Create & Release 14: For The Fun of It

When I was a kid, I used to love to draw — in fact, my mom used to say that I could draw before I could talk. I also loved playing baseball, riding my bike, and building plastic models of dragsters and funny cars (remember “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme?). In high school, I had a darkroom, a telescope, and spent a couple hours most afternoons after school at the local arcade — even in college, I was still a huge gamer. The point is that I did things just because I loved doing them — you know, for fun. I was talking to a friend the other day and the subject of hobbies came up and I realized that I really don’t have any, not like I used to anyway. I don’t really do much just for fun anymore, and the few things that I still do often end up leaving me feeling guilty for not working. At some point — and I think this may be true for many people, especially freelancers — everything became a potential side hustle.

In 2019, I started following a musician on YouTube named Omri Cohen who introduced me to the world of VCV Rack, a software version of a Eurorack modular synthesizer. I have been a fan of synths for years and, in fact, I used to drag my mom to our local music store which had an entire room devoted to now-iconic synths like the PPG Wave, the Prophet 5, the Roland Jupiter 8, and the Oberheim OBX-a. There I would stand, bathed in the multicolored lights hanging from the aluminum truss work overhead, imagining myself on stage making music like my heroes at the time. Modular synthesizers are synthesizers that are made up of various hardware modules, each of which offers different functionality. Individual modules are connected via cables to create a sound called a patch. Patches can then be affected by other modules, such as sequencers, reverbs, delays, and a myriad of other options to create music. Modular synths are used by NIN, Depeche Mode, Hans Zimmer, and a ton of others. The beauty of modular is that you can build exactly the rig that you want that makes exactly the types of sounds you want. The biggest downside is that they can get very expensive very quickly. VCV Rack, on the other hand, is free as are most of the available modules which really encourages users to go deep to learn the ins and outs of modular synthesis.

So where am I going with all of this? When I first started watching Omri’s videos, I thought VCV Rack might be a way for me to learn to make music for my podcasts. Nothing elaborate — mostly just drones and textures to put underneath whoever was speaking to add a bit of ambience — think Radiolab here. But I immediately took the “just for fun” aspect of it out and I tried to take this thing that I had loved and had an interest in for decades and turn into something else, a potential side hustle. At the time, I thought that if I was going to pursue it (which obviously was going to require time and effort to develop any sort of proficiency), it had to somehow be tied to the work I was doing. I was thinking about it in terms of ROI, rather than something that I just did for its own enjoyment, and as a result, I let it go.

About midway into lockdown, I found myself going back to Omri’s videos about VCV Rack. I re-downloaded the app and a bunch of modules (I currently have over 1200) and started to really focus on learning the software. I also found some tutorials around learning basic piano and I promised myself that I had to enjoy it and that if it got to the point where I started thinking about where I could use it, how it could be monetized, or anything that diluted the purpose of just having fun with it, I would delete it. I’m not saying that I’ll never use anything I create in one of my shows; that just can’t be the prime mover. A few weeks ago, I bought a new synth to add into the mix and I love it. I’ve already logged hours with it, just playing around and seeing what sounds I can come up with, most of the time grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

What I’m finding is that adding a little play into the mix actually makes more room for the work — not to mention better work — to happen. It’s akin to taking a walk (which I often do), doing yard work, or riding my bike (yes, I’ve started that again too). Not thinking so hard about the hustle allows our brains to work on things in the background while we actively enjoy the thing that we’re doing. Lately, when I’m making sounds (it’s not music yet), playing video games, or even reading a book, I’ve started to keep an idea journal nearby, which is filling up much quicker than it used to, and that’s a good thing.

What are some of your hobbies? Do you find that they help your work, or get in the way?
Hit the comments and let’s talk about it.

If the Kodak Memory is not an actual product, I think someone is missing a terrific opportunity. It’s a black and white printer designed to look like an oversized roll of 35mm film and is available (or, could be available) in either the iconic Kodak gold or as a monochrome variant. If it does go to market, take my money. Fingers crossed.

Artist Ana Sofía Casaverde re-imagines classic works of art in oil paints. What sets her work apart is the scale which she works. Most of her paintings will fit on the tip of a finger and despite being “painted” with a needle, they manage to retain much of the character and texture of the originals. Brilliant.

I’ve been a fan of Iron Maiden for decades, but even if you aren’t, I invite you to take a listen to a terrific interview with frontman Bruce Dickinson on NPR World Cafe. In addition to being a licensed commercial airline pilot (Bruce even pilots Ed Force One, the band’s 757, on their world tours), he’s an avid fencer, and, after more than four decades, still one of the hardest working performers in rock and roll.

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