My mother was singing in a band when I was in the womb which means that my first time on stage with a band was before I breathed air. I think that pretty much doomed me to the life of a musician. Granted, I realized early on that the musician thing wasn’t particularly lucrative so I started a career in software development to pay the bills, and it has done so admirably for my entire adult life, but I continue to do the musician thing. By my count, I’ve been involved in the production of over 40 different cassettes, CD’s or digital music releases as either a songwriter, musician, engineer or producer and I still love it. Performing and recording music is a central thread in my life’s story.
Today I am planning a new recording studio and developing material for a couple of new recording projects, but this morning I keep pondering how I got here and what all those previous music projects actually mean to me. Why keep doing this? Clearly it’s not to “make it big” or become rich and famous. So, why? The answer differs from recording to recording.
The earliest recordings made by my brothers and I were strictly kids playing at making music, at least for me. But that early playground led to a lifelong passion for all of us, so it’s hard to dismiss. Rhett was first to blossom when he turned out to be a childhood drumming phenom. I took a few more years to start figuring out guitar and songwriting throughout middle school and high school. By the time I turned 20, though, I had learned multi-track recording, audio engineering fundamentals, multiple instruments, songwriting, and the lot. I had matured from a kid singing in the basement into a young man who was serious about being a musician. I think of all those early albums recorded in school as an extension and maturation of the learning process that started as soon as our hands were big enough to hold instruments.
Throughout my 20’s, I was learning a whole different skill set. How to be an adult. How to raise a child. How to manage money and build a career. I feared that I would lose sight of making music. I feared that the creative spark would be overwhelmed by “real life” and I would be one of those guys who looked back nostalgically on the “good old days”. It almost happened. Maybe it would have, but I never let that idea of myself as a creative person disappear from my mind. As I learned to develop computer software I used the technical skills I developed to work on building an online record label. I learned how to use digital audio workstations to record and produce music instead of older analog 4-track equipment. Eventually my brother died, our band ended, I went through some major life transitions, my indie label folded, and music took on a whole new role of safety net and survival mechanism. I recorded a bunch of solo material and you can find it here on this site.
Through all of this, music has helped me bond with my brothers and with friends, given me an outlet to say things that I couldn’t say any other way, provided me with a constructive domain in which to apply other skills as I learned them, served as a psychological health practice, and (of course) it has been a lot of fun. It is also incredibly satisfying that so much of the music I’ve been involved with is recorded. It’s like I have most of my life on tape in one way or another.
I can listen to myself at age 8, singing the first song I ever wrote while my brother drums in the background. Or at age 14 when I wrote the first song I really felt proud of. There I am in high school falling in love. There I am in my 20’s celebrating the birth of my son. I can go online right now and hear my 30 year old self losing his religion and his brother and his grip on the life he thought he was living. It’s all documented in this strange, mostly public, way. I am keenly aware that the music I write and record today will be heard by my future self and will bring the thoughts, fears, feelings, desires, and circumstances of my current life to his mind more than any photograph or video can do. It’s like a diary plus a photo album but with the intimacy of encoded thoughts and a spoken voice and the awareness on my part of exactly what it all meant to me at the time.
When I think about the music I am making right now, I’m not thinking of posterity or my future self or entertaining anybody or making money or getting famous. I’m just saying what I find within myself to say, when I go looking. I’m casting around for feelings and thoughts, listening to my own mind for snatches of melodies that I might want to use, giving myself subconscious commands, sketching melodies or words with instrument or writing utensil in hand, digging around for something that inspires me to hit record. I do this now because it’s what I’ve done for so long that I don’t feel like myself if I don’t. I really am doomed. And I think that’s OK.