The Struggle of the Artist – Perception

It is perfectly natural for a human to pre-judge a situation. Good intentions aside, we do, indeed, judge a book by its cover. We do read the blurb and think, “What? No earth-destroying ninja robots? No deal!” We look at what’s trending and ignore what’s not.

It is an essential skill: With too much choice, too much information overloading us, how can we possibly sift through the flotsam? Search Engines and forums will bubble up the ‘most popular’. Marketers and publicists will thrust their clients to the top of the list. Money talks.

We need to quickly filter out the bad if we are to pick the good. Like choosing fruit, would you prefer a lovely, shining apple from the supermarket or a dull, hail-damaged one straight from the tree?

Enter the Indie

I’ll be blunt. Indies don’t have a lot of resources: Time, money, friends, advertising, celebrity, influence, you name it, it’s in short supply.

Want to know something interesting? Indies do have other qualities, special qualities, and they have it in bucketloads: Passion. Patience. Pride. Desire. Drive. Determination.

And, despite prejudices to the contrary, Talent.

That’s not to say that every independent work is a masterpiece. Nor does it imply that there isn’t a yard full of tosh to wade through. What it does mean is that just because it hasn’t gone through the sanitation process, been stripped of anything too extreme or risque or provoking, been puffed up with whatever’s trending, been watered down to suit the most popular palate, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a crack.

That’s right. Pick up that windfall apple and look at it closely. Wrapped inside that dull, hail damaged, ill-shaped fruit is some of the tastiest flesh you’ll ever eat. It wants to be eaten. If there are bruises or knocks, cut around it and eat the rest!

WindfallApple

Therein lies the issue: The artist lives to create, not to sell. Their focus is not on the perception of the work, rather on the work itself.

This is where we see the drive and determination coming into play. If Indies were all about turning a buck or becoming raging successes, we’d drop this gig and be out the door before the keyboard hit the ground. Yet here we are, plodding on, pushing through.

No press releases, no appearances on talk-shows, no endorsements by big name celebrities, no team of marketing experts. Yet the independent artists march on, confident that somewhere in the big, wide world are people who will discover and appreciate their efforts.

Indies persist despite the lack of recognition.

Continuous Improvement

The problem with Perception is that it is largely out of the hands of the artist. It doesn’t matter how great the product is if the audience never gets a chance to sample it. The audience won’t wish to sample it if it does not look appealing.

Sure, there are reviews, publications, marketing and advertising, tools to grab someone’s attention, break through the barrier and say, “Hey, you might like this.” Of course, the bigger the budget, the better the campaign, and the small, pathetic plea of the indie is drowned out by the cacophony of the big boys.

It’s all part of the struggle.

Through resistance a muscle grows. So, too, through adversity the artist will thrive, savouring the small wins, learning from the defeats. Unpleasant as it is, it makes us stronger and, in many ways, both tangible and intangible, makes the artwork that much better.

It has to, simply because the artist cannot compete with the slick artworks and celebrity endorsements, and so must work on either quality or quantity. Give that time is such a scarce commodity, you can bet your bottom dollar that a your fellow artist is feverishly fine tuning their skills to give you the best work they can.

How can you help? Feedback. Feedback lets the artist know you’ve seen, or felt, or listened to their work. This, by itself, is one of the greatest motivators. Whether your criticism is good, or bad, or constructive, or jovial, or even if you have no criticism – and let’s face it, sometimes there’s just nothing to say – letting them know that their work made its way in front of you is enough to keep the creative passion burning.

You can also help by changing your perception and the perception of those around you. Independent artists will always have the stigma of being ‘unprofessional’ or ‘lesser-quality’ or, heaven forbid, ‘less-enjoyable’ than mainstream. The extent of this stigma, though, is up to you, the audience.

Be brave. Be adventurous. Move off the beaten track and try something different. Then you can tell others about that squishy, juicy, strange-yet-oddly-satisfying fruit you just found lying under a tree.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Back to the Music

The Grosvenor Lane Ghost animation is out, woot! That doesn’t mean that I’m done with yakking on about it.

Music, you see, underpins an animation or video, it brings it all together and sets the mood and the tempo, the expectations of what’s to come.

The fact that a shmuck like me, with only an old keyboard in the garage and a recorder hidden securely away under lock and key (seriously, never, never let a three year old boy have a recorder) is able to put together a ditty is remarkable. I don’t profess to be a musician by any standard, yet with the tools available I managed to have several tracks all playing together.

Tracks?

Tracks

A piano has a rich quality about it. A well played piano can hold an audience just nicely, thank you very much. Don’t believe me? Go and put “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin into your favourite browser. You can hear his two hands working away, one playing the bass, one playing the treble.

This works well if you can compose a solid tune. I don’t know about you, but I’m not up to that level and never will be. So where does that leave a fuzzy-headed shmuck who needs to make a piece for an animation?

Tracks.

Think of a band. A real band. Can’t think of one? OK, go here to Swami Lushbeard. Awesome band. Rock out to “Where the Sheep are Led” while you’re reading this. Do you see those dudes, there? There are drums, vocals, an organ, guitars. Lots of instruments, each of which can be represented by tracks.

You see where this is going? Different instruments can take a simple tune and give more depth.

Perhaps an example is in order. Go on, get yourself Anvil studio and let’s have a play. Start off by writing a simple song like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Itsy-Witsy Spider”.  Nothing fancy, just the basic tune.

Twinkle.PNG

This is using Anvil’s Composer view. Very cool. In fact, I wish I’d known about this myself when I was doing the music for Grosvenor. You can press on the keys, and the notes get added in, and there’s a chord selector / finder and you can add decorations to the notes likes slurs, joins and syncopation and, damn it, that would have made life easier. Ah, live and learn.

All good? Great. Sound decent? Yeah. Nah. Not really. Sounds like a bad ringtone, right? Have you installed your sound fonts? Do that if you’ve got time.

OK, now do me a favour and add in some drums.

Go to the “Track” Menu, click “Create” then “Rhythm Track”. You’ll have Anvil tell you how to switch between views and such. That’s cool, now click on the “View” and click “Composer”. Now you can add in some bass. Click on the “Bass Drum” and go ‘doof-rest-doof-rest’, thus:

Beat.PNG

Hit the play button. Ooh, how about that? Your Twinkle Twinkle just stepped up a notch by the simple insertion of a bass drum. OK, now add in some tom-tom. And some snare. Needs more cow-bell!

MoreDrums.PNG

I don’t know about yours, but mine is sounding like a march mixed with blues. Did someone say blues?

For that, we’ll need some bass, and maybe a saxophone. Well, you know what that means, right? More tracks!

MoreTracks.PNG

Great, I’ve got a four piece band – a piano, a bass guitar, some drums and a saxophone player who is taking us on a very different journey altogether. You might want to label your tracks so you don’t lose out. Just double click on the track label on the left and type it in. It helps in the long run, believe me.

It’s not Swami Lushbeard but, you know what? It’s not bad for a few seconds work… I wonder what happens if I change the saxophone to an electric guitar and the piano to a honkytonk.

The Trouble with Lasagna

Tracks are awesome. You can build up your tune and make something quite ordinary sound extraordinary. You can add staccato to your notes. You can make chords. You can add rests, you can harmonize! You can duplicate an entire track, transpose it down an octave (no, really, you can. Just go to “Track” -> Transpose), add in an oboe and a clarinet and have it sounding like “Six Feet Under”.

There comes a point, though, when you can’t see the forest for the trees. Too much. Too much. Too many layers. Too much sauce on the plate. Too many sheets of pasta. Too much bechamel. Too much cheese. Uh, is that even possible?

Excessive tracks can make the song sound messy or overdone. Moderation is the key. In the above example, four tracks made up a very cool ditty out of nothing more than Twinkle Twinkle. The point is, if it sounds flat, chances are you only need to add in some chords (remember those two hands playing?) or adjust the volume of one track so it doesn’t drown out the other.

But how do you work with just one track at once? Ah! That comes down to the little bit in the track table where it says “On”. Simply click on the “on” bit to change the “on”ness.

TrackOn.PNG

In the above example (contrived), the drums are on mute. This means they won’t play when you hit the play button. This can be quite useful if you want to tell the saxophone guy to take a breather for a second so you can hear how the drums and bass are getting along. Anything set to mute won’t play.

The Bass is set to solo. This means that only the Bass track will play. You can set more than one track to solo, so only those tracks will play. This is very handy when initially writing notes, or when spotting issues within a track.

Using this feature can also tell you if a track you’ve included is even necessary: Hit mute and, if the song sounds just as good or better than with that track playing, consider leaving it out, or readjusting its role. If I add a tenor sax, for example, I might consider only having it pop its head up toward a chorus, or to highlight the end of a bar, but I wouldn’t want it knocking out an entire tune.

Try not to be overwhelmed with the bazillion features of Anvil (and of Midi in general). I’m still learning and still being amazed at its capabilities. OK, it’s 2016, I should expect that software has improved since 1980, but still, I’m stoked that this sort of stuff is even possible.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go and download Anvil and start mucking around. Save your music, work on it a little each day, visit Midi forums and spread the word. Midi rocks!Mini Jeztyr Logo