I've been thinking about this a lot. I went from making music in a clearly defined community to a much more amorphous one. When walking a more individualist road after being solely communally based for so long, what's the guiding purpose?
So the question on my mind has really been this: what's the motive behind continuing to work in a creative discipline?
Nothing here is really a prescription. It's mostly me figuring it out as I go. I write a lot of "You"s in this, but really I mean "me, Chris Padilla." If any of this is helpful to you, dear reader, by all means take what works! If you have perspectives on this, drop me a line.
So here we go! Three different categories and motives for making stuff:
I like making stuff! Just doing it lights me up. The most fun is when it's a blank canvas and I'm just following my own interest. It's just for me because I'm only taking in what sounds resonate with me, what themes come to mind, and what tools I have to make a thing.
I still share because it's fun to do so! It contributes to the pride of having made something that didn't exist before. A shared memento from the engagement with the spirit of creativity. But, any benefit other people get from it is merely a side effect of the process. It's not the purpose.
An interesting nuance that is starting to settle in as I do this more and more — there is no arrival point here. Creativity is an infinite game with no winners and losers, just by playing you are getting the reward and benefits then and there. This alone is a really juicy benefit to staying creative. But maybe it's not quite enough —
Creativity for other people. Coming from a considerate place, a genuine interest in serving the person on the other side of it. Often this feels like a little quest or challenge, because I'm tasked to use the tools and skills I have to help, entertain, or bring beauty to the audience on the other end.
I'm pretty lucky in that I've pretty much always done creative work for others that has also lead to getting paid for it. Even my current work in software engineering I consider gifts. Money is part of it, but the empathetic nature of building for a specific group of people makes it feel like a gift.
Sometimes, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. In some ways, this is what separates professionals from amateurs. Teaching the student that's a bit of extra work, learning a new technology because it's popular in the market, or drawing commissions.
(Again, on a motivation level, I don't have much in my life that falls into this category. I'm very, VERY lucky to be working in a field that is interesting, and I have a pretty direct feeling of that work being of service — that work being a gift. BUT I've been in positions before where some of my work was more for those dollars.)
Actually, Game Director Masahiro Sakurai of Nintendo fame talks about this. A professional does what's tasked in front of them, even if it's not what you'd initially find interesting or fun. Even video game dev has it's chores!
This type of work is not inherently sell-out-y. You can still find the joy in the work and you can still find the purpose behind it. Shifting to a gift mindset here helps. Be wary of doing anything purely for this chunk of the venn diagram with no overlap.
A classic musician's rule of thumb for taking on a gig: "It has to have at least two of these three things: 1. Pay well 2. Have great music 3. Work with great people."
The Gist: Watch your mindset.
There's a balance between gift giving and creating just for you, I've been finding.
Things we make for our own pure expression and curiosity does not need to be weighed down by the expectation of other people loving it or of it selling wildly well. The gift is in following your own creative curiosity. And that's great!
If you're ONLY making things for yourself, and you're not finding ways to serve other people, then you'll be isolated and not fully fulfilled by what you're doing. Finding ways to give creatively is the natural balance for that.
A side note: Go for things that involve a few people, IRL. Nothing quite beats joining someone's group to make music in person, teaching someone how to do what you do, or making a physical gift for someone special!