Constant motion has become routine. Like most of us, I want to do everything all at once, and that requires overwhelming myself with aspirations. I can spread myself so thin it kills me, but wonder why I never get anything done. Finding the balance between your creative dreams and everyday life is tough.
Comfort is naturally sought after, and even those near-minimum wage shifts give me that feeling of security so I can avoid relying on myself and myself alone. Yet, it doesn’t make me comfortable at all. The more time I spend at my job the less return I see for myself.
The goal is to use as many moments in a day for my art as I can. Most recently I was able to take part in composing a piece for a New Balance advertisement to air in China. My friend Elphick [Delf] had reached out to me just before the new year for help. When you pray for opportunities and they present themselves, you don’t say no. I had little time to spare and he needed ideas fast. The next morning I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., but instead of going to the gym, I fired up some keyboards and threw on a metronome at 110 beats per minute. I was given the vague direction that New Balance wanted a soundtrack of something that resembled disco, funk and lo-fi for their nightclub and VHS-inspired commercial. More often than not this is the direction you’re given as a writer or composer, and in some weird way, it makes sense. I simply started playing and recording any and every idea that came into my head.
Companies or contracts give me a rigid structure and scale to execute. They want this specific thing by this specific time for this specific amount. It’s easy to enjoy that as opposed to clocking into a corporate establishment for eight hours, but can still turn into monotonous work, nonetheless.
A personal venture begins out of love. I spend time writing music because it’s therapeutic, and most times quite humbling. It’s an all-time high to create something out of seemingly nothing and watch it grow and change as I do. Lyrics stem from an experience, a song from a feeling, and ultimately I hope that others out there can connect with that same feeling. That in itself is the best return, and frankly, priceless.
That’s the return on investment we see as artists. Pieces I compose for others can still be special, but making a sacrifice of time for money is a job, whereas sacrifice for myself is passion.
Sometimes you’ll see videos of people writing these incredible songs or scores in an instant. Those glimpses of musical beauty do exist, but 90 percent of the time it’s one failed attempt after another. I spent a good two hours playing that morning, sent it off to my friend and went to work waiting to hear the review. Mid-shift, I got a voice message informing me that I didn’t hit the mark, and I’d need to try again. I was left trying to decipher what little information had been passed to me through my contact and turn it into the perfect fit to the newest vision of a fashion staple. This is where you can make your moments.
I clocked out and flew home to meet my deadline. New ideas had passed through my head during the day and it was time to put them into motion. That evening, I’d spend nearly four hours locked away in my room trialing melodies, chords, and rhythms until I found a combination I believed felt right and pleased the client. With a window of almost two days, sparing no extra time, I threw the last attempt of an idea out in hopes of helping a friend on the other side of the globe—and it landed. He was thrilled with the newest composition, sent it off to New Balance and they finally had their musical score.
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It’s funny, really, how simple things can take so much time. The tragedy in it all is how it seems we stunt our growth as creatives by spending time with anything besides our art. There’s a feeling that we aren’t in the right place, but we need those places to help us grow and even realize the value of our time. I’ve spent many a night wondering if I can really make my passion my living, and I wish I had a clearer answer, but I believe this is my answer. Continue to learn, to sacrifice and to fight.
James Rock is a songwriter, producer, and musician currently living in Troy. Headshot by Kiki Vassilakis.