How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

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Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

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I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.

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Five Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Future of Music

For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why. My other writing gig is all about music , and I just finished interning at a record label. I’m obsessed with my instruments. I have even pitched and completed musical multimedia projects for university history classes–twice–in lieu of old fashioned essays.

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The current state of my apartment’s blackboard wall.

Recently, I have sensed a “lost cause” attitude when people talk about the music biz. Money just isn’t flowing the same way, to the same people, or for the same reasons it used to.

In this case, that might be a good thing.

I offer you five (admittedly optimistic) reasons I’m excited about where music is heading…artistically, ethically, and even economically. Seriously. I only wish I could say the same thing about writing and journalism.

1) Fans and artists take control.

Some people are complaining about how the music industry is going, mainly because the “industry” part is becoming  less and less relevant. The success of artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis has confirmed what a lot of us 21st century kids have known for a long time–technology is changing the game, and musicians who are genuine and business savvy shouldn’t need to answer to anyone but their fans.

How is the game changing? It looks something like this:


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Maybe I’m being naive, but even though I would love to work in music, this doesn’t scare me. It excites me. Paper pushers, marketers, and managers will of course remain important–Amanda Palmer’s success came from her wide fan base, much of which was acquired while she was signed to a record label. I know how much blood, sweat, tears (and luck) go into promotions. That manpower is valuable, and will stay valuable. But as the umbrella “record label” organizations become less relevant, people will partner up more independently; artists will begin hiring consultants, ad agencies, designers and agents themselves.  This will put musicians/producers in charge of their art rather than just requiring them to be someone else’s product. Game changing time.

2) An access-based economy.

With the internet and streaming sites, music itself is now less of a product, more of a service; not about ownership, but about access. That doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to pay, it means they aren’t willing to pay just to own things. The millennial generation are not as interested in ownership as previous generations.  Instead, they are interested in renting, streaming, experiencing, and/or consuming.  So yeah, buying a CD or even downloading an mp3 is less and less appealing…streaming on YouTube, Songza, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, and other websites is on the rise.

Streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are particularly fantastic. With these services, listeners pay a monthly fee (similar to Netflix) or in some cases just sit through a few ads, in exchange for access to a massive library of all the music they could want. Users can even download the songs they like to their mobile devices for offline listening and take them on the road. It’s portable music on demand. Not only that, but these services use ad revenue and membership fees to pay artists royalties for song plays. Other ways artists can make money? Becoming a YouTube partner (thereby sharing in advertising revenue, though in my opinion YouTube needs to up the royalties it pays), starting a Kickstarter project, or organizing fan patronage through a site like Patreon.

3) Sustainable printing and touring.

Because people are purchasing access more than anything, less stuff has to be made. The only product that seems to be selling more these days are vinyl records, because they’re the only thing that genuinely sound better than an mp3. So what products are being made? Essentially we’re whittling it down to LPs and their packaging, t-shirts, and promotional materials (stickers, posters, etc).

Compared to before, that’s not much.  You’re welcome, trees.

Moreover, smart decisions can be made with what is being produced.  While pressing new vinyl isn’t a particularly “green” call, smart packaging can make an impact. As an intern, I discovered (and fell in love with) PURE labels. The stickers they print are gorgeous and affordable…not to mention 100% tree-free with a sustainable adhesive (‘sup, technology). The availability of products like these, along with fair trade clothing options, will help with the positive impact of lowered production.

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With the focus on live performance (in Canada, the live music industry just had a record breaking year), of course, comes the question of a tour’s carbon footprint.  The good news is that artists will have a lot more power over the decisions made with stage performance than they did when merchandise production was king. Musicians like K.T. Tunstall, Radiohead and Pearl Jam are among those who actively use eco-friendly touring options, and organizations like Julie’s Bicycle have heavily researched sustainability in the live music industry.  For more optimism, check out this list of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “15 most eco-friendly artists”: www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/the-15-most-eco-friendly-rockers-20101216/

4) Music sampling meets international development.

Pop music sampling, you have destroyed enough 80s songs. Seriously. Time to get creative.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if ethnomusicologists hooked up popular artists with musicians in poorer areas of the world for some sweet collaborations. Organizations like Smithsonian Folkways record and distribute music from communities around the world, and pay extensive royalties to artists for these works. An example?  All the royalties from Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music, and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda go straight to an education fund for children in the community where the music was recorded. If a commercial or film featured a song from that album, or an artist sampled from it (and paid royalties), that would mean a great deal for the community.

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With African music-inspired indie artists like Vampire Weekend, rapper J. Cole’s sample of music from Guinea, and up-and-coming success of A Tribe Called Red, there seems to be a market for a more worldly sound. I would like to see popular artists looking for an exotic beat, new style or even just a choir in the background consider what those royalties and exposure could mean to a disadvantaged community.

5) Grassroots charity links.

Big musicians like U2, Springsteen, and Neil Young have been instrumental (…hah. pun.) in connecting the star power of musicians with charitable and fundraising ventures.  This is awesome. However, a lot of those projects have been connected with BIG national organizations.  While these are no doubt valuable, many of today’s artists are tapping into the power of connecting directly with communities and grassroots projects.

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Because live performance (read: going on tour) is basically where the paycheck is coming from for musicians these days, two things are more possible than ever.  Firstly, artists have been able to catch and affect their fans literally in their hometowns by connecting with local charities and encouraging activism.  Secondly, being on the road make it far easier for artists to spread the word about important issues and ask for participation from their crowd.  Take the band Fun., who created The Ally Coalition. They not only donate a dollar off each ticket sold to local LGBT and equality groups, they also set up an “Equality Village” at every gig where people can declare their support for the cause. Sheryl Crow has done the same by creating an “Eco-Village” wherever she performs, and like the band Phish (who are super philanthropic), she encourages carpooling to her shows. The bottom line is that if you are in a lot of cities, you can impact a lot of cities, individuals, and grassroots organizations.

Christmas DIY: Holiday Season Earrings

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This year, I decided to add a couple things to my holiday season closet. First on the list was a red cocktail dress. It came to my attention earlier this month that my only dress appropriate for any sort of big-kid-party is…well, it fit me in Grade 10? Yeah. Living the dream.

I may need to get rid of some of this high school stuff.

I found the dress (which I will post ALL about soon, dun’worry), and decided was time I put together some Christmas season jewelry. So last night, after mashing up “99 Problems” and “Where’d You Go?” on my keyboard and eating chicken that I’m 80% sure was properly cooked (you know, typical lifestyle choices), I pulled out the old craft supplies.  When my roommate walked in to see my wire, glue, pliers, and bead organizers laid out on across kitchen table, he looked slightly confused.

“I didn’t know you made jewelry.  This explains so much. Like why there are always single earrings lying around.”  He paused. “But it still doesn’t explain why they are always on the first step of the front porch.”

(I promise I’m a good roommate. I think.)

I hadn’t made earrings in far too long, so I put together some simple pieces to start:

Basic beaded earrings
Basic beaded earrings
Red & green chains (the result of a painstaking 20 minutes spent struggling with beading pliers)
Red & green chains
Christmas tree studs
Christmas tree studs

Next, I found some old unused holiday trinkets lying around, like small ornaments and decals.  Using wire & glue, it’s easy to add some earring hooks to just about anything:

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These are the smallest bulbs from a set of ornaments I bought last year. Facial expression gets the same justification as the first image.
These are the smallest bulbs from a set of ornaments I bought last year.

(Note: Blame the facial expressions and general headspace on the fact that I had just finished “rapping” to my broken keyboard when this picture was taken.  Because that’s what all the cool kids do.  And this is the face all the cool kids make.)

I also decided that this year, I wanted to have some jewelry that connected me to my spirituality–I feel like the usual cross symbol doesn’t really fit the whole birthday theme.  I decided to snip some of bits of the birth story out of the New Testament to make this necklace and earrings:

Matthew on the earrings (1:22-23 and 2:11-12)
Matthew on the earrings (1:22-23 and 2:11-12)
Luke 2:10-15 on the necklace. Pretty sure Charlie Brown and Linus would be down with this one. ;)
Luke 2:10-15 on the necklace. Pretty sure Linus and the rest of the Charlie Brown Christmas crew would be down with this piece. 😉

I’m thinking that’s enough creativity (and patience-testing meddling with wire) for today!  Between the red dress and the Christmas-themed jewelry, I am all set to go for my holiday season shindigs!

[Note:  I ever use the term “holiday season shindigs” in real life just…make me leave.]

Chalking It Up, Part 1: The Blackboard Wall

I want my home to be fun.

What a crowd-pleaser statement, I know. Of course I want my home to be fun. Of course you want your home to be fun. I also want my home to be cosy  and open and bright and quirky and welcoming and [insert unarguable “home” attribute here], but that’s besides the point.

“Fun” was front and centre in my mind when I reorganized the apartment this summer.  I was set on having a specified area in the open concept living space that was fun–specifically, fun in a music-y way.  Music has always been important to me, and I knew my roommate-to-be was no different, so the apartment had to encourage tunes.  I wanted the keyboard to get played. I wanted our CD collections to get played. Basically, I wanted a space where we could “play,” period.  That space, naturally, needed to be as open to creativity as possible.

The blackboard wall was inspired by a suggestion from good ol’ Josh, and solidified thanks to some fond childhood memories (growing up, our playroom in the basement had featured some cute little blackboards…these were mainly used to to torture my younger brothers with endless games of “school”; I know I had a good time).

All it took was two coats of blackboard paint, purchased at the local Canadian Tire, to turn my previously-dull keyboard corner into a canvas.  I have never seen anything so effective in making a home more fun.

Here’s a picture from the “cloffice” post last week. You’ll see the blackboard wall in the background:

Disclaimer: If you venture to read the wall, I would like to note that Jesus/Jagger/Gambino may not have used those EXACT words. Paraphrasing.

It’s super helpful for making notes to self/one another, as well as for writing down ideas, encouragement, Pokemon doodles…the usual. I would like to note, however, that the wall was visited last weekend by two monumental artists.  This was a gamechanger.

Pictured above: The game being changed.

I rest my case. Actually, I should probably rest my case with a picture of the wall in its current state. If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is!

I personally love the “surf borad” which defies all laws of physics, courtesy of my two favourite artistic geniuses.

Since the wall has become such a hit, I decided it would be worth it to take this chalk action to the next level in a couple subtle/clever ways around the apartment.  It’s happening. It’s happening as you read this, in fact.  Lloyd’s response earlier today as I set to work on this latest project: “You said you were going to do it, and now you’re doing it. I don’t know why I’m still surprised anymore.”

Translation: Autumn apartment part two and Chalking it up part two are very ready to make their relationship official. Can’t wait for what next Friday has in store!