I’ve always been of the mind that being good at something only requires a small seed of talent, and that the thing that divides one from the masses is hard work and passion. Some people’s innate talent saves them a lot of effort, true. But at the end of the day it’s still about investing your hours, and your elbow grease. into striving to be better. It can be easy to make time for your primary talent, the one that you see as your main priority. But it takes just as much work to develop new skills.
What new skills are you trying to build, and how are you going about it?
I’m working on a handful…
Writing Lyrics: Note that it’s not ‘writing songs’; I have absolutely no musical foundation, aside from a life spent admiring great music. But when I’m writing out lyrics, which seems to be half poetry and half dialogue, sometimes I catch a whiff of a tune anyway and find myself, in my absolutely untrained voice, wrapping my words around a tune. I’ve kept one eye on this skill for a very long time. Back in Grade 12, I had my first foray into writing lyrics when a class assignment directed us to write songs about social issues, in groups. Outright stealing the tune from a People in Planes song, I wrote new lyrics and a friend with a guitar helped me branch away from the original music. I was pretty proud of the result. I wrote lyrics for an MZPtv script a few years later that were never used, that I don’t think I even have a copy of any more. Until recently, though, that was about the shape of it.
In the last year or so, though, I’ve been catching a bit of a compulsive tune. First I started singing regularly in the show, from Glen Hansard‘s “Leave” to Metric‘s “Siamese Cities” to my latest jam, Nikki Sto‘s “Damage Still to Do”. I even recorded them on my phone once or twice; not under any delusions of grandeur, just to get an honest earful of how I sounded. At some point I started playing around with original lyrics. A few months ago I recorded snatches of one. A couple days ago at the Reel Music Media showcase I was caught by a wave of inspiration while Samara York was singing the last song of her live set and jotted down a rough bridge. Today, while in the shower, I started feeling out the melody, penning a couple verses around what I had. Though I don’t think it’s something special, and I know I can’t exactly go full throttle with it… I’m feeling it out, and it gets easier the more I do it. I love that feeling. When something’s new and you’re not sure you can do it, and you start realising you actually can. I don’t know if I’ll ever be properly good, but it’s enough of a taste to keep me working at it. If only in the shower. So, my battle plan is to keep at it: keep singing and composing lyrics in the shower until I’m not afraid to try some basic vocal/lyric training to see if there’s something there, beyond a wannabe warbling alone in the bathroom.
Being Funny: Humour is not my strong suit. I’ve had some luck with witty banter in the past, and my style has occasionally found an admirer or two, but I have to admit: comedy is really, really hard. Inside of a drama, where humour is something a little extra, it’s a lot easier than actual comedic scripts where you’re essentially promising a laugh every half-page or else. Unlike other things, like lyrics or writing drama or juggling, it’s much harder to figure out if you’re any good without a second person laughing or wincing. So, the arc of development for someone who isn’t very funny is basically paved with embarrassment.
The worst part is when your work connects with some people and completely bores others, and you find yourself struggling to come away from the process with any real advice to refine your work. The people who already like it don’t have much to say, and the people who don’t like it have plenty to say, but none of their advice works because their inherent problem is that they don’t like it, they don’t find it funny, so the spirit of their notes is essentially “be something you’re not”. Which, though they’re trying their best, is more a distraction than an aid. So, it can be pretty difficult to find someone who is able to guide your development in the right direction unless you find someone who is funny in a similar way… which is a needle in a haystack.
I want to be funny. I want to at least have a specific humourous voice, even if it’s niche, just because I want to be able to try a comedic project some day. So I have to sharpen my skills. But since I’m not exactly a standup, and I want to test my work without connecting my name to my embarrassing comedic fumbling in the dark… I’m playing with some joke-based Twitter accounts, just to see if I can build something. Find an audience who don’t hate my voice, and see which jokes land and which ones go unnoticed. It could be hugely successful (not likely), or it could die a silent death; either way, it’s a valuable test to see if I can leave a mark anonymously.
I’m sure there are others that aren’t springing to mind as well.
What skills are you trying to develop? What’s your plan of attack to help you turn them from dream into reality?