D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself)

written by Aaron Garcia
2018 GLFCAM Kelly Livingston and Ron Samuels Fellow, Cycle 5

“The world doesn't owe you shit
The universe doesn't know you exist
Stop waiting for things to happen
Only you can make a change”

—    Punch, “Do It Yourself” – Nothing Lasts E.P. https://punchcrew.bandcamp.com/album/nothing-lasts-e-p

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DIY (“Do It Yourself”) for me started as a necessity. I didn’t grow up learning an instrument at an early age, the music programs in my high school hung on by a thread, and I didn’t have money to make a demo in a nice studio. I realized pretty early on that I didn’t have any of the privileges that a lot of the kids in nicer neighborhoods around me had. What I did have was a necessity to create music and even as a 14-year-old, I knew I had to find a way to make it happen. So I did what any 14-year-old would do and begged my mom for a bass and amp and self-taught myself a lot of Blink 182 and Green Day songs.

Being in a band as a teenager with no income except for my lunch money meant I had to skip some meals to buy cheap microphones and a bigger amp. My bandmates and I would switch houses to practice in so we wouldn’t piss off our parents too much. We taped microphones to chairs and ceilings and learned how to record an EP on free software. We learned how to promote ourselves and self-release on MySpace and Pure Volume which at the time were pretty bumpin’. We couldn’t afford to press CDs professionally so we would just burn CDs and write our band name on them with a Sharpie. We learned to book our own shows, how to set a line-up, how to make buttons, and how to interact with the grumpy sound guys who thought we sucked. After high school, I was the only one of my bandmates who really wanted to get a degree, and shortly after I started college, my bandmates and I grew distant. Some stopped performing music altogether.

I decided to focus on getting better at writing music and thought, “Well. . . “Composer” means you write the songs and the riffs right? So I guess I’ll do that.” I couldn’t even read music without FACE and EVERY GOOD BOY DIES FORSURE... (lol). I learned a lot in undergrad but the coolest thing I learned was to love sound, ALL sound: From the prettiest chords to the gnarliest feedback, I learned how to use and shape sound. I learned about a whole bunch of instruments I never even knew existed and internalized their timbres and weird quirks and I knew that this composer thing needed to happen one way or another.

BUT I didn’t know how to be a composer. Do you apply to these competitions? Who the heck can I find to play this stuff? How can you make a living from this? On top of those questions, I had learned all these awesome things, but was expressing them in this awkward academic way and started to become kind of miserable, like I wasn’t sure how to be myself in this new setting.

I knew something had to change, but needed some guidance. Luckily, I had someone I looked up to that I could ask for advice: Dave Reminick (Cycle 1).

Since my second year of undergrad, Dave and I became friends outside the classroom and played together in Chicago’s DIY punk scene, a diverse scene of eclectic and self-sufficient musicians who were (and are) very supportive of each other. My first true show was watching Paper Mice (Dave’s band) at The Mopery’s last show. I remember it so vividly, the door with no address, up a dark stairwell above a grocery store, the art and tagging on the walls, clumps of band stickers on every inch of the bathroom, tents that people lived in, rusty old bikes, the smell of everyone’s sweat mingling together on a hot July day. I found something that day that I knew would stay with me forever, a sense of community that welcomed everyone in without question. After I graduated from college, I felt lost and had no direction in my music. So, I asked Dave if he could give me private lessons to work on my compositional voice.

Dave was exactly the mentor I needed: Someone who lives in both the punk and classical world, and who combines his insanely diverse musical interests and his own loving and goofy self directly into his music. Studying with Dave was the beginning of sounding like myself. I could take all my experiences from both worlds and share them as something new. Because Dave is part of both the new music and DIY scenes in Chicago, his guidance has been vital in shaping the ways in which I compose and meld DIY and new music.

During my graduate studies at New York University, my comprehension of music and development of my compositional voice further expanded through the guidance and encouragement in my composition lessons with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon. I began to utilize instruments that I grew up listening to: Harsh vocals, electric guitars, electric bass, and drum set. Embracing these rock instruments, I continue to explore new timbres, ensemble configurations, and techniques.

Having grown up within the DIY subculture, I have always creatively found a way to make musical projects happen through collaboration, booking and promoting my own concerts, recording and distributing my own releases, and making my own album art. I believe collaboration is the most valuable way to engage and build strong communities. Through collaboration with many close friends, I have started an indie label (people | places | records), a multimedia collective (Transfer is Available), and multiple bands with the goal to create music and build a supportive community and engage new audiences.

I’ve always searched for other musicians who want to make a stronger, supportive music community and I found many kindred spirits along the way: My frequent collaborators Andrew Noseworthy, Phong Tran, and Shelley Washington, and most recently here at GLFCAM, Gabriela, Del Sol, and every composer in Cycle 5: Anjna, Jay, Erika, Jonah, Sid, and Antonio. Coming to GLFCAM was an opportunity to meet with like-minded people who have a drive to create and a drive for community. I’ve been so inspired by the diversity of music from my friends in Cycle 5 and the creative, supportive, and welcoming environment that Gabriela has made. Composers of different ethnic backgrounds, regions, and ages are welcome. GLFCAM is a place where all people and sounds are valid. It’s a place where we can learn from each other’s works in a supportive environment where we build relationships, exchange ideas with friends, and push to better ourselves and the music community at large.


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Aaron Garcia (b. 1990, Chicago) is a Brooklyn based composer and guitarist. Aaron's music is heavily influenced by the DIY punk scene and actively aims to blur the lines between band/ensemble and song/composition. Learn more on his bio page.

Gabriela Lena Frank