On Being Musically Authentic

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authentic — of undisputed origin; genuine; real; bonafide; legit

Every artist aspires to be authentic to how he or she thinks of themselves to be. In an ideal world, we would only make the music/art/literature/sculpture that we want to pursue, whether that’s because it expresses us, it expresses a concept important to us, seems compelling in some way, or embodies a mixture of all these motivations. We don’t live in an ideal but the real world, of course, and so we often have to do artistic things we would not pursue if it weren’t for pressing matters of limited money and time, boundless and unrealistic professional aspirations and ambitions, question for social relevance, and so on down the rabbit hole of forever trying to fit in. But there’s always space within the real world for carving for ourselves a niche of authenticity.

Within the realm of music production, authenticity can find you if you devise ways to free yourself from the pressure to fit in. The best way to begin is by pursuing only that which sounds enchanting. How you got there is irrelevant (though you might want to make notes on that to guide you the next time); what’s important is how it sounds. While there are certainly established ways of doing things—don’t make the piece too long, don’t swamp every part in reverb, don’t over compress the sounds—these ways only map what has already been done and what has already worked. The thing is, there are an infinite number of ways of arriving at an enchanting sound. 

The next step for curating authenticity is to build upon whatever you’ve found enchanting by devising your own methods and strategies and techniques for expanding your material. The tools of digital music production (e.g. plug-in instruments and effects) are configured so that there is no end for ways to combine them. New combinations and configurations of these tools always lead to new sounds. Your task is to be on the lookout for anything that speaks to you—anything that sounds genuine in a way that you can relate to. 

A third step towards authenticity is to refrain from seeking a context, an audience, a stylistic placeholder, or critical niche for your music. For as long as possible, you need to suspend your disbelief about the music’s prospects or future trajectory after you’re done with it and instead stay rooted in Just Is-ness. The music just is, just as you just are. Or as the vernacular saying goes, It is what it is.

A final step towards authenticity is take these three steps—freeing yourself from the pressure to fit in by pursuing what sounds enchanting, building upon that through new combinations and configurations, refraining from seeking a context for your work—and feeding these steps back onto themselves in a cascading feedback loop. Around and around you go as you work and develop the music and yourself too, feeling more authentic with every iteration. 

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