Choice can be oppressive. Imagine walking into a grocery store and having to decide between literally every kind of bread that exists in the world. Initially I'd be overwhelmed by the possibilities. Oooh, this walnut bread sounds good, but maybe I should stick with whole wheat. Wait, what's tsoureki? (Ironically, deciding which breads to use in that example was one of the most time-consuming parts of writing this post.)
But then I'd start to narrow it down by imposing my own restrictions on the decision. It's going with a Mexican soup and I want a little spiciness. Jalapeño cheddar it is. So a potentially paralyzing amount of freedom becomes manageable when you create guidelines to simplify the choice.
Artists have to deal with this sort of issue constantly. We can theoretically express ourselves in any way we want, but if we're not careful, we find ourselves starting a lot of projects that don't get finished and making little progress in any particular direction. Not surprisingly (since I'm writing this entry), I've come up with my own solution to this problem.
For one thing, I like to work in terms of projects that culminate in albums. Each project has a theme, story, and specific skill set I want to master during the process of completing it. Classical with Attitude came about because I wanted to find a way to perform classical music that incorporated some of my other musical loves (jazz and ragtime). The Masters' Apprentice will help me learn how my favorite jazz pianists played—knowledge I'll then put to use on my next album.
I use three basic criteria when creating a new project. It should be simultaneously attainable, challenging, and fun. Being attainable is important so that I can actually finish the project within a reasonable time frame, but it should also be challenging enough that I'm mastering new skills. Lastly I have to enjoy the project, otherwise I won't actually do the work necessary to finish it.
As a result of this focus, the albums I produce should satisfy both me and the listener. I want to be proud of the work I've done and its (ideally) impressive result, and the story behind the recording should resonate with the audience. By structuring the freedom I'm given, I hope to accomplish some pretty amazing things.