Is Music in Your DNA?
COLUMN: “Why make music?” The question was full of disdain and contempt. Spit out at me by a distant relative, it was insulting as well as irritating. While my girlfriend at the time instantly responded “Why not?” all I could think of in reply was “It increases beauty in the world, something that is not true of your existence.” (Yes, I can be rude, but in my defense, I try to be rude only in retaliation rather than with preemptive strikes.)
Still, the query does kind of hover in the atmosphere like fumes from a high school science lab experiment, mocking and challenging composers and performers alike. “Why make music?” Well, okay, here’s a way to approach it: You could just as easily ask: why make anything?
Artists are compelled to create. They still need to eat, have a place to sleep, and get around the town from time to time, but let’s face it:
(There is no need to list every artistic discipline, and we will be avoiding things like “artists art” or “poets poe.”)
Yet despite being driven from an inner fire, too many creative people are not focused on the core value of their calling. Large numbers of folks involved in music act as if their job description or their style of music is of primary importance, and I do not believe that is the case.
The Suits vs. the Creatives
Many people know me as head of a music publishing company. The fact that I also compose music and write songs apparently doesn’t matter to some of those folks because they will always consider me “a suit.” Admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that I write about issues of copyright and intellectual property; and I often quote Frank Zappa’s observation that “There is more business than music in the music business.”
But look, only the business side of the industry is concerned with genre classifications, job descriptions, style categorizations, and contractual agreements. You can keep that aspect of your work compartmentalized and let your muse range free whenever you feel like it. I know this for a fact because one day I’m executing Single Song Agreements with the attendant Assignments of Copyright while the next day I am tweaking the beats in songs by Jonny Harmonic or the Bella Swan Bass Society.
This is not a put-down of the paperwork part my life. I am happy to be the biz guy as well as a songwriter. After all, this involves exercising both halves of the brain. I think. But while business people can devise inventive solutions to many challenges, the creator of a song is operating on a spiritual plane that is both rarefied and exalted. And only those people with music in their DNA can really make glorious noises.
In Focus or Fuzzy?
I attend events and programs by the California Copyright Conference, the National Association of Record Industry Professionals, the Association of Independent Music Publishers, the Production Music Association, and the National Music Publishers Association. In so doing, I meet a lot of musicians and music business people. I have to say that the biz folks seem more focused on their goals and objectives. They’re not necessarily happier, but they achieve more success.
The musicians, by contrast, often appear disorganized and dizzy (myself included). Yet there are joys to be found in song creation that go beyond success. If only there was a way to fuse the two outcomes. It got me to thinking about process and psychology. (Stay with me on this.)
Most people in most industries talk about their work from five different standpoints: Who, What, Where, When, and How. Only as a last resort to they talk about the Why. Let me give you some examples.
“I’m Moneesha and I’m in the music business,” they might say, or “My name is Ryker and I am a musician.” This is the Who (not the group, guys). Next, they might get a bit more specific with something like “I’m a bass guitarist” or “I am a songwriter.” That is the What. Next comes something like “We’re gigging all over Southern California.” The Where. They plug a gig or two. That’s the When (mixed with a little Where).
You will sometimes hear a lot about the How: “We’re a rock band that mixes African rhythms with hummable melodies.” Or “I am a songwriter who works in electronica and country.” (Yeah, that’s me again.)
Why, Why, Why
Very rarely does anybody get to the Why. Yet this is the core, the roots, the heart of the matter. Why you do something may be the defining element of your actions. Consider the profound difference between these two statements:
“I am a songwriter who works in electronica and country.”
“I want to share the emotions of love, life, spirit, and the rapture of being alive, and I am doing it through the infinite magic of song.”
Both statements are true. Both statements are valid descriptions of John Scott G, writer geek and music publishing guy. But only the second statement tells you why I do what I do. “I want to share the emotions of love, life, spirit, and the rapture of being alive, and I am doing it through the infinite magic of song.” That is my Why. That is my reason for staying alive. That is my reason for rolling out of bed each morning.
That is what provides the fuel that drives me down the road of existence — and it’s the reason I enjoy the trip!
Another statement that resonates within me is this one: “I am sharing songs that make every hair on your body stand at attention and make your body quake.” That’s the stuff of life for me. I am only concerned with the What and the How and the rest because of the Why.
Perhaps music (or art or poetry or dance) is in your DNA. Look inside and determine your reason for being. What is your Why? Answer that. Follow that. Work for that.
And the universe will open up to you.