A Re-Entry And A Rethink
My name is David Devereux, I'm a writer, musician, sound designer and audio producer here at Tin Can Audio, and I'll be sharing a little bit on what we've been up to in the past month, as well as some thoughts and ramblings on sound design, music, podcasting, writing, and, it seems, other stuff as well.
A lot has happened in the last few weeks but, to cut a very long story short, I have now had my first vaccine dose and as of June 5th, I am back at my job working in a cinema in Glasgow, which had led to a sudden lack of time to do audio work, and I'm still adjusting.
Also, there is a furby in my house now, we're not sure where it came from.
(trust me, it's less scary that it's not looking at the camera)
As well as the usual update, I have another once-in-a-blue-moon longer ramble about trying to unlearn the word 'content' when talking about creative work, but before that, here's what we've been up to.
Last Month's Links
We released our first library music collection, Music For Video Game Menus. You can find it on our bandcamp page and the 'Creative Edition', which features loopable versions of each track as well as instrument stems, on our itch page.
We released the first trailer for The Tower Part II, you can find it wherever you get your podcasts, more info on that later.
This Month: The OST Composing Jam, and The Tower Part II
The competition has now finished, and everyone is in the process of rating and reviewing all 85 submissions to the jam.
My entry to the jam is called The Missing Mountain, and it follows the story of a lone hero who must travel to the site of where there were once two mountains, only now there is only one.
You can listen to my submission below, or you can download it (with FLAC files) from the itch page.
This jam was a lot of fun to put together, it reminded me a lot of the process of scoring The Tower only with a specific focus on musical storytelling, and I think it's a method of composing I'll be returning to in the future.
Speaking of The Tower...
The Tower Part II is complete!
We have finished the post-production of The Tower Part II, meaning the series is pretty much ready to go. We released the trailer a couple of days ago, and now we begin the countdown to September, when we will release the new series.
There will be a lot of updates in the months to come, we're currently working once again with Sarah Grant (who made the existing artwork) to come up with a new set of series artwork, as well as planning a number of Tower streams in the run up to the release.
I Have A New Synthesizer! (this is work related I promise)
I am now the proud owner of a Moog Grandmother semi-modular synthesizer! For those that don't know, Moog are one of the big names in analog synth production, they were responsible for some of the earliest synthesizers in the 1960s and 70s (including this beast) and are what I very much call 'grown-up' synthesizers, as they're pretty pricey investments and are hefty pieces of kit (you have to wait 15 minutes after turning this one on to let the circuits warm up).
It's been a nerdy dream of mine to one day own a Moog synthesizer (still holding out for Lisa Bella Donna's Moog temple).
What I really love about the Grandmother so far is that it is very much an audio playground, and the plan is, once I've had a bit more time with it, to have a few synthesizer streams utilising the built-in sequencer and arpeggiator, a bit like this only with less synths and slightly less good lighting.
Making 'Art' Not 'Content'
I spent a lot of April and May thinking about how I want to exist in the world as a person who makes stuff on the internet (and sometimes on the radio) and how my attitude to making stuff is shaped by the language we use to describe creative work. I ended up scribbling down a list of ‘banned words’ on a post-it note and sticking it above my workspace
(picture of said post-it note, the list: content, engagement, brand/branding, demographic, market/marketing, influencer, aesthetic, productivity, campaign, value, optics, product)
The majority of these words are marketing based, a product of living with and working alongside a partner who works in Marketing & External Relations for a university, while the others have come from online discussions with other creative people, as well as a myriad of articles, newsletters and thinkpieces. I am making a conscious effort to try and remove these words from my everyday vocabulary when talking about my work, and as much as I realise this is a little ‘old man yells at cloud’, I refuse to accept that the implications behind these words and how they frame creative work are just the way things are now. Words matter, and the language we use to describe the things we make influences how we think about them.
This particular semantic rabbit hole was sparked by this excellent speech by Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who has spent a lot of time discussing how to navigate a capitalist society as an artist and defining your own work and meaning. It’s a lot more objective than this mild rant about words. There’s also a comic version by Zen Pencils that is also excellent. I re-read it whenever I’m feeling a bit lost in the noise.
I’m going to talk about one of the words on my personal ‘banned’ list and why I dislike it so. This isn’t a criticism of anyone who uses any of the words on my list. As much as I don’t like it (and what I literally just said in the previous paragraph), this is more or less the way things are now, to navigate the world of business successfully you have to speak the language. This is more about my own attitude to my work, as well as the people who listen to it, and why this particular word has led to an unhealthy mindset that I’ve had to unlearn.
The first ‘banned word’ is probably the most ubiquitous and also probably the most challenging: ‘Content’. The term in itself has become something of a meme (TomSka’s side series #CONTENT is one of the more transparent examples) due to the insatiable algorithmic appetite for constant output on Youtube and social media in general. It is no longer enough to make good work, you have to be making good work constantly, otherwise the world will forget about you, and it all has to be very similar, otherwise the world will lose interest. Buying into the implications of the word ‘content’ is to enter into a frantic system of churning out anything that might appeal to an audience, a never-ending conveyor belt of any old stuff to keep people’s attention. I don’t think this presents a particularly good (or accurate) view of creators or their audiences.
I developed a lot of anxiety stemming from this mindset. Tin Can Audio has never been very good at long-term, or consistent, production. We tend to make things in small batches, and follow interesting ideas, regardless of whether we think people will listen to them (unrelated: here’s a link to Love & Wards). We’re a tiny operation (it’s still mostly just me) and we simply don’t have the resources to have something out every week while also producing more, but I didn’t realise this for a very long time. Everything I had been reading or listening to or even just experiencing on social media seemed to emphasise the importance of a ‘content pipeline’ and always having something for listeners to consume.
I was a part of such a pipeline when I worked for Rusty Quill. What they do is incredibly organised, and their production coordination is very, very good. It’s why they’re able to do as much as they do with such consistency, it’s been designed from the ground up that way, and it works. They are also a very big operation, and deadlines were nearly always quite tight. The deadlines themselves were never a problem, but after about a year I ended up burning out, and I had begun to feel like each edit was becoming formulaic for me, and that wasn’t how I wanted to work, so I left.
(I should add here that Rusty Quill treated me very well, they listened and understood when I told them I was having mental health problems, and were very understanding when I decided to leave.)
Audio fiction takes a long time to make, especially if you’re a small team, and especially if you’re an experimental audio nerd like yours truly. I think good work takes time, and that is incompatible with the idea of ‘content’. Stories are not products, a book is a product, a video game is a product, as is a packet of crisps, or a toothbrush, or my collection of Star Trek Micro Machines, but stories, and ideas, and art, are not. Reducing art to ‘content’ is to reduce it to a consumable, like a chocolate bar or a burger, to be created and taken in as quickly as possible and then just as quickly forgotten about as the next consumable appears. An example of this is music; how the physical audio quality of the music we listen to has degraded to being quite terrible or how musicians are struggling to make an income from music streaming services. It also paints the audience or ‘the consumer’ (ominous) as a kind of No-Face from Spirited Away, always wanting more, valuing endless quantity over quality, scared of being left alone with their thoughts for even a minute.
Frankly, I think creators and audiences deserve better.
I still find myself using the phrase ‘generate content’ in meetings, but now that I’m consciously aware of it, I’ve found my focus shifting from selling things back to making things. I still have deadlines, and there is still extra work I do to ‘keep people interested’ such as the Twitch channel and the extra shows on Patreon, but now that I’m not thinking of this work as a constant, desperate struggle against the entropy of irrelevancy, I’m much less anxious about them, and I’ve started to genuinely enjoy making them. I have faith in the fantastic people who listen and support our stories that they won’t get bored if it takes a while to make something or lose interest if we try something new, and even if they do, fair enough! There are a lot of good stories out there and a finite amount of time to experience them.
I worry that, sometimes, as creators, it is easy to get lost in the numbers, the likes, the retweets, the views, the downloads, the Patreon pledges, and forget that we’re in the business of stories, dreams and ideas, and sharing them with people. When all is said and done the work, and the quality of that work, should be what matters and I think, generally, we’ll all be better off for it.
If you like what we do and you want to help us make more, you can buy us hot beverages on ko-fi. You can also support us by buying something from our bandcamp, where we have the soundtracks to our show as well as extra music.
If you want to support us long term, you can sign up to our Patreon, where you'll receive additional content such as blooper reels, live content and interviews with our cast & crew.
All that being said, the best support you can give is listening to our shows and telling other people about them. Word-of-mouth is everything to small indie podcasters, and hearing from people who have enjoyed our work is what keeps us going.
Thank you for listening.