Monthly Archives: November 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Forget Professionalism, Remember Writing

Arts Admin and fellow Blogger, Samantha Rodin, and I got around to talking about art recently (of course!). My favourite part of hanging out with Sam is being able to meet with another artist that is so inspired and incorporates art into every waking moment of her life. When I speak with her about art, I can speak to her candidly as both an artist and a friend. Recently I was talking with her about my recent views on art in everyday life when she said, “What you’re talking about now sounds like a good idea for a YorkScene blog post.”

“Well, sure,” I said, but hesitantly. I haven’t written a blog post in a really long time. Actually, I haven’t written much of anything in a really long time. I am ashamed to admit this in the face of other, more prolific writers, but a blog post of 500 words often takes me at the very least three days to complete. One day to draft and edit, a second day to edit again, and then another day to edit… and then usually I sit on it for about a week thinking: Is this really what I want to say? I don’t want to put anything out there that I’d be ashamed of tomorrow. I want pieces that are concise and well written – as perfect and professional as I can possibly make them. The result of trying to create a perfect piece every time? Hardly any pieces are completed.

No more of that. After much discussion, I’ve decided, at least for the moment, to let go of concerns with perfection, portfolios, and professionalism, and instead just write. To be honest, the thought of writing freely had never dawned on me, and likely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been able to discuss my fears with Sam. I was too busy thinking: Oh dear, whatever I send out will be out there forever. Once it’s on the Internet, no matter how ashamed I am of it later, I will never be able to take it back or take it away.

Perhaps this is the big problem with art these days: This worry of art as though it’s a business, where each piece you put out is a measure of your worth in a pool of other artists – another thing to add to your portfolio and therefore something that must reflect well on you as a professional. I never entertained any ideas of having an audience when I first started blogging, so I wrote prolifically about everything that came to mind. The result? Often a bunch of garbage. But sometimes, rarely, gems that I would look back on later and think: Wow. Did I write this? Was that me? The reason for these gems is clear. When you produce more, you increase the odds of producing something good. When you only write a little, your chances of happening upon gold become much less.

The problem with looking at writing as a business – a platform, a voice that will echo and echo and follow you for all online eternity – is the fact that you become too worried about being professional to write freely, to take risks, and to say what you want to say. I realize now that it’s not good for me creatively. It’s definitely not good for the publications I write for either, which often have to wait for a long time before I send out anything new.

From now on, I’ll try harder to supress this need for perfection and professionalism and instead say what I’d like to say honestly and frankly. I want to try harder to get back to the basics – to write for writing’s sake.

To be honest, artists like Sam and I who are green and young and are just starting their artistic “careers” (again, that word “career”! I hope to address this idea of real life (careers) vs art in a future post) are at one of the most exciting and frightening points in our lives. Everything is up in the air. Every day we have moments where we think, “Oh my, what am I doing? And why am I doing it? And how will I sustain myself for the rest of my life off of love and passion alone?” Usually when I find a blog that is honest about these fears, I like it and relate to it, though I would never have thought of writing about it myself. Is it professional to confess fear on the Internet? I’m not too sure. But at this point, I’m tossing that question away. Perhaps there is another writer out there who shares these concerns and would find a post about it interesting too. That’s the person I’ll be writing for now.

I find nothing more inspiring than meeting with other artists, whether literary, visual, or musical. Meeting other artists gives me a sense of belonging and reassures me that I am NOT crazy listening to those voices in my head and trying to articulate them in the world somehow. Arts councils thrive on the idea of sharing that most vulnerable part of you, of embracing what you love, and of seeing others embrace what they love too. That is what is most beneficial about them. YorkScene is just another extension of this meeting of minds, and somewhere along the way I forgot about that. I started looking at it as a platform – a place where ideas were stated rather than shared and fostered.

Come back to my artistic roots with me! Somehow I lost myself, but hopefully I’ll find myself again soon. And I look forward to getting feedback from you too.

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ONE WORD TO ANYONE TRYING TO WRITE IN ENGLISH – BRAVO!

English – where all rules have exceptions. Where sounds and letters hardly ever agree.

Where we ‘see a movie’ but we ‘watch TV’. Where a ‘fat chance’ and a ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing, and where a ‘wise man’ and a ‘wise guy’ are opposites. Where a bunch of consonants are often strung together with just one vowel to help us pronounce the word – like in the word ‘strengths’. And what about a double negative forming a positive, but a double positive not forming a negative … hmm, another exception.

And then we’ve got various countries pronouncing English differently; America, Britain, India, Australia, and where I’m originally from – South Africa. I still have a hard time saying ‘ba-na-na’. To me it’s still a ba-naa-na’. And what about the stuff English borrows from other languages?  ‘Hors d’oeuvres’, from the French, ‘robot’ from the Czechs.

What a tricky language to learn to write, and here we all are, with one foot in tradition and the other in creativeness, as we try to create a beautiful symphony of text, to express ourselves, to correspond.

Here’s to you, all you movers and shakers of the English language – Bravo! (By the way – that word is borrowed from the Italians).

You Can Be a Record Producer!

It’s true. You can even by MY record producer, or at least an honorary one. All it takes is some money. But before you label me a total mercenary, read on…

You may have noticed these days the indie record/music scene is almost as big as the non-indie scene – if not in terms of dollars, then certainly in terms of the number of artists. In fact, there are probably more independents than there are acts signed to major labels.

Sharing isn’t caring

The Internet played a large part in this, of course. Suddenly everyone was illegally sharing and no one was buying, and labels would only sign sure moneymakers, so artists began making albums independently – i.e., paying to do it themselves.

But the indie scene has actually been around a heck of a lot longer than the Internet. I like to say, jokingly, or semi-jokingly, that at one time, it used to be called the folk scene.

Folk pioneers

That’s where my musical roots are. My old band Stringband has been called a pioneer of the indie record scene. What that means is we just couldn’t get any label to sign us all those eons ago. Most of the majors in Canada then were US subsidiaries, aiming at the big commercial US market, and they all told us we were too folky and too Canadian. So we started our own label.

 A generous fan funded our first album, but we didn’t want to ask him for help for the next one, so we borrowed an idea that was floating around but hadn’t become that common: we asked fans to send us $5 upfront, and we’d use the funds to make the album and then mail them a copy. It worked! We did our next two albums that way. A number of other folk acts followed suit, and that model of doing things has become commonplace in the indie music scene.

Crowd pleaser

Now they call it crowdsourcing; we just called it asking fans to help. In fact, for our third album, I got the bright idea to call it Thanks to the Following, and we printed all the supporters’ names in tiny font starting on the front cover and almost completely covering the back.

If you’re a musician and decide to go this route, there are websites that can help you, such as http://www.kickstarter.com/, http://www.gofundme.com/and others. Or you can do what I and many musicians do: contact your mailing list, and tell the fans you’re making a new CD.

Full support

Create multiple levels of support – e.g., see my fundraising page – and offer various perks. For example, my top level is $1000, for which a patron gets 10 signed CDs, 2 free tickets to the CD launch, a free house concert in their home, and – yes – an honorary producer credit on any song of their choice.

So “honorary producer” may not be quite like twiddling the dials or telling the drummer to go easy on the high hat, but some fans are tickled to become record producers this way. And you can always invite them to watch a recording session, which they may find fascinating – or boring, depending on how many takes you end up doing!