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Enjoy the difference

Three years after I left Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, I might have found a space where to both agree and disagree in peace, while growing connections.

Simone Silvestroni's avatar

Last year I reflected upon my life after “social” networks (quotes are on purpose), which contained a post-scriptum about joining Mastodon as an experiment. Despite a few adjustments I had to make, I can safely say that the incarnation of the fediverse I’m currently in suits me well. I got to know a number of beautiful people, several of which I openly consider friends. It genuinely feels like a version of the original internet that I’d experienced back in 1995, when I started going online. Not sure if it’s a case of serendipity, but over the last few weeks something changed in my Mastodon experience — for the better. What happened is that I started discussing music production with other sound engineers, and felt free to sometimes happily disagree with them. Nothing trascendental, just the ability to say:

I disagree

followed by an exchange of educated arguments and/or opinions based on experience and personal taste. Then moving on with constructive discussions where, even in cases where neither change position, it’s possible to respect a different point of view, validate each other, and learn something. I had to think about why the surprise caught me off guard, and realised that a remote part of my brain is still expecting a somewhat violent reaction to polite criticism. Supposedly, three years off the cesspits that are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are not enough to completely shrug off this intentional behavioural manipulation. Everyone should know by now that anything that’s fuelled by competitive efforts, rage, hate, or a generic mindless polarisation is the bread and butter of that particular brand of corporate “social” media. Which brings me to reflect on a couple of striking differences between my then and now.

Pointless competition

First, the constant disappointment I used to feel when confronted with the sad reality of musicians and producers constantly trying to overcome each other. I still find any competition among peers pathetic and pointless. A notable example from 2020: my song Love Field was one of four pieces discussed live during a music podcast. At the end, I wrote posts on Twitter and Instagram, greeting, complimenting the mentioned artists, and adding direct links to their songs to help them spread the word. I constantly tried to create connections that way, and all I ever got was — sometimes — a brief and sterile thank you, or an effortless “like”. People only retweeted my stuff if I were putting them under the spotlight. What’s the point?

On Mastodon, Zeruch aptly wrote:

I think this is true of almost any group of people in the arts who have actually developed a real practice that wasn’t at every stage contingent on social media leverage. Case in point, I’m in a local Art collective and everyone knows how to use social media but most of us started without it and most of our conversations are quite collegial more than anything else. There’s almost a complete lack of competitive chest thumping.

Experts and amateurs

Second, I struggle to explain how irritating the circus of music producers running their Facebook group was to me, whether they were centred around specific topics or not. Despite very few exceptions, the vast majority was an ego-fuelled charade disguised as “join the group for free and learn from the expert”, where the idea of creating a community was merely a selling point. They invariably offered fishy PDFs passed as free valuable content in exchange for an e-mail address, which — let’s call a spade a spade — inflated their Mailchimp numbers through forced newsletter sign-ups. Eventually, the results came: the group founder turned into an influencer, consequently inducing a steady increase of freelance jobs for him or her, and ultimately funnelling many followers towards the Holy Grail of passive income: online courses.

While I have little doubt that several amateurs might have actually learned a decent amount of production techniques, it was not the real purpose of this legit version of a Ponzi scheme. In fact, I’ve seen quite a number of said Facebook groups vanish, once the goal had been reached.

Space for community

The point of the digression is to highlight how a corporate soulless software, exploiting people by manipulating their behaviour to enhance negative feelings, is not the place where to build a community. Also, is there a need to actually build one? As a personal anecdote, I can safely say that none of the people I’ve been engaging with on the fediverse can be considered an initiator, which I find amazing. Going back to enjoying the difference, this is a post I recently wrote on Mastodon:

Discussing with professionals that hold a different approach on how to mix and master music, is totally enriching. […] I enjoy being myself and publicly express my appreciation for a pro like @hilljam, who does things differently.

Quoted in the post, Jamie Hill is a producer, mix and master engineer from Tacoma and also an artist, co-writing and performing with his wife: singer, songwriter, pianist, and author Shannon Curtis. He runs a business called Department of Energy Management, where he wrote a manifesto containing this statement:

I think of what I do as ‘Activist Mastering.’ And what I mean by this is, I don’t aim necessarily to be transparent in my work. Because I am an artist myself, and a producer, I approach mastering from that point of view. My goal with each project I touch is to enhance it in a creative way that showcases your point of view as an artist, from my perspective as a producer and mixer. I work to do this at the individual song level, and I also work to do this in terms of the narrative arc of the album or EP the songs are on.

I want to emphasize a simple truth: while Jamie and Shannon are extremely good songwriters and performers, and he’s also an outstanding producer, I struggle to enjoy their music. It’s not because I don’t like their genre — quite the opposite. It’s just that I’m unable to savour music when there’s more than a certain amount of loudness, distortion, saturation, limiting. I might say it’s a taste thing, however it’s not. It’s a physical overwhelming sensation. My ears (therefore my brain) simply refuse to accept it beyond a minute or so.

When I told Jamie about this, we discussed the use of loudness in mixing and mastering, recognising each other’s competence on the matter. He loves that kind of sound, and that’s perfectly good. We also have made different choices with the tools we use, but not even my refusal to give any personal data to Substack has stopped me from reading his daily newsletter on said platform — I just use Tor for that. A week ago, he wrote something that I slightly disagreed with, so I replied with a short note on Mastodon, which prompted Jamie to add a follow-up on Substack and publicly validate my point of view.

All this should be considered normal, and it’s the core of enjoying the difference: we can utterly love the path of someone’s artistic endeavour, and at the same time express a negative point of view on their output. No one gets offended, on the contrary: we’ve been building a relationship based on respect and reciprocal support. I love what they do, and I’ll always share their music around, even if I don’t listen to it. I’ll end with a Mastodon post from Morten Mosgaard, a sound designer, composer and Head of Office at the Danish Chamber Orchestra:

I really appreciate we can disagree here. No one gets any smarter if we can’t disagree once in a while.

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