Barry Power

Offical Site of Melodic Indie songwriter Barry Power.

Filtering by Category: Inspirational

019. Communication breakdown

Art is essentially communication. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s why people make art, so other people can relate to it.
— Conor Oberst

Isn’t it true that 90% of human communication is based on non-verbal and body language? Well, where does that leave us when we are trying to make meaningful connections online? I, for one, have decided to try and embrace this new age of accessibility, so I really do hope there is a way to a truthful connection. Otherwise, a lot of us are wasting a lot of time.

One of the greatest experiences you can have in life is to go to hear and see music live, the tactility of it all, the murmurings of the audience before the performance, that shared vital energy from being in a big crowd in one place sharing the one moment together and the performers being the lynchpin to it all. As an artist and an audience member, this is what feels real.

So my question of the week is this; Is it possible to make these real and tangible connections in the digital space? For me, I think there is, because of how I first encountered music. It wasn’t because my favourite band had decided to tour the Irish midlands and I happened to stumble across them. It was through my headphones, as if the singer was talking directly to me or through a movie that opened my mind to ideas that were so brand new I couldn’t have experienced them in any other way. My point is, the delivery system may have changed but the feelings stay real. We all have a favourite song or movie that we have experienced digitally, It didn’t diminish our feelings for it.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here, but could you call the whole internet a new artistic medium? One that’s so all-encompassing that we are simultaneously creating it and experiencing it all at the same time? And if this is true, is the connection we are receiving from it as valid as a real-life communication? Or do you have to actually be there? 

While it’s fair to say, hearing a song on my phone speakers might never compare to the feelings of a real-life performance, the feelings I have for a song, that I may have never got the chance to hear without the freedom of delivery from the online world will still be the same.

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018. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.
— John Coltrane

I received my first trollish comment on a song recently. It wasn’t anything bad or insulting it was just that they compared my song to another artist (how dare they!!) This artist happens to be a big influence on me, (so much so I did a blog about it here) so I took it as a compliment. I didn’t deliberately set out to copy this particular song and although there are elements that are similar harmonically, I don’t think I could be accused of stealing really.  

But It did get me thinking about plagiarism in music. Normally, I don’t give this idea of stealing too much credence because we all have to take our cues from the artists who inspire us, but is there something even deeper? 

You know that feeling when you hear a song somewhere that you haven’t heard in a long time and suddenly it starts to follow you around, you hear it in all kinds of other situations. Or you are thinking about someone you haven’t heard from in a while and suddenly out of the blue, they call.

I find this happens to me in music, particularly when I am writing. I'll start writing something and a song will spring up that I would like to emulate the feeling of. Suddenly I start hearing that song in random places even if it's really obscure. Is this a sort of cosmic influence? Or is it just because my brain is subconsciously looking for connections and is finding them everywhere. 

So why did I mention plagiarism? well, what if, for argument's sake, it is some sort of divine machination at work when you sit down to write. Are these songs that you want to emulate served up by some otherness? Could they be manifesting themselves as some sort of divine through line, moving from artist to artist expressing themselves by a weird synchronicity?

I know, I know, conspiracy theorists of the world unite, (How many smiths references can I fit in here?) "we are all connected man." But maybe there is something to it, and if there is then it certainly lets all those artists who got sued off the hook. But then again, it could be just too much caffeine talking.

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017. Wait, what was I talking about again?

Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity
— T.S. Eliot

Last week I began with an analogy about time travel movies. This week my analogy is about those movies where one man or woman has a singular vision, they disappear into the woods in an epic training/preparing montage and emerge totally ready, usually to catch a criminal or to get revenge. To the detriment of everything else in their lives, they commit one hundred percent to their mission and nothing sways them in their steadfastness.

Well, I am kind of the opposite of that. I have several visions, a hundred tasks and some seriously poor time management. My training montage would probably consist of making coffee and scrolling through my phone. 

It is simultaneously the curse and the advantage of the fluid creative brain, to brim with ideas and to pursue them. What happens to me is I tend to lose track of where I am at with things. Ideas, no problem, follow through erm... not so much. More often than not, this isn’t really a problem; Over time I have learned to accept how I approach things and if I throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick.

Where I find a real danger in this is that it can lead to a feeling of anxiety, the unknownness of the results when you are working for yourself. It is difficult to quantify whether what you are spending your time on is the most productive it could be, or even that it will actually lead to much at all?

I have also found that for me, when I am in one of these more unpredictable times of having several plates in the air and not really sure which ones are the good china and which are the two euro shop ones, that If I spend too much time on social media it can compound this anxious feeling; Comparing where I think I am at, with where I think I should be with all these other people, are who are seemingly dealing with things much better than I am. Now I am usually a champion for technology and social media but It can really have a sharp edge to it if not handled carefully.

I am not playing the poor me musician has a crisis of confidence card here. It would be much easier to get a different occupation with some regular working hours and a regular salary. It is no one's choice but my own to pursue this kind of life but I thought it might be nice to share warts and all version along with the idealised vision version.

So, what do I do about this? I try to think of it like the weather, constantly in flux and similar in many ways to the fluid creative mind; occasionally overcast, dark and damp but with that is the perfect conditions for growth. Or something like that.  

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016. Slow is fast

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit
— Aristotle

Did you ever notice how in movies about time travel, everyone is really worried about how one small action in the past can throw off the whole space-time continuum, yet nobody is really worried about their small actions in the present? These small actions when compounded are the ones that make for the big ideas and the big achievements but in order to have them lead to something tangible, you have to be consistent. Through time and repetition, the big moments will realise themselves. 

But this small consistent momentum is so far from the modern approach of, "I'm sure there is a hack for that." It can be a real challenge to enjoy the incremental. Even though I know the rewards are so much deeper in the long run, I kind of just want to be good at something straight away. It's like when you cram for an exam, the result might be really good but the knowledge is only at surface level, it is never really internalised.

I think it is a question of integrity and how deeply I would like to experience the things I find important in my life. The more I find hacks for things, the more I only experience them on the surface. I think it is in the small daily actions that you can gain a profound depth and insight into your life experience.

Why then is so easy to avoid these small things in the day, to make excuses and to not follow through? If they are so small then they should be easy to do right? For me, I feel it is the weight of expectation that comes with them. You go to the gym once and suddenly in your mind, your going six days a week and in amazing shape, then you miss a day and that's it, you quit. The emphasis is no longer on getting to the gym for that one day, it's that now you can't do your imaginary six days. 

I think what I am trying to say is that, for me, I find the choice to practice something daily, be it  writing, playing guitar or even not having a muffin with coffee, can be simultaneously the easiest and most difficult decision as it holds both the most pedestrian and the most extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

015. Out with the old, in with the old.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the by-product from one food can be perfect for making another.
— Yotam Ottolenghi

In the house where I grew up we had, and still do have, a room that was totally devoted to music. It is the room where my mother has taught piano for over thirty years. It is filled from floor to ceiling with sheet music. Nothing is digital in here, all tactile and organised in a unique filing system that is only really known to the librarian. This room also has a vast collection of instruments from weird ethnic strings, to ukuleles and percussion toys.

I recently performed a song in this room for the Sloe Sessions check it out here. While we were making some space to shoot I moved an old bass guitar that had been lying around idle for years, so much so that I didn't even see it as an instrument anymore, it was just some wood and metal that had been accumulating dust and cobwebs. Ben (who runs the slow sessions) Suggested that I should give the bass to our close friend and all-around Bass enthusiast Alan to have a look at and see if he could bring it back to life. At first, he thought it was too far gone but a couple of weeks later he told me that with some meticulous care and attention he had worked it back to a playable working instrument again. 

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I always find that one of the biggest struggles to overcome when trying to create something, is to stop procrastinating and just do the work. In Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art (I highly recommend it), he maintains, the biggest barrier to creating is what he terms resistance. This resistance is the times when you sit staring at a blank page and can somehow think of everything except what you are trying to do, Resistance is the, "I'll just go on youtube for five minutes first," I'll just make coffee then I'll be ready," You get the idea.

How does this tie in with the old bass I was just talking about? Well, it started me thinking about how often I use the excuse of not having the right equipment as a resistance. I so often say to myself, If I only had this piece of equipment or I can't finish this because it really needs a bass part and I don't have a bass when all along I actually did have a bass I just wasn't seeing it as a bass.

I think my point is that although having the right tools is important actually seeing things as tools is a path to least resistance, so go have a look in your attic or wardrobe and see if there is anything in there to reclaim and start seeing as a tool. You never know what you might have been forgetting about in the quest for the new and shiny. 

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

014. Something good

Looking back over the last few months of writing a weekly blog, I have noticed a couple of things. Firstly, I surprised myself with how much writing has been a cathartic process for me. There is a certain satisfaction in setting a weekly deadline and seeing what I can come up with each week. Secondly, I noticed that the last couple of posts in particular, have been about the problems and difficulties I was experiencing and had a more negative viewpoint. I realise that liberating as it may be, some may say it plain narcissistic to write about myself every week. I also want to be careful not to make this platform my own personal soapbox where every post has a new gripe.

So in that spirit, this week I want to talk about something positive. I feel there is a brand new cultural movement underway and it is enabling people to be creative in various fields all at once, like a kind of digital renaissance. There are amazing people out there changing how we look, feel and interact with the world through art. I am inspired daily by these incredible people who are redefining what culture and art is. What’s more, I can access these people directly whenever I want. For me, there has never been a better time to be a creative person than today. I feel very fortunate to be able to hold this view, I know it is probably not the most common one. I also feel very grateful to be even able to peruse this dream of engaging in this new rebirth. 

My list is long and these are just a few of the people who are blazing a trail for me. if you are a musician or a creative in general, I highly recommend checking some of these people out they are all linked here. (In no particular order) 

Adam Neely, Rich roll, Mark Lettieri, Samurai Guitarist, Rick Beatoindeprener, The savvy musician, Jacob Collier, Joe Rogan, Groundup music, Holistic songwriting, Reverb

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

013. Cognitive Dissonance

If your in marketing or advertising ...........kill yourself
— Bill Hicks

Your music is really good but how do you get people to hear it? The answer is you find a way to put it in front of the people you think will enjoy it the most. How do you do this? apparently, it is called marketing.

Learning about running my music career as a business this past year, has been like exploring an alien planet. I was always more interested in the creative side, the artistic vision, I didn’t care about all that business stuff. But to get where I want to go, I needed to understand more. So I went down the rabbit hole and how did I go about this? The internet of course.

As I am prone to mentioning, the amount of free resources available to the human race today is astounding and the people willing to teach their unique skillset is unparalleled in history. But when I started looking into the business world, and more specifically marketing, it was like the gate closing in the alligator pit. You suddenly start getting marketed to in a very specific way because these people are really good at well...Marketing. The problem is that there are so many Snake Oil salesmen out there.

For all our advancements, it is like going back to the wild west; The universal Panacea readily available for whatever in the world you desire, and they know how to get you hooked too. Unfortunately, this is what also part of what makes really good marketing.

Now the irony of all this is not lost on me. Being someone who considers myself as having a relatively good moral compass, what I ask myself is, how do I Juxtapose these ideas for my own career? Can the artistic and business really live together? To what extent do you become the seller of a product over the provider of existential solace which can't really have a price? 

My answer is, for me, there can be creativity in both and there can be artistry in both. You need to do it with your best intentions and if you are going to sell something then provide something of real worth and real value that is worthy of your art.

 

012. Do it yourself, Punk!

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.
— Christopher "Supertramp" McCandless

This week, I want to write about how accessible I think it is, to be an independent musician today. Let me start with how I see how things now. Musicians today and I include myself in this, are locked in an archaic and outdated view of what success is. A cyclical generational epoch that we refuse to see in any kind of new way. Because of how the music industry has been run, we feel that we don't have any real control. We feel we need intermediaries in order to validate what we are doing. The problem is that these middlemen exploit musicians at every step. 

The list is long but here are a few small examples. Gigs for exposure, slots at festivals in exchange for social media likes. Pay to play gigs. Radio playlisting. Not to mention streaming royalties. But the real tragedy is that musicians are letting themselves be exploited. They continually undervalue themselves waiting for their big break to be handed to them. And settling for these empty promises from people who are lining their pockets. 

But on the flipside of this, what inspires me are the anti-establishment movements like the underground punk scene of the 70's and again the grunge scene of the 90's. The mentality back then was not so much about your ability, but your balls to go for it. If things were not within reach, you got your friends around and moved to grab them for yourself. In those times they made their own flyers, cut their own records, designed their own record sleeves and even set up their own record companies out of sheer necessity. Look at the Buzzcocks or Subpop, they embraced their own ingenuity and built their own culture around their bands and their music. 

These people circumvented the major record labels and the so-called tastemakers and communicated straight to the people who loved their music most, their tribe. And in doing so had complete creative control and a real movement of like-minded people was born. 

I think we can go back to that attitude that made the movements of grunge and punk so vibrant and alive. Not to make the music the same but to embrace that idea of doing it yourself of taking the reigns. Everything is within your grasp. Whats more is we have the massive advantage of technology. Flyers on telephone poles are now Facebook events, record sleeves are now a collaboration with that amazing artist you found on Instagram. Pressing records is now an email away, finding your tribe is no longer turning up for that one off post-punk night and hoping you can give your demo to some record PR guy. It is joining online groups who live and breathe the same culture as you.

Ok, I definitely feel old writing this and maybe any millennials who are reading this will say "are you just realising this now?" The answer is yes, I like so many of my peers, was institutionalised. but now I see the future is bright and it is never too late to embrace your inner Punk.

 

011. Flow States.

The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness. In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real.
— Dr. Jay Granat

This week I learned one of those, especially valuable lessons. You know the kind that leaves you feeling irritated afterwards, but ultimately you know are the most important. 

I was at my tai chi class, the first day back in the new year. It had been a few months since I had been able to attend a class. I had been practising, but without the direction of a teacher, I had drifted off into my own idea of what the practice should be.

When I arrived I said to the teacher, "I have lots of questions." I had stockpiled, and my brain was brimming with tiny, and as it happens, quite inconsequential details. As a result, when I tried to do the form It was slow, thoughtful, uptight and robotic. There was no flow. I was trying too hard thinking too much and outside of the moment. 

Musically, I find this happens to me all the time. I tend to think about the details of the music rather than the sound and the feeling. If I'm playing a gig and it's my turn to solo, I'll often think major scale, diminished arpeggio etc. which as terms really mean nothing, but as sounds can mean everything.

Then there are moments when I don't think about anything at all, those small slices of time where everything is still and I am simply observing what is happening. I feel like I am not in my own way, like a brief ray of sunshine breaking the clouds and then disappearing. It is these moments that I am most fascinated by. When you are in the zone, the greater truth of life appears. I am so often in awe of the people who are truly world class at whatever their chosen field is, how they can transcend all the mental clutter and seem to live in that space that I can only catch glimpses of.

I watched an interview recently with the Irish fiddle player, Martin Hayes. When asked what went through his mind when he plays, he answered that he would take inspiration from the local musicians he was surrounded by growing up. Not so much from their big achievements, but from those small fleeting instances of truth, those magical moments in sessions where the world stopped. That was what he wanted to present when he played.

So I find myself questioning, how do I get there? How do I tap into that zone? that flow state where I am simply in the moment and expressing myself honestly. I think the answer that most regularly presents itself to me is, as always, the simplest and yet the most ethereal; In the words of Yoda

"Do or do not there is no try" 

 

010. The freedom of limits

Reduce. Do as little as possible to do what you have to get done
— Joshua schachter

There are many challenges I find in trying to be more productive, but I think the biggest of all obstacles for me in my creative process is finishing things. I so often leave work half done, abandoned and left to the lost archives of notebooks, phone notes and hard drives. When I think of why that is, there are a few reasons that come to mind. The work is no good, I am afraid of what people will think so it's safer to leave things undone. But the main reason is choice, I simply get confounded by too many options. 

Decision fatigue is a real thing. Think of all those micro-decisions that you have to make throughout your day; Every time you need to choose something there is a little bit of energy spent and although it seems like tiny amounts it all compounds and leaves you drained. 

To try and navigate this, I have been trying to limit the amount of choices I have to make. I would say it is akin to a painter limiting his palette, what she has set out for herself is what she uses. I read an article about this recently and some of the benefits are; a greater balance for your painting, less over mixing, better colour harmony and it forces you to think more about form and composition. I thought this is totally interchangeable with music.

Even the version of this blog you are reading now is actually the fourth draft, the earlier outlines were much much longer. I indulged in several paragraphs all saying the same thing. 

So at the risk of repeating myself and not staying true to my newfound reductionist standpoint, I will try to eliminate the decision fatigue in my creative process and remember the more options I have, the more of a bottleneck my thoughts become. The more clogged up with ideas I get, the more likely I’ll abandon my work because I can't remember what the crux of the idea was in the first place. So streamline, that's my new motto. Hack away the unessential.

 

 

009. The Counterfeit Artist

Always remember that reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself, that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society.
— David Bowie

I have always thought of myself as an artist. But for as long as I can remember I have always had a difficulty with that word, Artist. It is a word that for me always brought up negative connotations. On reflection, I realise that these negative feelings I have for this word have come from years of prejudice. 

When I was younger I came to music through the discovery of people whose art made me feel like there were other people out there in the world who had the same view on things as I did.  Even though I was already writing at the time and I had belief in what I was creating, being a songwriter was what other people allowed themselves to do. I didn't give myself permission, that was for other people. Could you imagine if your favourite songwriter had this attitude? How many pieces of music would we not have heard? 

As time went on I went to college where I was told in no uncertain terms that, "you are not a musician, you are an entertainer." Which means, you are only there to please others and that is your function as a musician. This was coupled with an idea that, If you are making money from music, regardless of the musical situation, then you are, "making it." Both of these ideas are false! If you are to stay true to being a real artist. So I started to distance myself from the dirty word and in doing so build up another prejudice.

Over the next few years, I studied more, spent hours and hours practising and music became all about technique and instrumental mastery, showing off skills and how many chords I could fit under my fingers. This, as it turns out, was another prejudice against being an artist. Although I feel it was a step in the right direction, it was still not being an artist. There were now more tools in my toolbox but it did not mean I was actually able to fix anything.

My real truth is that I envied people who were brave enough to follow their muses all along, to stay true to themselves and to not be misled by dogmatic ideas of what a musician should be. I was jealous of all the people who weren't afraid to express themselves honestly; To speak their truth.

So if you are an artist, please remember you are not a just an entertainer, you do not have to compromise yourself or your work and talent just to make money. Technique, ability and knowledge are not the end goal, it is how you use them. Above all else, stay true to yourself and be honoured to call yourself an artist.