Gather round, kids, Grandpa Odyssey/Eurobeat Brony is gonna tell you a thing or two about his day, and you whippersnappers better learn summ’it from it.
It’s gonna be a long one, so to get to the content suggested in the title, you’ll have to scroll a ways. I’ve sprinkled in some videos (suggested listening for those interested in the history of MLP:FiM fan music), so if my rambling becomes too long-winded, feel free to simply peruse those.
The position of being the first person to create MLP:FiM fan-music is a fascinating one, in that even if I was to stop participating, I would still be an inextricable part of its history. Other musicians have been able to bow out with varying levels of grace and mystique, or have remained in but been able to change how they are seen; but by being the starting point for the scene I have carved my name into that stone, and much of what occurs beyond it can be attributed to me— or in some cases, blamed on me, and aptly so. I often think about the impact this has on others, and what kinds of things I can (or should, responsibility pending) do to understand the health of this most crazy and mercurial thing.
No, this isn’t going to be “music in 2011 was so much better”. In fact, I dare say that the general production level of music in the MLP:FiM scene has actually gone up since its inception. Right now we have an absolutely mind-boggling amount of content under our belts— in fact, though I forget where the statistic comes from, the MLP:FiM fandom has produced about as much music in three years as the mainstream music industry has published in the last 40-50. We have a lot of finely polished material in this scene, so believe me, neither quantity nor objective quality is at fault here.
The problem is its joy. Much of the first wave of musicians has fallen either into obscurity or out of favor with the scene in general (either by the scene’s determination or the artist’s), and for every finely-crafted instance of sound design in a new release there are two drops of bad blood between two musicians, or musicians and former fans, or musicians and their current fans, or between two fans with differing opinions.
It used to be somewhat more common to hear of musicians being nostalgic for 2011, not all of which was well-placed. I don’t necessarily feel this was because of a sense of hipster-like adherence to a specific style or outright rejection of all things new (though the at-the-time new influx of generic Modern Talking dubstep-fests certainly played its part), but it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why.
I dare to propose that I may understand why. It was, in a phrase, the genuine and unobliged desire and drive to create precisely as that creative mind felt compelled to do so.
Allow me to break two of those points down.
GENUINE – The first track of the MLP:FiM fandom was “Evil Enchantress (Euro Spell Mix)”. It was created as an apology for being unable to extract Flutterguy’s voice from the original titular song. After that day, however, future tracks were made not out of apologies or being told I should, but simply because I was compelled to make more. I genuinely enjoyed the show, and wanted to make something new and unusual to express it. This was before the ‘ponification’ trend— I wasn’t “ponifying” anything, I was “eurobeatifying” MLP.
The point is, I genuinely enjoyed the show, and created driven by that point coupled with a desire to make new music. I sense that this was true for many of the other early pioneers— NotACleverPony, ChainedAlgorithm, PinkiePieSwear, and what have you, even including those who came only shortly after such as JackleApp, MicTheMicrophone, PhillyPu, Baschfire, Makkon, Lavender Harmony… we created because we personally wanted to create.
UNOBLIGATED – This is perhaps my biggest point in this post.
When we started, Equestria Daily was merely a fledgling fanfiction and news site (copying the likes of derpysquad‘s Derpy Hooves News in many ways) started by a Trixie roleplayer from /co/. This isn’t to say that EQD played NO role in helping early musicians; rather, that “getting on EQD” was not yet a checkbox to be ticked or a point of contention for ‘being part of the circlejerk’. We appeared on EQD because we were an unusual and uncommon sight, and thus, at the time, news-worthy in a sense. Sethisto was not obligated to feature our works, nor did we create them for the sole purpose of appearing there.
None of the musicians were held at metaphorical gun-point to create works about MLP. If anything, there was an inherent understanding that these musicians made other music, and MLP was simply part of their subject matter. “Brony musician” simply meant “musician who is also a fan of the show” (back when “brony” meant “fan of the show” without any suggestions towards socio-political opinions, hygiene or fashion sense), and that made sense. Yes, people requested more “pony music”, but this was only because the joy for the show itself was still prevalent. If there was any obligation, it was likely to be based on the influx of new fans who found this new music through a shared interest.
Many core facets of the MLP:FiM fandom were literally reversed if not drastically changed in the summer of 2011, for worse or for better. For our purposes, the most important of these was a general shift from “could” and “want to” to “should and “must”. These took the forms of
- “I must tell people about this show!” instead of “I want to tell people about this show!”
- “My friends have to like this show!” instead of “I hope my friends like this show!”
- “I must contribute to this fandom!” instead of “I want to contribute to this fandom!”
This shift was sparked by a newfound sense of importance in the violent speed in which this unlikely group grew. We had stumbled upon something so new, unique and novel… so the next logical step must be to see it grow even faster! This sense of manifest destiny generated a sense of obligation— “to make this grow faster, we MUST see more material, we MUST spread the word”.
Put another way, I began to hear some people tell me they “felt that they had to contribute to the fandom” around about mid-2012.
There were benefits to this new sense of importance, of course— I seriously question if I would have ever performed my music (or any derivative thereof) in front of a crowd were it not for the huge increase in conventions— but this mindset was, in my opinion, toxic in its implications towards would-be and established content creators. There were now set rules and limitations, milestones and obligations. We began to create with a sense that we ‘had to’.
As more musicians were drawn into the scene, so did the demand on certain news sites that had previously featured other musicians to give them a piece of that pie. As more and more musicians entered, said pie became more difficult to split, and it was only a matter of time before they had to make decisions on who they do feature, and who they don’t. News sites were no longer welcomed to feature new songs, they were obliged.
Being obliged to eat a large ice cream sundae is less fun than eating a single scoop on one’s own accord. The joyful desire to create was replaced with an arbitrary ‘duty’, and this sapped much of the joy out of creating music. Those who stuck with it were rewarded— in some cases, my own included, heavily (in some respects)— but the damage was done.
I wonder how many people would call For The New Lunar Republic “PINO” if it was released today.
These changes had drastic effects on how the newfound “pony music scene” worked. Equestria Daily became, through no effort/desire of their own to be so, the ‘standard’ by which new music was judged. If you appeared, you had ‘made it'; if you didn’t, you either ‘weren’t good enough’ (which wasn’t necessarily the case) or you ‘didn’t have an in with one of the prelisteners’. Folks began listening ONLY to certain musicians and not others, for various reasons. Why take a chance on something new when the old one still works just fine? Why give new talent the opportunity to pleasantly surprise you when you only permit yourself to listen to music with the same subject matter over and over, and the old talent scratches that itch sufficiently? And thus there became a very large, though unspoken and hard to visibly see, barrier to entry for new musicians, and it was reasonable for them to believe this was the fault of the musicians themselves.
We have a lot of angry, bitter, grumpy souls forcing themselves to make music about a show in the hopes that we’ll benefit from it, even if only in the satisfaction that we’ve been heard. Even I’ve found myself succumbing to much of that jaded bitterness, from time to time, losing sight of why I still make music about the show.
About the show…
…what about the show? Wasn’t this the source of our delight and the inspiration for what made the early works so full of joy?
Having recently finished Season 4 myself, I can say that, while some things most definitely have changed in the show, the general sense of fun and delight has not been lost. It remains the cute and entertaining amusement it was in day 1— there is perhaps a sense of departure from the grand adventure on which Mrs. Faust would have sent us were the show still in her control, granted, but it remains every bit as delightful on its own. There have been outside influences, but I dare to argue that little has been done to deter it from the path on which it began— being a well-made show to prove that shows for that demographic do not have to be ear-clutchingly, mind-boilingly terrible for those outside of it.
I’m the problem here.
I let myself forget how wonderful it is to make something new and push myself, even if it does sound less refined, because I was excited to create it. It’s still possible for me to experience the joy I had in remixing “Fluttershy’s Lullaby” and publishing it the day I started making it. It’s still possible for that sense of “because this is fun, and we like creating new things from our inspirations” instead of “because people expect me to, and I need the traffic from EQD to boost my monetized videos”.
So. I finally need to address the title of this VERY long post, what we musicians can learn from 2011. I write these not to teach, but simply to present my own findings on the matter.
CREATE FOR YOURSELF. This isn’t to say “only create for your own eyes and ears”, as there’s something delightful about presenting your work to a receptive audience who supports your work. But one of the primary things we’ve forgotten in this fandom is the notion of creating because we want to, or because we feel like stretching ourselves out and trying new things.
IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE SUBJECT MATTER, LEAVE… FOR YOUR OWN SAKE. This is neither a threat or a suggestion that you should “just get out”. If you don’t enjoy MLP:FiM, why should you force yourself through it just to make a few people on the internet happy? This is a great recipe for frustration and bitterness. So why do it, unless your earnings are so great that you literally cannot afford to do otherwise? You should NEVER be held to creating content about something you no longer care about, and anyone who would seek to do this to someone other than themselves is nothing short of cruel.
IF YOU DO LIKE THE SUBJECT MATTER… INDULGE YOURSELF IN IT. Maybe start with Season 1, where the sense of something new and exciting and wonderful remains intact. Fandom material is one thing, but there’s nothing quite like putting yourself back in the place when you experienced the purest version of that early joy, before there were institutions or obligations, before there were hierarchies and castes, whether implied or explicit.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO TAKE A BREAK. I took several breaks during the first two seasons, usually to avoid burnout. Even if you love the subject matter, too much of a good thing can poison your joy for it. Create things inspired by something else, and care not for those who would criticize you for doing so.
DON’T DEPEND ON EQUESTRIA DAILY – FOR BOTH OF YOUR SAKES. I do not envy EQD’s workload right now. They have enough things to worry about before they even touch the music world, which was frankly never supposed to be their focus in the first place. Additionally, many musicians outside of the MLP:FiM world have to make do without an EQD-like news source, instead peddling their works from the ground up and starting at absolute 0.
I encourage other musicians in this scene to follow suit. This way, even if you do appear on EQD, you know you have done so by your own merits, but your success is not dependent entirely upon its decision. You will have done the work any musician should know to do, and you’ll have taken control of your music’s destiny directly.
BE OKAY WITH THE FACT THAT NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE WHAT YOU DO. This is a hard one for me, as I have this strong sense of “oh but I worked just as hard if not harder on this piece why don’t people like it as muuuuuch” that I really need to get over. Yes, my non-pony work is just as good as my pony work, but that’s not a decision I can force others to make. I can hope for them to open their minds up and try new things, and I’ll encourage it as much as I can, but it’s taken years for me to finally accept that it’s not up to me to change people’s minds on every new thing I release.
One thing I’ve been working on is reaching out to people who dislike my work. Too many people I’ve seen who say “I dislike [artist x]’s music” get crapped on by [artist x]’s fans simply for stating an opinion— it’s a matter of opinion on something that is meant to be subjective. It’s okay. They could still be lovely people in their own right. Grant them that permission, and yourself the notion that what you do might not be for everyone.
That’s all I can think of for now. I’ve been genuinely blessed to have fans from all corners of the planet appreciate my work, tell me that a song of mine got them through a rough patch or gave them the strength and courage they needed to do something that made their lives better. I can’t say it’s always been easy or fun or even good, and I’ve had plenty of rough patches. But I’ve been so fortunate to be part of this ride, and for all the negativity still in the system, there is still joy to be found.
I tell you now, musicians, that the utter delight that was found in making work in 2011 is not gone, as long as there are still those who do not lose that joy to a thirst for fame, fortune, self-righteousness, or simply trying to fit in. The only thing that has truly changed is the fandom itself and time— create with genuine joy and purpose, driven by your own desire to create something new and wonderful, and you’ll have created something well beyond itself.
You’re free to disagree with any and all of what I’ve just said. But dang, it feels nice to get it off my chest.