As of today it’s been one year since the PatternShift EP was released. I’m taking a moment to reflect on the past year of releasing music into the world, as well as—recently— writing science fiction and producing my audiobook podcast.
With the first EP, my listenership peaked just over the one hundred count (split across several streaming services) by the end of that May (2018)— mostly on Spotify —and then started a gradual slump by mid-June. I spent a lot of time learning, evolving, and working on my craft. July saw the release of the Four Evocations EP, August the release of the single Forever Linda Lee, and then in October I released the first full album, Vaskania Prime, whose listenership is still growing. In the Fall and after I started getting music onto some of the larger channels. Now, one year later, a few more singles and an EP and novella later, I’ve grown the listenership more than tenfold from that first peak and am taking a bit of time to reflect back on the journey thus far.
First of all, to anyone who has listened or read the things I’ve put together—thank you. I realize the monumental nature of this decision; every time you open up Spotify, Apple Music, or even YouTube, you have the majority of the past several decades of human music at your finger tips. Somewhere, on a tiny island in that vast ocean of music, just over a thousand people monthly now are spending time with the things I’ve made, and many of you are doing so regularly. It boggles my mind that I can open up my artist stats and many countries I select at random will have multiple cities that have listened to me. All this adds up to just over 33K streams over the last year.
I didn’t realize the vacuum that putting music and writing aside for over a decade had left in my life; I’m grateful to have found my way back to them now, and to have other people interested in listening to or reading what I’m putting out there. Like many artists I make things for myself first—my music is instrumental and less showy than I might otherwise make it; it’s a soundtrack that accompanies a story and world-building that you may or may not have read, but hopefully still find accessible. I aim to balance a transportive atmosphere with just enough drive to keep things moving along. As such I recognize that I’m essentially a niche artist even within the overlapping, niche scenes I occupy, and am quite happy to be reaching others despite this.
Where are things going from here? I’m directing most of my effort to the novel and full-length album follow up to Rites of the Renouncer, which I’m planning for another joint release [as I did with Rites] coming in autumn this year (2019). I’m also putting time and energy in a return to visual art (something I mostly left behind back in high school), so I’ll have even more angles from which to immerse you in the stories and worlds I’m creating. In addition to that, I have software, machine learning, and AI work to focus on in my day job and related side projects.
Thus far I haven’t branched out into vocal tracks and doubt any will make an appearance under my main PatternShift catalog, but I have been exploring collaborations and you might see a few tracks featuring me or crediting me over this year. The podcast will keep going—there are two episodes yet to be released to finish the audiobook for Rites; then, after a month and a half break I’ll start releasing preview chapters of the novel, leading up to its release. I’m also planning to release a few singles from the album early over the next several months.
(As an aside, if you haven’t listened to the latest single yet, now is a good time to check it out.)
Social Media Break
The reality of the creative work I have planned (and the time it takes) brings me to the next topic. One of the things that has been a mixed bag over the past year is the fact that social media found its way back into my life. In late 2016 I stopped using Facebook and Twitter regularly; by spring of 2017 I had deleted all my social media accounts other than Instagram (which, for whatever reason, it never occurs to me use with regularity). I was happy with the decision and felt that over the next few months my brain slowly returned to some semblance of pre-social media normal. But I found myself in an odd situation when I spent some of my (newly freed up) time getting back into music and was ready to start releasing things—I wasn’t really sure how to tell people, other than a few close friends.
So I re-opened my Facebook account and grabbed a new twitter handle as well as my old twitter handle (I had lost all data and several hundred followers on it and had to start over from zero on both). I told friends and family, had several friends and colleagues generously boost the signal for me periodically, and experimented off and on with small expenditure Facebook ad campaigns (99% of which was likely waste). I made a reddit account and jumped into a few conversations and announced my own music on subreddits where doing so was allowed.
I took breaks here and there—one break was after the Four Evocations EP and, consequently, I don’t think that EP ever got the mileage it could have (though the best track from it IMO, Euphoric Effects, is still doing quite well on Apple Music). I wish I could say all the time on social media was simply wasted and I could therefore just axe it again, but I feel instead it’s in many ways the worst possible formula—my activity on social media has been instrumental to getting a few of my tracks on Spotify playlists with thousands of listeners. Moreover, and more importantly to me, several people gave me shout outs or followed and DM’d me, or otherwise let me know they really enjoyed something I’d made.
The problem with the whole social media ordeal is that these interactions make up a tiny proportion of the time I’ve spent on the platforms. And the platforms in question are aimed at behavior hacking in such effective ways (and ways that I, personally, am quite susceptible to), that looking to see how posts announcing new releases are doing, or how a conversation is evolving, etc., just takes up too much time. I do take steps to limit the time I spend on it—using long pomodoros for focused work or keeping SelfControl active the majority of the day and keeping social media off of my phone—but even doing this, it takes over the background mental processing I need to make progress and get unstuck on things—in my day job designing software and writing code, or in my creative work writing, or composing and producing music.
Controlling one’s progress on creative work is tough and everyone has their own system. But for me, personally, solitude is important. Long walks, time in isolation at coffee shops or in my own space at home—these things are critical for letting my brain do its work and solve problems. And to keep this time allocated well is tricky. It’s not something over which you have a lot of conscious control and I’m sure it will always be somewhat off the mark at times for me, which is OK; such is life.
But—importantly—all of the things you let into your life will find their way into your head in moments of solitude. For one non-social media example I’ve (mostly) quit video games, spending as much of the time I do spend gaming gathered with people in real life. I know at times when I was playing games, the problems I encountered in them would sometimes keep me up at night, or enter my head regularly in my down time. I did enjoy several games as immersive stories; or as opportunities for skillful execution of complicated skills, but ultimately I decided digital gaming wasn’t worth the drag on my background processes. And when I refocused that time I made huge strides in my career and have ultimately found my way back to music and writing, going further with both and releasing work I’m proud of.
For social media, I’m finding more and more now I’m wondering what attention things I’ve released might be getting; what conversations are worth getting involved in or following. Who might be releasing videos or tutorials that provide looks into their own process for writing, composing, or sound design. Feeling delight when some random observation or flippant statement I’ve made gets liked and retweeted a bunch, etc. The related planning and wondering is surfacing in my solitude. And I’m also finding the mindless tug to open newsfeeds is working its way into my mindless motor planning. Back in early 2017 it took me about a month after I deleted my Facebook account to quit accidentally re-opening it by mindlessly logging in. Eventually I blocked it from my
/etc/hosts and the mistake went away and with it, eventually, the habit.
There are other things I’m worried about with my use of social media and the influence those platforms wield in our daily lives, but one reason is sufficient cause for the break. If thinking about social media interrupts my solitude; if I make a quiet space for my mind and the compulsion to check or post floats up to the top of my awareness, rather than ideas for getting unstuck in my technical work, or how to move my creative work to the next level—this is the signal that those inputs need to be muted for a bit.
Anyways, I’m not taking this break with a closed-off mindset. It’s not necessarily the case that I’m quitting social media for good after my break. But I am determined to change how I use it and find a different way forward, if possible. I don’t want to give up the genuine connection that’s there (albeit dwarfed by orders of magnitude more behavioral hacking and cynical abuse of the platforms). I just need a strategy to fix the signal to noise ratio as best I’m able, or there won’t be any room for it in my life, period.
I’ll be off Twitter, Facebook, etc. for at least 30 days as I make time to think about this. That means I won’t be dropping announcements for the last two installments of the Rites audiobook on the podcast—so if you want to see them drop, make sure and subscribe. For all of you who have found time to listen to or read anything I’ve put out there, thanks again; the time you spend with my music and writing means the world to me. If you want to get in touch during my break, it’s fairly simple to figure out my email from the About Me section site.