AS I WRITE I’m watching a commercial for Prudential retirement investing. Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert asks, “If you could get paid to do something you really love, what would you do?” One person answers “architect;” another, “pilot.” But the first person responds, “I’d be a writer,” which would probably be one of the top answers if you polled enough people, and is truly, unspeakably, dumb.
To “be a writer,” write. I’m doing it right now. I’m not getting paid at this exact moment but I don’t need to be. It’s not like I’m building a rocket ship. I’m typing words into a machine I already own. It’s free. If someone were to tell me how much time I’ve spent writing and rewriting this site without pay, it should make me sick but it wouldn’t. I’d do it without pay — and do do it without pay — often.
So “I’d be a writer” is a dumb answer.
Now, if I could get paid to do something I love, I’d be a music producer.
I love music more than writing but I never had the discipline for it. I studied piano from ages 12-16 but never learned scales or chords, just songs. The songs I was taught were all I could play, except a few I wrote myself. When I picked up guitar, Senior year of high school, I did the reverse, learning chords and scales but not songs (again, except mine). Additionally, I sang in two A Capella groups, mostly to bang chicks.1
Learning music rendered me a good listener2 without the chops to play. Because I wasn’t good enough at any instrument to perform live I focused on things like songwriting, arranging, and recording.
Wanting to be a writer, I wrote. Wanting to be a producer, I produced. The results are as follows…3
I formed Adult Orchestra in high school to write nice-sounding songs with extremely offensive subject matter. My friend Craig had been recording his own music in his parents’ house for years and accumulated some pretty decent equipment. On “I Grew Up”, our smash hit about cancer, Craig plays piano, our friend Tommy plays trombone, another friend Ryan plays bass, Pete (mentioned often on this site) plays drums, and I sing. On “You Don’t Understand”, I co-wrote the lyrics with my neighbor, Aimee, who adds her sweet Soprano to my piano and guitar. We had lyrics and music for about six other songs, but these are the two that survived:
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For Valentine’s Day 2010 I produced a six-song EP called Mike Critelli Presents… The Greatest Love Songs of All Time. It was strictly a solo affair, written and recorded on a portable electronic eight-track recorder.4 This particular piece of work prompted talks within my family about whether I needed professional counseling, but it was all in good fun.
“She’s the One” is a breezy pop tune about knowing you’ve found “the one”; “Emerald Eyes” is a Southern rock / Kings of Leon parody sung by a guy who doesn’t get metaphors; “When Women Say Things (Valentine’s Day)” is a pop/rock song based on a gift-giving misunderstanding; “Been Around, Gotten Down” is a hard rock anthem about being the ultimate ladies man; “How I Spend My Evenings” is a funk track mixed with live standup audio of a poetry reading; and “Dreamcheater” is a jazzy tale of nocturnal infidelity.
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In Summer 2011 I began collaborating with friend and fellow writer/musician Clem Darling on an album. I had bought ProTools and a few basic microphones to record a podcast and Clem asked if I could record some demos for him too. I did, and decided to experiment with adding instruments to fill out his arrangements. We did twelve whole tracks this way, most of which will probably remain demos. However, we re-recorded four of those songs and released them as music videos as “Micklem’s Hardware”, which is, as far as we know, the first and only attempt to create a serialized web-series of music videos.
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Lead Pipe Fox (a combination of “stone cold fox” and “Stone Cold Lead Pipe Locks” from the radio show Mike and Mike in the Morning) was a bizarre experiment that got out of hand. It’s a combination of two elements:
1. Various musical riffs I’d been playing around with for years that I decided to record and sample.
2. Advertising copy from junk mail or receipts, generally just the disclaimers, which I used for lyrics. Each song is named after its parent company.
Much of it is weird and menacing and 1984 Orwellian but occasionally it’s brisk and silly (like when I’m rapping the words in the fine print from a mailer from Ashley Furniture Homestore). Aside from a few mixing issues, this is my favorite musical work to date:5
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More productions to come, I hope. If I could just get paid to do it…
…I’d probably keep doing it.