Passion projects important for creatives

Azmyl Yunor

I launched the music video to my latest single “Padah” from my John Bangi Blues album on Wednesday. 

I’m not showing off here but am trying to reflect on how the video is part of my ongoing battle to keep my songs alive and relevant in this age of short attention spans and all-pervasive algorithms that are slowly but surely dictating our lives. 

This music video is part of an ongoing project I call my “RM500 Challenge” to create music videos with the smallest budget possible through collaborations with artists, film students, and filmmakers.

The music video for “Padah” was conceptualised, produced, and directed by my film degree students for an assignment in a subject that I don’t teach, and I consider it an exception from my “RM500 Challenge” since its conception is for academic purposes. 

Another thing to understand is that my collaborators are often people I already know and admire or have approached me first and treated it as a “passion project” without any budget. 

I don’t make music for commercial purposes – I make music that I want to make. This is the clear distinction between mainstream artists and underground or indie artists.   

The same applies to my music videos – I tell my collaborators to take this as an opportunity to experiment and try different things.  

As an academic, I see this music project as an exploration of how digital audio-visual technology in everyday devices and equipment are advanced enough to serve some limited purpose outside of industry standards.

Yet, creatives are still beholden to industrial standards if they were to produce commercial media products.   

Here are two things I’ve learnt about such “passion projects” and how it fosters creative collaborations in a different light. 

1. When the stakes are lowered, one learns to “let go” creatively 

One thing about creative courses in universities is that what tends to be overlooked is the attention to creative philosophy. In Malaysia, the word “creative” tends to be associated with “fancy stuff” and “artiness” without considering the real impact and uses of artwork in our everyday lives.  

Design programmes often do this better since design also encompasses utilitarian design works that serve everyday purposes but is often overlooked in music and film programmes. In the courses I teach, I remind students that creativity is a form of problem solving – it has pragmatic uses. It is not there to just show off how great you are or stroke your ego.  

When I approach someone for these projects, I tell them straight the limitations of what we can do and try to get them to see this as an opportunity to “let go” of what their professional training and work experiences have accustomed them to. Once this is laid down, interesting ideas emerge.  

2. Bringing back “play” into the creative process is important 

A bulk of filmmaking graduates will end up working with creative agencies that create commercial videos or content for clients. This is reality.  

Even established filmmakers earn a decent chunk of their living from doing this – you just don’t see their names in advertisements because there are no credit rolls. 

This is the definition of a media professional, and it is hard work. The notion of “play” that most people who do not work in media production think making videos is all about is, of course, not the point.  

Yet, we forget that the audio-visual medium is a really fun platform to indulge in creativity.  

In this sense, the creative process has been hijacked by professionalism – this is why social media is so liberating as a tool because most of the time technical fanciness or even professional standards are no guarantee of a video having high engagement or likes.   

Just think of cat videos on YouTube: they have among the highest number of views with the least thought, stake, and effort in making. 

Since the stakes are already lowered, there’s an opportunity to be kids again and just play.  

Remember that the concept of “play” is important in the learning and development of children and it is misguided to think that we as adults should stop playing.  

Stop “adulting”: Creatives need to return to that time when they first encountered the medium and find excitement in re-exploring it outside of professional life. 

Perhaps we all need to articulate our own “creative” responses through play in responding to our daily challenges so that such experiences enrich us, rather than just burden us with unrealistic expectations. – January 19, 2024.  

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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