Validation, Social Media, Happiness, and Creativity

Today I want to talk about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while and that’s the concept of validation in social media as it relates to happiness and creativity. We live in a world where we’re constantly judged to a certain extent by how likable we are, whether that’s how many likes, loves, wows you get on your Facebook post, how many retweets and favorites you get on your Twitter post, how many hearts you get on your Instagram picture, etc. the list goes on and on. Though it’s fun to share with your friends the important events that happen in your life, your proud moments, your sad moments, I think at least for myself, and maybe some of you reading this, we begin to attribute our self-worth and value based on the validation we receive from others in the forms of these social, virtual reactions. It becomes almost like a game where we try to post things that we think will garner the most amount of likable attention from our friends and Facebook’s algorithm, further propels this idea where rich posts become richer. It’s easy to lose your sense of self in this world where you’re constantly feeling an obligation to receive validation from others and this can often affect people’s happiness or unhappiness.

Source: jumparents.co.uk

Recent research shows that your “social network may have a negative impact on your self-esteem.”   This article further states that,

One recent study examined the links between Facebook use and wellbeing. “We found that the more you use Facebook over time, the more likely you are to experience negative physical health, negative mental health and negative life satisfaction,” says study author Holly Shakya, assistant professor and social media researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

I think most of know this in the back of our minds but in our day and age, it’s such a deep part of most our worlds that it’s not really something we can get out of at this point. Yes, we can minimize the amount of time we spend on social media and that will help but I think as humans, we have this natural desire to connect with other human beings and this is just a very convenient and hassle-free way to do so. For a while now, I’ve been trying to change my mindset and post things that I truly want to post, that I care about regardless of if it receives attention or not.

Validation and Creativity

Related image
Source: kdoutsideart.com


As a designer of sound and music, I think this is also a very critical concept as well. Within your palette of skills, it’s important to know how to create art, sound, music, or whatever form of media you’re working on for others, whether it be clients, projects that caters to the masses because we don’t always get the luxury to choose what we want to work on in order to get paid. However, it’s also important to take on projects for yourself, that you truly care and are excited about, whether those projects be popular and garner a lot of public attention or not. If we base what we do solely on the concept of receiving validation, we’re limiting the bounds of your creativity by only creating things that are fall into the formula of virality. That’s not to say that you can’t create something that is truly innovative that goes viral (which is the best of both worlds) but popular music and media often follow formulas. Just think of some of the most popular songs out there; they probably all follow a similar chord progression. Or if you think about movies, there is a certain formula to Michael Bay’s films that will just naturally garner likes. A lot of these popular forms of media employ formulaic elements to them because in general, people like things that are familiar to them and that are in their comfort zones.

Summary: Screw the System

So in conclusion, I think that whether it’s creating a social media post, a piece of music, a project, try to think outside of the validation bubble we live in. Screw the system. How likable your post or design/creation is doesn’t determine your value and shouldn’t dictate your happiness. I know this is something easier said than done, but like anything, it takes practice to develop this type of mindset and the first step is always to develop an awareness for it. Focus on what you’re actually passionate about and that will naturally make you happier, more creative, and in turn improve your emotional and physical health.


Side note
: I do think that social media algorithms do have an important part in the world of e-commerce and running a business, which I’ve been exploring lately, but that is a different topic, which I will likely save for the next blog post. 🙂

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Sacred Spaces Project – A Tale of Two Cities

Source: citiesandmemory.com

 
A little while ago, I was part of a cool project called Sacred Spaces, headed by Cities and Memory. Field recordings were contributed from various churches, temples, and other sacred places from all around the world. After gathering together all of the field recordings, they had different sound designers “re-imagine” the field recordings and put their own creative spin to it. For mine, I chose a recording of a church in Greece.

The original recording can be heard here. While listening to this, I happened to be looking at some pictures of Syria online. There was a picture of what Syria looked like before and after all the wars and turmoil occurring in the area.

Syria: then and now
Source: imgur.com

It definitely struck a chord with me, seeing the amount of devastation that the city had undergone and how time can just completely transform a city. This inspired me and I wanted to capture the dual, contrasting nature a city can have through my sacred spaces track.

This was what I ended up with for my final arrangement.  To check out other songs from the Sacred Spaces album, click here.

 

Thought Process

The first half of this track represents the dark and tumultuous effects of war on a country. This was done through taking the original recording, starting with the section with the bells clanging. I reversed the audio of that whole section until the end. If you listen to the recording at 0:12, that is the sound of the clanging bells reversed with an added delay. Then I composed an unsettling music ambience that creates a sense of uneasiness with its unstable meters and eerie sounding textures. The percussive nature of the piece starts off with some organic sounding hand drums that grow into loud booming drums that further develop into exploding distorted electric booms panning back and forth, representative of flying explosions and the destruction that occurs in wars. The piece then unravels a little bit and you get from 1:20- 1:48 little after shocks of the war that haunt you (bringing back the short snips of reversed materials).

The second half of the piece until the end is reminiscent of the land before being ruined and a sort of emerging from the ashes toward a more hopeful future. I took the original recording, cleaned it up and enhanced it and played it forward (instead of backward/reversed like in the first section) to show that this is how things should be. The city sounds healthy with its natural bustling energy and there is music I composed below it that represents a sense of serenity and hope. It is indeed like its title,  “A Tale of Two Cities.”

My Story – How I Became A Sound Designer

Growing up, I have always had an affinity for things that made noises. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to school and I loved the sound of his car blinkers. I would imitate that sound with my mouth and my dad thought it sounded so close to it that sometimes he would get confused as to whether it was his car or me making the sounds.  In combination with this,  I took piano and vocal lessons at a young age, and like most people,  I never practiced as much as I should have. I am thankful for my wonderful teachers who have sowed the seeds of interest in music in me at a young age. I was a very shy girl and this became a way to express myself.


High School 

Things were stressful as a high school student; I needed an outlet and found myself often just randomly playing the piano in Mr. Rhodes’ (my high school choir teacher’s) room during lunch (Mr. Rhodes was really kind to let us choir kids hang out in his room).  These little musical thoughts weaved themselves into songs. Mr. Rhodes encouraged me to pursue my music and to start taking composition lessons, so I started studying composition under Dr. Mark Carlson.  Initially, it was super hard and I had no idea what was going on. It was very mathematical and all about music theory and music analysis. I was not used to that as previously all I did was just play out whatever I felt at the moment on the piano. It was here though that I really started learning the nitty gritty fundamentals and Dr. Carlson really helped solidify that for me.
UCLA – Classical Composition

I ended up studying composition at UCLA afterwards in college, where Dr. Carlson was a professor. The program was not an easy one – I remember calling my mom and crying after many of the classes thinking I wasn’t cut out for this. The ear training tests with harmonic, melodic, rhythmic dictations or dictations involving playing a recording and writing down the notes were quite challenging. The TA would go down the line in the classroom and each person would have to provide the answer for whatever the teacher had just played, so if you didn’t know it, everyone would know you didn’t know the answer. This was very different from what I was accustomed to with normal tests, where if you did poorly, at least only you would know about it.  A lot of the tests were catered in a way where if you had perfect pitch, it wasn’t straight forward either and you would have to transpose things in your head. Anyways, I stuck it out and braved through everything, constantly visiting office hours until I felt comfortable with the material being taught.

At my college graduation, I was proud to say that I was the Chancellor’s Marshall for the Music Department (equivalent to the valedictorian for a high school graduation).
USC – Film scoring

So what came next? It was super cool learning the art of classical music composition, but I wanted to write music that everyone could understand and appreciate. What better way to do that than to write music for films and TV, where music can help communicate emotions and feelings that was universally understood. Excitedly, I went to tackle my new mission. I applied and got into USC’s prestigious Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program. This was an intensive one year program that often times led to only sleeping 3 hours a day and long nights at Kinko’s. I learned so much – how to orchestrate for film, how to record and conduct live orchestral sessions with top musicians who played for John Williams, helping out with episodes of the TV show “Lost,”how to write music quickly and efficiently, how to run and conduct live sessions,  how to be a copyist, music business, how to network.. the list goes on and on.

However, one of the things that had the most impact on me was my collaboration with the video game department on campus. I met Prof. Mike Zyda, the head of USC’s Gamepipe Laboratory, where many innovative student games were developed; many of them won awards at IGF (an indie game competition at GDC, the Game Developers’ Conference). I was fascinated by the idea of writing music and making sounds for video games and ended up spending a huge chunk of my time there. After about a year, I had worked on around 30 student games and was able to build a great portfolio of work for someone just starting out in game audio. Many of the students I collaborated with are currently industry veterans and it’s awesome to see where everyone has gone in their life paths. I eventually started contracting with some startups in the Bay Area and getting my hands dirty, gaining real world experience. As I kept on working, I realized that what I was lacking in my technical chops. I looked up places where I could improve upon this and found the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS). It seemed like a short program, less than a year, that was within budget for me to sharpen my audio engineering skills.


CRAS – Audio engineering

I shared this idea with my parents and they were like haven’t you had enough schooling? And you want to go to Arizona?? Why can’t you just stay in California and find a job? It was hard explaining this in a way that they could understand. I kept contracting with various startups and saving up money. I attended GDC, went to every party with business cards ready, and forced myself, no matter how shy of a person I was or how uncomfortable it felt, to first make eye contact with strangers, and then just introduce myself and give my card to them. At GDC, Comic-con, E3, and all of those types of events, I would put myself out there and try to meet people. It was a lot of hustling and for anyone who knows me, this is totally unlike my personality and was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Eventually I grew my client base; word of mouth spread that I was a great resource for audio. I finally saved up to a point where I felt like I could make it in Arizona by myself. I told my parents I was going for it and there was no stopping me because I could just pay for tuition and housing myself. They were sad about it but knew there was nothing they could say to change my mind. Fast forward, CRAS ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. It was a constant overflow of information but I learned so much, got certified in everything I possibly could, gained experience recording bands on SSL’s, APIs, both with analog tape as well as digitally with Pro Tools, was introduced to live sound (thanks to Keith Morris!) and game audio middleware softwares, etc. After I finished the curriculum, I felt way stronger from a technical standpoint, and was able to land a sound designer role at Electronic Arts shortly after.


EA 

The application process was quite difficult. I actually thought the job was in Los Angeles, where I currently was living at the time, but it ended up being in the Bay Area. The interview process was about 2.5 months long with what I found out later to be 900 other applicants. I am grateful that my boss at the time, Caleb Epps, saw potential in me and chose me out of everyone. I ended up working on one of the coolest games made by Electronic Arts called Dawngate (rip), which is a story for its own time. And that is how I ended up on the path I am today as a sound designer in the games industry.

My Best Advice

For those of you still trying to figure out what career path you want to take in life, don’t be afraid to try new things! Just because it wasn’t what you started off studying, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be the right fit for you. Many people currently are doing something completely different from what they studied in school. It’s better late than never doing it and regretting not having pursued something.

People interested in audio who are just starting out have often asked me what is the best advice I can give them. Based on my experience, my best advice is this:

  1. Improve your technical chops and be comfortable with your middleware/DAWs.
  2. Work on as many projects as you can to build a portfolio.
  3. Put yourself out there even if it’s uncomfortable and network! If I can do it, you definitely can 🙂
  4. Never give up. If there’s a a will, there’s always a way.

 

Questions for you as a reader 

  1. Having read my story, can you relate (even if you have a completely different type of job)? Or have you had different insights and experiences?
  2. What did you find to be the most helpful advice for navigating to where you want to be?
  3. Is your career what you studied in school or what you always imagined you would be doing?

I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to share their thoughts as well 🙂


Final thoughts 

Looking at a lot of the accomplished people I know, I hear many people often call these people “lucky.” While luck does play a little role in things, I think this is a misrepresentation and an undervaluing of all the hard work and effort that goes behind these people’s success. There are obviously exceptions, but in general, if you want to end up at a place you want to be, it takes many years of practicing your craft and getting good at what you do, and failing many times before succeeding. People often only see the successes but not everything before that that led to it. Just think, Pokemon Go, was the “Overnight Success” game that only took 20 years to succeed.  There will be many times you fail, but failure comes not from falling, but from not getting up. So I encourage all of you, go pursue your dreams and don’t let anything stop you! 🙂