well, if you’ve followed my internet life, as I’m sure very few of you have, you’ll remember that once upon a time I was keeping a music blog here at LucasMurrayMusic.com. That practice tapered off last summer as I got more and more busy with my life of teaching and playing music, but here I am, back again. Before I left the blogosphere (wow, that is actually a word), I documented my life of gigging, my opinions about various bands, the risks and rewards of creating something, and kept web-diaries of three separate tours (two in America, and one in Africa!). On at least two occasions, I also did something similar to or exactly like proclaiming “I’M BACK!”

You know how certain rappers (read: every rapper) will at some point exclaim in a song “I’m back,” and you the listener will wonder where they went in the first place to be back… Well yes, that’s essentially what I am doing as well. But I now think I understand T.I. or Eminem’s need to claim to be back. There is an inherent insecurity in artistic endeavors. First of all, there is no urgent need for you to record a rap song, or write a blog-post, or paint a picture of a snow leopard. Every artist must overcome the fact that the world will keep spinning without their art. This in mind, the artist can feel like he or she must continually justify his or her work. Furthermore, if there is any time interval between works of art (which inevitably there will be), an artist might feel that he or she has become irrelevant (granted, it’s closer to the truth in my case to say that the artist was never relevant in the first place). Thus, one oft used defense mechanism is to bust through the wall Kool-Aid Man style and scream “I’M BACK!”

Anyway, I’m back, and I have a new plan: I will release one new song and one new blog post every week for nine months. That’s right, one full human gestation period. This is the first full week of April, and so my target end date is the last full week in December, specifically my birthday, December 30th (side-note: I just accidentally figured out when I was conceived).

But seriously Lucas? One new song and one new blog-post every week? Isn’t that a little ambitious?

Yes it is, skeptical inner voice, but only if you expect all of these posts and songs to be good. Frankly, they’re not all going to be good. I’m going for quantity, not quality. Yet I’m doing this in good faith that if I produce a bunch of work, some of that work will actually happen to be good.

There’s an anecdote I often repeat to people from the excellent book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland that illustrates the logic behind my new project. In brief, a college pottery instructor at the beginning of the semester informed half of her class that they would be graded on the quantity of pots they make, and she told the other half of her class that they would be graded on the quality of a single pot. Thus, all semester long the students in the quantity group were just uncritically churning out pot after pot after pot, while those in the quality group were paying precise attention to every detail of their pots. Predictably, at the end of the semester, the quality group’s pots were mostly good—some of them very good— while the quantity group’s pots ranged from very bad to very good. What may come as a surprise however, is that the very best pots in the class were all made by students in the quantity group.

This points to a crucial point about learning to make art: that if you wish to produce your best work, you don’t necessarily need to slave away worrying about every detail on a single work, you must simply create and create and create, and some of your art will be really good. Don’t worry about making bad work. Some of it will certainly suck. The shitty stuff is simply fertilizer for the flowering of great works.

Thus, in the spirit of producing work, here is Opus 1 (look below). I actually wrote and recorded this song when I was 19, and at the time believed it to be the best song I had ever written. I’ve certainly grown and changed since then, but I am releasing it now because I never really let it reach any ears beyond a handful of friends and family. Furthermore, the song also captures a yearning for something that I believe I am attaining in the pursuit of this project. Enjoy.

(Note: “Opus” is simply the Latin word for “work.” Composers have been using the word since the fifteenth century, often to number their compositions in chronological order. For this project I too will use this convention. Some songs may have subtitles, but every one will have an opus number.)