Solving for Why: My Musical Writing

Self-employment, it turns out, means spending a lot of time listening to people who are in the business of making money. Self-employment means getting a lot of cups of coffee with people with whom I share some fundamental values to a definite and identifiable point. Past that point, I confuse them.


A lot of the cups of coffee between self-employed people listen to conversations about reasons. What motivates you? When will you know you've made it? Why are you in it? If those coffee cups could talk they'd probably say, "Hey! Relax! Enjoy your coffee!"

Since they can't, I get to talk. Lucky me.

See, I am not, to be entirely fair, particularly entrepreneurial. I have a certain punk-rock value in common with your typical entrepreneur: I see there must be better ways to do things. That's a value motivating plenty of entrepreneurial spirits, which means we can interface. And it means I can be a self-employed person. And it also means that the question, "What are your reasons for doing this?" is a sensible one to me.

I'm glad that circumstances forced me to become an entrepreneur. It turns out that there are a few practical lessons that Writer Oliver needed to learn from the Hustle in order to jump-start the next thing. Writer Oliver lived in danger of stagnating into becoming an artist. That would never do.

I've had the improbably good luck to do some work in direct pursuit of, as the hypesters like to put it, my Why. I had an inkling about the reasons I want to do what I do, and I have been allowed to indulge in doing what I do for those reasons.

In essence, I want to write about music. I don't seem to have the mind to write music, which has always been confusing to me, but that's another story. I've always wanted to write stories that went right along with music, especially music I love. I wasn't ever sure quite how that would work, but I always had an instinct that it could. So far, I've proved sufficiently clever with my instincts that I have always had confidence I'd figure it out, even if I spent most of my more formative years frustrated about this marriage between music and writing.

Then I started collaborating with Kristina Marie Martinez, a pretty dope human multi-tool based out of, like, the whole world. She's made a career out of leveraging digital marketing scenarios she's been involved in to celebrate her long-time love affair with the world of music. She gave me an opportunity once that, like, I don't know if she's aware quite how much of a tool for self-discovery it turned out to be. It turned out to unlock something in me that allowed me to finish my first really adequate novel. This thing she asked me to do was one of these moments that felt like permission. These moments have happened a bunch of times in my writing history when I was like, "I didn't know you could do that." Maybes I'll write a story about some of them...

Anyhow, what happened was she asked me to interview a musical collaborator of hers, a guy named Dylan Charbeneau. She said, "Interview him and write about it." In retrospect, I've wondered if she meant to write the interview verbatim, like how you see interviews in magazines sometimes.

Well, I didn't do that. I don't know how to do interviews. I don't have good recording equipment. I'm not a reporter.

I am a storyteller, and, as Jane Austen puts it, a connoisseur of human folly. I know how to listen, and I know how to find a narrative through-line in what I hear. Or, when there isn't one, I know how to construct one.

The result has been a series of stories about the musicians and related professionals that Kristina has worked with in Barcelona. I had to twist my brain a little bit around the first few, because I didn't have any clear examples to follow to make these things. They're like biography, but they're also marketing materials. In the end, I knew exactly what they were, even if I had never seen them before.

They are stories about conversations, and the conversations are about music.

And all of a sudden I figured something out about myself: I want to write about music. Not only, but that's a huge part of my "Why," as the hypesters like to put it.

What "writing about music" means changes from one project to the next, but I know what I mean by it, and that is the important part of figuring out your "why."

So here are a few of these stories about music, the ones that helped me figure out one of the important defining features for judging whether I know I'm doing business with the right people or not, or if my project is keeping near the center of me. Music isn't my only metric, but it's a big one in my professional life.

I know that I'm onto something because of two metrics. One's practical for conversations with other people, and the other is far more useful to me as a motivator.

One metric is sold out gigs. These rock stars I've written about have played gigs that have attracts full houses, and I have anecdotal evidence that some of the people at the gigs came to them to meet the rock stars I wrote about. So that's pretty dope.

The other metric is the times that the rock stars told me afterward that they liked the stories I wrote and they found the conversations we had to prepare for the stories more interesting than times they'd been interviewed in the past. That is more dope. I read some articles about high profile interviewers sitting for a few hours with higher profile celebs and writing pretty much whole stories about the experience. That is more what I wanted to do with these stories than to just write down what they said. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Find your reason for working so hard. The work changes character when you do.

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