Tiptoeing out of the room
Following the release of lingeringInMirroredPlanes, I've come to a realisation: Making things this way (spending weeks on a project I'm passionate and excited about, only to release it on the internet to widespread indifference) is not working for me. I need to find a different way of doing things.
I am not good at marketing. I am not good at articulating why the things I make excite me, and why they should excite you. I am not good at convincing writers to write about my work, or convincing people to share my stuff with their friends.
So I always struggle to find an audience on the internet, even though I do think there is an audience for this stuff out there. I've seen enough things in a similar vein do well to convince me that those people are out there. I just don't know how to reach them.
On its own, this isn't necessarily a problem. I don't expect to make a living from making weird experiments with looping music sequencers and generative text. And when making things, my initial motivation is always my own curiosity. The existence or non-existence of an appreciative audience shouldn't change that.
The problem is that the internet, or specifically, the structures we've created for sharing work on the internet, are designed around the assumption that you need to know your reach. How are you engaging your audience? Where are they coming from? How many page views? How many downloads? This stuff is inescapable and, as has become apparent, I am incapable of ignoring it.
I've been releasing things on the internet since at least 2002, when I first started making VST plugins. Having released things this way for so long, it's become my default way of working, and of thinking about my work. But it's become increasingly clear to me that this is just not healthy. Every release is followed by a wave of self-pity because — inevitably — the ever-present analytics numbers fall far short of my expectations. Even work that is successful on its own terms (on my terms) ends up feeling like a failure.
The image at the top of this page is Kristin Hersh's liner notes from the In a Doghouse reissue of Throwing Muses' first, untitled album. I discovered this album (and Throwing Muses themselves) at 17, and they've been lodged in my chest ever since. Both for the — still, to me, utterly startling — music, and the liner notes. In particular, the last line of those notes articulates something that is at the core of why I make things, and how I want to make things. I think I'd forgotten that.
I can't stop making things, any more than I can willingly stop breathing. I can, however, change how I introduce those things into the world. For at least the next year, if not longer, I intend to shun existing internet distribution systems. I will make things to share at events. I will save software experiments on USB sticks and hide them in the hills. I will slide zines into dusty bookcases in cafes. I need to get back into the habit of treating these things as gifts. Surprises. To be given without expectation of receiving anything in return.
So that's where I'm headed. No more downloads. No more quantifiable numbers. No more analytics anxiety. Small-scale, personal works, hidden in the world for people to stumble across (or not, as the case may be).
"Besides, the idea was always to leave a big, fancy present on the table and tiptoe out of the room."