Everybody has their story. Places they've seen, people they've known, successes, failures, that underlying passion that keeps them going-all these components make up innovative people who build their careers off those experiences. And these stories deserve to be shared. Enter Notes on the Road.
The online magazine began when two friends and co-workers, Amanda von Goetz and Dorothy Wu, joined forces with a common interest: to support the works of creative individuals and bring them to the greater public's attention. Establishing their own artistic careers early as classical musicians, both women traveled extensively and were immersed into a world of various artists and professionals. Also writers and educators, it seemed only natural von Goetz and Wu document these experiences and report on the performance and management side of the music business and greater artist community.
It soon became clear that a grand variety of people fall under the category of creative professionals, many of whom continue to be accessible and willing to tell their stories. A series of interviews ensued and have since culminated onto the site, presenting intimate profiles of distinguished men and women in the arts and kicking off what has now become Notes on the Road. The founders recently sat down with Kimball Gallagher to discuss the evolution of the publication, the interview process, and the dreams that fueled the site's initiation and continue to steer it with each unfolding day.
Amanda von Goetz
How did Notes On The Road come about?
DW: Some years ago, Amanda started taking up computer programming while we were managing an arts organization together, and we had talked about writing a book together about the music business. Then she suggested, "why don't we make it into a website actually?" That way we have accessibility to a much wider audience. It can exist and be available to a greater public than what we could accomplish by doing a small-press publication on our own.
AvG: There's no stronger, greater broadcasting platform known to humankind right now than the World Wide Web, so we figured that was actually the most efficient way to disseminate this information.
So why interviews?
DW: In the interest of sharing all these inspiring stories that we were getting from people, what better way is there than to deliver it directly from the person themselves? One of our mottos is "from the horse's mouth," and we really believe in that from an educational standpoint as well as just purely a communicative one. We have no desire whatsoever to be in the middle; when we see something that's great, we don't want to be in the way of that at all. We do our best to portray with as much integrity as possible the full scope of a person's character, what we find inspiring or interesting about them, and just to deliver that to people so we can share those great things.
AvG: Also, sometimes on the odd occasion you'll go have a drinks with your friends, you'll be in a bar, and there will be that guy at the end of the bar who's sitting on the stool, minding his own business, and you don't know anything about his life. He could have been the king of Lichtenstein and have an amazing story to share-we have no idea. Nobody ever bothers to ask because he's just that guy who's sitting at the bar. Notes On The Road is about trying to discover new creative personalities through our everyday lives.
In some cases with higher profile interviews, we all get together, either in person or online, and try to find an interesting slant on their story or maybe one with a little more of a personal spin. But in many cases we feature people that haven't been recognized in the mainstream media. Their story hasn't necessarily been told, but it's no less extraordinary. So Notes exists as a platform, as an indie publication to give them exposure and appreciate their stories, as well as the lessons that they've learned on their own personal journeys.
I think the idea behind it was really to explore personalities, because many of our interviewees have been places, met people, and seen things in their lifetimes that no textbook will ever teach you. Their willingness to share is rewarding for us, and that's more than we could ever hope to provide to others.
Do you like the process of doing the interview, talking to people?
DW: I love it! Life goes by so quickly and as musicians both Amanda and I have traveled all over, coming across great people, in big cities, small towns, in the form of teachers, colleagues, performers, entrepreneurs.
I think most people come across great things in their lives almost on a regular basis, but the tendency is to move forward so quickly that you don't give yourself time to actually appreciate these moments for what they are - and then allow it to affect you and allow yourself to react to it. In slowing down things, we're given a chance to document what we've experienced as well as experience people in greater depth along the way as well.
One thing Amanda and I have spoken about in public seminars is that there's so much out there to learn through experience itself, skills which you simply can't acquire in a classroom. You don't even realize until you get out of school that life can take you so many different turns, and there are so many people who have taken all those turns ahead of me, ahead of her, ahead of all of us. It's amazing to see the proliferation, really an endless diversity of life paths. What gets both of us really sparked and fired up is when you find out how many people are truly innovative in terms of what they do in their life and how they live their lives. We interview all kinds of creative professionals, but there really isn't anything that's not included in that category; it's more about a voracious and radiant attitude and approach towards life and career.
AvG: The best interviews usually happen when you have a really natural rapport and a vibrant dynamic with somebody, and they're feeling open to talking to you about a wider variety of topics. It goes without saying that any successful professional has experienced ups and downs in his or her career. In general, we feel it's actually not so much the highs that should be celebrated, but it's the lows that you want to hear about from other professionals, because you also know that you're sitting across the table from somebody who, despite the lows encountered, is still here, fighting it out, having a great time, and ripping it up with what they do, every day of their lives. So for us, it's a great privilege to talk to people: the guy at the bar and also those who are recognized in their fields on a public platform.
It's very special to see the spark of what happens when someone becomes impassioned while speaking about their work. There's always that special moment in an interview; whether it's a hobby, a book that an interviewee has read that changed their life, a role model who really influenced their work or someone who simply brings a smile to their face, we love the unusual things that make people light up. It's an amazing thing to watch their whole aura change--their body language, energy, focus--I think that's a very special moment because you see the person at their most creatively authentic. It's very inspiring.
As an interviewer talking to someone who has a lot to say, how do you create the conditions where you're going to access their best self? How do you create the conditions where interviewees really feel comfortable?
AvG: It varies. Some people are more comfortable--or perhaps accustomed to--speaking about their work openly. It depends on how often they're used to giving interviews. I think that what makes Notes unusual is the way that we say to people, "it's an open conversation-just talk to us. We're just asking for thirty minutes. Forget that it's being recorded and let's just get to know each other a little bit." And as an interviewer, sometimes it takes a little bit of work, but we try to be as flexible as possible. Our main objective is to join them in their zone, more than it is to draw them into ours.
DW: Our main job is actually just to listen. We might do a certain amount of research-but we only really prepare a certain amount of questions. Thinking back to many interviews that I've done, I feel sort of like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "transparent Eye-ball:" like I've forgotten I'm present and just immersed in absorbing this person for who they are. We have no agenda beyond just showing the person for who they are in their highest expression of themselves. That's the only thing that we are trying to share with others. There isn't enough informed idealism in this world. So, people are surprised, and they surprise us in return by being so responsive.
Does anyone ever take you in surprising directions?
AvG: The interviewee usually leads the flow and sometimes they'll just take you in amazing directions. You can learn so much.
DW: I didn't expect to learn all about the ecology of the New England soil today (laughs).
AvG: Dr. Eric Chivian, whom we just interviewed this afternoon, has a great gift of explaining things in very applicable, understandable, clear terms to a layperson like myself who's not familiar with the intricacies of his work. We learned some really amazing things.
Whether it's a musician, a composer, an actor, an inventor, do you see a common thread in the creative process across disciplines?
AvG: Passion. Number one, absolutely, without question. Passion and feeling inspired everyday of their lives for whatever reason, whether they're involved with a hobby or wrapped up in their work--there's always a level of dedication that's unwavering.
DW: And an unwillingness to compromise what your interests are. We found it amazing to discover how many people, whether they're prominent or not, pursue multiple passions at the same time in a full way that is satisfying to themselves and which contributes to their communities and/or their personal development.
AvG: What defines somebody, these great people that we've had the opportunity to talk to, is not actually what they do in their darkest hours or what they're thinking, but what they do in the few moments immediately following. It's really that kind of fighter spirit that they all have to a certain extent. It's a great pleasure to talk to many of these people, even to be able to have face-time with them. We're able to get time with some very busy professionals, but it's also because we are offering a reciprocal relationship. We're providing interviewees with exposure in a more relaxed environment than they may be used to, and we are also committed to protecting the integrity of the truth--what they're conveying in their own words--without intent to misquote or re-contextualize their own words. With that cushion, most people give their time happily.
In your wildest dreams, what is Notes On The Road?
AvG: Personally, I would like to see the publication become influential. We absolutely welcome e-mails from people to see what kind of material or with whom they would like to hear an interview. We'd love to compensate the writers very fairly so that it could be a full-time job for inspired young creative professionals. Will it be my full-time job? It kind of already is our full-time job in addition to our day jobs. (Laughs.) But I would love if we had a strong team of writers with whom the turnover could be as quick as possible. We would invite young writers to then leverage it as a networking opportunity and they could be compensated in the interim period and turn out really amazing, inventive stuff.
DW: In the very beginning, we had talked about how it could become a production company, how we could even help to manage and support artists' careers across disciplines: music, painting, theatre, dance, everything. We are a media house over the Internet, but it would be so wonderful if we could be a publishing house for printed manner as well for the release of recorded music. Not just concerts, multi-media, guest lectures, but also workshops-anything and everything, which actually helps creative professionals empower themselves. That was one of the original seed ideas to starting the site.
AvG: I would also love to see us explore streaming in-house produced video, documentary-style. Maybe go around, tell stories on organizations that don't have the money to make their own documentaries. We talked about maybe covering trade shows because they're things that people usually can't get into all the time. Speaking in purely ideological terms, I would love to do that. To have a series of copyrighted, in-house produced videos, which are educational in nature, but also with a plain degree of fun to get an insider's view on different people in a variety of creative professions.
DW: It would be amazing if in the long term Notes on the Road could help to revolutionize education policies so that they fully embrace the technologies of the modern world and use them to bring out all the different kinds of talents out there. We've come to know and become acquainted with so many people in every profession for whom music, for instance, is such an integral part of their lives, but yet that's one of the things that's been cut from so many schools around the country. What a shame for the kids that will never know how much it can really give to you later on. It would be wonderful to share on a larger scale how the arts contribute beauty, reason and creativity to the daily lives of so many people that have distinguished themselves in self-made careers and other professions.
AvG: In my own experience when I was in music, I felt that the music world was a tad bit myopic in terms of what was appreciated. There were some pretty specific ideas of what is art, and some have a more purist view than others. But in my own personal theology, I think that anything you do to an exceptionally high level, there's artfulness in that. That goes for business, engineering, composition, writing, teaching, mathematics, so I think that to be exposed to that idea and to be able to have so many people exist as living proof of that idea is really a very powerful thing. It's also something I feel that youth could highly benefit from as they're in a very tumultuous place in their young lives, and they're trying to just start sorting out what it is they want to do with their lives.