SLOGGING VS BLOGGING: Artistic time management
Sorry it’s been a while since the last post on this blog. I have been hard at work getting songs ready for album #4, as well doing things such as living, etc.
I honestly don’t know how artists manage to maintain such an active online presence these days. Like, there are enough pressing extra-musical obligations in our daily lives besides broadcasting the latest thoughts that popped into our heads via a selfie-video. You'll notice very few pictures or external links in this post; that's because that stuff takes ages to add. Should I spend this time working on my music, or writing a blog to draw attention to it? It's a constant theme/dilemma of being an artist these days.
It reminds me of a point I heard recently on the A24 podcast with Bo Burnham and Jerrod Carmichael:
Bo: I'm saying, would it have been as cool if you heard Jimi Hendrix being like, "Just listened to—Hey, @TheBeatles. Great new album!"
Jerrod: It feels gross.
Bo: I don't know. It would just be like, ew. I could imagine, and this is—you know what, I would love if there was like a third—I wish there was a 22-year-old kid here that was just getting into the business or something and we could ask her like, what do you think about—what does it look like to you? What does the culture look like to you? What does it feel like to be starting to be creative in this area? Do we sound like old, out of touch guys?
Bo: My basic worry for young people—it's very, very, very hard, I think, for young people that are engaged in the Internet to take the time to put the work in to make something good and substantial, which if you're going to make something substantial, whether it's an hour long comedy special, or a pilot, or whatever it is, part of the artistic process is retreating, disappearing—we talk about this a lot—disappearing, and then coming to the world with a thing. "Look I just spent eight months, a year, two years on this thing. Here it is." And right now, for kids trying to break into the business, or whatever, trying to get attention, the impulse is, “You have an idea, put it out there. Get your Twitter going. Get your Instagram going.”
Jerrod: Yeah. You have a ready outlet. Each day feels like a day that—a missed opportunity.
Bo: Exactly. When like, there's nothing more—in my opinion, the best PR for you is good work that you spent a while making. And I just worry that we'll have sort of the artistic equivalent of like a 24-hour news cycle. Where just everything is fresh and topical and ages like milk. I know you talk about the value, I think, of not being present. Disappearing in this world—
Jerrod: Oh, absolutely.
Bo: —of feeling like people are too in our faces all the time. I don't know. I go crazy at this stuff.
Jerrod: Also, the need to perform should be turned off in any way. Right? Like the need to—you go on stage and you get off stage.
Bo: Yeah, right, right.
Jerrod: An Instagram picture is a performance of sorts.
Bo: Yeah, yeah. The talk show appearances. All these things.
Jerrod: It's just, I don't want to perform a lot. That's why I can't. I'm just not on, because it's the need to—
Bo: Well, it's like if someone Googles Jerrod Carmichael, you want the first three things they see to be the things you spent a lot of time on. Your show or your special, not, "Oh, he was throwing a bag of Skittles at someone's head on some talk show." Or whatever they do on those things. I don't even get it. It's like, "Jerrod Carmichael ate a live bird!" It's like, why do these people want to do this?
Basically the under-30 artists these days (probably) feel this immense pressure to create something NOW and put it out NOW and get feedback NOW - and that this whole NOW NOW NOW obsession may ultimately prove to be to the detriment of their artistic development - given that creating a great work of art ultimately involves long stretches of alone time, hard at work on something no one else can see (yet), and to create something "now" is in effect to create a god damned meme.
As an over-30 artist myself, even I am guilty of letting "nowness" drive me sometimes. I’m putting out these albums at like 3x the average band’s album cycle, because I want to keep up with both my limited attention span and our audience’s. I watch each album go out, get its mini whirlwind of attention, and then watch the listener numbers gradually drop and plateau over the next few months. I believe this is a good delivery method, and I like doing it, so I'll keep it up. But what I realised is that I simply don’t have time to record all my songs. That was the aim with Farewell Horizontal - to record all of the (better) songs in that festering, half-recorded pile. When I go into my home studio and decide that today will be a "Farewell Horizontal day,", I don’t just pick out a random song to continue with - I pick out whichever song I most feel like finishing today.
This new approach will change us. Our albums will probably improve, given that not every song on our existing albums is 10/10 but hits the lower bar of “It's fun, I like it, I’ll put it out". Now it’s more like “Here’s some of our best stuff". This is partly because, after putting a moratorium on writing any more songs in this style late 2017 (when I told myself JUST FINISH THIS STUFF), it didn't really last and now I'm adding to the pile at a pace that far outstrips the rate at which they get released. So I need to make room for new material as well as old. So it's a case of "may the best song win", which it probably should always have been.
I’m also hoping that the next album will be a bit rawer; I feel like You’re Not An Empath came up ‘overproduced’ in its nightmarishly chaotic kind of way… like a lot of time was spent adding effects in post. Now I’m going for a more stripped down sound, focusing on capturing better takes live in the room rather than overdubbing it to death. For example, I’m tracking a lot of vocal and acoustic guitar live together these last few weeks, and avoiding doubling my vocals all the time (doubling strengthens the melody, but that strength tends to smooth out those unique vocal tics that add imperfection, character and emotion). I’m imagining stuff like the late-period Replacements albums that lean further into presenting Paul Westerberg as a singer-songwriter, some of Neil Young’s more stripped-down stuff, and any other stuff that has a rough homespun indieness. Capturing a vibe of “this song is happening right now in the room” rather than being something that sounds put together piece by piece on the computer (not that our stuff really does sound that way, but it could benefit from sounding LESS that way).
I suspect that artists who manage to continually post about themselves to the internet are basically doing so at the price of having less time to create, which probably goes some way to explaining why album cycles are longer and/or they're so busy releasing singles and EPs instead. I don’t have that problem because this is about as active online as I get. If it’s a choice between blogging and slogging (and it may not necessarily be), well, I enjoy the hard work of making the music much more than the hard work of trying to grab everyone’s attention. My view is that I’ll (mostly) just shut up and make music and release that music and people will either listen or they won’t. I think that’s a much better use of an artist’s precious time on this earth than ‘bravely’ live-blogging our innermost feelings about what we ate for lunch of whatever, and prove to fans what deep and real personalities we have.
I guess the bottom line is this: nobody follows an artist just for their personality. I'd like to think anyone who likes us doesn't give a shit about who I am or what I'm like outside of my music. Literally the only reason anyone cares about an artist is because they like the art. With that in mind, I try to put as much art (‘signal’) out as possible, and keep the pseudo insightful bullshit (‘noise’) to myself, thus keeping my signal as pure and noise-free as possible for those who wish to tune in. In the time it took me to write this I could have tracked or mixed another song (fairly roughly), and I kind of presume that's more interesting to people than anything I might write here.