Several years ago, I had a very humorous boss who used to always ask us the same few questions. This would come at times when you were trying to pitch a new idea, or maybe you were simply explaining your plan for the day. He would say things like, "How does that make you feel?" or "Will it be awesome?" At the time he used to say them they always felt like rhetorical questions asked in jest. For example, something mildly bad happens and he says "How does that make you feel?" But now I realize that these questions are fantastic, thought provoking questions for any creative endeavor—be it graphic design or music composition. They force you to go deeper in your analysis of a work and get in touch with the fundamentals of art creation.
First, the question "How does that make you feel?" gets at the core of what I am striving for when I write music—namely, evoking emotion in my listeners. I want to make an emotional connection with the audience. I want them to feel something. When I write music I need to ask myself if the emotion it conveys is accurate. I think it's helpful to get feedback from others on this question. This is especially true as I near the end of the process of writing a piece. Usually by the end, I have lost all objectivity, and it's possible that what I think conveys some deeply profound feeling sounds like circus music to others. Is there a circus playlist on Spotify yet? "Relaxing Circus Music"? I suppose there are other reasons to write music than to convey emotion, but I believe most of the music that anyone cares about touches them at a deep emotional level.
The second question, "Will it be awesome?" is a little less obviously useful. It's almost impossible to know if a song will be successful to say nothing of inspiring actual awe. Still, this question causes me to ask if I'm really stretching myself with a piece. Am I trying to make this as excellently as I can? If I'm honest, I think sometimes I'm not. I often become enamored with a musical idea that is pretty easily arrived at, but then realize there's not really much substance to it. This leads to some self-doubt and loathing until I really push myself to make more of it. Even at the end of the process I can hardly ever feel that something I've made is awesome, but I can usually say whether or not I've worked hard on it. Maybe someday someone will be filled with awe by my music, but probably only if they are listening to it while watching a trapeze artist at the circus.
Finally, one of the most common phrases that same boss used to repeat is "Nothing is easy." This became a popular motto in our department because even the simplest of jobs could turn into nightmares. Work has an uncanny way of suddenly going all wrong without any warning. Similarly, writing music is very difficult. Sure, there are moments that you always hear about where a song "writes itself" but I find that to be a rare thing, and even then a lot of fine tuning is needed. Even if you can get over your fear of writing something mediocre there is the knowledge that most people won't care about it, and certainly nobody will care about it as much as you do. And I mean nobody! But coming to grips with that fact helps you humbly trod on and do what you must do—create. And though work can be hard and frustrating, there is much joy to be found.
Creative endeavors, yes, like circus performing, require hours of practice and fine tuning. They are hard, but fulfilling. The best works spark deep emotional reactions. Some even inspire feelings of awe. Whatever you are working on, take the time to ask yourself some serious questions about it. You might just find yourself at the top of Spotify's new "Music for Clown Cars" list. But hopefully not.