I’d been in and around music for the longest time, I guess most of my life if you would. Although I’d only started getting seriously involved in music for the past decade or so, I’d always been fiddling with music in one way or another.
I got my start playing the keyboards, with my first “learned” piece being Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago, which in my opinion is one of the best made films of all time. From there, I learned many things, mostly from my father and the rest on my own. When I was around 12 years old or so, I was even enrolled in piano school and although I didn’t make it very far due to my hard headedness and seeming inability to sight read properly (a problem that haunts me to this very day) I continued learning the piano by ear, and then transitioned to the bass guitar and finally on to electric guitar, which I still currently play on.
Sometime around 2004 or so, I got around to working with a simple laptop recorder and started “writing” and recording instrumental guitar songs. I wrote the first of two songs with words about a couple of years after that (“Cat Eyes“) as a contest piece for the 2006 Toycon. I wrote another song after that (“Lazy Day”) in 2009 or 10 (not sure) as another contest piece for a songwriting competition at the college I attended. In the interim, between the two vocal songs, I must’ve written at least 30 songs, all instrumentals and recorded in what would be regarded nowadays as very primitive technology, using a Roland E-38 for drum tracks, and recording everything else “line in” to the laptop I was then using. Before that period, I also played piano as the other half of a pseudo-jazz, piano / sax project called “The Claustrophiles”, I must’ve made about 15 songs with my friend Robie. Lastly, during my first years of being in a band with JC’s Funk ProJect, Rich and I must’ve done like 10 songs, all in the then classic style of rock n roll ala Beatles.
Looking back, I’d put down a whole bunch of material, all at a time when I had was a dial-up connection and no actual way to actually get my stuff up online for anyone else to hear. Sadly, I only have a few of the songs remaining with me because the I’d lost the CD’s I stored them into – because I didn’t have a big-ass flash drive then, and CD burning was the shit at the time.
So here I am, a guitar player with written material, and God knows who really knows about the stuff I have.
I’m writing this mainly in response to the question “Why do you keep playing / writing music…?” as it was triggered by one of the statuses posted by a friend of mine who’s been feeling down lately as it seemed to her that no one was listening to the music that she makes, or something to that effect. This person is one of those within our J-rock / pop community whom I look up to in terms of vocal prowess, and nowadays, for actually getting into writing songs.
I don’t know about her exactly, nor her circumstances but I’ll digress from my point of view.
The reason I don’t write vocal songs very much is because I haven’t gotten around to doing so. While I listen and have fully embraced my love for rock n roll and blues-based music, I hadn’t made anything within that vain. Most of the stuff I had written were done mostly as a vehicle for expressing my guitar learned-ness aka wank music. That may soon change because I am now itching to really sing something. Another reason why I don’t write vocal songs is because of my limited vocal ability. I mean sure, I can play guitar but I cannot sing to save my life. I am no Eric Johnson nor John Sykes, both men whom I admire for their fantastic chops and equally fascinating vocal abilities.
I mean really.
I had gigged wherein I play the guitar and sing, but I won’t classify my voice nor singing as anything but just something to get us by. Crap, cats high af and in heat can sing better any day. It seems though that each time I get to play a gig and sing, I’m under the weather of some sort and cannot properly utilize whatever limited abilities I have.
So let’s look at this – I have written quite a bit of stuff sure. But who really listens to them, and am I concerned about it you might ask.
Apart from my wife and immediate family members, I don’t think anyone really listens to them. The only reason my wife knew about my recorded works was when she stumbled upon my cover of “Starry Night” by Joe Satriani. My family knows about the songs themselves primarily because they have no choice since I often play my songs at home whenever I am able to do so. I have put up some songs on Youtube for people to hear and that way my channel will have original content on it, but I highly doubt if anyone is listening nor paying attention…
But the fact of the matter is, while most of my songs involve and are motivated by wankery, I am not exactly concerned to know who’s listening or if there really is anyone listening at all. This is primarily why a lot of the music I had written was never heard by anyone else apart from myself and a few people who’d inquired about the music I made.
It may sound idiotic to some, but it’s akin to being on top of a mountain and shouting out, just for the heck of it. And if anyone will actually listen and respond to it, that’d be great – all I really want is to throw my ideas out for the world to see, or hear. A response is good, but a lack of one is but a minor debacle.
The songs I write, while most were indeed made to showcase my techniques (or lack thereof LOL) I wrote them to express or show, within the context of music, certain emotions or timelines in my life. Take for example one that I particularly like (“Memory”) which I wrote for a friend whom I was very close with previously, but had drifted apart eventually. I wrote that melody to “paint” a “musical picture” of the days that we had spent together.
I went into music and being in a band with no set expectations – while being known for something would be cool, I am not in this for fame. I am certainly not in this for money (except that one time that a certain presidential candidate’s team wanted me to play on a jingle) nor am I in this for the women.
I just want to make and play music as honestly as I can, to the best that I can.
Most of all, and I think is the most important thing is that I treat music in general as a learning experience, and escape from the rigors of everyday life. I kid you not, but sometimes I feel so worn out at work, and I come home to play on my guitars (any that I can get my hands on) and start playing away. Most of the time, it relieves me and gets me up and going again. My guitars are like like my mistresses as my wife puts it – I abuse them, I am down and dirty with them, I make them sound raunchy as hell but sometimes I caress and play them so gently that they almost purr. Although there are times that I am too burned out and distracted that I cannot play anything, and they cannot relieve my stress. It happens to the best of us, it happens to everyone.
As a learning experience, my personal mantra is to never stop learning something. When I started out gigging with Shinkan, in order to keep up with the high demands of playing J-pop / rock, I had to make sure my chops are in working order. Of course, there are times that I want to push what I know and can do, so I learn new things and apply techniques that I have not previously used. That was when I started learning to make proper arpeggios, and I became more conscious towards my guitar tone. I brought one of my guitars to my tech one day, and the experience inspired me to learn hybrid picking. The list goes on, and for a while, I was quite successful in introducing my newly picked up techniques whenever my precious few moments of guitar soloing comes up.
It’s quite nice to have people come up and tell me, “Hey, what was that you pulled off at xx of <insert song name>? It was wicked.”. These are the most common comments I get from people who get to watch me play guitar live, mostly during anime conventions and the usual bar gigs. Of course, I take the time to talk shop and share stuff that I come up with, and my sister thinks I have built up a group of “fan boys” who are all the rave when I play something “rad” on my solos – she calls them my “Minions”.
There had been times that I felt burned out with Shinkan because in as much as I wanted to get the band to sit down and write original compositions, various points of consideration (some good reasons, some not) meant that it was not forthcoming – although I must also say that we did play one original together as a band. I mean seriously, I believed then, even now, that we can write and play our own music. With Urusai, I never got to play any of my songs, primarily because the other guys felt my instrumentals are too laid back and are sleep inducing. That was quite a let down because I totally loved playing with both bands but hey, it is what it is. In any event, I do get to play originals with Bulagta and during my short stint with Slash n Burn, so it was still good as far as I can say.
Whenever I feel down and out with not being able to play originals, I remind myself of the reasons that I play music. I play mainly for myself, as my means of expressing what I want to express through my guitar. Good thoughts, happy thoughts, angry thoughts…all within the sonic concepts of an overdriven sound via an electric guitar.
Selfish in a way yes, but m reasoning is simple, I have to make myself happy in order to channel those thoughts and ideas, and convey myself better to our audience. Only then can I begin to make the audience “happy”, or at least play properly for them. There are times I wish I could’ve played my parts better, and there are gigs that I refuse to listen to the recordings just because I think I sucked balls then. In the end though, I can’t come up with awesome solos 24/7. That’s just not me – I’m human, and I know about the limits of my skills. I make mistakes, I am not a human tone machine. I am not Guthrie Govan who can make symphonies out of mistakes on the fret board. I fully accept my limitations and try my best to either overcome them, or work with them to my advantage.
My thinking is that if you’re in this for fame, then you’d better be prepared with all the heartbreak that the quest will entail. After all, not everyday is Christmas day. We all don’t get what we want all the time, and sadly this is so even if our whole lives rode upon it. Whatever rewards we want to reap, there will be a lot of hard work and a “trial and error” kind of thing going on. I was raised with the idea that fame will not come to you if you come looking for it – fame might find you if it was meant for you. That usually means a whole bunch of hard work towards something fleeting, like what fame usually is. All that we can really rely on is the love for what we do, music in this case, and for that love to fuel our quest.
It may be a one sided love at times, but hey, love is simply one of the greatest of human emotions. It allows us to overcome hardship, and give us a promise of a better tomorrow. It makes us both stupid and oblivious to facts yet fill us with wisdom, if we can get around the intricacies of its workings.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourselves. Love yourself, love what you do. Learn what you can, further your craft and work your ass off if this is something you really want. Because there are so many excuses to just hang up your gloves and call it a day, but there will always be one reason to go on…
Love what you do, and everything else will follow.
As for me, as long as I can and want, I will play. I will keep learning, I’ll keep finding ways to be a better player tomorrow than I am today. And while my physical faculties may not be up to par to it, I’ll make sure my mind is sharp enough for it and my heart is in the right place.
So to my friend there, and everyone else reading this and stumped – don’t give up. If you really want something, go for it, within reason of course. Use up all your resources if this is something you truly believe in. And remember, the best way to lose at something is to not try at all. And there are no incentives for quitters.
While you’re at it though, enjoy the ride because music and its accompanying journeys is best enjoyed than sulked with. Whining about something only creates noise if you don’t do something about it, and noise isn’t exactly music unless you’re a member of Sonic Youth.
C’est la vie.