Picking from your Past.

(Originally posted on 3.15.2013 at sett.com/marc)

I recently took a voice lesson. I’ve been working on composition so much in my music work lately that I’ve let a couple of performance skills atrophy a bit. Noticing this, I signed up for voice lessons to make sure my (already limited) range and technique didn’t completely wither.

I’ve studied music quite a bit in the past, but never with someone like this. Like myself (but not for voice), this teacher studied formally in college, learning classical and operatic technique, but has come to living the Brooklyn indie-rock musical life instead. (To anyone rolling their eyes at that, it’s quite a powerful combo, the stereotypical shaggy guy in a plaid shirt who can sing a perfect Aria or identify any concerto) I’ve always liked this idea of learning as much as you can, then picking what’s relevant to apply to your situation later. I did this in the past by spending years studying jazz saxophone with some of the best players around New York City, and later applying most of the knowledge in harmonic choices as a singer-songwriter and guitarist in an indie-rock band…not an obvious use of such skills, but it really worked well!

This voice teacher, went about things a little differently. He studied formally like I did, then after school he threw out everything he learned and tried writing/performing/recording being purposely absent-minded of what he learned. He did the opposite of every technique and every rule the conservatory world preached to him.

He then had polarizing approaches to compare to make a choice for his third act. The music he’s making now is his most excellent and he supposes it’s due to the fact that he’s now making choices based on the best of each of the prior two situations. Pulling back some of the conservatory technique, as well as using tricks he only would’ve learned by purposely not following the rules.

I’ve been thinking about this in my life in another context as well. I’ve now founded two web-based companies with one main difference (among many differences) being that in the first one I co-founded it alongside a technical team member, while in the second I outsourced the technical expertise to people who have no connection to the project beyond money. I still foresee great success for both situations, however there’s no doubt in my mind that the latter has been more difficult. Not having someone on board with vested interest beyond money really shows…but I can discuss that more in another post. The point of that reference is that I now know for the third time around, there’s a hybridized version of how I’d do it. The first company situation isn’t perfect either, and that’s why it’s all about your third shot.

Your third time around can be your chance to really make a dent if you’re smart. Try different things, hybridize the best of them, and you should be good. To bring this post back around to music, I’m already thinking about how my currently-in-development music project truly is a hybrid of my initial music background (classical/jazz, orchestrated music) as well as my non-academic phase (singer-songwriter/indie rock). I’m now completely blending the worlds, and not only do I think it will be the best music I’ve made, but I think it will be the most honest version of me.

So if you’re jones'ing to start a new project, or have just finished building some expertise in one area, try looking at the opposite way to know another perspective. When you put them together, it will be beautiful.


Written on a plane from New York to Brussels. Going to France for the week to see some family. The above picture is my main music task on the white board in my studio.

Marc Plotkin