AS I WRITE, I’m watching a TV commercial for Prudential retirement investing. In it, Harvard Psychology 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.
If you want 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 I were to see an accurate measure of how much time I’ve spent writing and rewriting this website without pay, it should make me sick, but it wouldn’t. I enjoy it, and would do it without pay, and do do it without pay, often.
So “I’d be a writer” is a dumb answer. As a writer who’s been both paid and not, I’d say both have their perks.
Now, if I could get paid to do something I really love, I’d be a music producer.
I love music more than writing, to tell the truth, but I never had the discipline to work at it the same way. I studied piano from ages 12-16 but never learned scales or chords, just songs. I could play those songs very well, but that was all I could play, except the few songs 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 the few I wrote myself). Additionally, I sang in two A Capella groups throughout high school, but that was mostly to bang chicks.1
Learning music the way I did rendered me a good listener (my iPod, which I haven’t been able to update for the past 3 years, still has over 14,000 songs on it) without the chops to play. Because I wasn’t good enough at any instrument to perform live, I focused on behind-the-scenes 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…2
I formed Adult Orchestra Senior Year of 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 recording 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 voice over my piano and guitar. We had lyrics and music for about six other songs, but these are the only 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, all parts written and recorded myself on a portable electronic eight-track recorder. (I even did my own cover art: a sloppy mash-up of Windows Clip Art and Bruce Springsteen’s Working on a Dream.) This particular piece of work prompted a lot of discussions among 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 straightforward pop/rock song based on a terrible 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 footage of a poetry reading; and “Dreamcheater” is a jazzy tale of nocturnal infidelity.
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Beginning in summer 2011, I began collaborating with good friend and fellow writer/musician Clem Darling on an album. I had already 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 other instruments to fill out his arrangements. We did twelve whole tracks this way, most of which will probably remain demos and never see the light of day. However, we re-recorded four of those songs and released them as music videos as part of the “Micklem’s Hardware” project, 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 (the name being a combination of the expression “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 over the years that I decided to record and loop and play against one another.
2. Written copy from junk mail advertisements or receipts, generally disclaimers, which I used for lyrics. Each song is named after the company whose words I used.
Much of it is weird and menacing and 1984 Orwellian, and occasionally it’s brisk and silly (like when I’m trying to rap all 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:3
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More music productions to come, I hope. If I could just get paid to do it…
…I’d probably keep doing it.