Why Your Creative Community Is Your Greatest Asset
Back in August there was a perfect storm of creative restlessness brewing within my network of musician friends. James Beer had been pouring the emotions of living in the city as a twenty-something into songs about love and lust and will power and libations. He was itching to bring them to a level of completion and set them free into the world. Jack Simons was at a similar place with his own songwriting, having a wealth of personal anecdotes from a rather turbulent year to fuel his art.
James, Jack and I work together at Storefront Music where we craft original music for advertising. At the same studio, composer Darien Shulman was battling a creative restlessness of the same ilk. Commercial work pays bills and keeps certain musical skills sharp, and doing it in good company makes it a dream job. Nonetheless, you enter this bizzaro world of using your passion to further corporate interests, and it can leave you feeling creatively unfulfilled. But Darien found himself doing mostly commercial work, and hardly any of the film scoring that brought him to the field in the first place.
Aaron Waldman moved to NYC from Maine, a move in part influenced by some recording we did together at my spot in Brooklyn earlier that year. Aaron was defining his style as a solo singer-songwriter and figuring out what that would mean in the context of this city.
A few creative projects of my own had recently gone into the purgatory of hiatus. I had been entrenched in a battle with myself on whether music was just some childhood fantasy or if I was prepared to spend a lifetime making it the center of my world. The appeal of dropping everything to go build rockets and further humanity’s next evolutionary step was undeniable.
One weekend when the creative itch had become unbearable, I started writing about The Punch Brothers and Elliott Smith with the loose idea of keeping a humble little music blog. My own brand of creativity acts like an addiction and once I get a taste of an idea, I start sacrificing everything else to continue feeding it.
It was right about that point that Jack started spending a lot of late nights after work at the studio tracking his record Malbec & Gingerale. Then James started staying after work to lay down vocals for what would become Like a Firefly. I introduced Aaron into the mix at about the same time and he immediately hit it off with both Jack and James. We’d go to shows in the village and talk about all of the things fueling our creative projects. Each person’s efforts gave the rest of us a little kick in the ass to work harder on our own bits. Aaron and I started tracking a new batch of songs he had been working on and they were stronger than anything I had heard of his to date. James would play me rough sketches of his new songs and I’d have them stuck in my head for days. Jack had successfully harnessed personal strife to make some truly awesome tracks of his own. By winter, Darien’s hunt for a project he could get invested in had yielded a dream gig scoring a new TV series that allowed him a lot of creative freedom.
My obsession with writing about music that doesn’t suck had given me a blog and a playlist. It felt cheap and yet it was still taking a ton of my time.
When the holidays rolled around, we were all deep into our respective creative ventures. I was racking my brain for a way to turn what I was doing into something more meaningful. I shared what I was doing with some dear friends my fiancée and I were visiting in Maine and they were really supportive. Looking back now, it was definitely that positive feedback and support that gave me the push to continue to search for a new way to approach what I was doing.
On the last day of my winter holiday, an idea sprouted, then grew explosively. I spent an eight hour bus ride from Maine to NYC sending emails and making phone calls and working out every detail to turn Music That Doesn’t Suck Monthly from a music blog into a live show. Within ten days of that bus trip I had booked our first date at Le Poisson Rouge, three bands, a sketch comic, and assembled one kickass production team to film and record the whole thing and turn it into a web series.
You may remember what I said about sacrificing everything else when something like this comes up. Before, I had a dedication to the gym, my nightly eight hours, a well rounded diet, and spent my evenings watching Netflix with my fiancée. Now I stay out networking or working on content until 3am, and subsisting on pizza, coffee, and Tecate. I am eternally grateful that I’m in a relationship where my s.o. understands the way I work, because a weaker relationship would have crumbled in that first month.
But I wasn’t alone. My creative compadres were making sacrifices too. James was turning down dates with the vixen types that would normally keep him out all night and failing to shut the fuck up about it the next day. For Jack, the album had sapped cognitive processing power from the parts of the brain that would otherwise concern themselves with basic necessities like groceries or showers. Darien was consistently in the studio before I got there and after I left, and that’s how I knew he had gotten his teeth into something he actually cared about.
Sleepless, under nourished, greasy, and missing the comforts of romantic company, we were all making huge strides toward completing the creative projects we were underway with. Sharing our progress in the kitchen of the studio every morning as we overcompensated for our lack of sleep with oceans of coffee, was a huge part of what kept us motivated.
To me this sense of creative community is what has made artists of every discipline in NYC some of the best in the world. It’s why “movements” start here. I’m not saying we’re Tin Pan Alley or The Velvet Underground, but I bet you there were days when Andy Warhol lifted his head from his art and looked at a greasy, sleep deprived yet tireless Lou Reed and said “fuck, I gotta keep going.” I know for a fact that in the humble beginnings of Def Jam, Russell Simons and Rick Rubin were talent hunting in the same venues we go to see our friends play. Even if in 2017 The Roxy is a parking garage, Tin Pan Alley sells halal and cell phone accessories, and CBGB is a fucking John Varvatos, the audacious spirit of New York City art still finds ways to thrust its beautiful crazy head through the cracks in the pavement.
Now Jack’s album, Malbec and Gingerale is out (read his article about Bedroom Pop) James is putting the final touches on Like a Firefly, Darien is a few episodes deep into his series (I’d tell you more, but NDAs and such), Aaron is out touring the country (read about his trip to LA here) and as for me, Music That Doesn’t Suck Monthly is working on it's 3rd show at Le Poisson Rouge! And that’s just a fraction of the talented people we have the pleasure of collaborating with and being inspired by. This community brings the art out of us. It’s everything that is beautiful about living here, and if you’re killing yourself to do something you care about, we want to be inspired by you too.