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Steps to Music Discovery

So Hard to Get Along

So Hard to Get Along – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Lately, I feel like I’m exploring more and more musical acts, especially in progressive rock and metal. So many musical discoveries have come from a combination of Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, and following the bands I love. I feel like I’m awash in music, and it brings me a lot of joy.

Don’t get me wrong: I still purchase my music, usually in physical form. I give myself a monthly musical budget, and I’m not afraid to spend that money.

But music discovery? Spotify makes this so easy.

The steps go something like this:

  1. Listen to a band I enjoy
  2. Look at the “Related Artist” tab on Spotify and poke around
  3. Check out YouTube to see if the artist has any music videos (remember those?)
  4. Head to Amazon to see what reviewers say about their albums
  5. Put an album in my Amazon wish list to reference later
  6. Purchase the album

Rinse, repeat.

I don’t do like the kids do these days and use Spotify (or Apple Music, or any other streaming service) for all my music needs. But I do find that it’s perfect for experimenting, and for checking out albums that I’ve always wanted to hear before I buy.

(And thank goodness for YouTube. If an artist is not on Spotify, chances are someone has ripped and uploaded their album to YouTube.)

For those bands that have been on the periphery of my musical tastes, digital music venues offer me a free sample. It costs nothing, except a potential album purchase down the road.

I haven’t been this excited about music since around the time I was in college, when so much good stuff was coming my way from friends in school and college radio. Today, the material is almost overwhelming, because now the entirety of rock and roll’s catalog is at my fingertips. A lot of these newly-discovered artists have quickly become some of my favorites. That’s a fun feeling.

Supporting my favorite artists with actual money is so important. Thanks to these streaming services, I can find more favorite artists to support.

(Follow along on Spotify if you’re interested in what I listen to!)

On Ornery Artists

On Ornery Artists

There’s something noble about being the “ornery artist.” The one who switches it up when he or she shouldn’t. The one who you can’t pin down. The one who avoids fame and publicity.

As I walked around the Ann Arbor Art Fair on Thursday, especially looking at the photography booths, I couldn’t help but notice how similar they all were: landscapes, sunsets, flowers, bodies of water, animals, HDR (blah!).

Art fair artists are there to sell things, I get it. It’s hard to be ornery and sell in mass quantities.

For me, it’s more fun to root for the curmudgeon.

Three Things

Three Things

Doesn’t get much more simple than this:

Wanna be a better photographer? The simple answer is: shoot every single day, study the work of other photographers, and try your darndest to find something new to say in your work.


I struggle with that first bit the most. It’s so hard to get out and shoot on a regular basis.

And “study the work,” not “mindlessly consume and copy.” Get the difference?

That advice appeals to the academic in me. Seeing the world as the “great” photographers saw it is a quick to realize how much farther I have to go, and what I do and don’t enjoy.

The part that surprised me was the question about clichés. Most of the photography editors said there’s no such thing.

So much good stuff throughout this roundup.

Eric Kim: “To find your style in photography is to find who you are as a human being. What interests you in life?”

Laura Austin: “Style is about authenticity.”

Eric Anderson: “Finding your style comes with a lot of practice and being true to yourself.”

Exploring Ann Arbor

Liberty Street - Ann Arbor, Michigan

After starting my new job in March, I did what I always do: got out and explored.

I’ve been to Ann Arbor, Michigan, many times, and done a lot of shooting here. Now that it’s my jobby-job town, there are a lot more opportunities to get out and see the city. Lunch hours, in between meetings, after work – all good excuses to get out and make photos.

This is, at its most basic, the best reason to make photography a hobby. You get to really learn about and know a place through the viewfinder.

A new place also provides that little spark of freshness you might need to practice your craft.

Do your everyday surroundings get stale? Go somewhere new, and – bam – instant inspiration.

Paid Stuff and Fun Stuff

Paid Stuff vs Free Stuff

Working on personal projects is something I still try to do, it’s very important to me. I also believe it plays an important part in developing your own style, staying creatively motivated, exploring new ideas and learning new things…I try hard to produce personal projects fairly regularly, even when I’m busy with actual work. I try to produce and post something usually once or twice a week.

GIF artist Al Boardman talks about personal projects in a way a lot of artists do: It’s important to do the fun stuff and the paid stuff.

The paid stuff keeps the lights on, but the personal stuff keeps you, you.

And it’s usually the personal work that makes people sit up, take notice, and ask if you’re for hire.

Break Time

Break Time

Jon Wilkening is taking a much-needed break from his work, and from social media, this month.

Good for him. And it’s such a Today thing to do. I’ve seen so many blog posts lately where the authors are taking the month of July and turning off all social media.

I do that from time to time, usually on vacation or around the holidays. I find that I usually don’t miss much, and what I do miss, I don’t know any better.

Taking breaks from your hobby can be helpful, too. Last winter, after I finished my portrait project, I needed to step away from photography and recharge. The same thing happened this spring when I got my new job: my brain needed to work out other things than exposures and apertures.

So take a breather. And don’t feel guilty about it.

On Audiences


On Audiences

When I finished my Artists In Jackson portrait project, I wrote a lengthy piece on some lessons I learned from the work. Part of that, “Thinking About Your Audience,” was a reflection on how I think about who’s going to care about what I make:

If you’re well-connected and well-known, this may not be such an issue for you. Your art may already have an audience. But if you’re a first-timer like me, this audience stuff matters. I didn’t want to make something and have it flop.

In other words, who do I hope sees this?

Now, that doesn’t affect the actual portraits I make. Those are all mine, with no thought on what’s “marketable.” Style, subject, composition – that’s all me.

But when I bundle all these things together, I do think about who will be interested. When I’m done, who do I send this to first?

Part of me feels like a “sellout” for thinking that way. After all, should it matter who sees what I make? Who cares if it’s “marketable?”

For one: me. And for two: Many of my projects have a community focus. If I’m highlighting local artists, say, or people with fun hobbies, then I want to make sure those people are recognized by their communities, big or small.

I get some benefit out of that, sure. But so do the people I showcase. “Here,” the project says, “look at these folks who are just like you and do something interesting.”

For the portrait project, my audience was both my hometown and the artistic community within Jackson. For my Albion Anagama documentary, the audience was the Albion community and the ceramics community, plus alumni from Albion College.

Yes, the stuff I make matters to me, first and foremost.

In second place is the audience.

Albion Anagama Documentary

Ken Shenstone, owner and operator of Albion Anagama ceramics kiln in Albion, Michigan, is the focus of my new documentary, Albion Anagama.

Ken (with Anne Beyer, blurred behind him) gave me full access to his pottery studio last fall, and I followed his team through the whole kiln firing process.

The Albion Anagama kiln is the largest of its kind in the United States.

Give it a watch, and let me know what you think!

Photographer Profile: Jake M (dissonantdays)

Who are you, where are you, and what do you do?

They call me “Jake” on the streets… because… it’s my name. I am located in the Pacific Northwest, which is just about one of the greatest places ever… if you travel around inside of it. I do things. I like to take pictures (surprise!), ride my bike, sleep, sulk, and eat. You know, human stuff. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and work at a hotel… so you know… living this dream.

How did you get started in photography?

I was a curious child. My mom used to take a lot of photos of our family with old point-and-shoot cameras, and I would always chew o n them…. or try to eat them or something. Once I became a teenager, I stopped trying to eat cameras, and started using them for their intended purpose. I took a few (film) photography classes at my school, and really enjoyed all the processes involved with taking photos and printing them.

What do you like about your photography?

I don’t really like. I think it’s a little dramatic. I think I’m good at being dramatic with my photos… but do I like that? Ehhhh… The things I like about my photography are the things that people don’t get to see. Photography is and will always be (hopefully) cathartic for me.

A lot of your work focuses on nature, especially at the macro level. I love your sense of depth and layers, and your color work. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

I tend to be a fairly reserved, quiet, non-confrontational person… and so I suppose photography is my form of therapy/anger management. I feel like I’m venting when I’m rummaging around out in the freezing cold taking pictures. I feel the same when I’m editing my photos. It’s my time to be in control.

What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?

I think most of my themes (for me) are emotional in nature (get it!?). Obviously, nature is a big part of that. I consider myself an environmentalist, so a lot of my photos end up being some kind of dissonant personification of nature reflected off myself. I hope that makes sense.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

My work is kind of inhibiting when it comes to making future plans. I do have plenty of locations I am planning on visiting (with a camera) when I get some time. The Bruneau Dunes and Payette River are certainly within my grasp.

Check out Jake’s Tumblr, and check out his other photography Tumblr, @activeoblivion for more good work.