Archive for September, 2012

Hopeless Generation

Sit back and try to absorb the news objectively sometime. Pretend you don’t know how sensationalized and crafted it is. Try to look at it through the wonder and insecurity of a teenager. Pay attention to things relating to jobs and careers. Look at the consumer confidence index. Listen to some of the political rhetoric. If you were a kid how would you feel about your chances of graduating and getting a high paying job?

The state of affairs does more than just the immediate and obvious damage. We’re raising a generation of people who in many cases believe it’s hopeless. That it doesn’t matter much what they do. There aren’t going to be good lives to be had by them. So why try? It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Ignoring the Bar

Everyone has access to high quality imaging devices now. What once took skill and good equipment to produce is now available to the masses. The hyper-real output of modern digital cameras is readily available to anyone with a modicum of money, intelligence and imagination.

So now the only way to stand out from the crowd is either with truly exceptional work, or by attaining an unusual look and feel. Exceptional work is, and will remain, well beyond the capability of the typical snapshot photographer. However, an interesting look and feel is something that can sometimes be achieved without too much difficulty if one has a vision.

Enter Instagram, and other similar products and services. Now your photos can look like… something a creative artist from the 1970’s might have produced. Hurray for you. Creative vision supplied for the cost of an iPhone app.

Music, video, and many other creative endeavors have been following this same trend. As disconcerting as it all is, those with real talent, vision, and something to say will still be able to stand out. It’s harder than ever, because as soon as something, ANYTHING, catches on, it’s commoditized almost instantly. Artists have to ignore that while also staying ahead of the curve and blazing new trails. A pure artist can succeed artistically (not necessarily financially) because she isn’t even aware of these factors. That’s because real artists work on what comes from within.

ASS•U•ME

Someone says or does something. Why? What’s the goal or desire? What is wanted? If it’s someone or something we care about, or if it impacts us in some way, we try to assign a purpose to it — a narrative about why.

That narrative comes from us. We juxtapose our own sensibilities, beliefs, and fears on to the circumstances and our characterization of the person(s) involved and derive a purpose behind what was said or done. When we interact with the person with those assumptions in place we risk damaging the relationship, or at least make it more difficult to navigate productively. We also rob ourselves of the truth in many cases.

Here is the trick: DON’T ASSUME. Stop and think for a moment. Unless you’re at least 99% positive about what’s behind a person’s actions resist the temptation to take that shortcut. IF you care, or if you at least want to create the appearance of caring, ASK.

Seek first to understand. Just ask people why they said or did it. Give them a chance to explain. Even if you have an assumption, and you’re ‘sure’ you’re right, ask anyway. You don’t have to believe them or take it all at face value, but you might just learn something you can take into consideration.

Loss

As we get older various forms of loss become more of a part of life.

The loss of people is especially hard, but it’s mostly because it means life in the future for ourselves is going to be less great. For instance, when one of my dear friends died a year ago the loss manifested in several ways, but one one of the weirder thoughts is that it represented an end to any possibility of us playing music together again. How selfish of me to think that way, but I did. I do still. I lost my friend. I also lost my drummer. And the music will never be the same.

When it’s absolute (death) the pain doesn’t ever go away fully, but you learn to accept. When the loss is more of a decision (divorce, falling out with family or friends, etc.) emotions are much more complex and often prove to be even harder to sort through, at least based on my experiences. Eventually that stuff gets reconciled in our minds as well, but the man-made losses seem like grave injustices to me, in just about every case I can ever think of. It’s tormenting. Not that they aren’t sometimes necessary, but they are only so because of our flaws. And that’s what they come to represent.

Part of the joy of life is in building a collective of people who can be called friends (including family). Our own little garden, if you will. Some may come more in or out of favor from time to time. Some may be lifelong, close friends. Some may just be more like acquaintances that we rarely talk to or occasionally do something with. But they all add to richness that is the fabric of our life. In some cases just the mere idea that they are out there somewhere provides some comfort. Why should we ever step backwards from that? A hallway of locked doors doesn’t make for much of a journey.

Treat your friends and family carefully. Try to be there when you think you are needed. Respect and appreciate them for who and what they are — not perfect. Let them choose who and what they care about. Don’t ask them to choose. Whatever you think may come between you…figure it out. Let death be the machine of loss. That sucks enough without us doing more of it to ourselves.

My friend and drummer, Jim. Miss you. Every time I pick up an instrument.

Half the World

Half the world wants to be the other half.

Think versus Do

The sometimes crippling weight of leading versus the powerlessness of following

The desire for popularity versus the difficulty navigating the superficial

The boredom of this career versus the risk of that one

The lack of recognition of the engineer versus the lack of respect of the salesman

The danger and chaos of the city versus the boredom and closed mindedness of the country

The loneliness of the wallflower versus the emptiness of the extrovert

The burden of being self-aware versus the random and frustrating outcomes for the clueless

Here versus There

We struggle because in most cases we got “here” in part through a series of semi-random occurrences: luck, or fate if you believe in that. Even the things we thought through and decided to do or change were based on limited information. We’re very well aware of what OUR difficulties are. We don’t know what it’s really like to live in that alternate universe of being the other way. We tease ourselves with little fantasies about it. We sometimes even take actions to try it out. We rarely commit. We can act in another capacity for a time, but we are who we are, and most of us who are “sane” believe we aren’t going to fundamentally change that.

Better get on with it and be.

Remembering

We tend to remember things more in the way we wanted them to be, or how we now want them to have been, than how they actually were. We’re filtering according to how we feel, or want to feel, about it. This is especially true as things fade further into the selective memory of the past. If you want to know more of what really happened then you have to document vigorously while it’s happening. Better yet, move forward. Make what you want now.

Boundaries: Provided or Invented?

Navigating to what is right can be difficult under certain circumstances, especially if you have to figure it out yourself.

One of the benefits of strong religious beliefs is that it takes a lot of the ambiguity and uncertainty out of determining what’s right, what actions are permissible. The boundaries are provided for you in a set of rules that you can follow and live by. It even provides all of the associated guilt and fear for non-complience to keep you in line.

Follow a path or make your path?

If you toss that stuff out you’re left with making your own rules, which is MUCH harder. The thought processes and searching required to come up with a well grounded set of principles you commit to live by is daunting to say the least. Those rules and standards are often under stress and scrutiny — you know you made them up so there is no moral ground to retreat to or hide behind. There is a fine line between changing or breaking one of them because it’s consistent with the true path you want for yourself, versus just ignoring one as a matter of convenience or in a moment of weakness. Sometimes you have to decide whether it’s worthwhile to take the harder road because it’s consistent with your principles, or if it’s only a harder road and doesn’t actually do anything to build you up according to your own ‘what do I really want out of life‘ examination. It’s challenging to navigate, and it’s not easy to get real help. You can turn to religion for some guidelines. There are plenty of opinions there, depending upon the religion you choose. But unless you accept it all wholeheartedly you’re still on your own to decide what matters.

With or without religion you first have to decide whether and to what degree you want to commit to living your life by a set of principles. Most of us do, but often one of the more powerful underlying motivations is for us to feel good about ourselves (are you a good person). This frames the choice in deciding how important it is for you to feel good about yourself as opposed to to doing what feels good. (As you think about this, think about the plight of an overweight person or addict. It’s easy to stand on the outside and assume you know what needs to be done.) When you’re objective the choice can seem clear, but it can be awfully hard to navigate it on your own, especially when things get complicated.

Skill or Arrogance

I recently had the occasion to visit with a friend of mine (Steve Wilson) who has been touring as the sound engineer for the Kentucky Headhunters. When we arrived at the venue to see the performance I noticed something a bit odd. The band that preceeded them was playing, and in the sound booth was the typical large format mixing console. In this case a PM5D (for the techie readers). It’s a technological wonder. Very sophisticated, large, heavy, expensive and impressive looking. A staple in the live touring sound business. But sitting a few feet in front of it was a diminutive looking mixer that was unoccupied. Anyone knowledgable in the field of live sound would have taken one look at it and either dismissed it or thought it was some kind of joke. It looked like something a trio playing in a coffee shop might use. Nobody would actually use such a thing to mix a real concert. I said out loud, “I’ll bet Steve is going to mix the show on that.”

It’s not unusual for different mixers to be deployed for different bands at concerts. Back in the old days, before they were all computerized with memory and files that could be carried around on USB sticks, bands often toured with their own boards. Getting a good sounding mix is a complicated and time consuming endeavor. Having to start completely from scratch at every show is difficult enough that it was usually worthwhile for bands to carry their own desks, which they’d leave set from the night before as a starting point. Sometimes different mixers are used nowadays as well, but it’s often more about what the engineer is used to using, or some personal preference.

It gets better. When I got close and realized what the little mixer actually was, I had to laugh. Not just small and unimpressive looking. The brand name on it was most definitely not one that’s accepted in the world of touring live sound, or anywhere in pro audio for that matter. Its price tag a small fraction of the mixer sitting behind it. Further, it’s a brand new product that nobody really knows much about. Live sound guys are not big on being on the cutting (bleeding) edge of technology. They want things with known track records. Thousands of people in the crowd aren’t going to hang around while the sound tech gets on the phone to tech support to find out why the product isn’t working right.

This product is so new that Steve couldn’t have had it for more than a few days. Kinda’ risky, and highly unusual, to switch to a brand new, untested, unimpressive, questionable brand product in the middle of a tour. Some would say it’s totally crazy. On top of that there were so many bands playing that day (all of the others using the PM5) that nobody had a proper sound check in the morning. But Steve is really good. He has enough of a handle on things and is sharp enough to improvise when he needs to. He had the confidence he could do it.

Steve mixing on the Behringer X32.

So Steve mixed the show on this tiny, unimpressive looking little mixer. It sounded fantastic. Very hi-fi sound. Big and powerful, without being bombastic and deafeningly loud. As long as I’ve been in the business and been around I know there is always more to learn, and watching/listening to Steve mix is invariably one of those times where education happens. I learned a few cool things, and got some neat ideas (which I’ll probably never put in to practice because I don’t mix live shows anymore).

We had a good laugh about the reactions of the sound company and the sound technicians for the other bands playing that day. When he got the board out and told them what he wanted to do they all looked at him like he was crazy. I’m sure they were saying to themselves and each other, “Look at the doofus from Kentucky. What idiot covers up a PM5 to mix on a…what the heck is that thing anyway? Behringer?!! Are you kidding me?!! Oh, gawd…” Of course later, as they stood around the general proximity of the sound booth in the obligatory arms folded across the chest as if to say, “I could do that,” fashion, the sound he had coming out of that PA was undeniably beautiful.

Again it was proven that the equipment is there to serve the man. Sure, good stuff helps. But skill trumps all in the end. And arrogance… Well, you could say Steve might have been a little arrogant to attempt what he did. But he did pull it off, and quite well. Maybe it’s arrogant to laugh it off before hearing what a skilled master can do. How many sound guys truly have enough confidence in themselves to step out from behind the security of using the big, impressive looking desks that everyone else approves of? Not many. All of the posturing those guys do is really insecurity. Skill trumps that too.

Compromise

What do you really want?

In your heart of hearts, what is it that you really want…in your relationship, your career, in life, in your self…what is it that you really want?

It’s not an easy question to answer honestly. It’s not intuitive to answer it profoundly, to move past the surface of desire and get down to what you really feel and believe. But it’s crucial to know. How can you ever get there if you don’t know?

Compare it to…what will you settle for?

Risk lies in the difference. I’m talking about real risk, where you can lose something important or valuable…where you can be hurt. Where you can hurt others.

Most of us are more pain and suffering adverse than we are desirous of fulfillment. Thus begets the slippery slope of compromise.


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