My last post on playing music was all about the nerve-racking live performances I take part in against the advice of the majority of my conscious thought. This time I’d like to navel-gaze about why I’ve until recently almost never let my recordings see the light of day.
See, I own more than a reasonable amount of recording software for someone whose main output for the past few years has been “name that tune” recordings for my facebook friends and soundtracks to random youtube videos, and I use it often enough but almost never share the results. It exists, like the completed first chapter of a novel, as a source of infinite potential, so I can always say to myself, “well, I could still be a world-class musician someday, if I really work on it”.
I used to get frustrated with students when they seemed to be holding back on speaking at all until they were sure that whatever they said would be flawless native-level English. Then I realized I was taking the same attitude towards music, refusing to take imperfect steps on the way to perfection. Like my students, most of whom were a lot braver in this regard than I am, I’ve decided to shelve the perfection project and just work on being better than I am, one piece of output at a time.
Did you know I almost became a music major in college after I’d decided to switch out of computer science? I took 2 quarters’ worth of theory before failing my audition. For some reason I’d had my heart set on majoring in performance, on classical guitar, which I’d only been playing for a few months (not trombone, which I’d been playing since 5th grade). I did well in those classes though, even the sightsinging parts. In retrospect, it led me to switch to Social Ecology, which suited me much better in that it didn’t require me to do incredibly embarrassing things in public.
Anyway, I realize I have something debilitating in common with a lot of the population of Japan, in that I’m quite inclined to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. My perfectionism isn’t the kind that forces you to practice relentlessly until your performance matches your vision, but the kind that makes you abandon projects as soon as they begin to assume their final form because that is the point at which they lose their formerly infinite potential. My hard disk has lots of songs of which the first riffs were written in a flurry of excitement, then left alone for years only to be revisited when I’ve bought some new software, or hair-splittingly fiddled with (changing amp sim settings, compression and EQ) until I’m sick of them.
If you read my last post on this topic, you may also remember that singing is the most face-threatening thing I ever do. Ever since college, only one original song of mine has ever made it past the vocals stage, and that was a birthday present for my wife. All the others sit waiting for a day I feel like writing words that rhyme to music and singing them, aka never.
I’ve come to a point recently where I’ve been listening to other people’s amateur recordings enough not to feel like I’m clearly the worst musician anyone on the Internet will ever hear. That other people seem not to care that they can’t quite bend a guitar string to pitch, and their world seems not to end as a result of putting proof of that on Youtube, has given me strength. That sounds rather schadenfreudy, but I mean to say I admire their bravery. Like Golda Meir said (and I learned about from Maria Bamford), “Don’t be humble… you’re not that great”. Most musicians in the world aren’t virtuosi. That realization, plus some encouragement from a few music teachers, has given me the the motivation to start putting stuff up on the Internet, and for once actually letting people know where to find it.
So here’s my Soundcloud page. Behold the imperfection.