If you’ve followed this blog over the years, you probably noticed a precipitous decline in the number of posts since 2010.
Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet.
My work life shifted pretty radically when I started teaching high school full-time. It’s not that I wasn’t busy before that (during most of my first few years writing this blog, I was balancing freelance bass playing, teaching 40 bass students, and going back to school), but taking the full-time job ramped my life up to a whole new level of activity. Not only did I find the bulk of my discretionary time evaporate, but I found my metal energy and creativity exhausted at the end of the day. Working in the types of orchestra programs with which I’ve been involved in suburban Chicago, with all of their myriad intricacies–repertoire, trips, chamber music, and the like–consumed all of my mental capacity. All I wanted to do when I came home was collapse on the couch and try to remember to set my alarm for the next morning.
Taking a day off turned into a week off, then a month off, and before I knew it the blog/podcast workflow was a distant memory. I made a few attempts to get others involved and to maybe take them over (both of these sites still get a lot of traffic despite not being updated much in the past five years), but nothing ever seemed to exactly work out. I would try now and again to ramp them back up, but work would quickly pull me back in.
What follows are some thoughts about the life I used to live (freelancing/blogging/podcasting), the life I’ve been living these past seven years (high school orchestra director), and what I see for myself in the future.
What I didn’t like about the “computer lifestyle” of the blog/podcast
I’ve documented heavily what I don’t like about the life of a freelancer. For me, it was not so much the reality of not having a steady paycheck (I did well as a freelancer and was never really worried about money after the first year or so of that life) as the feeling that I was driftless. I saw year after year of the same gigs stretching out ahead of me and was worried that what I was doing in my twenties would be identical to what I’d be doing in my thirties, forties, and fifties.
Would that be so bad? Of course not. I think that I realized it in the moment, but looking back, I realize how many advantages that lifestyle has to offer. For one thing, you have so much control over your schedule and your discretionary time. I like to think that I was fairly disciplined in my organizational habits as a freelancer (I got up early, practiced regularly, worked out, etc.) but when I think about the sheer amount of time I spend at my full-time job (let alone all the other activities that I still do–teaching at DePaul, playing gigs) I can’t imagine what it would be like to have hours free every day to organize as I wished.
It was actually not until the last couple years of freelancing that I started blogging and then podcasting, and that didn’t really heat up until I’d made the decision to go back to school and try to do something else. Allowing myself to not spend all that time practicing for auditions and beating myself up for not landing that elusive orchestra job freed up my mind and imagination, and I took a lot of the energy that I’d been focusing on bass and poured it into the internet stuff that I’d been hatching.
I had a real moment when I was going back to school where I was convinced that I was on the wrong path (a common feeling for most people at various junctures in their lives). I was set to drop out from the school program and pour all my energies into the blog and podcast, both of which were becoming successful and starting to generate real revenue for me. My father talked me down from that particular ledge and convinced me to finish out the school program. I did so, keeping up a pretty crazy schedule of school, blog, podcast, teaching, and gigs. My wife was starting medical school at the same point, and I got to watch with detached horror as all the money (and then some) that we’d earned as relatively successful freelancers disappeared into the maw of student loans. It was a dark few years in terms of that for sure.
In addition to doing the blog and podcast, I started to help out some nonprofit organizations with podcasting, and I found myself spending more and more time in front of the computer. As I was thinking seriously about dropping the education degree and diving headfirst into my online endeavors, I began to question just how much time I really wanted to be spending in front of the computer. I was really engaged with what I was doing, but I began to think–yet again–about the years and years stretching out ahead of me. Was this “tech stuff” really an improvement on my then current lifestyle of gigging and teaching? In the end, I decided to give the school gig route a go ad rising quickly through the ranks at several different schools. I now find myself in charge of an extremely strong orchestra program in suburban Chicago and living quite a different life from the mid-2000s.
What I like about the school gig
There are a few things that are really cool about teaching orchestra–things that I discovered almost immediately and have continued to believe are true for these past seven years:
– I’m “doing something real” – There’s something to be said for interacting face-to-face with real human beings every day to keep you grounded in reality, and nothing keeps you humble like teaching high school! I’ve never really taken myself that seriously, actually, though I take what I do seriously, and I find that this is a great attitude to take in a school job—it keeps things fun and good-natured while working toward great things.
– I’m having an immediate and discernible impact – With practicing bass, I sometimes (more than sometimes if I’m being honest) feel that I’m pouring hours and hours of my time and life force into these excerpts with little discernible impact. It was a revelation actually spending an hour really thinking about a piece and how to approach teaching and rehearsing it and to see so clearly how that prep time paid off. It’s amazing how much better just an hour of prep time on a score will make me!
– I feel like I’m constantly learning new skills – While I certainly feel this to an extent when practicing the bass (when I’m practicing the right ways, at least), the school gig is constantly throwing new challenges in my path, musical and otherwise. Going into conducting was a real shocker—I’d never thought of myself as a conductor and found occupying the podium wrong and troubling. “Stick fever” (that strange compulsion some performers have to conduct regardless of ability or competence) is a powerful thing, however, and while by no means do I consider myself a “maestro,” I have grown quite comfortable being in front of 100+ teenagers and breaking apart great music together.
– I feel like my “musician brain” is being used more in this lifestyle than in the freelancing lifestyle – This may seem strange, but I find that the activities of my current daily existence are much closer to the reasons why I went to music school than when I was just freelancing. I don’t know that this would be the case in a place that wasn’t as “high powered” as my current school (we have a huge orchestra program with a lot of talented kids, and it resembles much more a regional youth orchestra than a typical high school program),
What I miss about the Internet lifestyle
One huge thing that I have missed these passed few years it time to be creative. It was amazing to me how drained I was after each day at school. While the focus of the job is, of course, the face time with the students, which I totally love, there’s an avalanche of paperwork, deadlines, and seemingly urgent requests from students, parents, and administration. I expected nothing less, of course, but it was amazing to me how all-consuming it was. All I wanted to do was crash when getting home. Add to that a pretty long commute into downtown Chicago for most of those years and I found myself with at least 12 hours a day spent at work… and often much more like 15 or 16 hours.
I think that what I really miss is the time to think and to create. I’ve always enjoyed writing and, at the height of my blogging, was putting in several hours a day writing, editing, and thinking up new and interesting projects. That has been hard with the school job for sure.
The thing is, I look back over the past decade of my life and I realize that, like it or not, my Internet activities really were having a measurable and positive impact on the bass community. If I think about what I’ve done in my life thus far that has had some sort of lasting impact, it most certainly is the podcast, blog, etc. So why not give it another go? The pace of tech is so fast that the world I look at now as a consumer of technology (with my iPhone 6S+, Apple Watch, MacBook Air, and iPad) is a far cry from even 2007 or 2008. It makes me excited to think of the possibilities available with a little focus and creativity.
I’ve decided to do it—relaunch and dive back in. I have gotten better with school/life balance, I’ve got a lot more time on my hands this year (more on that later). So here’s what’s going on:
I’ve decided to relaunch with the following focus:
– Blog – useful Internet resource for bass players worldwide
– bass community news
– MP3, PDF, and app resources for students, teachers, and professionals
– distributed through all mainstream social channels (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Flipboard) in addition to the blog
– regular posting (yes, regular posting!)
– Podcast – interviews and music from important figures in the bass community
– regular posting schedule
– shorter in addition to longer content
– make an effort to highlight important older content (interviews with major figures in the bass world that have been buried in the archives, for example)
Here we go!