On Vulnerability

I do not like to be vulnerable.

I don’t like being in situations where I open myself up to criticism and hurt. I like to control outcomes as much as I can; this desire for control probably explains why I’m an overthinker.

As a mashup producer, I set myself up for scrutiny every time I submit my work to Mashstix and upload it to other websites. I do this despite knowing that I cannot satisfy the wide-ranging music tastes of the global population. The feedback is usually positive, but on the rare occasions when it isn’t, the resulting effects feel like a hard punch to my gut.

Despite my ease with being creatively vulnerable, it does not extend to other areas of my life. From a young age, I’ve had a fear of rejection which has held me back from living what I believe to be a full life. I thought it would be a good idea to build walls to protect myself from it. I kept people at arm’s length. I didn’t let anyone get close enough to hurt me. Instead of leaning on others, I learned to rely on myself and enjoy my own company. While this strategy kept some bad things out, it also kept me from experiencing things like romance and close friendship.

A perfect example of this phenomenon happened a few years ago, when I developed a profound crush on a woman who attended my church. We met shortly after she joined the music ministry, of which I was also a member. (For the record, I still serve in that ministry.) I was smitten from the first look, but being the rejection-fearing man that I was, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Hello.” Fortunately, she broke the ice for me.

We developed a friendship which became very special to me. Gosh, she was special to me because, among other reasons, she actually cared about me and not just the person she saw every week on the church stage. Naturally, my thoughts turned toward asking her out. Unfortunately, I passed up every opportunity to do this when it should have been done. I didn’t think that I could financially support a relationship. I listened to other people’s advice when I should have trusted my intuition. Most of all, I was scared of the changes which would result from her becoming my girlfriend. As a result, instead of being direct, I dropped hints and hoped she’d clue in.

Meanwhile, I told many people about my feelings for her…except for her.

I finally asked her out about 1.5 years after we met, but by then, I already missed my window of opportunity. I don’t know if that was the catalyst for us drifting apart, but at this point, I can’t even say that we are friends anymore.

In avoiding the pain of rejection, I unwittingly chose to live with another kind of pain: that which comes with regret and wondering what could have been. The fact that I still think about it many years later is a testament to the depth of my feelings and the stupidity of letting fear dictate my choices.

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I’m A Fugitive

Proving that history repeats itself, HearThis is now removing mashups due to record companies’ enforcement of copyright. Since February 8th, I’ve had six mashups removed; that number is sure to increase in the coming days.

In its early days, HearThis was touted as a bastion of safety for mashup producers. However, I always suspected that the same copyright tsunami which attacked sites like SoundCloud and Official.fm would eventually come to HearThis. Since my premium account is up for renewal, the timing of these removals couldn’t be more perfect. I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but since I have no reason to believe that HearThis won’t end up like SoundCloud, I’m leaning towards letting my premium account expire.

I’m tired of being a fugitive. Websites like HearThis and SoundCloud were necessary evils, but I’m starting to think that they’re evils which I can live without. That’s probably an unrealistic and risky idea, but no more risky than looking over my shoulder for copyright enforcers every time I upload a mashup.

As for this blog, if all else fails, I can transition it to literature. I did name myself after two literary characters and I’ve recently started writing entries about books I’ve read. Anything is possible.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Recently, author Yann Martel was a guest at the Appel Salon. He discussed, among other things, his latest book, The High Mountains Of Portugal. His name may ring a bell if you’re interested in literature and/or movies; he is the author of Life Of Pi, which was adapted into a wonderful film directed by Ang Lee. For the record, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen the movie.

One of the topics which Yann discussed was fiction’s ability to explore ideas and outcomes which non-fiction cannot explore to the same degree. To clarify his point, he used a David Grossman book as an example: See Under: Love. This book is set during the Holocaust; one of the characters is immortal and, therefore, cannot be killed. Since he is Jewish, he is put into a gas chamber where everyone around him dies…except him. Needless to say, this fact makes for very interesting possibilities. I explained it as best as I could here, but you really should hear it in Yann’s own words. (To be fair, there are stories of people who have survived gas chambers, including this one.)

This may sound pretentious, but hearing this example of the power of fiction reminded me of what I strive to achieve in my mashups. I can’t hope to evoke visceral reactions to significant historical events like Mr. Grossman; that’s definitely beyond my sphere of influence. However, since the majority of musical artists are content to work within narrow contexts, it’s easy for me to put them in unfamiliar environments. For example, even though Taylor Swift has transitioned from country to pop music, she has no immediate plans to make chamber music or work with The Piano Guys. Nonetheless, I realized those goals for her in “Adele Amadeus Swift.” If she ever makes a classical album, I’ll be happy to take the credit for it.

As it is in literature, so it is in music.

One Hand Clapping

Thanks to Facebook’s Real Name Policy, I’m locked out of my mashup Facebook account. I can no longer log in to it using my mashup alias; I now have to provide my real name. If I do so, Facebook may ask for identification in order to verify it. Since I believe that it’s ridiculous for a social networking site to force its users to use their real names and possibly provide ID, I choose to let that Facebook account gather dust.

I firmly believe in the stance I’m taking, but it comes with inevitable consequences. The one which hurts the most is that I have lost a significant promotional avenue for my mashups. I used to look forward to posting my work to the mashup groups I belonged to. These days, my only opportunities to promote myself come from this blog, Mashstix and HearThis.

My frustration is magnified when I finish a mashup which I feel really good about. To wit: I submitted my entry for a Mashstix contest yesterday. This month’s requirement is that for A/B mashups, each source must be separated by at least two decades. For example, if I use a song from the 70s, I can mash it up with songs from the 50s or earlier and the 90s or later. The only two decades from which I can’t pick songs are the 60s the 80s. This rule becomes more complicated as the number of sources per mashup increases, but I’ve explained the gist of it. Since my entry fuses a jazz song from 1965 with an alternative rock song from 2001, it definitely satisfies the criteria.

I’m waiting until the contest ends before I decide what to do with my mashup, but no matter what direction I take, I already know that I’ll miss out on valuable Facebook feedback.

The Kind Of Year It’s Been (2015 Edition)

2015 wasn’t much better than 2014, but at least it was better. That’s a start which I hope to build on this year.

I started 2015 in a bad place. I was unemployed and going deeper and deeper into debt. On top of that, I was on my annual social media hiatus, so I cut myself off from any aid I could have received…or so I thought. At least my creative well wasn’t running dry at that time.

Fast forward to the present: I’m unemployed again, though I expect it to be a temporary situation. I’ve cut back on my involvement in producing and reviewing mashups, though this was by necessity more than anything else. Fortunately, since I’m on another social media break, I have more time to play around with for at least a few months.

It was my goal to produce less mashups than I did in 2014, if only to reduce the number of misfires I published. At this point, only “Eye Of Murdoch” stands out as more of a good idea at the time than a good idea. With that said, it doesn’t make me retch like some of my other work.

Of the thirteen mashups I produced in 2015, these are my favourites (listed in chronological order):

Lone Shot (Pat Benatar vs. Hans Zimmer) | Download

Take My Medicine (Franz Ferdinand vs. Snoop Dogg & Willie Nelson) | Download

Waiting For Law & Order (Mike Post vs. Gwen Stefani) | Download

Ever Powerless (Moby vs. Linkin Park) | Download

Honourable mention:
Help I’m Nasty (Metric vs. Amon Tobin) | Download

The Long Way Back

This morning, I felt something I haven’t felt in a while: peace of mind. For the first time in a long time, I think I will be okay.

I hasn’t been easy for me to get to this point. I was laid off in February of 2014; between then and now, I’ve had many bouts with fear, guilt, loneliness and self-loathing. I distracted myself with things like church services, roller derby bouts and mashups, but they’d end up being temporary reprieves. It seemed like there was no way out from the darkness of not only being unemployed, but falling further and further into financial ruin with no means to stop the slide. I have a lot of cash advances to answer for…

I’ve lost count of the number of resumes I sent to various companies and jobs. In almost every case, the result was the same: no response. If I did get a response, it was a rejection. I consider myself a good worker and a reasonably intelligent person, but when that pattern repeated itself over and over again, my confidence was shattered to pieces. If I couldn’t convince a bunch of employers to hire me, what made me think that this attempt would be any different?

Before January, I also had social media to distract me from my internal battles. As you may know, I take a hiatus from social media every year. I appreciate defragmenting my mind, but there’s a price to pay for it. I’ve already proven that I can live without social media, but when it gets in your blood, it’s there to stay. I was away for so long that I started to miss certain people. Sure, online conversations can be inorganic, but in my loneliest moments, I would have given anything to exchange tweets with them.

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The day that I wrote that letter, something completely unexpected happened. The acquaintance – actually, I consider him a friend (not just because he may be reading this), and I don’t do that for many people – sent me a text message. He wanted to know if I was available for a one-day gig where I’d be helping his company move to their new offices. After asking a few questions about it, I agreed to help. That one-day gig turned into a two-day gig, then it turned into a four-day job.

While I was working on the second day, I was suddenly struck by a idea: maybe I could end the hiatus. I didn’t really ponder it until I took a bathroom break, but the conditions for my return to social media had been satisfied. Sure, I was working at a temporary job, but nonetheless, I was working.

At about 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, I ended my longest social media hiatus with an upload to Instagram. I’m still unemployed right now, so I’m not completely out of the woods. However, the temp agency which recently took me on should be able to put an end to that situation very soon.

On top of that, I’m taking a course…

I’m Still Gone

I’ve walked away from all social media at the beginning of every year since 2010. No Facebook updates, no tweets, no Instagram uploads; the only noise I make is radio silence (and mashups, obviously). In the six years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve increased the duration of these breaks. The first one lasted for one week; last year’s was two months.

Since 2014 was one of my worst years, I decided to add a twist my current hiatus. If I got a new job or started going back to school, I’d return on March 1st. If not, I’d extend the break until the start date of my new job or my new classes. As you may have surmised, the latter scenario is the one which is happening now.

I’ve been tempted to return, even though the above conditions haven’t been satisfied. However, since I’d be coming back with my tail between my legs, you can forget about that. Despite the days where I really miss certain people, when I make promises, I tend to keep them no matter what. This case will be no different.

Unfortunately, this desire to return in a position of strength is not without costs. I sometimes wonder if keeping in touch with my Twitter contacts would have helped me land a job sooner. As for my mashups, I have less avenues to promote them. For example, I believe that “Lone Shot” is one of the best mashups I’ve ever done, but I can’t promote it nearly as much as I’d like to.

I continue to hope that I’ll be able to get a job (or go back to school) and end my social media hiatus, but until further notice, I can’t come back.

Laying Low

At this time last year, I released eight mashups. I’ve only released six so far in 2015, so I haven’t slowed down that much in comparison to one year ago. Mind you, I didn’t have the specters of financial ruin and bleak career prospects hovering over my head like a dark cloud back then.

Perhaps those specters are contributing to my lack of inspiration these days. It’s true that I only want to release mashups which I’ll be proud of long after I’ve completed them. However, I still haven’t been able to secure any interviews in my job search. Also, even though I’ve applied for many jobs with one particular staffing agency (the same one I referred to in this post), they only think I’m qualified to do door-to-door sales. Sure, insult my intelligence and ignore the banking experience on my resume. My blood boils every time I think about it, so I don’t apply for their positions anymore.

I still have good days, but as you can see, the bad ones are taking their toll.

Fortunately, next week is full of distractions to take my mind away from my painful existence. Canada Reads 2015 starts on Monday; it’ll involve very early mornings, but at least they’ll prepare me for when I do land a job. Heck, I might try blogging here daily after each taping is over, but I won’t guarantee anything yet.

On top of that, there is a free event with Kazuo Ishiguro which I’m really looking forward to, not to mention a trip to Toronto Roller Derby’s Quad City Chaos on Saturday. An entire day of roller derby?! You know I’ll be there with bells on.

Low-Hanging Fruit

This evening while I was eating pizza, Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” played on the radio. Its melody reminded me of another song: “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. I instantly posited that someone probably made a mashup with these songs and, sure enough, a Google search confirmed my suspicions.

I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised. This is an art form where people combine rap acapellas with rap instrumentals and have the nerve to think that they’re “pushing the envelope.” (Full disclosure: I did that in 2013, but I’ve since moved far beyond that.) Mashing these songs is like eating a vanilla ice cream cone on a roller coaster: the setting may be different, but the ice cream is still bland.

Compare such pabulum to a mashup like “Aquatic Burn” by Larsta40. It’s far from perfect, but my first reaction upon seeing the instrumental source was one of genuine surprise. I’ve used video game music in my mashups, but even with that, Larsta one-upped me by drawing inspiration from a game I hadn’t even thought about using yet. Considering how I used to play said game – “Donkey Kong Country” – on my Super Nintendo, you’d think I would have already beaten Larsta to the punch. Mind you, the reaction to my own “Lone Shot” tells me that I’m still capable of shocking people with unexpected combinations.

With all of that said, don’t misunderstand me. The last thing the mashup scene needs is homogeneity. As proud as I am of the mashups I’ve made so far in 2015, if every producer imitated me, I believe that the scene would suffer. I’d also have more competition, which would be unbearable…for my competitors. I have railed and will continue to rail against Captain Obvious Mashups™, but they do serve as gateway drugs to more off-kilter fare. They also serve to do nothing to advance the art of making mashups.

I wish that mashup producers didn’t go after low-hanging fruit so much.

In A Crowded Market

I had the pleasure of attending an interview with Richard Ouzounian and Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz. During the event, Mr. Schultz said something which I added to my list of motivational quotes on my cellphone: “In a crowded market, you need to be bold.”

As I’ve already implied, the world of mashup production is a crowded market. However, if the reaction to my latest mashup is any indication, I don’t have any problems with standing out in that field.

If only I could say the same about my job search.

Since losing my previous job almost one year ago, I’ve been sending resumes without a single response…actually, that’s not entirely true. One employer showed interest in my services, but she was in another province. Perhaps I should make like Xingyi Yan and take an unorthodox approach; if my current strategy was any good, I’d be working by now. It’s easy to criticize people like Ms. Yan for being “too out there,” but remember – her approach worked.

Besides, in a crowded market, you need to be bold.