Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lyrically Motivated

Success in any venture can be influenced by a multitude of factors, such as natural talent, personality, existing connections, or simply luck, but all of those elements are influenced by the ability to generate and maintain motivation. However, motivation, in my experience, is the most difficult trait to not only maintain, but make a core part of your overall personality.

Motivation levels influence every element of daily activity, and the weekday work routine can grind that level down to zero. Following a nine-hour work day, bookended by a combined two hours of commuting, I personally don't want to do anything other than aimlessly read soccer blogs and play Mass Effect 3 (I've beaten the game twice already, but I need to finish my Renegade, Cortez-romancing play-through...video games are bad for you, you guys). I'll admit that lack of motivation is the core reason I've only updated this blog once since October 2012, and why my fully outlined fantasy comedy/noir novel has been stuck on page 40 since January.

Yet, particularly in my professional field, living in a market where stable creative marketing jobs are scarce, it's not enough anymore to punch a clock and go home. Achieving the visibility needed to become a financially successful creative marketer requires you to be "on" until you are sleeping. I know four people, all of whom are more advanced in their marketing careers than I am, who also run their own startup firms* and blog regularly.

The next set of posts I plan on writing detail the steps I have taken to try and grow consistent motivation levels, and the one I am highlighting today is finding role models in unconventional channels - artists who have carved their own niche through creativity, hard work and willpower, and carry an inspiring message.

Outside of work, my major interests are in comic books and pop culture. When it comes to those interests, the best site in terms of editorial quality and content diversity is ComicsAlliance, and that site led me to the fantastic world of YouTube musicians.

I've always admired musicians and songwriters because of the multiple intelligences and imagination required to make truly vibrant music. Musicians need to not only be master linguists and imagine the complementary nonverbal tones and beats necessary to create memorable music, but they have to have a confidence and stage presence that connects with audiences at a universal level.

My personal problem with popular music, though (and this is obviously not a new complaint) is that it's too manufactured. Record companies recycle the same songwriters constantly, and the goal of these writers is to apparently ensure the song can fit in a movie trailer. These companies' influence over what airs on major radio stations guarantees their chosen artist becomes popular due to sheer overexposure. The lyrics are so thematically indistinct and artificial that to me it really just becomes noise. Even musical instruments are disappearing. YouTube musicians, despite working in a largely uncharted channel, I feel are taking music back to its roots, letting their creativity run wild in a way that isn't present on the radio dial.

One of the most prominent YouTube musicians and the personification of the channel's vibrant creativity is Lindsey Stirling. I first found out about Lindsey when her Zelda Medley was posted on ComicsAlliance, which led me to track down her other music videos. A classically trained violinist, Lindsey has taken the instrument out of the narrow confines of classical music and into the realms of rock, electronica, dub step, and even nu-metal. Drawing inspiration from video games ranging from Skyrim to Just Dance, as well her own original compositions, Lindsey has parlayed her 2010 quarterfinal appearance on America's Got Talent into a worldwide touring schedule and six-figure record sales without major label backing.

I attended one of Lindsey's concerts this past winter and it's easy to see why she's developed a hugely devoted fan following (nearly every Facebook post she makes has multiple marriage proposals in the comments, in multiple languages) and nearly three million YouTube subscribers. Literally a bodily-kinesthetic genius, Lindsey is self-taught in a hybrid of ballet and club dance, effortlessly floating across the stage while flawlessly playing one of the hardest instruments to master. Her show is a confluence of amazingly detailed costuming, choreography and stage production, creating one of the most enthralling live performances I have ever attended.

Beyond the uniqueness of her music and live performances, Lindsey Stirling's obvious appeal as a role model for motivation is the intensive work she put into growing her personal brand. Acting as her own agent, location scout and seamstress, Lindsey independently produced a tremendous body of musical work, cultivating the needed connections to create professional quality music videos in a variety of evocative settings, while crafting her own costumes and compositions. Her connection to her fans has also not wavered despite her success, holding question-and-answer sessions before her concerts and spreading a message of personal confidence to young adults as a motivational speaker.

Lindsey Stirling is arguably the most successful of YouTube-grown artists, but she is far from the only one breaking through the musical glass ceiling online. I first heard of Adam WarRock as a result of being an unabashed, enthusiastic fan of Chris Haley and Curt Franklin's "Let's Be Friends Again"** webcomic (to the point of wishing I could be their 18th century Europe-style patron so they could create awesome stuff forever). Haley and WarRock (real name Eugene Ahn) co-host the Gravity Falls Gossiper podcast, where beyond talking about the cult Disney Channel show they carry a thoughtful, compelling and often hilarious dialogue about "life and stuff." During a particularly tough time for me mentally, listening to those podcasts got me through the day with a smile, and led me to check out the Adam WarRock catalog in earnest.

A former lawyer who decided to pursue his musical ambitions as a career, Adam WarRock has toured the country as a pioneer of "nerdcore" rap, composing critically acclaimed songs about offbeat pop culture ranging from the X-Men and Firefly to Futurama, Game of Thrones, and Parks and Recreation. What's most impressive about him, beyond his prodigal lyrical talent, is the sheer volume of creativity that pours out of his head. Producing new, free music every week, WarRock has amassed song production in the triple digits in the space of a few years.

I went to the Adam WarRock concert at Comicazi in Somerville last week, and despite the unusual and intimate setting (it was definitely my first time attending a concert surrounded by action figures) it was the only concert I've been to where a smile never left my face. One of Eugene/WarRock's greatest strengths as a performer is his ability to make you feel like you're his best friend even though you've never met. Between songs, he told amusing stories about his friends and past performances with the ease of a seasoned standup comedian, keeping the crowd rapt with attention even when not rapping about "that Hawkguy dude" or ""the Kingslayer".

Beyond his tireless work ethic, what I admire most about Adam WarRock is his advocacy in pop culture as a positive force, especially for young people. His song "Tell Me" is a reassurance to young adults that they should be proud of their interests and to protect them with integrity, which is difficult in a culture where bullying is becoming increasingly invasive and harder to avoid. During the concert he also spoke about how comics and comic shops can create a supportive community for all groups and orientations, which was evident by the friendly atmosphere and frequent regular events at Comicazi.

I am not a musician, beyond a few fractured attempts at playing the guitar in college, but it doesn't mean you can't find sources of motivation outside of your typical aptitudes. The drive, success and positive messages of people like Lindsey Stirling and Adam WarRock has played a huge role in my efforts to effect change for myself, and reinforced my belief that just because you have external and internal challenges to your success, it is not impossible to overcome them and achieve the fulfillment that you want.

*Since I mentioned the startups of people I knew in this post, I thought I would note them here and help with some awareness-driving:
  • The Paper Compass, a creativity coaching and consultancy run by my former graduate professor, Brenna McCormick. You can vote for her and Thomas Vogel's SXSW Interactive panel here.
  • Tidal Strategies, a social media strategy firm co-run by Christine Turnier and Jessica Krywosa, both of whom were a tremendous help in initiating me in the world of higher education marketing.
  • Rogue Social, based in Rhode Island and offering services in PR, social media and events, run by my childhood neighbor and pop culture blogger, Adri Cowan.
**"Let's Be Friends Again," or some form of it, returns to regular posting on September 4th. I'm looking forward to my wedding more, but this is a close second.

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