From WaveTV blog editor and musician, Caleb Welch, AKA Kaebl, comes a heartfelt examination of his own work and how he defines his own success in regards to music.
Synthwave is dead. Rock is dead. Punk is dead. ____ is dead. Etc, etc, etc.
You ever find yourself thinking, “Yeah, fuck you, no it’s not. ___ isn’t dead, ___ is life!”? Cause if you did, you’re not wrong. Passion is what drives a genre, not content. For every genre out there, however minuscule or obscure, there’s someone pouring their entire existence as a human being into it. Even into such genres as forgettable as ambient noise (no offense to ambient noise musicians, but… you know what you signed up for). I like to think about how Kurt Cobain, ever the champion of the ironic, at the height of his career once wore a shirt that boasted “Grunge is Dead”. Keep in mind, he was the face of grunge.
So when I log into a group like the Wave Cave to see what’s going down and I see that it’s lost activity; and I see that it’s become a link dumping ground; and I see that people, nay even the founders of the group are spouting stuff like “Synthwave is dead!” — I laugh a bit. By dead, do you mean, “We’ve fallen out of the center of attention!”. Because if you do, I think you’re worried for no reason. For the people who like the sound of 80’s nostalgia, and retro emulations, now’s a great time to be producing. Is it something that your average everyday person is going to like? I think the answer is obvious — well maybe not so… In which case, I’ll tell you, people are more interested in the artist then they are the art they make. Take Taylor Swift for example, do you like her music? No, yes? Her music is catchy, right? But why do people dig her so much? It’s her carefully crafted persona, it’s the team of people that engineer her art into a product to sell to the masses.
We assume that it’s absolutely ludicrous to expect that any of us can find the same success someone like her has in our bedrooms with a few synths, a midi keyboard, a microphone and a laptop — but you know what’s really astounding? The fact that we persist. That passion drives and compels us to create this art. It’s the passion that brought Taylor to where she is today, so why doesn’t it work for us?
Well it works for some of you to a degree, but I’m guessing not to the degree you’d like. Everyone wants to be successful but I think what’s really in order is a reassessment of what success even is. If I asked you what success is, what would you say? Take a moment and define it for yourself…
Is it selling your music? Is it seeing a crowd in front of you? Is it something more, something less? Defining your success is something personal to each artist and even more it’s something that changes as you yourself change. Maybe now it will be getting likes on SoundCloud, but later it may be selling this music, or performing live, or even being a (relatively) famous artist associated with the genre. Setting your sights high is never a terrible idea, for what was it that one guy said, about landing among the stars after shooting for the moon? I forget his name…
You wanna know how I define success for myself? It’s knowing that I’m constantly growing as an artist. If I had a dollar for every song on my SoundCloud I deleted because it made me cringe after months of thinking it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done, I’d have enough money to buy a time machine that I would use to recapture the victory I felt when I first posted them. Walking through those songs that remain that I didn’t have the heart to send to oblivion is like literally watching myself grow as an artist and I couldn’t ask for a better example that I’ve become better at what I do; that I have a creative style; that I have an identity that I express through my music even if it isn’t conventionally successful.
The next section of this blog post delves into a history of the evolution of my music on SoundCloud and other places. I’m inviting you to listen to how I’ve grown as a musician. You may cringe, like I did when listening to these. It represents 5 years of growth. If you’d really rather not, you can just skim through and really just scroll down to the end — that’s where the point really lies.
Along the way, I’ve noticed that I’ve never been one to tie myself to any single genre. Ever the eclectic, I’ve gone from genre to genre like Tarzan jumping from tree to tree. It usually was in line with what currently fascinated me musically at the time; In highschool I was in a garage band and we thought we were grunge, so we played shitty half-baked rock music; after that I started making music on my own, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just went with the flow and stuck to what I knew. I made some sort of psuedo-metal music that never found an audience with bandmates that I wound up falling out with. After that I took my first attempts at electronic music, at the time I didn’t know what I was doing so I downloaded a free program I forget the name of entirely. At the time I had a love affair with Massive Attack, so I thought it was my mission in life to make TRIPHOP, here’s the little diddy that came from that
Later I upgraded from that shitty sample based program to Ableton. At the time, dubstep had been growing in popularity so I looked up tutorials on how to make it. It was interesting to me, but I never pulled it off.
Here’s my first electronic song. A monstrosity, really. What was I thinking?
This next one was a little better, but what’s that description read? …
“Just something I made with Ableton Live 8 and a little vodka hahah”
At least it was closer to a real song, as far as genre goes? Maybe I was inching backwards towards trip hop
I’m gonna do us a favor and not include the shitty version of it I made by adding a glitch filter to the MASTER track. You can’t see it right now, but I’m facepalming myself.
Later I tried experimenting on my own with the program and came up with this in the same year, a bit more trip hop, but, not conventional. Looking back, I’d say it’s … unique, but I utilized some less than …. good techniques that made it ultimately kind of annoying to listen to.
This is when I learned about samples.
Then I became infatuated with The Glitch Mob and I wanted to make music like them! I had completely forgotton about Massive Attack… Or so I thought, listening to this makes me think that they were always in the back of my mind. My producing skills improved but they weren’t really there yet, were they?
Frustrated that I couldn’t make the music I wanted, I went back to the drawing board and continued to experiment. I made a plethora of songs that found their way to a landfill, rotting somewhere in the hardrive a busted laptop. As I searched to find my voice, I did everything from conventional to avant guarde involving porn samples (thankfully among those rotting in a dump). Nevertheless, I was getting better from my first foray. In this track, I didn’t understand how EQ’s work, and I used a lowpass filter on the master track to add dynamics by altering it’s automation. More facepalming… Nevertheless, River Styx remains one of those songs that I always think about, and I wish I still had the project files — maybe it’s because I was high when I wrote it, but crafting that song was nearly a spiritual experience.
After that I said, “Fuck this noise” and I went back to my first love, guitar. I used a loop station to play with myself, ha… playing with myself. I had grown from what I used to play and began to understand melody a bit more, but I was limiting myself in ways I never forsaw.
I began experimenting with that loop station and my keyboard, and wrote stuff like this too
I stopped giving a fuck and went back to my roots
Then I began a cringy acoustic phase where I was 3deep5me
But then I finally found a voice for myself when I recorded this song
I wrote a whole album after that because of that song, you can find it here.
During that process, I worked with a real producer in a studio (Chris Cunningham of Basecamp Recording) and he helped me understand what the process was like to record, and mix and master. I learned so much, I was inspired to go to college and learn about it.
(It didn’t go over well.) I dropped out from that program several times. And throughout this cycle of taking music theory classes and music technology classes, I honed myself. I went through some challenging mental health issues at the time as well (which probably contributed to my failures in college), nevertheless I channeled that into music. I went back to trip hop —
I made more experimental music before I finally discovered synthwave; I even bought myself a decent microphone and began singing over it. The track ‘Just One,’ I would later remix to a better version of itself.
I started using my instruments in conjunction with electronic music too
Then I finally discovered synthwave. It seemed like this magical music that could capture a depth of thinking in a cinematic way that I couldn’t describe. The movie ‘Drive’ inspired me, then my friend told me about the genre and all its musicians and I listened and listened and listened. I loved it.
I wish I could show you some examples of my starting synthwave stuff, but it’s nearly all deleted.
For every song I currently have on SoundCloud about 10 got deleted or never were even posted. I loved Synthwave so much; I joined Synthwave Producers — from there I joined the Wave Cave to hone my craft. I began making more and more and more and more.
The most successful of which (with 10 likes!) was probably, The Rouge… which… HOLY SHIT, I SPELT THAT WRONG!! Facepalming once again.
I got good enough to have a song find it’s way onto a compilation album, Brainwave.
Then something changed… I grew weary of synthwave… I still tried making it, but file after file after file piled up and there was nothing I liked. I even made a brief foray into vaporwave and just silly stuff like this
Soon, my inadequacies caught up to me. I was listening to more and more stoner rock, and I was obsessed with it. I had just joined a band and we were working on making some killer music but we never took off… I wanted to capture that feel into my electronic persona, so I began to make what I called Stoner Synth… I made by far my most popular song on my sound cloud, Pyschosurgery — which took over a year to perfect, and with the the help of Kendall Sandhop was properly mixed and mastered. For once I felt like I had true potential. I worked on a whole album of stuff like this, that sadly was never finished or released.
After a while, I found myself in a punk band, Halley’s Return. My interest in making electronic music started to diminish, but every now and then I found myself in the mood so to speak. I traveled through different avenues, hearkening back to every genre I’ve ever fancied. I wound up making some of the best Synthwave I’ve ever made!
I got really into Puscifer then I started making some minimal and moody music; along with reworking older songs into better mixes.
Finally my last foray into electronic music was going back to what I first got into it for, what I really wanted to do with it; make video game music
But then my punk rock band took off — I was playing shows all over the state. I had little time for this electronic music, and my interest diminished. It had served it’s purpose in making me a better musician. I still feel the itch to make this music, but far less often now that I have a live avenue for it.
I joined another band, and this is what I’m currently doing with my musical setup — recording stoner rock guitar riffs for future reference.
You may have noticed I took a harsher tone towards my earlier work than my latest — in regards to that, I think about something a friend once told me, “When you bake a cake, you’re better at baking cakes at the end of it then you were at a start of it”. So when you define success for yourself, take a look at what you’ve already done. Watch yourself through your memories and know that you’ve grown, and that you will continue to grow. That’s what keeps me going. That’s how I define success.