Means as an End: Musician’s mandate is evolve or die

THE MODERATELY FED ARTIST

whitely-mug

By AUSTIN WHITELY

After a couple days of gorgeous spring weather, the frosty fingertips of winter returned with a last-ditch grip on the Ohio Valley. In this weather, you won’t find families out for picnics at Bernheim, tanktop selfies on Facebook, or automobiles lining up at the car wash. You won’t find kids chasing ice cream trucks, nor will you hear the happy tunes that those trucks blast into the airwaves via megaphones. One constant you will find, however, without weather’s permission, is the 70-something-year-old man power-walking the roads around my neighborhood. Bundled up like an Eskimo, hood tight like “Kenny” from South Park, his stride is steady and his determination unstoppable. Even in such unpleasant temperatures, he walks and he smiles, raising his hand robotically in response to my wave as I drive by. His reliable gait reminds me of my grandpa’s words.

“I guess he just gave up,” said Elmer, my grandpa, when I asked about his friend who had died. “What do you mean, he just gave up?” I replied inquisitively. Through my grandpa and grandma’s exchange, laced with the common banter of lifelong couples who challenge each other’s words with constant interruptions and rebuttals, I learned that the friend in question simply stopped moving. He stopped wanting to move. He stopped trying to move. And soon after, he just stopped altogether.

Like a raindrop from an icicle, can a person just give up to keep from hitting the ground? Or can the struggle to evolve and prosper in new ways, to keep stagnancy at bay, be more worthwhile than accepting limitations and making the most of it? I can’t answer this. I can only tell you what I go through.

I fall in love with songs when I first write them, but soon after, a love/hate relationship evolves. Depending on the day, time, mood, weather, what I ate for breakfast, stage of the moon, horoscope, price of the Dow Jones, or anything that can be skewed by perception, I may hate or love playing back the song I just wrote. From there, I might decide to record it. If I do, it’s a process of finding the tone and message I want to achieve with the recording. Do I want to use an acoustic, electric, programmed instruments, or real percussion? Do I want to yell, whisper, or stay silent? Should I use the solid state or tube amp? Set it on 10 or barely turn the volume knob? Clean or dirty? Crunch or lead? Once I run the gambit on soundscapes and every possible tonal difference, I start to mic.

Should the mic be on-axis or off-axis? Should it be right on the speaker’s grill or set in the rafters? Should I use cardiod, omni-directional, or figure-8? Stereo or mono? I run back and forth, room to room, to change these settings and re-record the riff I just played to see which sound works best.

After applying all those aspects, plus more, to every instrument I want on the recording, it’s time to sit down and mix the recorded tracks. Should I lightly compress or smash the track to distorted capacities? Would the 1176LN or LA2A work best? Should chorus, flanger, delay, a ring modulator, reverb, all of these, or none of these be applied? Will the song sound better, if I make it wider by panning guitars harder left and right?

Now that the music is mixed, the elusive mastering stage lies in wait. Mastering seems to be an art in the sense that it has as many definitions as art itself. My take on it is that it’s a compressing or equalizing of the overall track to raise decibel level and to ensure the recording’s maximum potential on all playback devices, such as car speakers, home stereos, and headphones. In other words, just like the other stages of song crafting, I change the settings, test them out, change more settings, test those, and repeat.

I repeat these steps until I loathe the song, and then I have to do it again to get it to the best sound I can manage. Song’s done, right? Not even close. Now it’s placed in a track listing for a CD, which has its own endless checklist of items that must be done—such as artwork, layout, proofreading.

Does it bother me when a music critic takes a negative stance or when a radio station decides my music “isn’t a fit” for their listeners? Am I offended when I offer a free copy of my album and the person deems it not worthy of his time? The answer to both is, hell, no. Well, it may hurt a little, but that’s not the point. If I won the lottery tomorrow, what would I do the day after? Play music. Record music. The making of songs is the means to my end.

The process is what I love. Yes, I love to share my songs, especially if it helps others or gives them pleasure. But making music is a selfish act. I do it to sustain my happiness, to better understand what makes me human and gives me self-worth. Do I want to stop, wither, and die, or do I want to keep moving, despite obstacles and personal limitations? I’ll keep striving, whether I’m accepted or not, because I am what I do. We are what we create: evolve or die.

Austin Whitely is Auzman Propaganda, Man, a solo artist from Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He co-founded the Homegrown Art, Music & Spokencover copy Word Show, an open-mic and art exhibition series held bimonthly in Bullitt County. Auzman Propaganda, Man’s debut release, “Greatest Hits Vol. 3 & 4,” is available through CDBaby, iTunes, and other online venues.


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