Artistic Freedom and the Path to Happiness

MusicalCherubsIf you could do anything what would you do? This question is an interesting thought experiment particularly for artists and musicians. Derek Sivers has posed it with some interesting commentary on his blog in the form, What if you didn’t need money or attention?

He poses this question from the perspective, if you needed nothing in your life what would you do? Through looking at two example groups he raises some common issues. Entrepreneurs and musicians both need attention and money and both can become focussed on attaining those losing their spark or purpose in the process.


For me sustaining my family has long been a reason (or excuse) to postpone making music. The uncomfortable relationship between art and commerce is well documented. Commercial art is frowned upon and poverty is worn as a badge of pride by some and held up as a mark of failure by others.

In the West we live in a society that produces such abundance of wealth that nobody need want for anything, but we have adopted money as a method of ascribing value to people and their activities. Bankers are more valuable than nurses, teachers and even artists.

Art in our society is a commodity and its value is specified by demand. This conditions artists to seek attention for both reward and validation.

What if we were free from all this?

What would we do if our physical needs were all met? Would we all fall into Robert Anton Wilson’s predicted behaviours of recreational drug use and sexual gymnastics? Some of us would but I think that for those with an urge to create and communicate there is a desire for something more.

Perhaps this is a need for a kind of attention but not connected to the validation of wealth. It is a desire to communicate something.

Recreating my musical self with the aid of (community) gravity and other invisible forces

Comet Donati by Bond 1858

Image of the Comet Donati taken by W. C. Bond in 1858. The comet leaves its trail as it passes on its elliptical path through the solar system. Periodic activity can feel like long-period comets but perhaps not everything needs to follow such a long orbit.

I have had a somewhat unsettled relationship with making music for a long time. It has always been a passionate one, but it has often been difficult to the point of not being an active musician for many years at a time. I always seem to return though and I’m going through that process again now.

Perhaps because I’m a bit older and more self-reflective, if not wiser, I find myself watching this process as it is occurring and trying to make sense of it. When I was younger it didn’t need to make sense, it just happened, but perhaps I’m not as trusting or brave as I was then.

I have been prodded out of my comfortable isolated process by an interesting, intimate and introspective article by Clutch Daisy. Where’s Your Head At? looks at the effect of an increasing level of self-awareness in his creative process. (That’s my take on it anyway and I hope it’s at least partially accurate)

Clutch’s article has resonated with me because my current musical state is redolent with self-awareness. I haven’t made much music for ten years and the process of restarting is not an easy one in many ways. Simply justifying using the time is no simple thing as I could be spending that with my family or looking to fill it with more remunerative work.

In so many places heightened self-awareness inhibits action. Like a teenage boy in a new lumbering graceless body I’m contemplating the dance-floor and wondering how I’ll move. With my interrupted musical life it is simply a fact that needs to be dealt with though so I’m trying to incorporate the meta-process into the process somehow. Continue reading

Capture the moment with direct to stereo recording

RCA 44-A ribbon microphone

A great microphone is just the beginning of making a great recording. You need to find the right configuration and placement and most importantly some great music to record.

I have written before about the benefits of recording direct to stereo and that post has proved popular so I wanted to go in to a bit more depth about how I decide if direct to stereo recording is suitable to use and what setup I might use in a couple of common situations. The main advantage of recording straight to a two-track setup is, as Joe Boyd points out in the comments to the previous post, that it tends to make the recording sound like events. It creates a feeling of integrity to the preserved moment.

Can the musicians perform the song together?

The crucial thing here is the moment to be preserved. With a direct to stereo recording you are capturing what is happening in the room, the live performance, so the quality of that is vital. There are some genres of music where this choice is easy, classical, jazz and folk all lend themselves to this approach as they are idioms based on performance. It can work well for rock/pop genres too. Indeed it can create a recording of great immediacy, but there is less scope for post-production. This is both the blessing and curse of direct to stereo recording. Continue reading