Starting Over … In a Way

For approximately the past three years, I’ve stuck to a routine with this blog that – outside of a brief period last year where I focused my attention on Country Universe – has rarely changed. Every week usually consists of around three posts that can be anything from album reviews to countdowns to historical pieces to whatever else – this year alone I balanced two weekly features in a song review roundup series and news roundup, and the latter reminded me why I’m not a music journalist.

And to be honest, when I sat down last night to start this week’s Boom-or-Bust Jukebox, all I could think was, “Why? I don’t want to do this.” I’ll level with you all – ever since I published my book project exploring 30 years worth of country music history, I’ve been in a rut. I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels with reviews that ramble on and fail to make coherent points at times, and despite me giving it my all with each post, it doesn’t feel like it. I haven’t been able to shake it or understand why exactly, but I think I’m experiencing a period of burn out. I’ve been writing to fill time on an arbitrary schedule rather than letting it all come naturally. I’ve treated my fun hobby as a second job.

Now, this doesn’t mean this website is going anywhere anytime soon. Far from it. But I think it’s time to hit the brakes and re-evaluate my mission and my priorities with this outlet. I feel like I lost myself keeping up with the musical rat race – to hear every single song and album released each week, to engage in conversations I don’t care about, and to keep up appearances when I’m just some random dude who isn’t nearly as thoughtful or sharp as he thinks he is. That’s not to say I’ve been completely consumed. Again, my book project was my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and my current Willie Nelson retrospective has been an absolute blast. And the difference between those projects and everything else is … I’ve gotten to really live with them. They’re not popular, but man, they’re rewarding. I’m more concerned with doing them right instead of getting them out “on time.”

Of course, I get that my whining and the reasons behind it point back to me, and I’m not saying it’s anyone else’s fault but mine. I take full responsibility for veering off track. Fellow writers and other content creators will understand this, but it’s like when you finally gain momentum on a project, you keep going and going until there’s nothing left, because you’re only ever as good as the last thing you did – especially in this hyper-active society we live in today, where the next best thing is always waiting around the corner. It’s as if I’ve operated out of this deep-seated fear that if I don’t have something new every few days, that people will just move on from this website and not care anymore. I know that isn’t reflective of reality, but let your anxiety take over and you’ll convince yourself of anything. As for the reviews, I’ve given each project the respect it deserves, but not necessarily the time.

I think I got wrapped up in people-pleasing and turning this blog into something I never wanted it to be – a recommendation service. I’ve always wanted to center more around discussions on an even-level playing field with the readers, and I feel like for as much as I’ve preached that elsewhere here, I haven’t really lived up to it. I’m a country music fan who doesn’t consider himself a part of any community. I like the radio acts, I like the acts out of Texas and Kentucky, and I love the other outsiders trying to get their foot in the door. I also think there’s bad music to be found in every category. One isn’t better than the other; it’s all part of the big tent. On that note, though, I’ll also say there’s nothing more dispiriting as a writer than when people engage more with the negative reviews than they do the positive ones.

To repeat myself, I got so wrapped up in people-pleasing that I kept going with every new release and eventually didn’t want to listen to anything new. I’ve been revisiting a lot of old favorites lately, and remembering when I got to live with them and let them slowly burn themselves into my memory.

What am I trying to say, then? Well, in a way, I want to start over. I want to take things slower with this outlet and write when the passion and inspiration strikes, just as I did when I first started writing years ago. I don’t want to think in terms of “what am I going to write about this week?,” but rather, “what I do want to write about next?” I want to break away from social media and spend less time online and more time living with music again. I want to remember why I became a country music fan in the first place, and that’s all on me. I say this all to you, the readers, because I don’t just want to spring a change without any explanation whatsoever (which means I’m still operating under delusions of grandeur, and … damn it!), and because I might tool around with my writing style and other features over these next few weeks. I’m full of ideas right now and can’t wait to share them, but they’re not going to necessarily be revolutionary ideas – more of a “back to the basics” kind of thing. I want to have fun with this outlet again on a regular basis. On a separate yet related note, I may be adding another voice to The Musical Divide’s roster, so stay tuned potentially for that. I hope you’ll stick around for the changes, but if you don’t, that’s understandable, too.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you when the next post strikes.

– Zackary Kephart

9 comments

  1. Hey Zackary, Firstly, I just want to say that I’m a 55-year old guy who’s been living and breathing music my whole life. My music collection numbers in the countless thousands and I often base what I’m going to buy next on your reviews. You are one of the best music journalists I’ve ever read and I always look forward to whatever you put out into the sphere. I’ve got so much respect for what you do and I’m totally fine with whatever direction you go in. I’ll be there to take the ride with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey man, don’t feel bad at all about taking a break! I understand where you’re coming from, as I’ve probably felt everything you said you’re feeling above at one point too. A break is exactly what you need to recharge and feel excited again. Even though I’m on a hiatus myself from writing at the moment, I still think about these issues you point out above and reading this post brings it all back up in my mind. And I feel like all of it revolves around consumption. With the advances in technology today, it’s never been a better time to be a consumer of music or really any media. Of course on the surface it feels like this. But then you think about it more and it’s kind of awful too because you feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending buffet. There’s no natural cutoff point and that’s by design of course. Whether it’s Spotify, Twitter or Netflix, they all want to take as much of your time as possible. So it’s easy to get caught up in feeling overwhelmed. This plays heavily into the writer-reader dynamic. Looking from both ways: both are in a constant state of trying to listen to all the music to keep up, listening to music for pleasure, reading news to keep up with everything and then you come back to yourself the writer writing the post and the reader reading it and it’s very easy for each side to tune out the other (which is why so much music reviewing today seems to either indicate a piece of music is the best or worst thing ever, as this tends to draw the most attention; well mostly negative draws as you and I both know, but the hyperbole is what it’s all about).

    My whole point is I think we’re all stuck in a place right now where we don’t know how to deal with it all yet and trying to find that consistent and healthy moderation needed not to feel burnt out or in a state of fomo. Just keep working at it and you’ll eventually figure it out and find your balance. Hell I’m still working on it haha! And as always, feel free to holler at me if you want to talk!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh,

      Yes to all of that, haha. Ultimately what I’ve found is, it’s on us to know when we’re just going through the motions with this stuff. It’s the way it is now, and crazy as it is, there’s just no real solution to it other than personal ones. I guess I’ve been meaning to write this for a little while – just needed to finally admit it to myself.

      It drives me crazy about how the whole “music being the best/worst thing ever” is just everywhere these days. It feels like artists are legends after one song or album, and in truth, time is the only real judge of who will stay and who will stay with us personally. I appreciate you reaching out as always, man.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Very good points about there being no natural cutoff for all of the great entertainment options. As a consumer only, I have found it overwhelming, so I can imagine how difficult it can be for writers as well. This year, I’ve made a conscious decision to not try to keep up with everything; I’ve found a few albums that I’ve really connected with and that’s been enough for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As Moe Bandy might say, “Zack Kephart, you wrote my life.” I’m stuck in the same position with my blog, and I feel like I’m throwing up uninspired, get-it-over-the-plate reviews and posts in the name of feeding the Pulse and maintaining a regular schedule. It seems like blogs flip the script on us as they get older, and suddenly we have to conform to its schedule instead of it conforming to ours.

    At the end of the day, we all started writing because it was fun and interesting, and I fully support you taking the time you need and making the changes you want to ensure that this remains true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Kyle, I appreciate that. While I think you, as always, are doing a killer job with your website, I get your own frustrations, too. I don’t know how you balance the Pulse with everything else, but my hat is off to you, good sir! Also, thanks for always being a needed friend who understands these things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Zackary – I really appreciate what you have to offer here and I totally understand where you’re coming from. I personally prefer the non-review type articles myself, so I’m excited to see what you come up with next! Keep up the great work in whatever form feels right for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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