Creative honesty & putting yourself into your music

Apologies if this has come up before (if it has, please link me up to the original discussion) but I’ve been thinking an awful lot about honesty in my music lately and wondered if others felt the same or how they deal with it in their own work.

I hadn’t thought of it in terms of “honesty” before but following a discussion with a friend it occurred to me that it feels like entirely the most appropriate term.

I have been making music since the late 90s and releasing things into the world in various forms for the same period. In all that time, throughout full length albums, EPs and other miscellaneous releases, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to release anything that accurately expresses who I am and what I might have to say.

In many ways, I don’t think it was deliberate. Initially it was lack of maturity, perhaps, but as I’ve grown longer in the tooth it’s impossible to use that rationale. There’s an extent to which it was influenced by wishing to conform to certain genre expectations; there’s an element of external influence (both directly and second-guessing myself when considering how others might relate to my music); there’s also an element of fear. If I put myself out there completely, then what people might have to say about it has a lot more sting and bite to it; if I only show what I want to show, I’m insulated, to a degree.

I don’t want to do that any more, but it’s a difficult process to even begin to approach. I have certain concepts that are important to me which have never featured in the music I have released or given to others: I used to make music in different spaces a lot and would always take a recording of that space to fold back into the recording itself, for example. I’ve never released anything that featured this approach.

I don’t think I mean that I have been inauthentic. I’ve certainly never consciously tried to sound like anyone else, anyway - in that sense it has always been authentically my voice, just not all of my voice.

I know that we all make music for various reasons. Some of us will make music entirely as a means of escapism, almost adopting a different persona when creating (or even many different personas); some of us make music to document experiments (I’ve noticed this a lot in relation to modular patches); others will view the process as catharsis, almost entirely improvisational and never saved beyond something that was captured in the moment (no project files; no DAW).

How do others feel about this? To what degree do we each put ourselves into our music? To what extent is that desirable (or not)? And for those who feel that they put themselves entirely into their music, how do you ensure that this is the case?

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Thanks for sharing that, and starting this thread! I should probably organize my thoughts a bit more, but instead I’ll be authentically me and just share a few thoughts that come to mind:

I’ve honestly been trying to do the opposite the last few years! How can I get outside of myself and write/improvise/express the stories/concepts/feelings of the world outside of me (and humans)? 1) I don’t find myself that interesting as a white, masculine-presenting individual, 2) the universe/world is more than people/myself, 3) trying to remind myself always “I” is a verb, and I am a collection of all sorts of little organisms and processes, not just my brain.

That said, I think it’s impossible! Everything is always going to be filtered through my brain, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, etc. I think I impart my “self” into most things. Makes me think about how so many visual artists often feel that don’t have a “style” but to an outsider they clearly do. The same probably goes for music. All the choices we make are our own (unless you’re letting the machine, also, or someone else take over). So,

Also makes me think of this essay: Against Nature Writing – Charles Foster

“All names fall short of the shining of things,” wrote Andrew Harvey. To talk about mountains—to talk even about a squirt of bird shit—is to parody and misrepresent them sacrilegiously. It is a process of re-creating them in our own image. We don’t hear the wind at the summit ridge; we hear our own voice. We don’t smell the moth wings and digestive juice in the bird shit; we smell our own deodorized armpit.

I do think, for me, switching from a “producers” approach to music to a “performers” approach has freed me up to be more expressive and also less inside my head. Recording myself improvising or playing something in one take feels a lot more “authentic” than when I used to re-record the same guitar part over and over, or scan through a folder of drum sounds for 15 mins. That’s when I start comparing myself to others. BUT, I think either approach is authentic and a true expression of “self”. I’m not sure about using midi chord packs though. :wink:

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This is absolutely fantastic (I also love that the site provides an audio recording of it in the writer’s voice, which also fits in playfully with the “authenticity” concept).

It reminds me of one of my favourite Chuang Tzu lines, the translation of which, I’d like to think, captures the essence of his character, but probably wasn’t translated without some hefty degree of twentieth century poetic license:

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so that I may have a word with him?

I can relate 100% to the question of whether it is even interesting to present the feelings/experiences etc. of yet another white, western, masculine-presenting individual. “Haven’t we had enough of those?” I have asked myself, to which I have to ultimately answer both yes …and no. There many of us but, like Odin, there is only one I.

I like the idea of capturing something rather than labouring over it - becoming a performer more than a producer. I’m not sure how I can incorporate that into my practice, but I’d like to explore it.

[You may say that about midi chord packs, but what about when I need? “…I GOT YOU!” :wink: ]

[Sorry for the Odin dad joke - I did almost try to resist]

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I have a lot more thoughts on this that I will try to add later, but here’s something that immediately came to mind for me and maybe it makes sense to you.

Since I started actually recording music (which was about 11 months ago), the only thing I made that I feel actually contains an honest part of myself has been a slightly abstract, ambient 5 minute recording. But that part was definitely not in there when I recorded it, nor when I prepared it in Ableton to put it out. I have used that recording many times since then as a way to meditate and process complex feelings when I had difficult days. Now, it truly feels like a piece of me because that’s what it has become.

Continuing that thought, many songs other people have written contain far more of me (are more honest about me in a sense) than most things I ever came up with. And that’s not surprising I think. Writing a song or even an album that contains you from the get-go sounds like an impossibly difficult thing to do. At least that’s what it seems like to me right now. I’d be interested to see whether anyone here can say with confidence to have achieved that and what that sounds like.

You seem to be in a good place to start though, since you know what you want to do differently. Maybe there’s something concrete you want to be honest about? (This is assuming you are looking for an answer or advice, if not, my apologies.)

Maybe as an encouragement to put out things that are very personal and weird in some ways, I can share something: I showed a friend of mine the recording I mentioned above one evening because I was curious as to what she would think. She listened intently, told me she liked it and how it reminded her of looking at a painting. She added how she liked that I made vertical music and that’s probably the best thing anyone ever said about anything I ever made. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I hope this made some sense, thanks for starting this thread, can’t wait to see what everyone has to say!

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I don’t feel like anything I’ve put out into the world is untrue to who I was at the time I made it, but there’s a thorny problem. One of the more honest songs I’ve recorded in terms of how I felt deep down inside was called “There’s Nobody In My Life” and I feel like it’s a slight, hermetic song that essentially captures the truth of there being, well, nobody in my life - nothing as dramatic as heartrending sadness or depression or unbearable loneliness, but more like the sound of someone who has simply gotten used to having no partner in this life and the likelihood of never having one. The inevitability of it, the resignation, the acceptance of living with aloneness as a daily mundane presence.

I recorded it in… 2015? And released it as part of my most recent album in 2020. By the time it made its way out into the world, that everpresent feeling I felt had been captured with nuance and so true to myself no longer particularly applied to me in the same way. I had indeed met someone, we married, and at the time of release I had a 2 year old who was staying home with us full-time while we were both working from home in the pandemic, and so there were VERY MUCH people in my life. In fact no privacy or alone time at any moment. (The song still does feel true in the sense that someone who is so used to the daily presence of aloneness never fully sheds it, and one can be folded inwards upon oneself even when in the constant presence of others. But that is nonetheless different than the song’s intentions and emotions.)

So even when you do manage to capture this honesty and putting yourself into your music, there’s a good chance that even YOU might not relate to it in the same way 5 or 10 years later. It’ll exist as a snapshot of who you were then. There is nothing about us that is not changing constantly. And situations that feel, in the moment, like they will exist for our entire lives may no longer be relevant to us even a year or two later.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be striving for honesty or putting yourself into your music. It’s still a valuable project, if you’re so inclined. But there are conundrums.

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there is an implied tension here which i think is quite healthy (and present in all art which stimulates me)…between things which are familiar or beloved and things we must stretch to learn/adopt/execute

without being able to be honest creatively i would have given up looooong ago yet, i do wanna make a distinction: “pure” unvarnished self-expression and creative honesty are not the same (to me)

i’ve rarely seen value in expressing some deep-seated emotion within my mind in a direct way…at least not intentionally

the thread woven across all that i do has been presenting an angle or perspective on something i think is rather common

more like a camera operator or cinematographer than an actor on film & there’s also a sense of curation which gives me a chance to be honest about interests which might seem unrelated or dissonant

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I love this idea. There’s a suggestion of a semiotic origin - that the meaning wasn’t there when it was created but has instead been placed there through how it has been used and what it has come to represent, much like the process of a symbol becoming symbolic rather than “just” an object. It’s like a leitmotif, I guess. It only becomes what it is by being constantly attached to a character or personification of something. When you first hear it, it is simply the music itself; only by being repeated (and given specific relevance) does it come to have the ultimate significance it ends up with.

Also, yes - I absolutely am looking for advice - thank you! :slightly_smiling_face: And “vertical music” is perfect!

Yes! And I think that’s something that actually resonates greatly. It’s a plus point for putting myself into my music, or it it feels like one. Musical output as a signifier of place/time/etc is an appealing notion. At present, the only major differences I can really perceive in my older music are technical: I remember how I used to do things compared to how I do them now (what tools or processes I used and what techniques) . All things that feel distinctly impersonal in a way (although it could be argued that a person’s process is inherently very personal, I suppose).

That’s a perfect analogy. I was thinking about Saul Williams’ take (“I am a poet who composes what the world proses and proses what the world composes”) and the notion he has spoken about regarding being the reed through which the universe blows.

I obviously make no comparisons between myself and Saul Williams (nor many people and Saul Williams, truth be told) but the idea of acting as a lens documenting a version of my experience definitely rings true.

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As a linguist, you have no idea how happy I am you made that comparison and how angry I am at myself for not thinking of it in the first place. :laughing:

The only piece of advice I maybe have is to collaborate more often if you don’t do that already. Not because whatever you create with someone else will somehow be more honest but because to me, it shows what really makes your music your own by having the contrast of another person involved. :slight_smile:

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Ha - I’d like to think my inner English/Media Studies teacher would be pleased :wink:

That’s an interesting thought re: collaboration. The friend who provoked this discussion and I have planned to create an album together so it will be intriguing to see if we end up holding one another to account, on some level, as far as artistic honesty goes.

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I long ago came to accept the axiom that All is One. This is more spiritual than religious but it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

From that perspective, we are all one being, one mind, one soul if you will. And “your” creativity and “my” creativity are merely different reflections of the One Creative One.

To the degree I can get a sense of “me” as a separate being with a “unique “ perspective out of the way, the closer I can get to being able to let Creation flow through this temporary manifestation. Which is joyful and harmonizing and healing.

I prefer to pursue this direction rather than to try to express “me,” as “I“ am mostly a hallucination.

:pray:t2:

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I love this thread (and I love the fact I’ve found Lines, I’m a relative newbie here).

I think honesty is an interesting concept when you relate it to any art. I’ve always thought that good art should challenge and take you beyond yourself, and I’ve experienced this many times, as the observer / listener. So I don’t really mind if the artist is channeling some idea or force or perspective that’s outside of their own, because their art can still have a profound effect.

As a musician myself, making guitar-based music in the '90s first, then pausing for quite a few years, and picking things up again in the last 2 years, I can see a real difference in how I made music then and now. Back then, I (and my bandmates) were definitely channeling something more aggressive and attitudinal than perhaps we had reason to. But it seemed to work because our audiences picked up on this, and it became a collective experience, and somewhat cathartic (or so I’ve been told).

But now, I’m just making music for myself, and - in the act of writing lyrics or melodies or orchestration - I’m so much more conscious of being authentic to me, as an older dude, surrounded by my family, living this life. And I’m less focused on what other people might think or do or say if they heard the music I was making.

So I guess this is more true to me now - but is it better?

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Not better, not worse…

I noticed something interesting many years ago when I was still in the phase of what you describe as “channeling something more aggressive and attitudinal than perhaps we had reason to”.

What I noticed was that many of my favorite musicians were moving in a direction away from assertive songs towards a more contemplative ambience. Eno of course, Fripp, Bill Nelson, David Sylvian, and on and on…

You can tell I have a deep prog streak, yeah…

I eventually figured out that, for some folks, and I’m definitely one of them, once you get to a certain point, it’s more interesting to not push outwardly with will, but instead to establish an observant relationship with “what is.” It happens to fit nicely with the slowing of hormonal drives, and the achievement of some kind of equilibrium…

To every thing, there is a season, as someone wiser than me observed long ago…

I think it’s a lovely place to be…

And welcome home to Lines, also a lovely place to be!

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For me it is helpful to not get too wrapped up in whether the music is coming from “me.” I’m not sure who “me” is most of the time anyway. I’ve always liked the notion that I’m just channeling ideas. The sounds already exist, and I’m simply putting them in a new context. My artistic output is not only a result of my own lived experience but also the entire history of music (or even the world). Nothing simply manifests wholly unique and independent out of my personal creative well. Everything is sampling. Sometimes we sample audio, and sometimes we sample our mind’s remnant of the riff we forgot we heard on a podcast intro last year.

Regarding “honesty”, I guess I think it’s honest as long as you like it. Then again, I’ve made plenty of music I didn’t like. In the past I made beats that I thought were garbage and some of my rapper friends loved them. Is it dishonest if I put that music out? Should I let them rap on it but take my name off the credits to preserve my imaginary reputation? Who am I to take away someone else’s enjoyment of a track just because I’ve got it all so wrapped up in my ego.

IDK. The thought I always come back to is “just make music and stop thinking so much,” though I have enjoyed reading this thread and thinking about it.

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excellent thread dude!

i started with music as a guitarist.
and just improvising on an acoustic guitar, truly feels to me personally,
like myself spoken musically.
that is where i’m most honest and unguarded in any aspect of my life.
i’ve been messing around and making things up for 34 years, and it really is just another language i can speak in.
not like i’m exceptional at it, it’s just something that i’m so comfortable with, i can be 100%, and just flow with it instantly.

weirdly, acoustic guitar improv is not something i usually put in music i release…
haha
basically, i think i have no idea what i’m doing, ever.

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I LOVE this thread!!! I’m relatively new to lines but this kind of stuff I what got me to make an account in the first place hahah.

In my opinion, it’s impossible for any of us to not imbue some part of ourself in the things we create. Trying to create something honest is like trying to “beat” your heart. It just happens whether or not you want it to happen.

I’ve definitely worried about sounding too much like the artists that I look up to, but recently I’ve stopped worrying about doing something original from scratch. Rather than pushing back on something that resonates deeply with me, I’m trying to embrace what I like, and learn about myself in the process. I think understanding yourself is a life long process and none of us really know ourselves as well as we think.

Anyways, I’m barely 19 and have very little life experience, but thinking about this stuff is so fun.

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@eblomquist this is perhaps for another time, maybe more suited to a different thread or even a Zoom chat, but as much as I love the concept of oneness it often serves to alienate me from others who seem so intent upon doing harm to others. To quote the late, impossibly great, Adam Yauch:

Someday we shall all be one
Why fight yourself?

Beastie Boys - “Something’s Got To Give” (1992)

It’s why I’ve often struggled with the tenets of Buddhism despite their obvious appeal & why I’m more drawn to Taoism. I digress, however!

@barbd Your mention of lyrics raises a really interesting point. I sometimes wonder if music has a glass-ceiling as regards honesty if there is no lyrical content to it, but, to go back to the excellent article @caulymaculkin linked to earlier, maybe language itself can be more of a hindrance. At 19, when I was at my lowest ebb, estranged to an extent from my family, hundreds of miles away from where I grew up and adrift from everything I had previously known, ‘A Love Supreme’ managed to give “voice” to feelings of pain and sorrow that I could never have hoped to find words for.

This is an excellent point. A friend of mine always attested that they were “a human being; not a human thinking” which could easily (and often did) spiral back to the elements of existentialist drama that I’ve always found fascinating. Stoppard’s philosopher who dreamed they were a butterfly and were never entirely sure they were not a butterfly dreaming they were a philosopher etc. To take Bruce Lee’s advice: don’t think; feel.

@edison this is actually something that I’ve always struggled with in my own work. Of all the many forms of impostor syndrome we have to deal with, a huge one for me was always “I can’t refer to myself as a musician because I don’t play an instrument.” I tend to deal with this by deflection, to a degree - if I level that accusation at myself, it must also be true of others & who am I to attest that those who do not possess the ability to improvise on a given instrument are not legitimately musicians (whatever that incredibly loaded term might mean!) Ha - which is a very roundabout way of saying that I think I understand both the liberating feeling of improvisation as well not feeling that it’s strange for you to not have incorporated it into your releases. For whatever it might be worth, as somebody who has enjoyed your music for many years now, I never fail to see what I recognise as “you” in your musical output… but whether that’s the honest you or the you I am accustomed to, I can never obviously say (which feels like talking in riddles/circles to an extent!)

This is excellent point! It touches upon two things I love:

  • firstly is the concept of wei-wu-wei, an idea I was introduced to when training for basketball in my mid-teens, funnily enough. The idea was: if you thinking about doing a crossover through your legs, you’ll invariably hit the ball against one of your legs, bounce it off your feet or somehow lose control of it, whereas if you allow yourself to do the action without consciously thinking of it, it will happen naturally (I apologise to others who may have a better explanation of the concept, it’s just the one I was given at the outset and which, despite encountering many others since then, still resonates)
  • secondly is the idea that occasionally, when trying to sleep at night, I find myself thinking about how I usually do it… and then end up laying awake for quite some time because I don’t actually know the answer!

Also I would dearly like to thank everyone who has participated in this thread thus far - your contributions are hugely appreciated

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Pete,

I believe we’re planning a zoom soon, so let’s dig in, or as I’ve come to love from DivKid, let’s get stuck in!

The eastern thought is never perfected and is eternally aspirational, for me and even for zen masters who are honest about it…. And Taoism is the other mother of zen so I’m right there with you…

Lyrics? Hmmm. I used to write a lot of songs with lyrics. At some point a few decades ago something changed in my head and heart. I began to feel that whatever I had to say with words was impossibly problematic. I no longer knew what they meant, who they were for, or what I was trying to say. I no longer felt comfortable asking listeners to listen to them. So I stopped writing songs with words.

Around the same time I stopped wanting to compose music as opposed to just musicing in the moment. I had always been into improvisation but it felt right to go mostly in that direction. It was related to the lyrical change, in that I was led to try to channel the ever-flowing inspiration in the moment rather than try to refine “my statement” to be shared after the fact when on some level it was no longer the fresh in-the-moment inspiration.

This is in no way a diss on writing or lyrics, both of which I still very much enjoy in other people’s music, and even still create a little of myself. It’s just the way the calling has revealed itself to me, and how I’ve tried to respond to that call…

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Super interesting question @petesasqwax quite a tricky one too.

I have caught myself saying things like “really leaning into” or being “very pure to myself”. I think this comes from that feeling or need to balance the understanding of what is required for an outcome, be that ideas of success, sound, a goal, expectations etc, with allowing yourself to create without these aspects and appreciating the whole experience as of value regardless.

I think it can get extremely complex unpicking everything to find yourself in your music as it’s not entirely clear where you sit at any one time and it changes from work to work, project to project, day to day. It should change too.

The feeling of being developed and on top of things versus feeling forever in this state of exploration can be exhausting if looking for traditional markers of progress.

I think society, scene and culture connects many of these things for us, which determines on some level the parameters for a certain thing, even if we believe otherwise.

As an example, if we aren’t earning money from music then we are not a professional, so are a hobbyist. It’s this state of either in or out of capitalism. So when trying to find yourself in your aim, which do you pick?

Obviously nothing is so black and white as that, but i think it lends itself to our approach in finding out who we are. We advocate experimentation in sound but not so much in all the rest of the stuff around it.

I found that when unpicking it all, and really listening to your heart and being open with yourself in how you feel and think, and challenging yourself, you end up in really unexpected places, but in these places you feel incredibly confident and you know how much you understand them.

I used to say “I’m not really into noise”, and for whatever reason i had decided that place was something I appreciated but didn’t really engage in, and on some level i still agree with that, but more in the sense of I’m less interested in the idea of allowing associations where they create such division in my thinking about them, and instead just find the focus is almost working with the triggers themselves that creates a strong response, with the emotion really as a by-product more than an aim. Impactful, energetic, aggressive, edgy etc

I think finding yourself is learning to be really honest with yourself, and practicing that, and it does need constant practice as well. And although obviously there is nothing wrong with aligning to genre or emotions or anything, i think it is being aware of how much that influences your perspective of things.

I never used to wear glasses, it’s only true in say the last 10 years. A work friend i met in those years had a view of me totally changed by learning I wasn’t a nerdy kid with NHS glasses on, and so after sharing some childhood stories his opinion changed from a nerdy kid to actually another false, which is i am an ageing rebellious kid hahaha. The truth being it’s all and none of those, depending who owns that perspective.

Another example comes to mind, i used the Nord Rack 2 so much in my early 20’s, with huge inspiration from early Autechre, LP5 especially. My whole relationship with that synth was of that period, and as a result barely touched it for years after, until my wife used it. Within minutes she created sounds that totally changed my view of that synth, and i realised how much baggage i had taken on over the years and how that had shaped a version of me that was really dormant, and missing something fundamental, which when found feels raw, direct, internal and if understood pretty inspiring and exciting, and hopefully more you with every moment.

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haha…
yea thats going deep!
thank you for the words…

i definitely believe that anyone can get as comfortable with any instrument or anything really.
sometimes i see chefs chopping at a million miles an hour… and its relatable… its the same thing…
they just know the knife and movements so well…

synths, drum machines, samplers…
anything can be that too…
noise is noise,
and if you felt it, then its you
whatever the tools look like

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Perfect! Ha - also, if I had the accent native to where I like, I would not sound massively different do Divkid. As it is, I have the kind of odd, transient accent that comes from being born just outside London & learning to talk with a cockney accent, moving north at a very young age and attempting to hide my otherness by learning a local accent… but never being allowed to wear it in the house (as it were). Then I moved back down south, lived with a bunch of friends for whom English was a second language and… well, my accent is whatever it is now. I totally agree re: Tao and Zen. I have a love of/for both and see a great many similarities between the two.

This expression is beautiful - perfectly evocative (but the pox on words in general still stands :wink:)

I can definitely relate to this. I’m increasingly able to identify things I might do because I always have done it that way and it’s “just what I do.” It reminds me of when I was younger I had this little routine I would go through when people would ask me if I wanted to do something or go somewhere. I would try to picture myself in the moment of it happened and if I wasn’t able to, I would decline. After a while I started to question this and decided that, actually, maybe the opposite would be the “right” thing to do. To that end, I would try to picture myself doing whatever it was that somebody had asked me if I wanted to do and if I wasn’t able to, I would say yes. In retrospect, neither approaches were “right” because life just doesn’t really operate like that, I realised, but I do feel that way about musical choices too. Sometimes it feels right to do something because it’s “what I would do” and sometimes the opposite is true.

Also I never realised Autechre used the NR2 for LP5. I wasn’t hugely gear-aware at the time, being focused almost exclusively on hip-hop and, as a result, samplers. It will be interesting to revisit it armed with that knowledge.

Ha - yes, exactly! I know so many people who can make some gear absolutely sing (for want of a less loaded term…) but present them with an acoustic instrument and they might struggle. Then again, there are people who you first knew about when they would perform in videos in the street with a DIY grid housed in a yellow lunchbox but secretly they were Django Reinhardt on the downlow… you just never know with these things :joy:

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