Listening to music doesn’t make you a musician. Listening to music all the time doesn’t make you a brilliant music maker. While trying to arrange an instrumental song, I listened to instrumental covers I love. None of them use the entire melody line for the song. After discovering this, I realised…well, too late. I’ve already arranged more than half of the song. I wonder if there is a right or wrong way to do this. No no no. But I’m ok with what I’ve already arranged. I like it. I keep asking myself, would I buy it? I could have done this the easy way by reading sheet music. But reading sheet music is my least favourite thing to do. I don’t like following instructions, but I’m pretty good at it when I want instructions. I need to learn to be brave. I need to put in the work. A lot of work. A LOT. I have daydreams of ‘making it’ as they say. But now I think all I want to do is to do what I love and love what I do. I want to be happy in life. If I can connect with even one other person through my art, I will know I’ve done my part. Now that it’s summer and I’m almost free from school for a long time, I see that it’s important to me to never stop learning. Life and art is all about progression, a constant progression that never stops through learning.
I discovered this quote from Sara Bareilles (see here: Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest – Webisode). The Blessed Unrest is the title of her new album and I can’t wait to hear. Sara Bareilles is one of my music heroes I heart. Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I’m wasting my time and energy into film and music. I keep running into self-doubt, negative critiquing of my own work, comparing myself to others, fear of failure and sad, sorry excuses for not doing the work. The list goes on and on. I know how to feel miserable as an artist (see Keri Smith). But after hearing these words, I realise I am not alone as an artist. I find reassurance. I know what I am doing now is what I should be doing. There’s a part of me that feels unchangeable. I am who I am and I was made to be an artist. I need to keep going and work at being the artist I envision myself to be, the person I was made to become.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Watching this almost brought me to tears. I love her words and feel the same way about music and songwriting.
I can only remember small little details in a blur. When I was in high school and before I could drive, I heard about auditions for Utah Idol (this was before David Archuleta). I begged one of my parents to drive me to the competition, which was far away at either Weber State or Utah State University. I really can’t remember except a long drive of getting there. I hardly practiced and I don’t even think I practiced at all. It didn’t occur to me I had to practice. My parents could care less about this competition and weren’t supportive, which was ironic because when I was six to sixteen, I was forced to sing in a children’s choir. Going to choir practice was always such a struggle. Someone called my name and I went on the stage to sing Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’. A few applauses and I left the stage. I was disappointed. I knew my performance didn’t go well. There was silence on the drive back to Salt Lake City. I think it was that moment I realised that singing in a choir for all those years doesn’t naturally make you an amazing singer. Also, singing in a choir for that long doesn’t validate yourself for anything. Especially if you don’t practice.
I used to think singing competitions like American Idol were magical. A one way ticket to fame and success. But who can really remember the winner of every season of American Idol? My favourite American Idols of all time are Kelly Clarkson, David Archuleta and Phillip Phillips. After that, I can remember Clay Aiken (I once sang on stage with him), David Cook and Ruben Studdard. Realising all the American Idols I can’t remember, going to Sundance Film Festival 2013 and watching Twenty Feet From Stardom and Sound City, as well as reading about Dave Grohl (see this previous post: inspiring words: dave grohl) have completely changed the way I see and think about music.
Twenty Feet From Stardom (IMDb link to film) is a documentary on backup singers. The first concert I went to with actual backup singers was Eric Clapton (see blog post at Enthusiasm for Everything), but either than that, before watching the film, I had no previous knowledge about backup singers. The film opened a new world to me. I began to understand why certain songs stand out. A lot of it has to do with the backup singers that add the extra emotion, depth, dimension and personality in the sounds. Judith Hill is featured in the documentary and she’s a musician that caught my attention. Her voice and part half Japanese and African American background amazes me (because I’m Chinese and play music myself). I recently found out she auditioned out for The Voice and is now one of this season’s contestants (see here). My only question is WHY?! Judith Hill sang with Michael Jackson. MICHAEL JACKSON. MJ. The King of Pop. The only one who could moon walk and truly knew music. How many people can say they sang with Michael Jackson? She has an incredible voice. She doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone. She obviously doesn’t need a vocal coach. She is a true winner with or without The Voice.
Is being a musician all about fame and record deals? Why do people watch shows like The Voice and American Idol? Why do people buy pop songs on the radio? I want to know. Because what I know is there are many musicians I love. In the world of music, everyone can win. Everyone is a winner. And most of the realest music I know are from musicians who are not famous and don’t have a record deal. I spend almost all my waking hours listening to music and music means the world to me.
I love heart songs. I really do.
1. Heavy Heart by Madi Diaz
2. Head Or Your Heart by Mat Kearney
3. Half Of My Heart (With Taylor Swift) by John Mayer
4. Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin
5. Even If It Breaks Your Heart by Will Hoge
6. Heartbeat by The Fray
7. Kaleidoscope Heart by Sara Bareilles
8. Two Hearts by Mat Kearney
9. Heartbeat by Madi Diaz
10. Hold My Heart by Sara Bareilles
11. Heartbreaker in the Deep (PRFFTT Edit) by Adele vs MSTRKRFT
12. Quiet Hearts by Amy Stroup
13. Cheated Hearts by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
14. The Heart of Life by John Mayer
15. Bitter Heart by Zee Avi
16. Keep Your Heart Young by Brandi Carlile
17. I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab for Cutie
18. Your Heart is An Empty Room by Death Cab for Cutie
19. Dreaming With a Broken Heart by John Mayer
20. The Heart of Life (Live) by John Mayer
21. Heartbreaker by MSTRKRFT
22. Cheated Hearts (Peaches Remix) by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
23. Either Way, I’ll Break Your Heart by Augustana
24. Heart Around by Graham Colton
25. Heart’s Content by Brandi Carlile
26. Heart Around (Nashville, TN) by Graham Colton
27. Hold Onto My Heart (Hilversum, The Netherlands) by Graham Colton
28. Hold On To My Heart (Live at Eddie’s Attic) by Graham Colton
29. Give Your Heart Away by The Black Keys
30. Hold Onto My Heart by Graham Colton
“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight f****** hours with 800 people at a convention center and then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not f****** good enough.’ It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old f****** drum set and get in their garage and just suck. No two people play the same. Even if you’re playing the same song on the same instrument as somebody else, you will play it differently because you are you. And that’s a good thing! All of your imperfections and all of your bad habits give you your own sound and style. Music’s not meant to be perfect. It’s meant to sound like the way you do it. When you put human beings together with other human beings to make music you get magic.”
(Dave Grohl, Delta Sky Magazine, March 2013 Issue, page 93-94)