Saturday, February 20, 2016

Outlines vs Songs

Something I wrote yesterday keeps coming back to me. When I wrote it, it was just a throwaway line that I added on my third proofread. (I do proofread these things, by the way. I know sometimes it's hard to tell, but I do.) But each time I think about that line, I think it explains who I am as much as anything.

Here's the line: I'd rather write a song than an outline. That one sentence describes me better than about anything else I can think of. It pretty much tells you everything you need to know about me.

I'm probably the most right-brained person you know. I know many musicians who think of music in terms of math. Intervals and counting. Not me. Although I am classically trained, and have a degree in music, for me, music is not math. It's pure instinct. As far as I'm concerned, if I have to count, the music is too hard.

I've never had a job where I had an office, cubicle, or even a desk. I went straight from blue collar work to writing and recording music full time in 1988, so I would not fit well in your business office.

I'm terrible at math. I got fired from a job once because I kept getting orders wrong. I enjoy going out to eat, but I hate calculating tips. You go out for a nice meal, and at the end, there's a math problem to do! What's up with that? The last thing I want to do after a good meal, wonderful company, and great conversation is interrupt it to figure out what 17% of my total is. That's why I tip 20%, not because I'm generous, but because it's easier to figure!

My wife pays our bills and keeps our books, thank God. She's downstairs doing it right now, bless her heart. I'd be lost without her. We'd be in big trouble if that was up to me.

Back in the 90's, we took the John Trent/Gary Smalley personality test. The one where you're either a lion (leader, strong-willed, etc), a beaver (organized, mathematical, practical) a Golden Retriever (loyal, tolerant, affectionate), or an otter (playful, fun, disorganized, people person) Guess which I was? I'm about 80% otter. I just want to play, and be around people. My wife is about 70% beaver. It's very good for otters to be married to beavers. They organize our world. I've been asked from time to time what I would do if "something happened" to her, and I had to take care of that. My answer is, I'd hire an accountant.  I may be able to sing a song or tell a joke well, but when it comes to "office work," I am lost.

Once when I was on staff for a puppet ministry festival (I'll talk about that world one of these days), Dale Vonseggen asked me to help count the offering. Bad idea. When I and the other guy he asked, another creative type like me, had finished, Dale was not happy with how the bills were stacked. They weren't all facing the same direction. I still need someone to explain to me why that's important. He never asked again.

It's not that I'm totally disorganized. I'm able to be responsible, show up at gigs on time, meet deadlines, know my stuff, etc. Lots of musicians are not able to do those things consistently. It's just not in their personality. Those musicians tend not to be able to make a living at it, or at least not for very long. You can't be 100% otter, and get anything done. I actually am very organized about certain things. For instance, I'm careful to keep my CD's, books and DVD's in alphabetical order. Books by author, CD's by artist, DVD's by title. You know, the important stuff.

I'm a free spirit. Never really had much use for rules. Never learned to read a spreadsheet. Never had a desire to go back to school. In fact, the thought fills me with horror. In school, I never cared about grades. If I had "applied myself," I could have had a 4.0 average, but I decided I'd rather have fun and get C's. I was gonna be a rock star, what did I need to get good grades for? By the way, kids, here's a secret no adult wants you to know. When you're an adult, nobody cares what kind of grades you got in school.

You may be thinking, "I'd rather write a song than an outline too, but I don't know how."  Neither did I, a long time ago. I had to learn how. And it took about 15 years before I was any good at it. And even though I never wrote a hit song that everyone knows (every songwriter's dream), I did get to be a professional songwriter for the last 27 years. I got paid to write music. What could be better?

Here's the thing. I've been very blessed and yes, even lucky to have been able to make a living doing what I've done. There are a lot more careers out there for people who write outlines than there are for those who write songs. Most songwriters never make a dime from their music. As a guy who's judged songwriting competitions, I can tell you that there's a very good reason for that, most of the time. But not all of the time. Many great talents go unnoticed for their entire lives.

I certainly don't mean to imply that there's anything wrong with outlines! We need them, and the organized people who write them. And handle all the other inscrutable stuff out there using numbers on pieces of paper. The world would come to a screeching halt if it was up to people like me to keep it going. If that's what you're good at, do that! Actually, come over and do my taxes! But somehow, in our culture, less value is placed on "office work" than entertainment. What does that say about us?

In the comments of this original post in my CaringBridge journal, my friend Janice Reno-Heck admitted to being (horrors!) an accountant. I told her that if it wasn't for people like her, musicians like me wouldn't get paid.

Soon I'm going to start a series called "Counting My Blessings." I'm getting ahead of myself with this post, but one of the greatest blessings of my life has been the privilege of doing what I love for a living. I highly recommend it. 30 years ago, I was running an offset printing press, and was very unhappy with my lot in life. I was supposed to be an artist, not a printer! And though none of my albums have hit the charts (I have six, by the way, not including all the ones I've done for clients), I've gotten to record them, put them out, perform them, and they're still out there for anybody who wants to listen. The music will still be here long after I'm gone. That makes me happy.

I apologize for the length of this post. I must've had a lot to say about this. I guess my point is that whatever your gifts are, do those to the best of your ability. Take joy and pride in what you do, even if no one gives you a standing ovation for it. While I certainly enjoy performing and the applause and attention that goes with it, I actually enjoy working on music here in my home studio just as much, if not more. There's no pressure. I don't have to get dressed up or go anywhere. At the core, it's the music I love, not the applause. If that's your attitude toward your work, you'll be a lot happier in it. It's the work itself, not the recognition that's important. If I had one wish for everyone who's reading this, it would be that you'd find a way to do what you love for a living. That's what I've been able to do, and I'm more grateful for it than I can say. Just don't ask me to organize your youth soccer league!

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