Hey gang. So I didn’t post my songs last week for no other reason than last Sunday I was like “nah, I don’t want to.” I was thinking I’d do it mid-week, like on Thursday or something because that seems like a better time to post things on the internet based on a vague memory I have of an article I once read about peak social media posting times. But then Thursday rolled around and I was like “nah, I don’t want to.” So here I am again posting on a Sunday. Only this time around, I’ve got two whole weeks of songs tailor made for your ears to enjoy! See you next week.

March 12 — They Grow Up So Fast

March 13 — Glyter Musik

March 14 — Elephants Rolling Deep

March 15 — Cupcaking in Los Feliz

March 16 — No Sleep (Don’t Listen)

March 17 — You Can Change the Words

March 19 — Accidental Compliment

March 20 — Night Driving

March 21 — Neptune’s Ferry Ride

March 22 — Nerdquest 2000

March 23 — Pleased to Meet You

March 24 — Saturday Slipping

 

We had a little taste of spring this week in NYC—two straight days of sunny, sixty degree weather. Yep, after a long cold lonely winter, the ice was slowly melting. That is, little darling, until a vile, frigid, umbrella-crushing wind blew in some thick sloppy snow sludge just in time for the weekend. Still the dream of spring was planted firmly in my brain. I feel the warmth at the end of this icy tunnel. Plus, the terrible weather gave me a great excuse to just hole up in my room and record music. Life is good. Enjoy this week’s songs.

February 26 — When I was but a Babe

February 27 — Sunday on Mars

February 28 — Exiting the Void

March 1 — Ice Cream Social

March 2 — Raindrop 

March 3 — Ancestral Temple

Tuesday was a real doozy. My first day of the school year (perhaps my last first day of the school year ever) included the submission of my thesis, a four hour practice session, lunch with an ex-girlfriend, a composition lesson with Ariel Marx, and two classes— Colloquy in Music (in which we talk about and prepare for our final recording projects), and Jazz Arranging (in which we learn how to arrange music for a big band). In fact this whole week was a doozy. In addition to fulfilling my school requirements, I played two shows with the new band Kangaroo (which I joined this summer), auditioned for and made it into NYU’s contemporary vocal ensemble (I’ll be playing guitar as part of the backing band for various singers—I won’t be doing any singing myself), went to see a stellar R&B cover band at Groove, and capped the week off by getting good and drunk at a party at my apartment last night.

Despite having a week full of music, school, and socializing, I still feel like I should be doing more. I’m not even sure that I could be doing more, but I know that New York has a way of making me feel like I should be doing more. I think that no matter what field you are in, the talent level, the potential work opportunities, the endless list of things to do and places to see, the high cost of living, and the rapid pace of this city makes one feel like they should constantly be working and playing harder.

This attitude does not make for a comfortable existence. As I was discussing today with my roommate Delta (yes her name is Delta), I’ve felt more insecure this past year of living here than at probably any other point in my adult life. Yet this is not a negative. The things that are making me feel insecure— namely the high level of musical talent surrounding me and the uncertainty of my future after school— are the same things that are motivating me to work harder and get better. I didn’t move here because I thought it would be easy; I came here to learn and grow, and the discomfort of this place has in large part been my greatest teacher.

This is after all, a special, attractive kind of discomfort. It is not the discomfort of say being stuck at a tiresome party when you really just want to go home. It is more like the discomfort of finding someone at that party who engages you in a deep, honest conversation that challenges your core beliefs and assumptions about yourself (does that ever happen at parties?). It is a discomfort that is the opposite of complacency. Whereas complacency leads to stagnation, the discomfort of being in this pressure cooker of a city inspires me to action and offers me the feeling of being fully alive.

I’m not sure how long I will live here. I do know that after I finish school, I want to stay for at least as long as it takes for me to feel like I gave “making it here” (in that Frank Sinatra sense) my best shot. I might stay for one year or I might stay for fifty. I do believe that the longer I am living here, working hard, and being propelled forward by my ambition as well as my sense of insecurity and discomfort, the more likely it is that I will have a big break. For this is a special place, and I think it is realistic to believe that something unrealistic will happen here.

Two weeks ago today, we had a beautiful sunny Sunday in Manhattan. It would have been a perfect day to go for a stroll in Central Park, or go to the Union Square greenmarket, or take a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, or walk the High Line… And instead, I sat in my living room eating bagel bites and binge watching Game of Thrones. It was, after all, an international holiday:

I really wanted to catch up with the show in time for the season seven premiere so I could watch it with my roommates that night, but unfortunately as of noon that day, I still had eight episodes of season six to watch. I thought briefly that any dignified, self-respecting person surely would not even consider attempting to watch nine episodes (that’s 8 episodes of season six + the new episode) of any TV show in one day, yet I was unswayed by this conventional wisdom. Instead, I decided to conduct a social experiment asking the important question: what happens when a person watches 9 hours of Game of Thrones in one day.

I spent many years of my life in public school being forced to do science fair experiments so I have at least a vague recollection of the scientific method. I understand that a good experiment must be reproducible. So just in case you’re looking to replicate my experiment, here are the materials you’ll need:

  1. A TV or Computer.
  2. An HBO Go subscription. Doesn’t have to be your own—mine’s not.
  3. A cozy couch or bed. I chose couch.
  4. Plenty of snacks. This is crucial.

The next steps are pretty straightforward. Sit (or lie) on your couch (or bed), watch your show, eat your snacks, and record the rich tapestry of psycho-spiritual fluctuations that you will surely experience.

It didn’t take long for some of the results of this experiment to come in. In fact, before I had even begun the marathon I discovered an important principle: If you want to engage in guilt free reprehensible behavior, just call it a “social experiment!” Heck, sometimes you may even be rewarded for your sins. If you don’t believe me, just ask Morgan Spurlock— he was nominated for an academy award for eating McDonald’s for a month.

Armed with this liberating sense of shamelessness, I assembled the snacks and assumed my position on the couch. The first three or four episodes were easy enough. Game of Thrones is obviously a very watchable show, packed with with complex characters, compelling power struggles, gratuitous violence and nudity, and at least one moment per episode designed to make you say “oh shit” out loud. However, around episode five I began to get a little stir crazy. For my own entertainment, I compulsively started singing the plot of the show along with the musical score.

What can I say, I’ve got the creative itch y’all. Many (if not most) people do. I can’t sit and relentlessly consume so much media without having the strong desire to create something of myself. That’s why I was singing those stupid little ditties and also why I’m writing this blog right now. If you haven’t yet discerned this from virtually every single sentence of this blog post, I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist.

I’m well aware that that last statement may have sounded very pretentious, but I’m not claiming to be a great artist or even a good artist, I’m just affirming to myself and you readers that my approach is that of an artist and not of a scientist. I think the distinction is interesting. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for anyone with the discipline, patience, and intelligence that it takes to be a scientist— personally, I don’t think that I have the fortitude for it. The scientist is concerned with discovering truth through a process of objective quantifiable observation of the natural world. She may spend many thankless hours measuring butterfly wingspan or orangutan bone density, but she does so in the name of contributing to the scientific community’s ongoing process of discovering the natural laws of the universe.

This is, in the least, my admittedly limited understanding and impression of the scientific endeavor. Like I said before, I am an artist, and as such I may not always (or even often) report the facts of life in their most objectively true form. Instead, my purpose and driving motivation is to create things that ring out as emotionally or even physically true. Essentially, as a musical artist, I’m doing my job if I have created something that you can feel in your heart or in your butt. And to prove that I at least attempt to accomplish this from time to time, and don’t just sit around watching popular TV shows all day, I’m going to share a couple more tracks from my ongoing Subway music project (see this post for an explanation). Thanks for reading my ramblings and I hope you enjoy the songs.

I spend a lot of time on the subway. Nearly everyone here does. It’s a strange fact of New York City life that so many of us are willing to endure hour long commutes everyday packed shoulder to shoulder, or butt to butt, or shoulder to butt with sweaty strangers in rickety old train cars. Then again, there are a whole bunch of strange behaviors New Yorkers engage in all the time, from paying twelve hundred dollars a month to live in a closet (guilty), to ordering Chinese delivery at 4am (just because you can doesn’t mean you should), to using a razor scooter as your main mode of transportation (I’m talking business men, wearing suits, on their way to work, riding this). Yet among all the idiosyncrasies of New York life, the most difficult one for me has been the enormous amount of time spent on the subway. As someone who likes to maximize his time, I often feel like the hours I spend every week on the subway are lost hours.

However, I’ve recently delighted in finding a simple solution: I’ll just make music on the subway. Now I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry. I have not become a subway performer, tyrannically forcing my fellow passengers to endure my music while they’re packed shoulder to butt in a stuffy train and just trying to make it home.

Quick aside: I have nothing against people busking or performing in public— I’ve done it before, and will do it again. The street is the oldest stage in the world, and it takes guts to get out there and play for a public who have nothing invested in your art. However, there’s a huge difference between performing on the street or at a park and performing in a subway car. At a park for instance, you set up shop and let people come and enjoy your music, or art, or acrobatics if they want to; but if you’re in a subway car with your guitar and start ripping-roaring through your best version of the song Summer of ’69, well now all of a sudden you’re infringing on my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, because I really hate that song and I’m stuck on this subway for like at least another four stops… man I wish this train would take a quick turn sending you guitar first into that pole right there. Maybe I should just pull a John Belushi on this clown…

Anyway, I digress. No, I’m not a subway performer. Instead, I’ve decided to make short, sugary instrumental hip-hop tracks on my computer while I travel from point A to B. The process is simple: I hop on the train, find a seat (note: I’m thwarted in my process when traveling at rush hour), pull out my laptop, plug in my headphones, fire up Logic Pro X, and work on creating some combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm until I’m about a stop away from my destination. Then I pack up my computer an go along my merry way.

This is a delightful process for a number of reasons. Obviously it does give me something somewhat musically constructive to do during my commute. It also forces me into a rapid process of songwriting in which I allow myself to just follow my first instincts. So often when writing music, I give myself too much time to experiment and second guess my decisions, meaning that songs may never get finished. I don’t make myself finish the songs in one trip, but still, if I want to get anything done during the short subway-ride intervals, I just have to go with what pops into my head. Another fun limitation about this work is that I’m simply using the sounds that I have on my computer. This point might be more relevant to all the computer music nerds out there, but essentially there are a massive number of digital instruments one could own, and I own a pretty large amount on an external hard drive which I often use for film scoring and songwriting. Instead of using my hard drive and having access to all of these sounds (which can sometimes prove overwhelming), I’m using a much more limited sonic palette made up of the sounds that are built into my software. Finally, I’m only intending these songs to be about one minute each (although I admit I’ve gotten carried away and made some of them longer). These are meant to be teasers, mere tastes of what could be. I could expand them later if I wanted or needed to, but for now they work well as brief musical moments. I’m reminded in this project of the power of having limitations. These songs are so satisfying and relatively easy to create, because, as you see above, there is so much I’ve already decided about the song before I’ve even started.

So during the roughly three weeks since beginning this project, I’ve created four tracks and am working on a fifth. I certainly don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon— this has been fun! Ultimately I’d like to come up with a better name for this project than my working title of Commuter Chords. The phrase “commuter chords” is certainly descriptive of what the project is, but it’s also just a little bit lame in my opinion— I need something that pops, or at least something that is fun to say out loud. “Commuter chords” is not fun to say out loud. Don’t believe me? Say it out loud then. See.

So whenever I fully flesh out the persona of this project, you’ll likely see a new webpage for it with all the songs up, but in the meantime I’d like to go ahead and share with you a couple of Commuter Chords tracks. Hope you enjoy!

Last week my roommate Anna came home and alerted me to a recent article in the New York Times column Modern Love. For despite my being a perpetual bachelor, Anna knows that I love to talk and gossip about relationships. In the article Mandy Len Catron (author of the 2015 viral article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This) talks about her practice of drafting a yearly relationship contract with her long term boyfriend Mark. She writes that the contract covers everything from “sex to chores to finances to expectations for the future.” The contract even has an overarching mission statement for the relationship, which for her and Mark is to “aspire to help each other be more ethically-minded and generous friends, community members and global citizens.” While a relationship contract might sound like the antithesis of that spontaneous kind of love and romance that Hollywood likes to glorify, the author found it to be an incredibly helpful practice in her relationship, and one that helped her and her partner grow ever closer while protecting what was personally important to each as an individual.

Lacking a romantic relationship, I currently have no way of testing out this exact practice, yet even in my bachelordom this idea resonated with me. For a contract or mission statement is not only useful in our relationships with romantic partners, but potentially extremely powerful in helping us navigate our relationship with life at large. Without exactly knowing why, I have at times adopted a mission statement for my own life. Just look at my outdated About Me page on this blog site where I talk about practicing the Art, Craft, and Critique of music. For about three years, I have operated under the assumption that if I consistently pour my effort into these three endeavors, my musicianship would grow and my musical career would benefit. Luckily this has mostly been the case. Yet since starting this new chapter of my life in New York, I’ve become aware that my personal contract needs updating.

I confess that this move to New York City was not the byproduct of a crystal clear vision for my life. Instead, I moved here in large part because I felt like many elements of my musical and personal life in Arkansas were either stagnating or diminishing, and thus I needed a change. It has been somewhat uncomfortable to find that an obvious path to career success and personal contentment has not magically unfolded before my eyes since moving here. Overall I am happy to be here, yet I’ve often found myself drifting into self-doubt and confusion. Many a morning I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.

It would be great if someone would just tell me what I’m supposed to be doing, but one of the most beautiful and simultaneously uncomfortable things about my life is that I’ve largely been afforded the freedom to choose for myself what is right for my life. I’m aware that not everyone has this privilege— ultimately it is something I am extremely grateful for, and something I certainly do not want to take for granted. Lacking a magical spirit guide to tell me what I should be doing and also wanting to take full advantage of this freedom of choice, I’ve recently been interrogating myself about what it is that I truly want for my life. As a result of this process, I’ve come up with a three year plan for myself incorporating short and long-term goals I have.

Now I’m not going to tell you what my plan is. I’m a little self conscious about how lofty the plan might sound, and I don’t want to give my haters (do I have haters?) a chance to cast doubt on my goals. I’m not Tom Brady— I do not thrive on proving people wrong. I’m Lucas Murray— I thrive on encouragement from others.

I would also like to encourage you, whoever you are, wherever you are, to set goals for yourself and really go for them. I don’t think there’s any surefire, scientific, foolproof way for you to achieve your goals. This isn’t The Secret! And I’m not Tony Robbins (it’d be cool if I was though; I’d probably have a few more blog followers). The truth is, you might not achieve your goals. Yet the benefit of having a goal is immediate— it gives your life order and direction, and it gives you the personal peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are working towards something. Plus, hey, you might achieve your goals— and wouldn’t that be great.

On Saturday my roommates and I hosted a barbecue at our apartment. As I’ve expressed in blog posts past, I love my apartment and roommates so much. One couldn’t hope for a better household of randomly assembled twenty-somethings. Early in the day, when it looked like our plans were going to get cancelled due to pouring rain, I was really content to just play Nintendo 64 all day with my roommates— that’s how cool my roommates are. But the rain cleared and so the show went on. We fired up the grill, threw down some burgers and dogs, and our guests trickled in and out throughout the afternoon. A core of five of us lasted until midnight, eating, drinking and telling stories— we let our guard down and learned a lot about each other that night. In the immortal words of Ice Cube, “I gotta say, it was a good day.”

The icing on this delicious cake of a day was that I met a cool, kind videographer named Paul. My friend Morgan brought Paul (and Paul’s lovely Labradoodle Ringo) along to the party, and I got to pick his brain a bit about various films and projects he’s working on. Of course I didn’t want to pry to much— I’d guess Paul probably came more for the hot dogs and beer, and less to talk about his work life— however, in NYC it seems like every social event is also a networking opportunity.

A networking opportunity?

Did you cringe a little bit while reading those words? I did when I wrote them. As someone invested in a career path that doubles as an artistic expression, I’m not wholly comfortable wearing the business side of my musical life on my sleeve. After all, I didn’t start writing and playing music because I wanted to open up business opportunities— I think I did it because I was a sensitive child who discovered that music was a satisfying outlet for my creative urges… oh, and also because I just thought it was cool. So it feels corny and insincere to think of an interaction with someone at a barbecue as something called a “networking opportunity” that would benefit my “musical career.”

Yet the truth is, I do want to have a career in music and “networking” will undoubtedly be major part of any successes I have. It is a clear fact of life that people so often get jobs simply based on who they know. This is especially true in the music industry. If you need to find someone to score your film, or play violin at your wedding, or sing tenor in your indie rock opera, you’re first going to think of who you know, and then if you don’t know anyone, you’re going to ask someone you know if they know anyone. Sure, there are less personal ways of finding a musician like posting an ad on craigslist or contacting your local musician’s union, but the vast majority of gigs come to fruition as a direct result of human to human connection.

Thus networking is undoubtedly an essential part of any musician’s career. But personally, I just really dislike the term networking. It is such a lame business-professional buzzword, like “synergy” or “team building.” It makes me want to yak. The term also has an air of objectification. When you are “networking,” it sounds to me like you aren’t exactly treating people as people but as nodes in a cold synergistic digital network built to benefit your career goals— you are using people as a means to an end. Of course this isn’t the whole truth— it probably isn’t even the half truth— this is just the feeling I get from that bogus word.

If you’re like me, and become nauseous at the sound of the word networking, but still want to “make it” in some kind of creative field, I have good news. You don’t have to become some kind of overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard to expand your work opportunities. That is, you don’t have to do that unless you are an overly enthusiastic, business card pushing, insincere yuppie blowhard. If that’s case, you do you brother! Because when we’re talking about networking (and I really hope that is the last time I have to use that word in this blog post), we’re really just talking about meeting people, remembering people, and hopefully having them remember you. And you surely want people to rememberer you as you actually are, not as some put on personality that you think will be pleasing and engaging. Granted, it’s probably a good idea to try to be polite and attentive when you’re meeting someone new that you might want to work with, but you don’t have to be spectacularly “on,” and you certainly don’t want to be anything other than yourself. This really isn’t all that different than meeting someone you might want to be friends with or someone you might want to date. Whether it is a potential friend, partner, or collaborator, what you are generally seeking is someone that you enjoy being around, someone that you can communicate well with, and someone with whom there is a degree of mutual understanding. And you can only really find that if you are being true to yourself.

In a very meta moment, Paul and I spent a portion of our conversation talking about the importance of meeting other people in your creative field and just generally being cool, personable, and easy to work with. We were two people in a similar creative field (he is also a musician, and I am also trying to begin doing film scoring work), being generally cool, personable, and easy going. Perhaps we will collaborate down the road or recommend each other for various projects, and perhaps not. I know that based on my first interaction with him, I would certainly have no objection to working with him. Furthermore, because he struck me as cool and professional (and because he is the only videographer I know in town) I would recommend him were someone to ask me if I knew any good videographers. Yet whether our connection yields professional gains or not, ultimately it was just nice (and always is nice) to have a pleasant conversation with another good human.