Trying not to fall behind

It seems like it’s a struggle not to fall behind. There’s always more to learn. More to observe and soak in.

I’ve played with musicians in the past that have been stuck. They had the chops. They had the core technical skills to rock. But they hadn’t kept up with what was going on in the scene around them.

Now you might be the type of musician that doesn’t care what’s going on, and that’s fine. You’re the type of person who we call “ahead of their time”. There are even savants like Henry Darger, who just sort of figured out how to do his thing all by himself and for himself. But the rest of us mortals have to care a certain amount about what’s happening now, if we’re going to have a conversation with the rest of the art community.

So, I saw that those musicians who were stuck were being left behind. They were hard to work with. It took longer for them to get the right sound that the song required. If you’re going to push the boundaries, you have to know the boundaries. And the boundaries are always changing, so I try to predict the changing boundaries and push that too. If you don’t know the boundary, then you are irrelevant at the moment.

That happened to me. I learned to play drums in the 90s. I built up a set of hardware in that context, and certain inflections in style particular to that time (for example, a tightly tuned snare). It wasn’t until maybe 15 years later that I realized I was still hanging on to a few things. I probably am still irrelevant in many ways, otherwise I’d be famous.

It’s hard to be that self aware. I really value the people I can trust who will be honest about that stuff. “Your snare sound sucks.” “Your high hat is way too brittle sounding.” Sometimes I don’t notice that stuff right away just on my own.

Yeah, so try not to fall behind like I did. But if you’re truly passionate, then you’ll figure it out.

2 Replies to “Trying not to fall behind”

  1. Kai, I admire your commitment to the acquisition of new skills and knowledge and bettering yourself.

    I never thought of people “ahead of their time” this way before. We usually use “ahead of its time” as a compliment, but it could also show that the person in question is just completely unable to connect with their current audience, and they’re instead connecting with some future audience that just happens to have the same tastes as them.

    1. Wow, thanks Brooker! I really appreciate your comments, too. I intended this to be a jumping off point for some cool discussions, so it’s really gratifying to see it happening.

      Yeah, I agree that there’s kind of a downside to being ahead of your time. If you want to make a living with art, or be more a part of the art scene, then it seems like a risky way to go. On the other hand, the payoff can be huge! If you can wait maybe 20 years or 30, then the cycle might come back to you and reward you. Others… well, they have to pass away first, and then people suddenly realize that they took the art for granted. But it does seem like it should be a conscious choice to make, and probably a more noble one.

      But as you say, hopefully we aren’t using “ahead of my time” as an excuse for failing to connect with anyone. :) This is so subjective, though. If you want to create art just for the sake of doing it… well there’s nothing wrong with that! It all comes down to just being aware that you do have choices to make.

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