The Week In Destroyer Of Harmony History – July 26 to July 31

It was a pretty dismal posting effort this time around 4 years ago and 8 years ago on the site. So this history post is short and sweet. 4 Years Ago …

The Week In Destroyer Of Harmony History – July 26 to July 31

Hobby #71 – Part 1: WHAT IF NO ONE EVER HEARD A NOTE YOU WROTE? Reflections on Finding Joy Through Songwriting

Some musicians live for the rush of performing for a screaming crowd.  Some musicians chase the thrill that comes from that spontaneous and perfectly improvised moment. Others find their joy elsewhere.  Here is a quick story about how I learned what I loved about being a musician, and what I could live without.

When I was in college, I played in a band that focused on writing original music.  We had a repertoire of 20-30 covers that regularly played at shows, but all four band members were song writers and we loved creating.  By the time we graduated we had about 25 songs of our own that we played live regularly, and probably another 20 that hadn’t made it into the rotation (or that we abandoned).  In the process, we developed our own sound and a modest community of dedicated fans sprung up around us.  We even knew a few similar bands that we liked to play with.  To call it a “scene” would be hyperbolic, but it was as much of a scene as you can have at a small liberal arts college an hour from civilization.  Those were the good old days, the ones I can never recreate, but gladly would if I could.

When I was young, it was easy to dream big, to think that someday, the masses would care what we had to say and ultimately, they would support our rise to fame.  Sadly, that didn’t happen, so we graduated, and the band broke up.

Flash forward a few years, I was a working man, holding down a day job and going to graduate school.  I ran into a buddy from college at a concert, and we decided to start a band.  We recruited a guitar player and a drummer, and we wrote a quick set of original tunes and learned a few covers.  Soon we were booking bar gigs.  We learned quickly that the audiences weren’t really interested in our original music.  Maybe we never found the right audience.  Maybe our songs were weak.  Maybe older big-city audiences were just less interested in original music than the audiences at our college were.  Maybe it was a combination of all of these factors.  Regardless, the dream that masses would elevate us to fame died out pretty quickly.

That was a disappointing, but was just the way things were, or so we thought. We had real jobs, and we didn’t have lots of time or energy to try to build a new scene like we had in college.  If we wanted to play live, then we had to have a solid set of cover tunes.  Sure, we could throw in an occasional original tune or two if we wanted, but it was clear that unfamiliar music usually just created a lull in the set. 

So, we adapted, and we became a cover band.  We continued to book gigs and occasionally we even made a little money.  It was fun for a while, but it wasn’t long before I noticed that for me the joy of being in a band was gone and my interest started to fizzle out.

It was around this time that I started to understand one simple truth about my experience with music: I enjoy performing, but I also find it terribly stressful.  The bigger the gig, the more stress. Sure, the accolades after shows were wonderful and I loved being at the center of a community of fans who frequented our shows.  That was magic to me. However, there was always a lingering pressure to make things bigger, better, more impressive. Eventually the stress started to overwhelm the joy I experienced, and I thought was time to quit. So, I did.

Quitting was a hard pill to swallow.  Being known as a musician had become such a large part of my persona, and suddenly it was gone.   Instantly I had second thoughts about quitting. So it wasn’t long before I started a new band.  This new band was with three guys, who really wanted to write, even if it meant we wouldn’t play out as much.   We built a small studio in the lead guitar player’s house and recorded an EP. 

We played out occasionally, but not too frequently.  Our set was about half cover songs, but we made sure to keep the focus was on our songs.  We had a few clubs that would book us, and we found some modest success in the year or so that we played together.  Ultimately, we were somewhat more successful getting fans into our original songs than the previous band.  (I think it’s because they songs were better, and we played better).  This band was really a thrill for me, and it was sad day when I told them I had to quit because I had accepted a job in Washington DC, and I had to move away.

I sold off most of my gear to lighten the load for the move.   I didn’t have an established network of people to play with where I was, nor did I think I had the energy to start over again.  I was thirty, I had a good run, it was time to grow up. 

Of course, when I got settled into my new life, I really missed music.  I kept writing as a hobby.  Most of those songs never even got recorded, they’re still in paper notebooks in the attic somewhere. 

Eventually, I had a clever idea about how to bring some of those songs to life and build a new community around music that didn’t involve starting a new band.  Well, I started something like a band, but it is very different.  I’ll explain more about that in a future article.

Luckily for me, I had gained insights about myself in the previous years.  All that time reflecting upon what made me happy and what didn’t, shaped the way I structured my new musical projects going forward.   Once I understood this about myself, I was able to focus my efforts on the parts of music that really made me happy and move away from those parts I didn’t care as much about. 

This article is the first in a series of three that I’m working on.  Please be sure to follow me so you’re notified when the next instalments are published.  In the next installment, I’m going to propose an experiment you can try to figure out what aspects of music make you happy.  That way you can focus your limited time on the aspects that bring you the most joy.