NOT my day job | Gaming Music
Jordan Reyne knows a thing or two about making music, from her first band as 12-year-old to her recent unearthly vocals for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard trailer.
But the London based, South Island born singer says her ‘day job’ writing and coding multiple choice games is more creative than her music.
“My day job is very creative, but my non day job (music) was less so. As a soloist, I found myself spending less than two per cent of my time on the creative side - writing music.”
Jordan was a full time musician for five years, but struggled to make it viable and has worked in web development, software engineering and teaching English in Germany. Jordan says coding gives her a creative outlet with a direct outcome.
“Coding is wonderfully concrete - its problem solving, and either you manage to achieve a thing with it, or you don't.”
Jordan tells us her story in the latest 'NOT my day job' series on The Big Idea, highlighting creative kiwis with multiple careers to support and stimulate their creative work.
Age/location: 42, grew up on the west coast of the south island (Tauranga Bay, 30 mins out of Westport). Now living in London.
Qualifications: BA Philosophy, Dip Software Engineering.
Tell us about your day job.
I'm an interactive fiction writer - which is the electronic version of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" type books from the 80s. It consists of a mix of coding in a very simple script called "Choice Script" and writing prose. I began the job just over a year ago when I retired from music.
I started because I wanted to do something creative where energy-in had a more direct relation to outcome. With music, you can throw all you have at it and achieve very little, or, if circumstances are different, put in very little and have surprisingly large results. It can be quite destabalising, or at least it was for me. Coding is wonderfully concrete - it's problem solving, and either you manage to achieve a thing with it, or you don't. In terms of the writing, Choice of Games, who I work for, have an existing audience who tend to prefer longer games/books over shorter ones, so putting in extra effort makes a difference there too.
Tell us about your creative work when you’re NOT doing your day job?
This answer will seem a bit weird. My day job is very creative, but my non day job (music) was less so. As a soloist, I found myself spending less than two per cent of my time on the creative side - writing music. To make music your full time job, you have to get it heard so you can get shows, sell albums, and gather funds to release further albums. In other words, there is a whole lot of other work to be done to make it self-sustaining: running kick-starter campaigns, applying for funding, co-ordinating print runs, running newsletters and blogs, shipping orders, scouting out shows, tour booking and logistics, getting tracks to podcasts, print media, online media, social media, cover-art design, promo videos and photo shoots, website design, and more. I had to cover all of that, so being a full-time musician didn't have much to do with music itself. It was very stressful, particularly the social media side which requires you to be always immediately available to reply to things. For me, being creative is about having quiet time where you know you won't be interrupted, so it's really hard to make those two things work.
How do you manage juggling both?
When I was a full time musician, which was for about five years, I didn't manage to juggle both because of all the tasks surrounding music I had to do to keep it going and viable. I didn't have time for a conventional job, which made things difficult. If gigs fell through, or a promoter decided not to pay, or if I got sick and couldn't do a show, there were serious repercussions as I had no safety net financially. I was working 12 hour days seven days a week a lot of the time to cover all the tasks. The worst outcome I faced was having nowhere to live, which happened twice. I think if I'd gotten to that point as a younger person, it might have been easier to handle, but as it was, the precariousness of it had a negative impact on my health, both physically and mentally. In the end, I couldn't handle it, so I opted for a day job instead. I juggle that with music because I rarely do music anymore - unless I'm offered shows in interesting places.
Tell us about your creative background.
I've been drawn to writing stories and making them into songs since I was a child. As a kid I was always happiest singing something raucous at the top of my lungs, narrating whatever was going on around me, like car journeys, exploring and so on. It probably drive my parents nuts.
When I was 12, I was in my first band and also performed as a soloist. I found songs were a really accessible way to tell stories, so I've been writing and gigging ever since, and released 11 albums in total. I've gone through periods of juggling jobs with being a musician - from web development to software engineering, to teaching English in Germany. Contrary to the myths perpetuated by gender constructs, I was never any good at multi-tasking! That meant the jobs never lasted more than a couple of years at a time. When I discovered online performance, I was able to go into music full time. I was in Germany by then, and the cost of living was a lot lower, so it was far more manageable than it has been in the UK.
What has inspired you? Who or what keeps you going?
When I was younger, I just had this blind and unrelenting urge to create. What kept me going was just the energy in that urge. I didn't question it, I just went with it. I opted for music from the many things I loved - writing, visual art (which sadly I wasn't very good at) and music itself. Later on, when I realised music wasn't what I had hoped it was, I kept going for what I eventually realised were unhealthy reasons. People who've been in music a while find ourselves repeating things like "don't ever give up" and "Eventually good music always gets heard." When I started thinking about why we say these things, I realised it came back to standard-issue American Dream discourse. The logic of it is as follows: if you are good enough/try hard enough, you will "make it".
The reason that style of thinking is dangerous is the trap it sets that locks you into something that might not work for you. The platitude gets flipped, and it's a flip we do in all areas of life, not just music: we assume it follows that if you didn't achieve what you wanted, you obviously didn't try hard enough or weren't good enough. In other areas, that kind of thinking leads to behaviours like kicking the already disadvantaged - where the people with privilege they don't recognise blame those with less of it for not rising to the top. In music it is similar, repeating that rhetoric assumes a level playing field where everyone has the same amount of connection, chances and luck. It's not the case, and most musicians know that, but we still repeat the phrases.
For me, it was important to learn the lesson not to swallow the rhetoric of pursuing a goal at all costs just to prove you are determined. What's important is knowing what the costs are and deciding for yourself if it is worth it. I wanted to keep going because I didn't want to look like I didn't try hard enough. But trying for the sake of it is a far cry from continuing because you love something. I had fallen out of love with music, thanks to the industry that surrounds it, and needed to stop.
Would you like your creative work to be full-time?
I'm really lucky in that my creative work is full time. That might be a confusing answer too, but my day job has a much higher percentage of creativity than music did. I know it will sound strange and potentially upsetting to aspiring musicians, but for me, there simply wasn't enough actual music in being a musician. Of course, I was a soloist, so the chance to task share the other stuff wasn't there. I know some bands who manage better as they can divide up the tasks. I couldn't go back to being a full time musician because of what that requires these days. I don't enjoy it. I enjoying writing music, but the rest - particularly the social media part, which requires you to be always and immediately accessible - is something I happen to find horrible and destructive.
What would help you achieve this?
N/A (I do creative stuff full time. I'm very lucky).
If you had the chance to start your creative career or path again, what would you do differently?
If I could do life over again, I would like to be some sort of quiet, invisible artisan type - making tables and chairs out of wood or stained glass lamps. Something you can see a solid result for if you put effort in, and something where making it work doesn't require shouting "look at me" all the time. That, or I'd go straight for the writing. I know that I did have a lot of luck there, and that a lot of writers struggle with things very similar to musicians - publishing houses are more and more like record companies and cult-of-personality is more and more pervasive despite it too being an artform that isn't primarily visual. It was writing that lead me to music in a sense anyway, as I'm very lyric focused.
Certainly, I would not put my energy into an industry that has become so focused on toxic values: how people look, the sexist and sexualised tropes gravitated to in the marketing and production of music, the constant online chatter we are required to do so that people are aware of our music at all. What I learned from music really is that the parts that I enjoy are outweighed by things I find destructive. It won't be the same for everyone, but that is the question we all need to find answers to: does this work for me personally?
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a similar creative career or pathway?
It's hard to give advice and not my place to. People are all different and different things will resonate with them well or badly. Extroverts, for example, will get energy from being around people and from lots of engagement. Introverts recharge via time alone. Both characters will find different things about music great or draining. It's really about knowing why you are doing it - asking yourself those difficult questions about why you are pursuing a certain goal. Just because I found it destructive, doesn't mean everyone will. Also, I think that knowing when something is bad for you is important. You may want something for very valid reasons, but the things that are part and parcel of pursuing it might kill you. It's then a very different kind of choice, so it's important not to swallow the rhetoric of pursuing a goal at all costs and think about what it means for you personally.
Tell us about your recent or upcoming creative projects.
At the moment I am working on an interactive fiction project which is a sort of comedy about communication, aspiration and random acts of chance. The player character is a cat, and gets to interfere with the workings of a middle-class family, influencing quite small things in their day to day life - their mood, their ability to relax or get things done, their attitude to each other and to the player (cat) themselves. The compounding effects can lead to huge or bizarre things, or fall flat in funny ways. As the player you get to be quietly destructive (or loudly!), facilitative, or bent on ruling the roost. At the moment, the word count is about 300,000 and it's a few months away from release. I'm really excited about it though, and the process of writing is a truly pleasurable experience.
What’s your big idea for 2017?
To finish my first fiction novel, and make sure it is as good and fun for others to read as I can make it.
Musically, I don't have any plans for writing, but if I get offered shows in foreign countries where I'm interested in the language and culture (most non-english speaking places!) I'd probably do them. My other main hobby at the moment is languages so I am happy doing most things where I get to immerse myself in another language for a while. The way languages are structured tells us a lot about what we value and find important. The differences in perspective and value you come across when you learn another language is always interesting to me. It always shows there are different ways of looking at things - or even things to look at that I had no idea were there.