The Big Think

March 22, 2012

With Great Freedom Comes….

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Music — jasony @ 1:25 pm

The Spiderman finish to that title that everyone remembers is “Great Responsibility”. But when you’re talking about creative endeavors that’s not always the case. I’m currently working on something for a client who has basically said “do whatever you want”. And while that’s usually music to a composer’s ears, a total lack of boundaries and pallet color options can be confounding. Not that I can’t write something cool, but some direction is nice- if only to avoid the dreaded “we don’t know what we want, but it’s not that… try again”. All music writers have experienced this and it’s the worst. Especially with a clueless client who just doesn’t get the amount of thought/time/work involved before you ever put pen to paper.

So I’m going through the quite common and reasonable process of helping the client narrow down what they want so that my first try is at least in the ballpark. Fortunately we’ve worked together in the past and know how each other thinks (one of the reasons I got the gig). No worries that I’ll soon establish the boundaries, and we’re excited about the direction that it’s currently taking.

But still… it makes me see again just how important the concept of limitations is in any creative endeavor. You have to know what you’re trying to say before you start talking. You need to know who your audience is if you’re being asked to connect with them. I think this is where friends (like my friend Matt) has a very understandable argument with Modern Art. Modern Art doesn’t seem to try and connect with the audience. (Much of) it seems to be just concepts thrown against a wall to see what will stick (sometimes literally). If your intention is to just talk and you don’t care if anyone listens to what you have to say (or write, or paint, or compose), then go for it: just don’t expect anyone to understand you, and don’t get huffy when they don’t.

Know your audience. And be prepared to mold your voice to what they can understand. You can always lead them somewhere new, but you have to first meet them where they are.

This is, I think, a pretty reasonable definition of the difference between a “composer” and an “arranger”. A composer says what’s on his mind (like the modern artist) and the audience either comes along or not. An arranger is usually hired for the much more mercenary task of deliberately manipulating an audiences’ emotions for a purpose- not that that’s a bad thing. The purpose can be to sell cars or convert someone politically or connect and uplift a big audience in a live performance. In each case we’re “selling” an experience. With a composer writing original concert music it’s much more like a writer of novels who doesn’t necessarily care that their stuff is popular or not- just that they get to say what is trying to burst out of them.

This, then, is why I’m probably more comfortable calling myself an arranger than a composer, though not many people see the distinction. I can write stuff that may not appeal to a larger audience, and there is, I think, a “voice” to my work that feels true and authentic, but 99% of the music I write is designed to connect with an audience. And I’m very good at it. But this means means that 99% of the time I have to subjugate, or at least tame, that inner voice in the service of the goal at hand. Totally different psychological and philosophical approach to writing music.

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