Why Write Music Anyways?

Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Disclaimer: Deep psychological spelunking ahead. It we get separated a few levels in, come up for air. Bring your own polymono plexusgel

Why write music? Have you ever sat down and really put yourself through the ringer about it? Why do you bother?

The first things that’ll come to you are the automatic answers — stuff you’d say if a friend or relative asked. Writing music is fun, it’s rewarding, it’s compulsive. Okay, sure… why?  Why do you find writing music fun? What about it is rewarding? What keeps you glued to the computer? Pick those automatic answers apart. Why why why?

I’ve realized there is a part of me that does music simply because it is glamourus. It’s cool. It impresses people. This is embarassing to admit, but important to acknowledge. My silly little ego. In fact, ego doesn’t even need an audience — sometimes, I play back one of my better tracks, and feel unabashedly badass. It reminds me of something a math teacher said to me, about how every time he solved some really hard problem, it gave him a little ego bump. You feel like Neo in the Matrix; you know kung fu… But, that’s all after the fact. Enjoying your previous works has little to do with creating a new work. Playing back a track is different from writing a track. It feels nice to solve the equation, but what compells a man to suffer over it for weeks at a time? It’s certainly not the 30 seconds of euphoria that comes with the solution.

Really, it’s compulsive. It’s so engaging that it becomes impossible to leave alone. I’ve learned I can’t have my music gear too close when I’m trying to do something else, because I tend to start idly fiddling with it, then get lost for a few hours. When I’m mired in some massive swarm of drum programming, that’s all there is. It’s a different state of mind. My ego ceases to exist; there’s no room for it. I get into the same state of mind when I meditate, code, write (text), build things, drive my car, or have sex (everyone got a basis for comparison now? Good). Your mind just completely melds with the task. It’s called flow, and there’s even a Wikipedia entry on it.

Flow has a magic ability to suppress reality — even basic human needs. I’ll finish my drink, and get thirsty. I say to myself, “I’ll get up and get a drink, after I finish this bit…” then promptly forget about it and get lost in the track again. Half an hour later, I’m intensely thirsty, and still haven’t gotten a drink. I say to myself, “I’ll get a drink after I finish this bit…” and the process repeats. This is when I do my best work — when I check out of reality for a few hours, and crash-land back in dehydrated and exhausted. You get uncomfortable, thirsty, tired, and grouchy… but that’s cool, because none of it is relevant. You could hit me in the head with a sock full of quarters and it’d take me a couple minutes to say “ow.” There is only what you are working on. Everything else — your problems, your pains — cease to exist. People turn to heroin for the same thing.

The catch is, flow is fragile and hard to dial up on demand. It rarely shows up when you have to do homework for school — it has to be something special. You have to be entranced… and creating music is highly entrancing.

I discovered this by accident, when I took a class on electronic music production simply because it had no homework. The teacher had a short lesson at the beginning of every class, but most of it was just working on computers and synths…. and I got very, very hooked on it. I figured it’d be an easy A, but it’s turned into an obsession that’s gradually taken over more and more of my life. I never saw it coming.

Mulling over why I write music, my thoughts go back to that class. Back then, I’d never impressed anyone with a tune. I’d never considered the idea of having a record label, let alone sending out a demo. I wound up there via chance, and found myself compelled. That feeling came from three things:

1. I am driven to figure things out. Complicated systems delight me. Why why why? How does this piece of software work? How does this synth work? Why do trees look the way they do? DAWs have gizmos and plugins and thinguses; music is structured, but unlimited. How could I not be sucked in?

2. Once I get sucked in, it becomes a vacation from reality. I daresay that I hide in music, sometimes… because I’m having a shitty day, because I’m behind on some project, whatever. Sinking my brain into a track just causes all my niggling little worries — even physical pain — to disappear for a few hours. It’s almost like a waking dream.

3. I enjoy making things. Part of it is feeling powerful and in control, I suppose… but, really, it’s about creativity. It’s an undeniable rush to take something in your head and make it reality. To think something into existence.

Why do you write music?

Categories: articles, musical development, philosophy

2 Comments on “Why Write Music Anyways?”

  1. Well it seems to me that your main concern at this point is to reconstruct something that you lost earlier in life?

    Is that why you make your music? To bring back a memory?

    That is the impression I got from your article and am curious to hear more from you. Please reply back.

  2. In this post, I’m essentially working through the question of “why write music?” via writing it out. It’s natural to think back to how I got started on it, when things were less complicated and the motivation was presumably purer. Never really thought of it as bringing back a memory or anything… I guess if I’m trying to bring anything back, it’s that early part of my life where I had more imagination than knowledge. I didn’t know how things worked, and I’d come up with intensely creative theories simply because I didn’t know any better. It’s also a time of my life when I had little to worry about — no rent, no bills, no job. I never really thought about the fact that one day, I would die. What I did think about was how I’d live my life. Kids say they want to be astronauts, and they genuinely believe that it’s going to happen. I wasn’t particularly interested in space, but I can remember a dozen other ways I imagined things going. Now, things have gone how they’ve gone. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my life or the decisions I’ve made (not in the least!). No… the downer, I suppose, is that there’s no mystery to it any more. It’s been done the way that it was done, and the excitement of the future is much diminished. I’m getting older, part of my life is gone. When I get deep into writing a tune, that sense of mystery and excitement returns somewhat… certain drugs also help, but writing music is a bit healthier 🙂

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