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On track

A year ago, my first single, “Closure,” finally came out on major online music-streaming platforms, and I was over the moon.

Even if it hadn’t hit the charts yet, and even if that would probably take a lifetime given my monthly average of 10 active listeners (myself included), I am grateful and very proud of it. I consider it as my “firstborn,” conceived in my heart, gestated and patiently nurtured in my mind for months until the world heard its first “cry.”

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The thing is, I am not a professional singer. I neither have formal training nor education in music, and I do not make a living from it. Although I can somehow carry a tune, my singing voice, which sounds like my speaking voice combined with a couple of head tones and falsetto, does not even compare to that of many popular band vocalists who can make people’s hearts swoon with their cool riffs and runs.

I guess all I have is love and passion for music. Inspired by OPM bands like Sugarfree and Rivermaya, and foreign artists such as Ed Sheeran, JP Saxe, Finneas, and Sleeping At Last. I listen to them every single day, and music is the air I breathe. Writing lyrics, giving them melodies, and singing them out—initially for my own consumption—is something that I just eventually grew fond of and have been doing since high school. Soon, I learned to play the guitar and also the ukulele.

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Making music, however, is not as easy as it seems. It is far from the overnight magic some fans assume whenever they excitedly look forward to the launch of new pop music albums.

You see, playing in my mind a harmonious tune and the lyrics that fit the rhythm is a tedious, repetitive process of trial and error, like a science experiment and an art project where one creates and recreates.

I needed to have at least a basic understanding of keys, chords, and notes, stay in a range that my vocals will allow, and have one discerning ear to identify parts that sounded good and another to hear what’s off.

I had to consider the words that make up the verses, the tempo that builds the narrative, and the emotions that my listeners will feel.

I also dealt with doubts along the way. Am I good enough? Would people like it? Would people want to listen to it and replay it? To silence the noise in my head, I had to constantly remind myself that I am doing it, first and foremost, for me, because no one owes me his or her attention in the first place.

At times, I felt stuck, playing around for a couple of hours and getting nothing done. So I’d rest my mind, take a walk, or do something else, until a sudden burst of inspiration would get me back on track.

So, I continued writing, revising, and exploring — repeatedly and painstakingly. Until the bits of melodies playing in my head, like complicated puzzle pieces, finally fell into place and became a complete song, sounding like the finished story I’d always envisioned it to be.

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The next task was to record the instrumental or backing tracks, and in my case, I had to contact a professional to tweak one of his works and produce it for me. Conceptualizing a fitting cover art (thankfully, I had a cousin who helped me design it) came next. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hearing my own track out for the first time was literally and figuratively music to my ears. It did not only give me the “kilig” and goosebumps, but also the confidence that I can do anything I pour my mind and heart into. More importantly, it made me appreciate even more the efforts (and often, collaboration) behind every song, especially from other aspiring artists who are still waiting for their chance to be heard.

It made me rediscover the emotional high, that inexplicable joy of creating something out of nothing—one I can call my own, an extension of myself now immortalized into a megabyte-sized audio file recording digitally stored in cyberspace.

Aside from rendering song covers in GarageBand and uploading them all on Facebook, making my own music has also been my catharsis throughout the pandemic. My first single, for one, kept me sane, and helped me overcome my own demons and ghosts from the not-so-distant past.

It also made me realize that connecting with people through music — by exacting melodies and lyrics that aptly describe feelings or encapsulate experiences that many people usually cannot find the right words for—is one of the most beautiful and underrated gifts there is.

I have always believed that a beautifully composed song can take various forms. From a faint light saying “There is hope,” a pat on the back saying “You’ve done well,” to a warm hug saying “It’s okay. I’m here.” I want my music to be just that. More than just a way to express my vulnerabilities, I hope my music can inspire another soul, too, if not help a person get through another day.

Yes, making music doesn’t always guarantee money and fame. But I think it is safe to assume that it is always a blessing to its maker and to the right listeners. For me, that feeling that I am heard, somehow validated, and constructively critiqued, is enough. It is mentally therapeutic and liberating. And if it has made a difference in the life of even just a single soul, does it not make it all the more worth it?

At present, I’m taking my time as I work on my succeeding singles. After all, releasing songs and compiling them into a full-blown album is not so much a destination, but a personal journey that is not meant to be rushed.

To all dreamers out there, make your own music, have fun, and take it one lyric and one note at a time. Writing it from the heart is all that matters. Everything else is just a bonus.

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Jerome Ian A. Arbonida, 29, is a graduate of the UP College of Nursing, a singer-songwriter who also dabbles in poetry and painting. He donated the revenues from his first single to a kid whose mother passed away from COVID-19.

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TAGS: closure, Jerome Ian A. Arbonida, songwriting, Young Blood
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