Giving Effective Criticism To Your Musical Collaborators

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Just as important as hearing criticism is the ability to communicate your ideas effectively. There are a few practices that can make a world of difference in getting what you want as well as getting the most out of your collaborators.

 

Opening Up Creative Possibilities With Humility

If everyone is willing to hear comments on their work, you're on your way to bigger and better things. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. On my podcast where I interview producers, there's a common trait that angers them. When a musician says, "can you turn the compressor off that snare?" when a compressor isn't even on a snare, it elicits an angry reaction from the producer as the musician is overstepping their boundaries.

 

Most people can smell from a mile away when someone is swimming out of their lane of expertise and into theirs. It's basic human nature to be a bit annoyed. While it's a bit silly these producers are angered by this ― especially since the musician is trying to be happy with an album they may promote for the rest of their life ― the producer is angered that you’re not talking to them in a way that's helpful to achieve your goal. In order to get your goal across, restating the question as: "Can we work on the snare a bit? Is it feeling a bit compressed maybe? I want it to be a bit more gentle."

 

There are a few details to this technique to pay attention to: first, it's polite without offering a direct action that must be done. Secondly, it offers some solutions but doesn't give an imperative. It's also helpful to describe the emotional response you'd like it to be closer to. It can occasionally be hard to get on the same page using words like "gentle," but if there's an example of a record with the sound you'd like the snare to be closer to, you can usually get an engineer to get it closer to what you want.

 

            The same criticism skills go for your band members; being super specific about what you want them to do can suck the creativity right out of them. While you may know you want your bassist to play an octave higher for the last bar of the chorus, it can be helpful to ask them for some other ideas on what they could do for that bar. Allowing them to come up with solutions makes them not only feel valued, but also helps them maintain their interest in the project. It also can lead them to come up with an idea that's better than what you thought of or can be combined with yours for an even better result. Even some of the least proficient musicians I've worked with will surprise me when I exercise this technique. If the musician is great at their instrument, they probably have a more advanced way of getting what you want if you communicate with them in a way that opens up possibilities instead of shutting them down with overbearing suggestiveness. If they don’t come up with a better idea, you can always suggest that they go up the octave since you know that works.

 

Getting The Most From Outside Collaborators - When working with outside collaborators or studio musicians, there are a few ways you can maximize their contributions with a similar technique. I make them two mixes before a session; one contains the part the songwriter and I have composed for them to play on a MIDI instrument, along with another that doesn’t include our example. I'll tell them to listen to the song without the part we wrote to come up with their own ideas. I'll get a few takes of their idea to see if they come up with anything better than what we already have. After that I get them to play the part we wrote, sometimes with some of the ideas they came up with added in. After they record the part we wrote, I then ask, "is there anything you can think of to improve this part?"

 

 That single question is usually where the magic of the collaboration happens. The session player is often creatively stifled by following orders from those who don't understand their instrument, feeling both frustration and resentment. But given the chance to improve upon an already finished idea emboldens their expertise to find small inflections we overlooked that a proficient player understands. Allowing collaborators to develop their own ideas while letting them feel like the expert opens up creative potential. Even if you know exactly what you want, allow your ideas to be improved upon since there’s little cost of time compared to the reward.

 

Constructive Criticism Is Often About Keeping A Conversation Going

“Rule of art: Can’t kills creativity!” ― Camille Paglia

 

In acting improvisation classes, there's a technique called "yes but" that allows a conversation to keeping going for your collaborators to work off of. When suggesting or criticizing a part of a song, this is helpful when you introduce "no but." Adding an alternative or a more descriptive part to your criticism allows a conversation to start, whereas only saying you don't like something leaves the conversation in an uncomfortable place. It's inspiring for collaborators to hear what you like or dislike since it offers a place to build from. Criticism is labeled constructive since you can build from it. Trying to make sure all of your criticism or affirmations have a description that inspires the next step helps keep the momentum going.

 

“Negativity is the enemy of creativity.” ― David Lynch

 

Leaving an open-ended solution to the problem that includes the person being criticized involved will always get a better reaction. After stating what you find wrong, offering a solution but not strictly stating that's the only way to do it leaves the door open. Simple statements like "what if we try___?" or " since you're good at this stuff, what do you think we could do to fix this?" can get an amazing reaction from collaborators.

 

If you do have to criticize someone, find anything nice to say first and your criticism will be met with much more open ears. I try to find anything ― no matter how hard I have to try ― I can compliment before giving a seriously harsh criticism when working with musicians. This tactic often leads to them accepting the criticism and openly evaluating it.

 

When To Be Detailed About What You Want

We just talked a lot about leaving things open for collaborators, yet there are times being overly descriptive can be extremely helpful. Just as you should leave your collaborators some wiggle room to be creative, there are times to give a lot of direction. In short studio sessions, it can be hard for a collaborator to know what you want when you’re not familiar with one another unless you're able to express what you’re looking for in great detail.

 

As a mixer, I’m doing a process the musicians I work with have little knowledge about. When I receive mix notes from the musicians I work with, I tell them to explain their thoughts in as many words as possible. Usually, these musicians don't have the lexicon to easily describe what they want so encouraging them to go overboard can give me clues to what they're looking for. Detailed input on what you like whether it's tone, inflection, composition, etc. can be extremely helpful in getting your vision across, especially if there’s a communication barrier.

 

Wait For The Idea To Be Realized

 One of the most common disputes in collaboration is when someone critiques an idea before it's ready to be judged. Many ideas aren't able to be judged unless they've been developed for a few minutes or the proper context is presented. The fastest way to a fight during a song’s drafting is to judge a person's idea before it's even been realized. Not only does this cripple the chance of the idea improving the song, but it also stifles the person who's idea it was.

 

 Just as we discussed with brainstorming sessions in musical environments going wrong, we must remember one of the only ways collaborative environments work properly is by not criticizing others until the idea is fully developed. While this can seem like a waste of time, the momentum drained when collaborators feel hushed along with the bad environment it creates isn't worth the time spared.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Hearing Criticism To Make Better Songs

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Hearing criticism is a skill that's learned slowly. All too often criticism is met with defensive statements like "well that's just your opinion" or "you're hating" in order to dismiss someone's opinion. Instead of evaluating what’s actually behind the criticism, it’s blocked and never considered for how it can help a creator to grow. By firing back reactionary retorts to criticism, the ability to grow from even the most negative of criticisms is shut down.

Instead of blindly defending yourself against every criticism, it's important to weigh the criticism against your intent to consider what can be learned from the critique. With practice, you can consider this criticism, gaining a healthy check on your intent to give you perspective so you can make the right decisions for your work.

It's easy to get flustered when hearing criticism, so getting some distance to evaluate what was critiqued is often necessary. Evaluating criticism brings you self-awareness as well as gives you strength to handle the consideration that's needed to create. Taking every critique you receive as a chance to grow by gaining further objectivity not only builds your strength as a human, but it's one of the best devices for growth in your mind.

The Toxicity Of Blaming The Haters

One of the worst reactions an artist can have is to dismiss all critics as "haters" when there's a lot you can learn from your critics. Today, if you want to hear criticism from the world, it's easier than ever with critique websites, blogs and social media comments. If you allow the comments to affect your creative decisions in some way, these critics are your collaborators. While that can be off-putting to some artists, it can be empowering if you put the right attitude towards this criticism.

Hearing criticism is usually met with resistance since it's a far easier path than measured analysis. All too often we assume anyone who doesn't like what we do is trying to bring us down, no longer supports us or being maliciously hurtful. While all of those traits can occur in criticism, they're misdiagnosed far too regularly. It's become easier for fragile egos to protect themselves from all criticism by categorically calling all negative critiques "haters" whose only motivation is to bring down their targets. Whether criticism is educated or worthwhile isn't even considered since it has to be brushed off entirely.

This approach to criticism is usually to protect ego out of fear of what would happen if you had to accept flaws that may be pointed out. While many criticisms are invalid or uneducated it's important to evaluate them in order to grow your self-awareness. Often in life, we hit a frustrating place where we're looking for answers on how to grow to make our lives better so we can further ourselves. Most of the time these answers lie in hearing a truth about ourselves we've yet to face. When you put your music out into the world, you open up an opportunity to hear about both your strengths and weaknesses. But this is only an opportunity if you allow yourself to give the comments on your music consideration.

Since I work on so many records every year, there are constant tweets, album reviews and social media comments about the work I've done. When I see a criticism of the production, I take it in while trying to consider what I can learn from it. Every project I do has intent, so I'm able to judge each criticism by whether that intent translates to outside ears. While we've exhaustively discussed making music for yourself first, others can advise you if your standards are translating properly. If someone called a production raw when I was going for a more polished production, I might have to rethink if I've lost touch with production standards.

Sometimes, a criticism may be intended to deride a song, but it’s actually a compliment. It's always hilarious when I produce a record and someone says it is “too poppy" when that was exactly the plan ― to make a record that was unashamed of how poppy it is. But hearing your record is sloppy or out of tune when you were going for a record that was meant to be precise and polished is helpful criticism that should lead you to reevaluate whether your standards are high enough.

If you get bad reviews, you should consider the reviewer's agendas. Usually a criticism is a reflection of how a reviewer wants to look to others, meaning if they say they like your music and you have a more mainstream sound, they could lose credibility in their world. If you're getting criticism from someone who doesn't even appreciate your style of music, the criticism may be purely out of a posture they need to take, making it worthy of dismissal.

Self-awareness is probably one of the most important qualities any of us can achieve, and hearing that we're "trying too hard" or our standards aren't on base can help us learn what we can gain more perspective on. With my last book, Get More Fans, I was told that the book's name was off-putting since it sounded like a self-help book, even though I thought it was a perfect title, which I labored over for months. But once readers cracked into the book they sensed its authenticity. Criticism can help us see the blind spots we all have. It's said we all have a note on our back that everyone else can see but we cannot see it ourselves. Being judged by the internet can help us become aware of what this note says to then consider and apply to our work.

It’s hard to hear criticism at first as it's another muscle you need to build. Some artists need a filter at first by having a friend read them reviews to find what's useful and not malicious. In time they can grow to hear that not all of this criticism is valid. But calling everyone haters is the opposite of growth. Instead, take it in to begin building a muscle towards how to process it.

Advice From The Suits          

            Once you gain some success building a fanbase, suits will inevitably come knocking. These suits cannot help but comment on your music, so knowing when to take their comments to heart and when they're overstepping their bounds can be treacherous since keeping relations with them is an important part of growing a fanbase.

Suits often get a bad rap. No one ever pats them on the back when they tell an artist they can do better and that criticism leads to a successful record. Throughout my time engaging with suits (and even being one), the best practice I've seen is giving an objective opinion about how the artist can be the best they can be. Instead of forcing their creative direction on the musician, they give them feedback on how they can be the best version of who the creator wants to be.

 Since musicians won't make good music if it's not what's emotionally resonant to them, suits’ worst behavior is telling a musician to go in a direction they're not passionate towards. Telling an emo band they need to sound more like Massive Attack when they don't like their music, wastes time for both the suit and the artists when they make terrible music. It's good to offer advice like, "take a listen to Massive Attack to see if it influences what you do," but it's detrimental to their music to force an artistic agenda on a musician. A common trope of suits giving advice is to follow the latest trend, but if the musician doesn't like that trend, it always comes off as derivative, often leading to the death of that trend instead of helping the band. Nothing kills a trend faster than when 1,000 inauthentic imitators rush in with generic drivel.

While we've all heard the trials of art being shut down by suits that "don't hear a hit," there are cases where this has yielded great results as well as the oft-referenced utter failures. This advice has motivated many lazy musicians to exceed their artistic limits to craft a better song. But this advice has also come from a conformist-know-nothing-suit that's chasing trends instead of making trends that wouldn't know innovation if a sentient robot smacked them in the face. There's no better evidence of this than the debacle Wilco went through in their movie I Am Trying To Break Your Heart when the same company which rejected the record, later released it under a different imprint to much success.

 When you read stories of the great artist developers, they impart influences along with standards upon artists. They tell stories of successful examples, but they don't exert their tastes on the artists. Telling a musician they can push their boundaries more or that they haven't found the right collection of songs is an opinion that allows an artist to analyze against their intent. If a musician is confident in their creative direction and knows what they want to express isn't aligned with a suit, it'll rarely end well in compromise. But often when a musician is less confident, they know that they can do better, so they'll take the comment to heart.

Just as the head and the heart are very different struggles, the suit and the artist are two different beasts that must coexist. Just like the head, a suit often overthinks concepts that ruin an artist's vision. But the artist can have too much heart, resulting in a loss of objectivity as they overly emote into a panic. Sadly, discussions of this struggle tend to be too black and white, where they either dismiss all of the advice from the suit or they trust the suit without sufficient consideration. There’s utility in suits’ feedback if it avoids imposing inauthentic influence on artists.

Who Do You Trust?

Throughout your creative existence, you'll be constantly inundated with unsolicited advice on how you could improve your music. It can be troubling to sort through, leaving artists enraged at some of the ridiculous unsolicited comments made on the internet. Figuring out whether this criticism is someone pursuing an agenda makes it even tougher to figure out. There are a few rules I've learned to figure out how I consider criticism:

How Does This Person Benefit? - Figuring out if someone's agenda is to pursue their own benefit can clue you into why they're giving this feedback. Consider if this feedback is only there to fuel a selfish gain for the critic, which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Is This Person Proficient In This Subject? - Producers and well-trained musicians are able to dissect small parts of sounds to tell you exactly why an element isn't working. They can also zoom too hard, getting too far into their own tastes to give you helpful advice for your intent. With that said if you're looking for feedback from a respected expert you admire, it can be helpful to process their criticism to weigh against your intent.

Uneducated Ears - Non-musician input is commonly written off when critiquing music. But I find the way non-musicians listen to music can be much more emotional than those who are constantly dissecting it from the bias of musical proficiency. Hearing emotional feedback or when an element sounds off from those who are uneducated can be a great alert to a problem. With that said, these uneducated ears can try too hard to find errors resulting in the silliest feedback you've ever heard. Just because someone has no music education doesn't mean they cannot feel emotion or tell you if your song feels as powerful as another song.

Confirmation Bias - When I get lots of feedback on a subject, I try to make sure I'm not suffering from confirmation bias. All too often when we hear criticism, we try to use it to find whatever is easiest or most convenient for our present state. I try to ask myself what's the hardest truth I'd have to consider from the criticism I receive about a song. This truth may be that I need to rewrite a whole section of a song or start a mix from scratch. Usually, the hardest truth is the one you have to face, since our minds try to convince us the easiest truth to execute will work.

The Public Has No Imagination And Will Rob You Of What Makes You Special

The majority of listeners have a limited vision of musical potential and only know how to imitate others. Anyone who has graduated kindergarten gets that there are psychological profiles of those who are leaders and followers. You'll hear tons of advice on how to make you more "commercial" or "accessible." Most of this advice comes from those who don't get that simply imitating what has already been done will get you nowhere. The world wants artists who have a unique character to their work, not another copy of a copy, but the advice you get is usually a coded message on how you can be a clone of a successful artist.

Finance blogger Ramit Sethi puts it like this: “The world wants you to be vanilla. They want you to be the same as everyone else. But the minute you are, they abandon you.” This sentiment has been echoed by countless artists including Grimes. Most people are only able to tell you to imitate something else they enjoy or has received success. While this is great advice for athletes and those looking to figure out practices to get more successful, when it comes to your creative choices, this advice is largely useless.

Even worse, some advisers have intricate knowledge of one discipline but almost none of another. When it comes to how a painter can improve their work, I have nearly no vision on what to do with a finished painting, but with a half-done demo, I’ll have hundreds of ideas. All of my advice comes from my experience in music and business, but is neglectful of the nuance of how you communicate art as a visual format.

If your critics are telling you to get rid of an aspect of your intent since it'll “help you get famous,” you cannot give up on it. The character and quirks you like about yourself are what others will criticize before you’re successful and what they'll celebrate when you're successful.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Balancing Collaboration With Seclusion

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

The Hub And Spoke Method

In Cal Newport’s Deep Work, he talks of a hub and spoke method of execution, where each person in a team will go back to their private office to develop an idea. They then vet the idea together in a collaborative environment. This method allows development to occur in private without the interruption of flow. Later, when the idea is fleshed out it, can be vetted by the group.

 

Even if you have a positive environment for developing songs that would make the happiest hippie kindergarten teacher give you a gold star, band practice is still not the optimal place for creativity to occur. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, talks about decades of studies that show brainstorming results in a worse creative outcomes. Instead, the best creative outcomes come when the individuals work alone and later pool their ideas.

 

Since we know being creative in front of others isn’t the optimum environment, why is every startup employing an open office with no room to think alone? MIT’s Building 20 is considered a mecca of creative achievements such as Noam Chomsky’s linguistics department, which influenced both Pixar and Facebook’s open offices being built around the hub and spoke idea. But unlike the open offices cheered throughout startups today, a small detail is left out of Building 20’s history; it contained soundproofed offices for isolated work, unlike modern open office designs.

 

This allowed the creators to work alone in their own spoke but also meet with others in the hub. This model lets them think in private but then, when they’d leave their private soundproofed rooms, the building was designed to make serendipitous run-ins happen as often as possible, exposing them to other ideas outside their discipline. Put simply, the creators worked alone but were very likely to discuss with others what they're working on to gain both insight and objectivity into their work.

 

So if song development in groups is often toxic to creativity, how do we fix it? This model can be taken right back to many of the deficiencies of the band practice room or the modern day writing songs around a computer approach. Knowing what we know about creativity, it's usually best for one person to work by themselves when they feel inspired and then continually go back for collaborative vetting in the hub. In the modern band sense, this means working alone on a song privately and then taking it to the practice room or inviting collaborators to the studio to refine after you've gotten your creative burst out. When the collaborative environment gets stuck on a problem, it can be especially helpful to take the problem home to work in private.

 

Employing the hub and spoke method isn't always about going from your home demo studio to a collaborative band practice room. Chris Baio from Vampire Weekend talks about their band evolving from jamming in a room to now sending demos back and forth, with members adding their parts on top of what's already there in a DAW. The benefits of this practice are echoed in interviews I've done with members of Thrice and Publicist UK who, like Vampire Weekend, live in different cities, so to effectively collaborate, they have no other choice.

 

A hidden benefit to this method gets back to what we discussed when members of a group need to feel they're being heard and not shut down. By developing your idea on your own, you're free to build it until you're happy with it without criticism. The option paralysis of too many collaborators trying to get their ideas through at once can be paralyzing. Getting the initial idea as far along as possible in seclusion can allow a more clear mindset to avoid many pitfalls of creative obstruction.

 

Visionless people always defend the status quo. While I know most of our favorite songs were birthed in band practice sessions or sitting around a studio computer, this doesn't mean we can't reach greater heights by learning from this concept. But taking creative contributions out of the practice room for further development can help many musicians get to a much better creative place.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Creating An Effective Creative Environment

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Your Not So Perfect Match

“If you agree with everyone else you're collaborating with, the rest of the people are redundant.” ― Rick Rubin

One ineffective solution to the “too many cooks” dilemma is bandleaders who think they should stack their band with “yes men” or clones of themselves. The problem is … this doesn’t work. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, extensively studied the teams that made the best musicals. Since musicals require so many different creators (lyricist, composer, director, etc.), this study was perfect to see a wide combination of collaborators. He discovered that the musicals that worked best had a group of collaborators that worked together a bit, but not too much.

When groups were mostly strangers or old pals, it seemed to lead to inevitable failure. This comparison wasn't a close race; it was very decided that a mix of familiar along with unfamiliar collaborators worked best. The conclusion was that old collaborators have a jovial way of critiquing each other, which creates an environment where new collaborators felt welcome to criticize with a fresh eye. An environment where there's questioning from a mild level of familiarity allows questioning that develops ideas into a greater work. The new connections also had new ideas that had an inspiring effect on the old collaborators.

Time and time again when observing great collaborations the members are individuals, not carbon copies of one another. They all have unique influences that contribute to the greater whole. Striving to find a perfect collaborator with the same taste as you is a futile pursuit that's detrimental to creativity. But that's the extreme case; a bad fit is a bad fit, so hiring someone who only listens to classical music for your hardcore band may not lead you directly to greatness. The questioning that comes from individuals’ tastes should be seen as part of the vetting process that leads to better ideas.

Dissent is helpful since every study on the subject shows that dissent can help come up with better answers. So hating that your bassist doesn't always love your ideas can be the reason you make good songs. But that's not to be mistaken with saying “no” makes better creations. Figuring out how to augment the good by identifying its merits is just as important as saying no.

All too often musicians look for a collaborator who's a carbon copy of their influences, but what you see in most great bands is complimentary influences that brings depth to the table. In fact, study after study shows that creative outcomes are better when there are dissenting views in the room. Disagreements can’t be constant or cripple the process, but dissent will usually help get to a better result by vetting ideas. While that can be taken to an extreme when ideas differ so much that you can't agree upon anything, a happy medium can be an ideal collaboration.

So what should you look for in a collaborator? I made an argument in my last book that when a musician is looking for a collaborator like a producer they should be looking for someone who fills in their blanks. If you're proficient in guitar solos and vocal melodies but are clueless about drum composition, you'll need a drummer that's highly proficient. A songwriter who enjoys parts that go on too long needs to be reigned in by someone with more concise tastes. Good collaborations come when expertise span the variety of disciplines needed to make music.

Obviously, if you're both not interested in making the same type of music, making it impossible to agree on a general direction, the collaboration won’t last long. But when it comes to filling in blanks, this dynamic is what I see in most groups that work well together. If you're bad at harmonies, recording yourself or writing drum parts ― finding someone with those skills can be much more important than the ridiculous details musicians put on help wanted ads.

Working With “Experts”

 In collaboration, there's an odd dynamic when a more experienced collaborator comes to the project. This "expert" claims their opinion is more valid since they're an "expert," and they should have a dictatorship over a project. In most cases, this is used to silence others, which ruins songs. No one can be an expert on the emotion you feel inside you. As a record producer, I usually have to cede some control and efficiency to find the sound of a musician’s vision since it's impossible for me to feel that emotion inside them until I hear it. I've seen countless instances of producers imposing their vision on an artist when they know exactly what they want and the producer vetoes that vision for the sake of their "expertise." Since a producer often makes more music than an artist, this dilutes the artist's intent to a more generic sound.

 Conversely, the musician can often be wrong or so inexperienced that they need a large amount of guidance or an objective perspective on how they could more clearly communicate an emotion. When a producer tells you it's easier to get a result by employing a method of tracking they've done before, they have seen more than an artist. If an A&R guy tells you it's best to send the single to the label head after it's done since they'll be more likely to enjoy it, it's best to listen to them. If the engineer tells you your Stratocaster can't make the sound of a Les Paul, their expertise will supersede your knowledge of what you think may have been done on a record. Experts are often great at procedure or wisdom, but if they try to dictate direction on how the heart wants to express itself, they can burn down projects instantly.

Groupthink

 Whenever you hear about the downfall of creators who were able to sustain great work for years on end, you'll hear the term ”groupthink” thrown around. This phenomenon occurs when a group of collaborators becomes so insular that no one tells them what's going on outside their own world so they can no longer make good decisions. Everyone starts to think the same since they're only influenced by thoughts within the group. Thoughts from outside the group that are not shared by the larger majority are discarded. They become self-referential, thinking little can be learned from the outside, since what's happening within their group is superior to others outside of it. No one is ever questioning what they do since everyone thinks the same.

In psychology, they commonly discuss anxiety and paranoia stemming from a lack of "feedback," defined as criticism and the ability to bounce your ideas off of someone else. When a patient has been in solitude, their neuroses are compounded by having lost perspective from this feedback. When groupthink is present, this is exactly what happens. Ideas aren't vetted, so the lack of feedback causes a loss of objectivity to the outside world. This outside perspective makes them unable to make good judgments, ultimately leading them to their downfall.

Competition

Competition can either be lauded or derided depending on the type of personality experiencing it. Those who have seen competition motivate athletes and entrepreneurs to great heights can point to countless examples of it being a great motivator. Whereas introverted artists who fear competition by keeping their ideas to themselves are nearly infinite. Encouraging competitive types not to be that way is a worthless effort since, without some productive time on a therapist's couch or some deep soul searching, this need to compete is beyond curing. This can be very annoying for many of us who have to deal with them, but it's the only way to get them to focus on creating.

For new creators, competition is going to be detrimental. Before they have confidence in their field, it can discourage them. In fact, many personalities can shift as they become confident, whereas in their early days they feared all competition in fear of judgment. Teresa Amabile did a study that examined how reward affects creativity. In both her initial study along with countless follow-up studies, they found that being evaluated squelched creativity even if it had a reward in it.

She called this the intrinsic theory of motivation, which means that people will be most creative when they're challenged by the work itself. But there was an exception; this theory wasn't the only part of the equation with those who are experienced creators. These people are usually motivated by rewards as well as attention and financial gain. As creators gain success, they begin to believe in themselves and they feel they should be rewarded. Otherwise, they'll apply their skills elsewhere since they're functional enough to do many things with their skills.

 The key to competition in creativity is to figure out what each person needs to nurture to bring out the best in them. If someone doesn't like being compared to others, be sure to avoid it at all costs as it'll often drive them to quit.

Humor Makes Collaboration Work Better

            While we just discussed a whole lot of serious topics as well as scientific research into making your collaborations effective, you should be having fun. Creating takes a lot of thought, but if you take it so seriously that you have no fun, what's the point? Making music should be enjoyable, if you get around many of the creative roadblocks, it should make it easier to avoid the bad times so you can enjoy the process.

The good news is having fun also helps you to be more creative. At one point the insanely prolific author Isaac Asimov was asked to write a paper on creativity for DARPA in which he said, "for best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose, I think a meeting in someone's home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room."

Studies have found that creativity tends to diminish when a project is done only for gain. Without an enjoyable part of the process, it's hard to pay attention; this is the reason many modern startups have ping pong tables along with other playful activities throughout their offices. John Cleese of the great comedy troupe Monty Python also agrees, stating: "Humor is an essential part of the creative process because if you're not having fun with it, the environment will get stressful and competitive."

 In my tenure as a record producer, I've prioritized this skill as one of the highest in my record production skills. If the room is laughing, the person who stays negative sticks out like a sore thumb. All but the most sociopathic personalities are neutralized by everyone having fun while making progress on a project. Leaving time to have fun can be hard for some of the control freaks who are paying the bill for you to laugh at a “Bad & Boujee” remix, but if it makes the room laugh, you’re earning a better collaboration.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Optimizing Collaboration To Write Better Songs

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Getting Beyond The Power Struggle

In any relationship, whether it’s a collaboration, friendship or sexual relationship, after the initial getting to know you period or the exciting honeymoon period, there's a usually a period called "the power struggle." In this struggle, collaborators will try to exert who will be the leader in various fields like business, planning, creative decisions, etc. As the politeness of initial meeting wears off, this struggle gets more and more apparent, often causing a breakup, years of strife or ― in the best case scenario ― it all falls into place, allowing for a symbiotic relationship to occur.

While some power dynamics easily settle into structure, others result in years of strife. For many collaborations, this becomes a passive-aggressive struggle that's never discussed or even realized by those involved. When experiencing strife, it's best to call it out and find a solution that gets this struggle over with to create a dynamic that works. Discussing the unsaid struggle to figure out a dynamic that works for both parties is the only way a collaboration can last.

Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

Inevitably, right after I discuss having an open environment, someone chimes in that too many opinions are bad since “too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the meal.” While I believe there are scenarios where there are too many cooks in the kitchen, most often this is used to silence collaborators by repeating an irrefutable cliché. When someone purposes too many opinions is the problem with the collaboration, the intended consequence is that someone has to stop saying their opinion. More often than not, this alienates a collaborator, causing them to withhold worthwhile contributions in the future. To understand how to navigate this dilemma, consider how a kitchen actually works.

In restaurants, there are valuable feedback mechanisms throughout their team. The wait staff tells the chef if there's a bad reaction to the food, like if the milk has turned, a recipe isn't right tonight or a cook on the line is botching an element. The management tells the chef if they're spending too much money or being too slow getting out meals to be profitable. The sous chef and cooks tell the chef if there are inconsistencies in the ingredients so they can contact another vendor. The chef is the person making the large creative decisions about these issues for as long as everyone else has confidence in their ability to do so.

Music often has a similar dynamic. The main songwriter is essentially the chef who comes up with the broad strokes of a song. Then there are collaborators to help execute what the songwriter cannot do on their own. With that said, it doesn't always mean that every collaborator's opinion should have the same weight on every issue. What makes the kitchen dynamic work is not being democratic, it’s having each person serve a purpose. Music is trying to express an emotion, and the songwriter is usually the only person with the vision of that emotion. Effective collaborations often have roles that look over certain aspects of the process with one person having the majority of creative control.

The Need To Follow One Vision

Producer Dave Sardy, who has made many amazing records with bands like LCD Soundsystem, Slayer and Death From Above 1979, says this about the need to follow a single vision:

“Anytime you have more than 3 or 4 people trying to get an idea across, I always think bands work best when one specific person in charge, the songwriter and if there’s a band with more than one songwriter, whoever wrote that song needs to follow that vision through and everyone needs to get on board with what that vision is. I think films work the same way, when there’s a strong vision, everything works well and when there’s a lot of competing visions you get the movies we’ve all watched sometimes and think ‘How the fuck did that get made?”

Many times choosing how you handle fulfilling a vision before starting a project can alleviate many of the disputes along the way. It’s effective to figure out the best assets of the group, giving them greater control over an aspect of the project. Democracy’s purpose is to make decisions that make the majority of a country happy, but music’s purpose is to make an emotion resonant, which is usually diluted by making the majority happy.

Democracy Isn’t Always The Best Option

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

― Winston Churchill

While there's no clear course of action for every situation, if we want to make good decisions, I don’t think democracy always gets us to the most resonant song. Now before you accuse me of being America-hating-liberal-hipster-scum, please hear me out. Too often when a decision comes up for a vote, the democratic process is corrupted by ulterior motives like focusing on an individual instrument or one member agreeing with other members due to power struggles within their dynamic. These democratic votes don't always lead to the best creative outcome. They can reflect the deficiencies in a team's dynamic with one another rather than a song that's resonant. Pleasing everyone is usually a way to compromise creativity that doesn't make a song as emotionally resonant as possible.

Instead, I've found that when a project has "too many cooks" it's best to discuss a course of action that'll get the best outcome. The team can take a vote to inform a benevolent dictator who has the overall decision power. Usually the main songwriter gets veto power over the emotional content of a song; the drummer will be in charge of groove and the producer is charged with veto power on sonic decisions. Whoever has the most understanding of the nuance of an aspect of the record will be charged with upholding its standard.

Instead of democracy, I think it's more helpful to think of your music the way a presidential cabinet works. The president makes the overall decisions on each choice as they were elected to oversee the intent of the country, but they use advisers who are experts in each field to help inform their ideas. If the president hears from the administer of beats, there's something wrong, they should probably take it seriously. However, if all the cabinet members think the beat administer is thinking selfishly, they'll ignore them.

The dictator may not be someone who has absolute control over all aspects of the project. Having a charter that dictates how disagreements will be handled that focuses on how to get the best creative outcome can not only help make better music, but it can save hours of strife in your life, as well as your studio bill. Especially when doing a second project with team members that had problems in the past, figuring out this charter can make your next go round far less painful. Having someone oversee different facets of the record that suit their strengths can eliminate distraction. These facets can be silly titles like "Minister of Groove," "Head of Tones" and "Captain Emotion."

While this title may not allow an absolute veto power, I may suggest their vote win unless all other members of the project disagree. For example, if we're arguing about a guitar tone and we know the singer usually has the best instincts about the guitar tone, we may give them two votes in a five-vote structure of four people. This way a tie can always be broken by the person who has the highest standards or best instincts.

Conversely, if it's known that the guitarist obsesses over details that don't make songs better, it may be better to decide a more rational person has the final say so the guitarist’s neuroses aren't overly indulged. Producer Aaron Marsh of the band Copeland says it's his job to "find the innovator and let them innovate." Finding the member who can oversee a subject such as a feel, emotion or audio fidelity can lead to standards being upheld that may otherwise be decided by those who have no ear for it.

With that said, democracy might tell you that you need to give more consideration to your decision. If the majority is telling you that a bad decision is being made, it may be time to take pause to see if you've lost your objectivity, thinking with your ego or are blind to what they're hearing. I don't mean to say that democracy never leads to good results, especially when the vote is 4-1, but I do think it has its flaws in creative environments.

Eliminating Useless Opinions - In creative environments, team members without a strong opinion can be forced to vote on a subject that's rarely made about the problem at hand. They can't even hear the problem in question or feel no emotional resonance one way or another. Eventually, pressure forces them to come down on a side that favors a strategic decision to play politics, one member vs. the other. This rarely benefits the song, so don’t force these members to choose a side in a democratic vote. They’ll usually vote for the member they feel closest with or some other idea that doesn't put the song's resonance first.

Always Judge With Heart, Not The Ego - The next way to make a good decision is to eliminate pontificating essays on why parts work and solely judge with the heart. If any decision is being made to satisfy someone's ego, most of the time it's a bad choice. Someone's opinion shouldn't be shut down since it benefits a part they played or their idea. Self-benefit is not the same as being egotistical; ego is focused on not wanting to be wrong or keeping your own contributions in a song in order to play a larger role. Make sure the song's emotional resonance is always considered first and other concerns last.

Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park has said that the group acts as a meritocracy where they put aside ego to allow the best ideas to win out. If someone in the group is uncomfortable, they'll experiment until that person feels the idea has been fully vetted enough to concede.

Debate Which Decision Furthers Your Intent The Most - The greatest hack to get to the heart of most decisions that come up for a vote in the studio is deciding which decision furthers the intent of the music. Commonly, the conflicts of creative interest get judged by ridiculous ideas instead of framing it on whether the intent is enforced or detracted by a part. If a part is conflicting the intent to make a sardonic, brooding song, judging whether it accentuates or detracts from that feeling should be the framing for its judgment.

Optimizing The Creative Environment Among Collaborators

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Brainstorming Can Rain On Creativity’s Day

One of the most common creative tools for a novice is the brainstorming session, which is commonly structured nearly identical to most musician's writing sessions. The idea being if everyone spitballs ideas, good ideas will come out and get the group closer to the decision at hand since, after all, a few heads are always better than one. Right?

The concept of brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn of the esteemed ad firm BBDO. He’s thought to be one of the inspirations for the character Don Draper on Mad Men. He popularized the idea of brainstorming in a series of business books he wrote throughout the 1950s. While you could point to years of creativity that occurred that followed his book's lead, the first rule he outlines for brainstorming seems to have been lost on nearly every one of the hundreds of bands I've ever attended a session of. This rule was that you’re not allowed to criticize the ideas of others in the group.

Disobeying that rule has led to the toxic environments of latent resentment present in nearly every collaboration I know that's made more than one record. Osborn said that if the members of group feared negative feedback or ridicule, the sessions would fail. Anyone who's been to a band practice knows members are commonly reduced to having "stupid ideas" etc. When it comes to discounting creative instincts, a boundary needs to be established to make better art. But this balance is delicate, so fragile that Osborn called it a delicate flower.

While many musicians have a short temper for trying numerous ideas, Osborn found the best results came from allowing collaborators to think of the absurd while not being afraid to share the dumbest or most adventurous ideas. In fact, limiting the objective often gets better results, so if you want more imaginative results, you should ask for them. Quantity should come first and then, through evaluation, quality comes later. Once the well of contributing ideas runs dry, that’s when editing should begin, just as we'll allow ourselves to perspire until we're empty, then begin to dissect.

Optimizing The Creative Environment Among Collaborators

One of the assumptions made about music is that if you put a bunch of the most proficient musicians in a room together, they're bound to make great music together. But anyone who's heard the majority of "supergroup" albums knows this isn't the case. There's a good reason for this ― when the environment is toxic, even the best performers fail to make music anyone’s excited about. Years ago, Google started Project Aristotle to discover what makes teams perform better. They discovered that teams operating in the right environment with mediocre players could outperform superstar players. The key to good collaboration is that if you get the right boundaries, teams perform better. Here are a few ideas they found as well as some of my own.

Psychological Safety - One of the keys to getting a good performance is psychological safety, which is the ability to speak your mind without fear of being punished even if you say a bad comment about your superior or the group as a whole. Just as we need to fail to get good ideas, honesty needs to be rewarded. There needs to be a conversation, not a dismissal even when it's questioning someone who's higher up the totem pole than you. The environment needs to be free of shaming where collaborators can say their innermost emotions since that's what's often being sung about. There can be no fear of ridicule or any expectations of being right all the time.

Being Heard - Whenever you get a group of collaborators together, some are bound to be more vocal than others. Humans vary in how precious they are with their words. It's important that everyone in a collaboration feels heard even if some collaborators take too long to say what they mean. To be sure everyone feels heard, try asking if anyone has anything left to discuss before closing comment on a song or a particular issue.

Group Norms - There will be bad moments in every collaboration. Whether it's caused by a lack of sleep or an impassioned objections, there's bound to be disagreement. Group Norms are the standard operating function of a group of collaborators. If your average day is filled with fights, your norms are tense, whereas if you're having a fun collaboration 13 out of 14 days, your norm is a good collaboration. Norms are important since everyone understands there's occasionally a bad moment, so if you operate well most days, a tense moment can be overlooked from time to time as long as the majority of the time you operate well. Trying to keep your norm as positive as possible enhances collaboration greatly to make up for inevitable bad moments.

Don’t Assume Malice When A Lack Of Consideration Is Likely - One of the ways teams break down is the assumption of intent to hurt a member when the person didn't consider that this action would be hurtful. If someone is consistently being neglected or hurt, there should be a discussion to remedy the situation. Far too often we jump to the assumption of bad intentions when the person being accused of malice has their head and intentions focused elsewhere, making them oblivious to their hurtful behavior. It should always be OK to say you were hurt by someone else. On the other side of that coin, accusing someone of hurting you intentionally escalates situations needlessly when it's possible they were just inconsiderate. Try to confront these actions without accusation of malice.

Social Loafing - One of the downsides of large groups is the laziest collaborators will contribute less when they assume others will pick up their slack. Setting responsibilities and asking for comments can help to alleviate a lack of contribution. An expectation of results as well as contributions regularly keeps members creative ideas in practice.

Skin In The Game - Make sure collaborators see benefits that are on par with their expectations. Many songwriters do 50-90% of the work yet give those who help make the song better an equal cut of royalties so they'll have skin in the game and maintain a lifestyle that makes them feel rewarded for their other contributions like band business or handling other facets. Without benefits that are equal across the group of collaborators, animosity builds, leading to undermining power struggles.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Communicating Effectively With Your Musical Collaborators

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Less Is More And Essays On Why A Part Works

Let's say you're working on a song and the MC is doing a line that has too many syllables.

You: Hey man, that line isn't working...

MC: It works because it’s so savage!

You: Can we try something else?

MC: Bruh this line, like, makes the whole song!

Anyone who wants to get their way can talk endlessly about why a part works in theory terms. There are countless phrases like “less is more” or “it is what it is” that lazy morons use to justify their opinion that can be applied to a situation, whether or not these sayings truly are what's best for a song. Philosophizing why parts work as compared to hearing them back and giving them an open-minded emotional reaction ruins songs. Any good communicator can parse words to justify why a part works, but it can never convince anyone to emotionally enjoy a song. “Less is more” has nothing to do with emotion; it concerns quantity, which is not an emotion.

If a part isn't feeling right to a collaborator, that has to be cause for pause to try alternatives to see if the part can be improved. Odds are the part contradicts the intent of the song, so you need to find an alternative more in line with the intent. Taking a short time to try alternative ideas allows us to vet our ideas to make sure they're brought up to their highest emotional resonance. This vetting improves your ideas, even if you keep the original; you know that first idea was great after you hear alternative ideas that don't feel as good.

Using Examples To Get On The Same Page With Your Collaborators

One of the most important parts of collaboration is speaking a common language. Since music is so subjective, we constantly use words without clear definitions, so it’s important to get on the same page with one another. Before I start any project where I'll be producing, I don't allow the project to start unless the band gives me a list of music they enjoy, so I can understand where they're coming from.

I primarily do this to have a tangible example to communicate with. When a guitarist tells me they want a "warmer tone,” this can be very hard to interpret. If you ask five musicians what "warm" sounds like, you'll get five different examples. But if there are examples of tones that someone likes, it's easy to get on the same page. These examples can also help tell me what type of grooves they enjoy as well as if they like a more raw mix or a super polished one.

While I can hear demos and begin to understand them, they give me little-to-no clue about a group's tastes or their aspirations for their sound beyond the tools they have available to demo with. Most demos are demos since the musician doesn't have the tools to make the tones they want to hear. So I ask every band for a list of a few records, which tell me about the tones and productions that resonate with them for each instrument. This list may look something like this:

Drums:

Mars Volta - Deloused In The Comatorium (Drum sound)

Justice - Cross (Drum grooves while still being highly manipulated)

Glassjaw - Worship & Tribute (Drum intensity)

Vocals:

The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep (Harmonies, backing vocals)

The Clash - London Calling (Use of different voices)

Bjork - Homogenic (Production)

Synthesizers:

Grimes - Art Angels (How unique the sounds are)

Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy (The emotional content of the tones)

PVRIS - White Noise (The way the synths play with the vocals)

Bass:

Death From Above 1979 - All (Tone)

Blood Brothers - Burn Piano Island Burn (Diversity of tones)

Tame Impala - Currents (Tone and arrangement)

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Creating A Nurturing Collaboration For Your Band

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

When you go to art school, you get critiques of your art every week to gain an objective perspective on your work. In film and TV, if your script gets developed, you’ll receive opinions from producers, screenplay writers and actors who will have a say on how to better tell your story. Somehow, with music, there's a stigma attached to hearing feedback more than other creative fields. While I would argue since we're striving for an emotional expression it can be tough to tell someone how to express their emotions better, there's plenty of considerations that can be made to reinforce that emotion in a group setting. Despite whatever animosity is held towards feedback on your work, it can be one of the most rewarding parts of your life.

Collaboration allows us to take others’ proficiency and fluency so we can achieve greater creative heights. In a healthy collaboration, we should harness everyone’s best qualities to make a stronger work. Sadly, in many settings, it can be a nightmare when collaborators don't behave as they should. As if we didn't have enough problems in our own heads with fear, self-doubt and getting inspired, we have to work with others on our music and deal with their baggage. Navigating how to collaborate properly takes evaluations of others’ reactions to your ideas as well as their input. This navigation is especially complicated since, in a way, you're collaborating with everyone who gives you an opinion on your music, which now comes unsolicited via social media everywhere you look if you have any success.

 You'll inevitably hear opinions from outside your group (if you even have one), managers, booking agents, A&R, writers and every negative mouth-breather who can comment in a Facebook thread. As the saying goes, "no man's an island," so if others are going to hear your music, you have to get good at them giving you feedback if you don't want to be a nervous wreck all the time. Getting good at hearing this feedback from everyone you encounter is one of the most important parts of who you are as a creator.

Failing And Mistakes Are Part Of The Process

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; it’s a matter of knowing which ones to keep.” ― Scott Adams

Studio budgets are usually below our ideal scenario. Time equals money, so those paying for a project can get pretty antsy about making mistakes and failing at ideas. To make matters worse, impatient musicians who want to get the creative process over with force their will on the process to get it over with as soon as possible. No matter what obstacle your team presents you; know that there needs to be room to make mistakes without punishment. Bad ideas lead to good ideas in time, so knowing what not to do gets you closer to what you should do. Expecting every idea to be a good idea is a ridiculous notion. Pixar’s Ed Catmull puts it this way: “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They're an inevitable consequence of doing something new.”

"The more you fail, the more you learn." ― David Chang

Skrillex and Diplo decided to work with Justin Bieber when he was at the lowest point in his career. This production duo was at that rare point where they were maintaining cred in hipster circles while being wildly successful. When Skrillex was asked about why he worked with the Bieb, he said, “My fans get what I do and like that I’m not afraid to fail and not afraid to do things people don’t like.” This attitude netted them not only their biggest hit yet, but also a song regarded as very original by pop music standards that’s changed the sound of the genre today. This lack of fear has allowed him to go from being a popular emo singer to unknown EDM producer to having the most streamed record of 2012 and now a successful pop producer. To call this career trajectory rare is a huge understatement. But it's inarguable that this lack of a fear of failing has allowed him to achieve great heights in multiple genres.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” ― Samuel Beckett

Study after study shows that innovators fail constantly, but they persist past these failures until they find what they're looking for. Allowing collaborators to pursue a bad idea is how you get to good ideas, and nothing will hack the need for that experimentation to get to good ideas.

Creating An Open Environment

To get the best ideas for your songs, you must keep an open mind and try any idea given by someone who is passionate. Dismissing others’ ideas by saying they won't work before hearing them destroys the passion of the person with the idea as well as makes them less prone to share ideas in the future. This behavior creates a closed-off environment and makes the project suffer when they withhold future contributions. Even the worst contributors to a musical project usually have at least a 10% success rate of contributing worthwhile ideas that help the greater good.

This need to try ideas instead of discussing them is further evidenced when someone describes a part with words instead of playing it; the idea usually sounds terrible. But that same part often sounds amazing when played within the context of the song. Even when these ideas are bad, they usually inspire better ideas by hearing the possibility of possibility. I can't count how many times I've tried a terrible idea that then inspires an epiphany, leading to an idea that makes a song dramatically better.

This openness isn't only there to keep egos happy and passionate towards the project. Trying out others’ ideas is what leads to improvements. An environment where everyone is free to share is one that continually improves its output. Even if you're a solo artist with a dictator-like vision over a project, lending the time to hear others’ ideas will often inspire better ideas of your own.

Serve The Song         

Part of being in a musical project is working within the limits of what the rest of your team agrees on to find the best emotion for a song. These collaborations can be a constant minefield of ego wars and tip-toeing around pressing issues. However, no matter how much you dislike your drummer or his taste in music, once you join a project, you're both on the same team so you should be working toward a common goal together ― a great song. If you pay attention for long enough, you'll hear interviews with producers or musicians where they describe the best musicians as those who "serve the song." This cliché is a cool sounding way of saying that the musicians who make great songs don't think about what's fun to play or make others who play their instrument respect them. The goal everyone has to work towards is what's best to further the intent of the song.

It's often said that in any song, one instrument will play a part that's pure utility of staying out of the way to let the other parts grab the listener's attention. The key to serving the song is to consider when it's time for an instrument to shine and for another to stay out of its way. It's crucial to recognize these dynamics in collaboration by knowing what role you should be playing at different points in a song, which allows songs to reach their maximum resonance. Knowing this role and that you aren’t always the person who should be getting the most attention is crucial to putting the emotion of a song first.

 If everyone can agree to put ego aside to do this serving, you'll all be rewarded by the best song you can create. Despite what your recognition-craving ego tries to tell you, what both you and others enjoy are musicians who serve the song. Take the selfless road by considering what you can play that furthers the emotion of a song. Not what's only fun to play or challenging to your chops. Trust me, every musician you want the respect from will be more impressed by what you play in a great song, not how fast you can play a 32nd note.

The Most Toxic Phrase Among Musicians

“Don’t tell me how to play my instrument and I won’t tell you how to play yours.” ― Some Fragile Child Pretending To Be Mature Enough To Handle A Collaboration

If there's one phrase I've heard uttered by countless musicians who make music no one wants to listen to, it's this one. On the contrary, I've never heard a successful musician utter this saying in even the most ego-filled musical environments. As much as you want to show off the awesome new technique you just learned, it's probably not the time or place. There are countless reasons someone needs to comment on your part. Every musician at some point can get lost in not challenging themselves enough or playing a part that's fun for them, but not quite right for the emotion of the song as a whole. You're not always the most objective judge of what your part is doing. No one is immune to objectivity so cutting off comment on your performance you lose the ability to further your music.

 To write a good song, new ideas need to be welcomed, not shunned. By shutting down everyone's suggestions, you'll never know if you could have come up with a better idea. We need to remember that while music is an emotional expression, none of us are beyond reproach since we can lose our objectivity. Since we're judging music emotionally, it's entirely appropriate for someone to make a comment that what you're playing isn't emotionally appropriate.

Film producer Ron Howard screens his movies to audiences countless times. It's presumed these screenings are used to genetically modify movies into perfectly consumable products that make lots of money. Instead, Howard says it isn't to let the audience dictate the shape of the film, but to make sure what he's trying to communicate gets across. His objectivity is lost since he knows the details along with everything left on the cutting room floor. To get around his loss of objectivity, he has engineered a way to make sure the intent of a movie is working despite any changes made. In music, we can often get lost in the ideas that our intent isn't being communicated the way we think it is, so it's necessary for collaborators to comment on our work.

A truly great musician doesn’t cherish their ideas, since they can easily come up with many ideas in a short amount of time that can work in a song. If you go on to success, there will be other times to use the idea you’re being asked to abandon and it may be even better with further development in a song you write in the future.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Perfectionism And Finishing Your Work

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Measure By Gut Not By Time Spent

Many fools try to measure how to make a great record by the time spent making it. This is always a giant eye roll considering that it’s nearly impossible to show a formula where making great music consistently happens with a certain amount of time spent. I often point to two of the best mixers in rock: Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead), who usually takes around five hours to mix complex songs like those on Radiohead’s OK Computer, and, Dave Fridmann (MGMT, Tame Impala, The Flaming Lips) who often takes a day or two to mix only one song. It could be argued that both of these mixers are putting out some of the more daring and complex mixes each year, yet both take totally different approaches to getting there.

 Robert Smith talks about writing The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love," which he said was written in about 30 minutes. As opposed to the months or years it can take him to make a song. When it was time to do the vocals for this timeless song, he couldn't get it, since he was never in the right mood. He kept going back to the microphone experiencing one of the slowest births he's had for a vocal, until one day when he was in the perfect melancholy but happy mood to do the vocal take that emotionally embodied the amazing mood that song evokes. While I've tried to find best practices for parts of the creative process, there's no formula for the length great music will take, it needs to be improvised and felt emotionally.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Effective Considerations In Songwriting

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

One of the most important parts of executing your ideas is giving consideration to how you'll execute them. This process is known as pre-production in music and is valued by music producers as some of the most important time to ensure an album reaches its potential. This time is crucial as many of the decisions of this planning will determine whether you’re promoting amazing music or songs that fall flat.

Parkinson’s Law

 When planning how long a project will take to complete, there's a tendency to guess at an amount of time it'll take to accomplish it. This guesstimate is usually coupled with no analysis of whether that time budgeted compensates for human traits to procrastinate and plan properly. You may decide your writing and demoing period will be two months before moving on to the actual recording of songs. These two months commonly include a lot of relaxing at the beginning followed by intense cramming to compensate for procrastination for the last quarter of the allotted time. Parkinson’s Law states, "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion," meaning that if you have a month to record a record, you'll find a way to get it done in a month, but the same goes for any reasonable amount of time. How long you decide it should take to do the various creative phases of your process should be more than a guesstimate.

Many musicians leave themselves less time to do the writing for their record so that they don’t slack. This is born out of an observation that they're more creative under deadlines. However, the science shows the opposite. Teresa Amabile did a study on deadlines that found they don't help creativity. To make matters more confusing, creators commonly believe deadlines make them more creative, but when analyzed, it just isn't the case. In fact, creativity can even be suppressed for days after a deadline. Execution can be helped by momentum, but when it comes to getting good ideas, cramming doesn’t help. The time to incubate ideas and regain perspective after breaks should be free, whereas execution should hold a deadline.

Others leave excessive time to work at a leisurely pace, even though they'll probably procrastinate, which leads to being stressed by the end of the process when they're inevitably behind. Recognizing Parkinson's Law allows you to consider your past output to improve your use of time budgeting. If your last album suffered from cramming at the end, so you wrote some filler material instead of having sufficient time to incubate it properly, it may be best to explore what went wrong so you can either devote less or more time to getting your writing done. If you know you always cram at the end, it may be time to learn to break that habit or allow less time to procrastinate by committing to a more intense schedule.

Devote Your Resources Properly

One of the most common quips musicians make when they hear how long a musician spent in the studio is "what the hell do they do with all that time?" When a musician gets a decent budget, there are countless ways to allocate this budget to get a better result. If you're the type of musician who thrives on live performance, this allows you to have more time to get takes of a song and decipher the best way to perform it.

A common bit of advice is to decide if your record will be a minimalist or maximalist record. Will you be trying to make great songs with a simple arrangement or a record that has lots of ear candy? The supposed wisdom is if you're making a minimalist record, all your attention should be devoted to the songs and on a maximalist record, you can skip the songs since the bells and whistles will make up for it. This advice misses that all the bells and whistles in the world won't make up for a bad song. Instead, if you're making a maximalist record, you need to devote even more time to making good songs as well as how the ear candy works to reinforce it.

One of the most effective evaluations of executing your music is to figure out how to use your resources. When your song’s most exciting feature is the vocals, booking tons of time to play with analog synths to make ear candy when you should be putting thought into vocals is a gross misallocation of your resources. Choosing tones for a full day was a luxury that was mostly left behind in the post Napster-era of the music world. But if your songs are already fully developed and your music will only be exciting if you have the most optimized tones, you should allocate the time to do so.

Will They Hear It? Or Won’t They?

You should strive to hear no flaws in your recording that annoy you since they’ll annoy you even more as your standards begin to develop over the years. Every musician who's made more than a few developed recordings can tell you about all the mistakes they made on previous recordings. Most often they weren’t trusting their instincts to fix or rework parts and settling for what was easy in the moment. The great musicians work tirelessly until their songs reach beyond their expectations, even if that means going to great lengths like re-recording songs.           

One of the most common dilemmas in a recording is when someone points out a flaw and another person exclaims "no one will hear that!" This statement is used when a small detail is off in a performance, such as a rattle in a drum, an overtone in a chord or a slight pitch intonation on an instrument. I've been on both sides of that argument, but the truth is someone will always hear it. If the argument is whether someone will be able to hear it or not, you're having the wrong argument. Since we're making music for ourselves, if it annoys you, you should fix it. That's the answer every single time. Whether or not fixing it will make a production too slick or lose its character is an entirely different discussion which needs to be dealt with using personal taste.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

The Skills Of Executing Your Songwriting Effectively

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Even when you're authentically fluent in your influences while bearing high standards, that doesn't mean you're equipped with all the skills you need to make the music you want to hear. There are other crucial skills that'll help you execute your intent effectively.

Diligence        

When we hear musicians talk about the great songs they've written, they talk of rewriting parts of a song over and over again. This practice comes from having a standard for how good a part should feel and not stopping until it's achieved. Far too often musicians know what they want to hear but give up before ever getting there. The skill to not stop until your vision gets realized goes by a few names like diligence, grit or persistence.

 Throughout the creative process, there are times it'll be annoying, hard, expensive, time consuming or even all of the above to achieve what you know can be reached emotionally with a song. The perseverance to keep going when you're not yet feeling emotional resonance is an essential skill of execution. This drive you need to get through annoying hurdles and stubborn collaborators can be daunting, but until you gain the resilience to pursue your vision, your music won't be as resonant as possible.

 Every detail you allow to go below your standards is usually one you'll regret for years to come whenever you hear that song. If you've put in countless hours of development into your music, letting all of this vision cease from being too scared or too tired to pursue the execution of it is the epitome of wasted opportunity. The standards and elaborative choices you've developed are the keys to making your song as resonant as possible. The diligent pursuit of getting your vision across is one of the most important skills you can develop.

Diligence is another muscle that needs development. Trusting your instincts and learning to elaborate on your ideas takes practice for everyone. When the going gets hard, you can't give up. Can you imagine how Queen felt halfway through layering the vocals for "Bohemian Rhapsody"? The vocals were recorded for 10-12 hours a day for three weeks straight. But without this exhaustive dedication, we wouldn't have one of the most ambitious songs in music. Now, you'll probably never go through this, but understand that emotional impact is achieved by focusing diligently on the details.

Proficiency

 One of the most vastly under-discussed skills of great artists is proficiency. Without it, you're handicapped by difficulty in expressing what you want to express. After your gut sounds an alarm, it's important to understand how to solve the problems that are giving you pause with the right solution. Novices who don't know a lick of music can tell you a part of a song doesn't feel good, but they're clueless to the remedies of what's causing this part to sound bad. Whereas an experienced musician or producer often knows the ailment along with how to cure it immediately. When you first develop these instincts, the solutions can be confusing, but with experience, you know you need to experiment until you find the solution that quiets your gut instinct. In time, you’ll know the solutions to the instinctual problems you commonly feel.

Bruce Springsteen puts it this way: "Your artistic instinct is what you're going on, but your artistic intelligence hasn't been developed yet." He goes on to say that in his earlier work he was instinctual by saying "that doesn't feel right, that doesn't feel right" over and over again. But he didn't know how to express more than that. Anyone who’s seen the documentaries of him taking six months to a year in the studio to record both Born to Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town can witness him not knowing how to get the sound in his head but continually saying it’s not right yet. Proficiency is knowing what the problem is caused by as well as how to fix it.

Proficiency is important since it allows inspiration to flow through you while it’s fresh and potent, instead of struggling to communicate it. By being fluent in how music works down to its smallest constructs, you're able to understand how to solve problems properly as well as communicate your vision.

But what does proficiency look like in music creation?

·       The ability to play your instrument well enough to get a good recording in few takes.

·       The ability to spot flaws and understand their cure, instead of experimenting or guessing at the solution.

·       Knowing your musical instrument and recording equipment well enough to get the sounds you want to hear.

·       Being able to focus on the subtle details of performance that enhance a song.

Proficiency Helps Keep Objectivity - We’re in a race against the loss of our objectivity, so if you're not proficient at your instrument, it'll require more listens as you punch in a part repeatedly. Proficiency allows us to move faster instead of having to punch in a part 400 times while hearing a song over and over; it allows us to get it in a few takes to maintain objectivity. An even greater time hack is when numerous members of the group can nail live takes from being proficient enough to play well together. This is why you hear of experienced musicians making records in a short period, while their imitators fail when they do the same.

Proficiency Helps You Make Good Decisions - As you write songs, you'll inevitably hit a point where a part doesn't feel right. One of the most common mistakes I see is that someone will think the chorus needs more bass to make it "bigger," so they'll EQ in more bass, when really the problem is the bass isn't playing in the lowest octave possible. Musicians who lack proficiency often blame the wrong problem to get to a solution that ends up crippling their song.

Proficiency Within Your Own Compositions - One of the biggest complaints producers have with musicians is that they don't even understand what's happening within their own songs. Whether it's guitar strumming patterns that aren't consistent between players or a bass riff being off from a kick by a 16th note. Getting to know the innermost mechanics of what makes your songs tick is essential to being able to fulfill your vision. Taking the time to delve into the details of what other instruments are doing along with how they work within a song, even if you'll never play that instrument, allows you to learn how the relationships work to get what you want creatively.

Proficiency In Imagining New Directions - Back in 1970, The Rolling Stones made Sympathy For The Devil, a movie directed by the amazing Jon Luc Godard. The movie chronicled the recording process of the song of the same name, along with some artsy short films thrown in for good measure. The movie shows the Stones trying extremely different versions of the song, trying to find the music that would match well with the extremely visual lyrics in the song. You hear countless other ways the song could've been played that don't evoke that same creepy vibe the song evokes in the version we all know today.

Today, we're able to hear countless covers and remixes that show the potential for how different a song can sound by heading to YouTube. When crafting your song, the first idea that comes to you isn't always the match for making the lyrics and music combination its most potent fit for the intent you're trying to convey. Trying whole new versions and imagining other ways a song can be helps you figure out its best form. Learning to vastly reimagine songs is one of the greatest proficiencies you can achieve.

Proficiency And Equipment - If you've ever read interviews with great musicians, you see that they often have very little concern for the equipment they create with. I frequently think of a video where Dave Grohl sits down to play on a toy drum set and, despite it sounding like a toy when others play it, the second he plays the set it sounds like a real drum set. It's easy to drool over analog synths, vintage guitars, tape machines and $4,500 tube compressors. I did it for many years and then, one year, I abstained from buying equipment. I got to know the equipment I had, instead of obsessing over what I could have. In that year I got immensely better at what I do, realizing you can hand a $4,000 Les Paul to an amateur and it sounds terrible, but a $40 guitar in a great guitarist's hands sounds amazing. Getting to know your equipment and its limitations always sounds great. Those who do this get the attention of the public that helps them buy more expensive equipment.

Proficiency In Diagnosing Problems - Even the most successful suits are inexplicably uneducated in what's wrong with a song when it's not right. "The mix" is commonly blamed when the tempo is too slow or there are huge flaws in the vocal performance that can’t be fixed by a new mix. Just because a suit is successful doesn't mean they're good at diagnosing what has gone wrong in a recording. I was once part of a large indie record that had ten mixers do mixes before realizing the engineer who tracked it had distorted every instrument so much the only answer was to re-track the whole record. There goes over $10,000 of mixing for a bunch of songs that needed to be re-recorded.

There are times you'll need to call out members of your team. If you don't understand every aspect of the process, you won't be able to communicate with them effectively. If I had a dollar for every person that incorrectly said "the tempos are all the same" when they're actually very diverse, but the songs are similar in feel, I'd be so rich I'd own all that equipment I just talked about lusting after. Being proficient in knowing what each step of the process entails is part of being able to control your creative results.

Musical Proficiency Allows You To Focus On Details

 Proficiency allows you to focus on the details that make a song outstanding. If you have to focus on remembering your parts, playing them properly or staying both in time and in tune, inevitably your attention has little room to focus on the subtle inflections that make a performance great. Proficient musicians don't have to worry about these concerns. In time, the details amateurs struggle with begin to be natural and no attention is even given to them. They learn their parts, executing them without considering basic factors like timing and pitch. Instead, they're able to focus on details and expression. They’re not struggling to play their parts, so they can think about changing up strumming parts, the subtlety of the velocity of their hits, small fills and tweaks that make up the details we love in a performance.

 This proficiency is easily seen in the exceptional singers of any genre. What Hayley Williams, Mike Patton, Kendrick Lamar, Joe Strummer and Michael Jackson all have in common is they're so proficient at enunciation, pitch and rhythm in their singing so they can focus on small details in their performances that make them come alive. You hear this in the details of inflection they all bring to their vocal performance. They're so past thinking about whether they'll hit a note or not, they can think about what a slight hiccup in their voice, putting their hand in front of their mouth, a cool pitch bend or accent does to their performance. These details are what make these singers so enjoyable to listen to. When you're concentrating on even getting to a note you need to hit, your attention cannot be brought to these details since doing the basics of your job takes up all of your attention. When your attention is devoted to struggling to play a part there’s no emotion in it, leaving your song devoid of resonance.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Analysis In Your Songs While Drafting

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

One of the most important parts of drafting is that when you have a part of a song you love, you need to make sure that the other parts of the song live up to it. We’ve all known that feeling when a song has a great chorus or bridge, but there’s a part that ruins the song as a whole. This part kills the emotion of a song, inducing a cringe when we hear it on each listen. Making sure all the other parts rise to the greatness you've achieved elsewhere is a crucial part of drafting a song on the macro level.

Grading As A Means Of Improving A Song

The job of the record producer gets compared to a book editor in that they'll keep the majority of your idea but neaten up parts along the way. I find the best way to fix up a song is to grade it the way my writing teacher did. I'll first break the song form up into sections on a spreadhseet, assigning each section of the song a letter grade. If I have enough time, I'll try to get all the elements of a song up to an A+, but if there's little time, I'll work from the lowest letter grade on up to get to what needs the most work. If a part gets a D or an F, I won't make any more comments on it since it needs to be rewritten. A grade of a D means there's one element left to be spared that we can probably use to build off as we rewrite, but an F means the part needs to be fully rewritten. If a part gets an A, B or C, I'll further deconstruct the section to figure out what needs improvement.

 I'll zoom in on this as well; my first listen will grade the intro, verse, chorus, bridge and any other parts as a whole. I'll grade every line of lyrics with an A-F scale. I do this to every beat, drum fill, section of the accompaniment track and bass. I'll then apply constructive criticism to each part, writing what I do or don't like about each part so we can understand how to improve it. Starting on the A's will guide me on what should be applied to the lesser grades, especially the F's, since by recognizing what’s good about a song we can clearly show how to improve the bad parts. I do this all inside a spreadsheet that allows me to keep track of the consideration we need to put into a record.

Pick One Thing You Dislike And Voice It

 Years ago I was having drinks with a friend who worked at a major label who was being mentored by some of the top minds in A&R history. I asked what advice he'd been given. He told me that when hearing songs back, you should always "pick something you don't like about the song and say that needs to get fixed, even if it doesn't bug you too much, it'll improve the song." This advice took my breath away immediately. The idea of forcing yourself to find a flaw in a recording so your job is justified was both horrifying and enlightening as to why I've fielded so many ridiculous requests from A&R over the years. After some reflection, I realized that with some tweaks, this theory could be effective.

 It can often be helpful to listen to a song while trying to find the weakest element so you can then work on strengthening that element. Our brain isn't always in an analytical mode, so if we consciously look for at least one flaw, it can help find an area of weakness. This doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be changed, but instead it will only be changed if you can find an improvement. While it shouldn't be mandatory to find a flaw while using this lens to examine a song, finding the weakest element of a song can confirm what the rest of the collaborators already know to be worthy of improvement. Of course, this practice has to cease at some point for a song to reach completion, but far too often we don't put on our analytical hat to try to find a point of improvement when listening to a song.

There’s More Than One Way To Solve A Problem

With every creative decision, there's usually more than one way to get to an objective. When a musician evaluates the mix of a song and wants to bring more attention to a part, their first instinct is to say "turn that up." While this can be the right road to get what you want, other times this results in a part that's now too loud when turning down another instrument would have gained a mix with greater resonance. After all, if you turn every track up, you end up with a mess of a mix.

When we analyze problems in our songs, there's usually a handful ways to solve the problem that isn't our first instinct. Most musicians’ default is to turn a track up, but turning down another track, EQing it differently, muting another part or changing the octave the part is in all can get a result that'll make the desired part shine. There's usually numerous ways to get the desired outcome, so figure out if going past the obvious answer is the best way to a solution.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Developing Songs Emotionally

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

The Alignment Of Lyrical Emotion With Music

 The decisions made to further a song's emotional resonance can be difficult to match with the emotion you intend to convey. The most common pitfall of this task is that a set of emotional lyrics are poorly matched to music that doesn't convey the same emotion as the lyrics are conveying. When a songwriter is limited in their output, they may only have a few skeletons to match to a set of lyrics. Finding this match is one of the most important considerations in making your music as resonant as possible.

 While having a hauntingly dark lyrical premise matched with gleeful music can be good fun, more songs suffer from a bad match of lyrics and music than is often discussed. If you polled ten songwriters on whether they write lyrics first and music second or vice versa you'll usually end up with an even split. You'll then even get a few who come up with a song title and try to make the lyrics or music fit to it next or even do both at once. How you get there's a personal preference, but making sure that the two are acting as one is the most important part of actualizing emotionally resonant music.

In an interview I did with Ezra Kire of Morning Glory, he talked about his inability to "force a song." He talks about how "every lyric set has a perfect match for each song emotionally." He says he has to write music and then finds the lyrics that pair perfectly with it. Finding this pairing and being patient for it is crucial to the process. Some songwriters may find this match instantly; if it doesn't come, settling for a music and lyric pairing that doesn't fit emotionally is the death of a song’s potency.

Emotional Elaboration

            One of the toughest parts about executing a song properly is figuring out what to add to it. When there’s intent behind your music, it actually becomes easier to elaborate upon your skeleton. By narrowing the options of what can be done to specific emotions, you gain an added focus.

When considering options for a song, it can be helpful to consider options that go with the emotional imagery you’re trying to convey. If you're trying to convey extreme loneliness in a song, having a doubled vocal or a gang vocal or another person singing can feel less lonely from the imagery it invokes. Conversely, a reverb that mimics being alone in an empty bedroom can take this imagery further. If you want that song to be lonely but comforting at the end of the song, introducing that gang vocal or duet can convey the imagery of no longer being alone.

Delving deeper to find how to elaborate on an emotion is often about how you find the attributes that give your song even more of the emotion you want to convey. If you make a throwback blues music recording in a pristine studio, this is the opposite of this practice. Instead, record in a dusty old shack where you can hear an old and dingy sounding room tone that can help further that image. In dance music, they'll put in the sounds of partying to get more of the party vibe (my favorite use of this is the first Basement Jaxx record).

Justin Meldal Johnson said this of producing M83’s highly influential record, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.

“We were always looking for an emotional reason for doing something, so the production was always informed by an emotional choice ... At one point in the record an example of doing it from an emotional standpoint and having that be the generator of ideas ... When we were overwhelmed by what we had to do, we went down to the craft store and got these huge pieces of paper and on the paper we lay out these inspirational touchstones that relate to the song such as a piece of prose or a picture, the names of movies or records and they would get added to gradually as time goes on. It’s this collage of child-like guidance and reference of source material.”

This is a perfect example of emotional elaboration leading to a highly emotional record. Accumulating subtle details that compliment the emotion you are trying to convey like stacking up small pieces of hay that build to a haystack is how a song that’s highly resonant is built. With each detail you find that can help paint a clearer picture of the emotion you’re trying to convey, the more resonant the song becomes.

One of my favorite ways to get more emotional resonance is to think of ten questions to ask about a song. This helps us develop ideas on what choices we could make in line with the song's emotional content. Recently, when working on a song about losing one's mind, we'd decided to evoke a chaotic sound where sounds sneak up on you, so you feel disorientated. Here's a few questions we asked along with the answers we came up with:

Q: What vocal sounds would be in the background of a crazy person’s mind? A: Yelling “Hey” at random times that are very close to the end of verse lines.

Q: How does crazy sound rhythmically? A: Lots of parts with double whole notes and then sudden 32nd notes at times. Random bars that change time.

Q: What does crazy sound like dynamically? A: Loud at very random points with quiet.

Q: What does crazy sound like tonally? A: Big contrasts of bright to dark, so we need to have parts that have a very bright then dark EQ.

Q: Should the song end with a resolution or is it better that you don't know if you're sane again? A: Leave it on a note that it's OK but could always go back.

Emotional Decisions In The Most Technical Aspects Of Music

Many think that the emotional response you get from music ends with the musicians, but emotional choices extend all through the recording. The compression ratio you use determines how hard a sound feels to a listener. If it's set too hard, it can feel emotionally violent in a gentle song, which detracts from its resonance. A microphone with less treble can calm a hard, aggressive sound whereas one with a strong midrange can excite that same sound. An empty room ambiance on a recording sounds more lonely than a tight recording that sounds in a vacuum. These details often get overlooked and kill the potency of a song in the recording process.

Many internet commenters confuse "the loudness war" of mastering for being about volume, but really the pushed level of volume is an emotional choice. As the transients are clipped off a master, more information is pushed to the front of the stereo image. When this level is optimized in a record, it gives an emotion of more intensity to many listeners. If it's overdone, the recording becomes distorted while lacking in dynamics, which makes it unpleasing to listen to and less exciting as the songs sound flat without the dynamic accents that bring excitement to the music. Finding the right balance for this loudness where the frequencies are excited by distortion or left alone to keep the sound pure is an emotional decision for those who understand it, not one of competing to gain more volume.

Being Intentional In Your Creative Choices

There's a moment in every project where a collaborator comes to a sudden realization, "all of our songs ____ the same way." When this happens, it's always a jarring moment where collaborators are eager to fix the problem as fast as possible. The whole room realizes this flaw is undeniably true so a change must be made. The most common instinct is whatever song is newest must change, but most often this is the wrong approach. An important part of drafting is looking at your creative body of work to make the appropriate changes to the right candidate. It’s best to figure out which songs of the group fall victim to this similarity and pick out which ones are weakest to see if they can then benefit from some further thought. This is why it’s important to draft according to the body of work you’ll be releasing.

This is not to say that similarity should always be varied for variety's sake. A formula can be a style that works for a record, whereas other times it sounds monotonous. What would have happened if a producer told Nirvana that "too many songs go from quiet to loud" or if Refused or Beck were told that they were too diverse? A record's focus or wideness can make or break it, depending on intent. What’s crucial is the consideration of the similarity or variety to make sure it elaborates upon the intent.

When explaining why The Cure’s classic record, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is emotionally all over the place, Robert Smith says he “likes records that take you all over the place just like a horror movie will have comedy and sex in it.” While many of my favorite records are diverse like Prince’s Purple Rain, I tend to find I have the most emotional resonance with a consistent mood like Purity Ring’s Shrines. Regardless, contemplating your choices with an intent allows you to make decisions that are in line with the emotion you're trying to convey. When you hear that a musician chopped a great song from a release, it's usually because they're trying to conjure a mood that brings an emotion throughout a release. They want this release to reflect an emotion along with an idea inside them. Sometimes a great song may be best to stand alone or see the light of day on a future release instead of having it cloud a coherent emotion on a record.

Do Your Tastes Align With The Record You Want To Make?

 An exercise I'll regularly do with artists is to have them make me a Spotify playlist of their twenty favorite songs. It can sometimes be too chaotic to include a whole band, so I'll try to keep it to the leader or two main creative minds in the group. I then ask for the five records they've listened to the most in their life. Often, upon listening to these examples, I'll notice these are nothing like the songs they've chosen to put on their record. There will be three feedback-filled noise tracks of screaming, yet none of their favorite records or songs have that. Even more common is all of their favorite songs have choruses that repeat, but they have countless songs with little repetition.

 This part of the process is not as much about making their record be a direct reflection of their tastes as much as it is making sure they're considering their decisions. If the artist's intent is to make a record that sounds like falling in love where it gets pretty and then sounds like a fight by the end, the three feedback noise tracks at the end of the album are very well justified. But if they want a record that's "singles front to back," it's time to consider writing more songs that are more conventional. This process vets that we're making a record that's more than "here are the best 12 songs we wrote," allowing reflection to make a record that they would enjoy.

See It Another Way

Whenever we talk about geniuses, it’s said what makes them excel is that they ask better questions than others. While this goes across the board no matter field you talk about, with music you hear great artists have an ability to see things differently than others. Producer Noah Shebib talks about Drake this way: "Drake can barely tap 8th notes of a hi-hat on a pad, yet he can hear when a vocal is ten milliseconds off since Drake says he ‘hears the space between the beats, not the beats.'"

Oftentimes finding a different perspective on a song can lead to the biggest breakthroughs. Whether it's questioning sacred cows or asking what influences can you bring out to shake up the norms of the music you make, figuring out how to question what you're doing in different ways can lead to more interesting outcomes. When trying to get inspired, one of the best tricks is to question norms. Does the chorus have to be the biggest part of the song? Is this song better played on an instrument you don't normally use? This re-thinking of the boundaries can help you find the spice you need in a song to make it feel resonant.

Focus And Presence

 While we talk about trusting your gut to draft your songs, at times you can't even hear your gut. New age hippies talk all day about "being present" but it's a real thing. If you're distracted, texting on your phone, thinking about adult world responsibilities or anything other than feeling your song, you'll miss the gut alerting you to problems. When I began to produce records, I had a hard time focusing and self-misdiagnosed myself as having ADD. The truth was I had to get used to listening intently by exercising a muscle to get better at evaluating creative judgments. In time, I had no trouble focusing while learning to trust my lack of comfort when an element of a song felt wrong. The more you can focus, the more you'll be able to be alerted by gut impulses that can help actualize your vision of a song.

 While many use meditation to allow them to focus, that's not the only way to get there. Closing your eyes and putting the phone out of sight to give a song your full attention while working is enough to get many in an attentive enough state to properly analyze a song. I also find deep attention to be contagious; the effect of having one focused person in the room gets even the least focused members to a more focused state. This is one of the most game-changing practices that allow emotional responses to dictate a record's choices.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Drafting Your Songs Effectively

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

There's a disconnect with musicians about what goes into actualizing great music, in that they’re often scared to ruin their good ideas by exploring them further. The majority of musicians find the drafting, experimenting and developing of ideas to be the most important part to achieve great work. The Beatles and Weezer are both known for doing fifty takes as well as alternate versions of a single song. Beethoven would write seventy different versions of the same phrase. Porter Robinson took three hundred hours to make "Years Of War." Bjork says she spends 90% of her time editing the good ideas she receives from collaborators. This is not to say every song that takes a long time is great, but to make great music you need to dedicate yourself to an arduous process of experimentation to vet your ideas.

Drafting is the process of gaining further resonance for your initial ideas. Figuring out how to elaborate is a skill that if developed properly leads to the best possible execution of your intent. While it can seem as easy as just working on them, there are countless techniques and lenses to look at each of your ideas through that can help enhance your songs.

Drafting Over And Over Again

 Just as research is often a dirty word to musicians, somehow for many songwriters there's an idea that the first lyrics they write down are solid gold, so any refinement will surely mess them up. Writing a different set, Googling, employing a thesaurus or a rhyming dictionary to further their lyrical intent is asking too much of them. Unfortunately, it's much more rare that the first set of lyrics is the best possible choice compared to a bunch of considered revisions. On Mad Men, Don Draper would implore Peggy Olson to write 25 different taglines for a product, and if you don't think this same process hasn't been used in every genre of music to make songs you love, you're mistaken. Listening to most of the great lyricists talk about their craft, it's not uncommon to write down twenty different ways of saying the same lyrical turn of phrase before choosing the combination that works best.

In clinical studies on creativity, when you ask people to free-associate the color green, everyone says grass first, but when you get to the bottom 20% of what they come up with, there are much more creative ideas. This is also the case in music, as the first ideas you come up with are usually more obvious than those that come if you keep digging past the low hanging fruit. Continuing to dig for an answer for even a few more minutes than usual can lead to way better results. I regularly see musicians give up on improving their ideas the second the room goes silent and no one has a better idea. You should write excessively and then trim back to get to better ideas since the excess is usually useful for other parts of your music. I tell the lyricists I work with to have more lyrics than the song can hold, in case we need to add, substitute or write a new counter melody.

But what about option paralysis? If you do a lot of brainstorming, you start to learn what works for you as well as shortcuts to get the best ideas. You skip the obvious ideas to get more interesting outcomes faster. Watch David Bowie's Five Years documentary, Jay Z Fade To Black or any of the documentaries on Metallica's recording process to see how they're averse to "stock" or "overdone" ideas. They skip right past the obvious ideas, digging deeper to more advanced treatments like making the chorus quieter than the verse or having an intro hook that never happens again in the song.

When a part of a song feels like it can be improved, challenge yourself to develop ideas that squash your lack of comfort. Try committing to taking an hour for each song with a thesaurus or doing free word associations, figuring out other words and imagery that connote what your heart's trying to convey. Pass your lyrics to someone else to get feedback on what could be done better. Try small variations on your riffs and beats to find what's optimal. These subtle drafting tweaks are how you find the resonance in a song.

Are You Drafting Enough?

On the podcast I host for Noise Creators, the most common complaint of the producers I interview is that when a group begins the recording process, they're on their second or third draft instead of ninth. Sadly, the first draft may not even be done when many bands walk into the studio to lay down a final version. All of these producers agree the work done before starting the recording process is far more important than any work done during recording.

While many songs can suffer from too many ideas, far too many never even try to excel to find their limits to be edited back to an optimal level. I don’t consider a song done until I have to hit mute on a track in the mix since we went too far after having too many ideas on how to add resonance. Without going too far, you’ll never know if you could’ve made a song even better.

First Instinct, Best Instinct

 With all this analysis, I'm sure some of you have been wondering what to make of the fact that your first idea is usually your best one. While not everyone feels that their first ideas are their best, it seems to be a common thought in muscianland. There is cause for this; some artists get in an emotionally resonant zone while creating a song, which is why they continue to develop it. Often they were in a specific emotional place, so when they try to elaborate on their demos they don't feel the same, so subsequent drafts are thrown out, making the first idea the one that's kept.

The other common reason for sticking with the original idea is that demoitis has set in, so nothing sounds good but the original idea. If you've listened to your demo too much or played a song for too long before going through the drafting process, you'll be more prone to liking your initial demos. I find it important that once there's a good skeleton for your song, you should get feedback and start drafting as fast as possible.

Blame The Head - One of the strongest culprits for the first idea being the best idea is some musicians can't help but let their head wreck a good idea. They get inspired by an idea and instead of retaining it for the right time, they use it immediately on the song they're presently working on, whether it works with the intent of the song or not. For example, they'll be working on a heartfelt acoustic ballad and the bassist will hear LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean" and decide to force this idea on this tear-jerking sad song. They're convinced an arpeggiated synth bass will enhance the song instead of considering the other 11 songs being worked on to find a more appropriate fit for this idea. When the other collaborators hear this idea it’s immediately rejected, so the original demo is kept since this inappropriate inspiration is as far from being emotionally in line with the song as can be. Original ideas are often preferred since later inspiration isn’t in line with the song’s emotional intent.

Confirmation Bias - The other reason artists trust their first instinct is it's easy to count to one. If your eighth draft is normally the one that's best, you're less likely to count that high, whereas it's very easy to notice when the first idea stands the test of time. You think your first idea is always best, so you notice it constantly, but you don't keep an accurate count when it's a later revision.

Your First Draft Being Daring Enough

            BJ Novak, an actor and writer on the show The Office (US), talks about how the show would employ a "blue sky" period in which no one was allowed to criticize one another's ideas no matter how crazy they were. For the first four weeks of writing any season, the writers would be challenged to dream of the craziest scenarios possible to then have them be dialed into a digestible form for a primetime viewing audience. Adam McKay, director of The Big Short and Anchorman, employs the same technique.

In music it’s not often said that you should go too far with your ideas and then take them to a more rational and considered place. You may be wondering, what does too far look like? Perhaps it’s making the solo of the song excessive or experimenting with multiple ideas for harmonies to then figure out what’s great along with what’s too much. It can even be setting the mark to do better than the ideas you're inspired by, not just getting to their level.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Retaining Your Best Musical Ideas Effectively

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Inspiration is like fresh bread. When straight out of the oven ― even if it's not made from the best ingredients ― it'll taste pretty amazing. But if left around for a few hours, it'll be a little less flavorful. By the next day it's pretty stale, and after a week it's inedible. The longer you wait to capture your ideas, the more details they lose. For this book, I'd regularly take a note to write about a subject that could yield decent results. But if I wrote the passage the second I had the inspiration, it would flow out of me in full, coherent detail. I've found this to be the case with nearly every song I've ever worked on as well. Learning to capture an idea as it perspires is the most effective way to get the most from your inspiration. Every moment wasted wiring a DAW or preparing a recorder can be small details of what your brain is trying to exude that can be lost forever.

One of the most overlooked skills of creativity is retention. It’s assumed that if there’s a voice memo app on your phone and you remember to record your song ideas, you’re a master of retention. Contrary to that assumption, mastering a few good practices can help make your output more potent and less stressful. When being creative, the most valuable asset is your ideas, but they’re worthless if you don’t remember them. Getting in good habits of retention not only makes sure you never lose your inspired moments, but it also helps make your creativity more potent. Unless you figure out how to remember the inspiration that’s trying to get out of you effectively, that opportunity may never rear its head again so that idea may never come to full fruition.

When you're trying to remember ideas instead of retaining them properly, your mind is always trying to keep track of them. When your mind knows you've outsourced a way to keep track of parts of your life, it's able to focus elsewhere. It's been proven countless times if you're storing ideas effectively, your brain frees up space it uses to remember them, allowing you to focus on new ideas that expedite development of what you're working on. If you feel cluttered in your thoughts, dumping the ideas from your mind can be an extremely effective way to gain clarity on your next move. Much in the way you check off items on your to-do list, putting the thoughts in your mind down on a list allows your mind to get past old ideas and devote brain power to new ones. It’s sadly common that unless we experience the benefits of regularly retaining ideas, we don’t believe they exist.

Thankfully, since music costs so much to make, most of the ways you get better at retention cost little to no money and take very little time to implement. Along with the benefits being extremely worthwhile, practicing how to retain is time well spent.

Perfection And Perspiring

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it”

― Salvador Dali

 Author Kurt Vonnegut once said he feels like "an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth" when he writes. The beginning for any creator is an outline or broad strokes, not the consideration and nuance you'll hopefully apply later on. Skip the thoughts of subtleties like syncopation, whether you should use an upstroke versus a downstroke, an accent or apply vibrato. Instead, focus on an idea when it's flowing and leave the details for less inspired moments.

While rules are meant to be broken, the most effective way to deal with the demoing process is to perspire, then edit. There are very few unanimous truths for creators, but one is that if good ideas are pouring out of your brain, capture them as fast as you can, not stopping until the inspiration well runs dry. Inspiration can come fast, so worrying if an element is perfect or even good enough can kill it fast. When first expelling an idea, we need to rid ourselves of thoughts of perfection or other judgments and only evaluate them after our inspiration has passed. Editing can slow the process by shifting the brain into a whole other headspace that can deplete this inspired perspiration. This is not to discount that if you realize the verse is better at half its length, you shouldn't make that edit in the moment, but make sure it's not at the expense of any inspiration that may be currently in your head that'll be far less obvious at a later date. Don't wonder where the song is going, just feel it and leave the contemplation for later.

Figure Out Where You’re Creative To Make It An Environment To Capture Ideas

“I've never been a very prolific person, so when creativity flows, it flows. I find myself scribbling on little notepads and pieces of loose paper, which results in a very small portion of my writings to ever show up in true form.” ― Kurt Cobain

Despite recording studios being the place designed to capture musical ideas, in many of them it takes far too much effort to get those ideas down as they're happening. When I'm working on a song, I always have a live microphone I can put into record at the end of a DAW file if I need to remember ideas or grab a bit of inspiration. If need be, I'll write down anything else I can remember in the notes app on my iPhone. Producer Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Shania Twain) would keep a cassette voice recorder in the control room so he could retain ideas as fast as he could since the trouble of getting ideas into the tape machine could take far too long. Thankfully, we all now have a voice recorder on our phone that can retain our best ideas easily. Many producers have a "scrap" MIDI track or another recorder always rolling in case someone has a fantastic idea for this same reason.

Many artists have great ideas while going to bed at night, so they employ a way of capturing them. Grimes keeps pen and paper by her bedside, whereas Ezra Kire of Morning Glory takes it a step further by keeping a pen tied to his nightstand along with a notebook under his pillow. Others are flooded with inspiration in the morning, so they do morning journaling each day where they write down stream of consciousness thoughts that they review the next day to see what they can find to apply to their work.

Always Be Rolling

There's a piece of recording engineer wisdom that you never let a performer do a "practice take" that isn’t being recorded. Instead, you record them, even if they're warming up, since if they do a great take and you didn't record it, all of a sudden you're the worst person in the world, even if they told you not to record it. As an engineer, you may tell a musician they're practicing, but you're actually recording each take they do in case a great moment happens. This also goes for when you’re recording yourself; in an age where storage costs are next to nothing, making sure you’re always recording is essential to capturing your most inspired moments.

Good Note Taking      

“The faintest ink is better than the best memory” ― Chinese proverb

Listening back to your songs can be an amazing thrill, but forgetting to write down every tiny little detail you hear that could be accentuated, diminished, changed and so on means these ideas may be forgotten and your song may never reach its peak. Writing illegible notes that are hard to decipher later on can cause you to miss a crucial detail you hear for years to come that you kick yourself over every time you listen.

As a producer, I need to take notes on songs, mixes or other ideas every day of my life. In some weeks I'll take notes on over 40 songs. A lot of this time is spent in inconvenient environments such as hopping subways and buses across New York City. Needless to say, it can be hard to concentrate and even harder to take notes. Because of this, I have strict rules to make sure I never lose any thoughts that come to me while hearing these mixes. Whenever I'm listening to a song I'm working on, I must have a note app open to take clear notes that I'll remember later. If an idea is coming at me fast, I'll open Music Memos or Voice Memos on my phone to record a note, no matter how crazy I look singing a part on the L Train. I know I must never lose inspiration since it may never come back.

Being A Good Librarian

Many songwriters write riffs and melody ideas but never bring them to full demo form. Collecting ideas as you have them is commonly done in iTunes or folders on a computer. Sadly, when I work with songwriters on drafting their songs, their riffs and beats are scattered across numerous devices and labeled horribly, so the songwriter can never seem to find them. There are a few easy practices that can help to sort these ideas:

·       Label files with more than just “Voice Memo 19” - instead, put a descriptive name like “Creepy Song for Neon Demon opening scene Key of E, 148 BPM”. Tempos or emotions can be great descriptors, as well as the key.

·       When you're too tired to create, take time to make folders and organize these demos by tagging them to review so your mind can incubate them.

·       Date files if you'll remember a time when you wrote them when trying to find them. If you'll remember the place you wrote them later, tag a file with that as well. I find dates are better since you can often remember what you were doing on a certain date compared to version 7.

Spreadsheets - Rivers Cuomo of Weezer uses spreadsheets to keep track of riffs, lyrics and song title ideas so he can figure out what fits together later. Since titles of songs are limited in information, spreadsheets can allow you to add more information that'll help you sort through your ideas.

Inboxing And Sorting - David Allen’s life-changing book Getting Things Done says that you should have an inbox that you capture ideas in to later file them in their proper place. When I work with musicians on their record, their iPhones are commonly cluttered messes of hundreds of voice memos with their ideas. This lack of order costs tons of time in lost and unsorted ideas. To make matters worse, they also have Garageband demos as well as more developed Pro Tools demos scattered in different places. Instead of this clutter, I sort all of these files to iTunes with playlists that file ideas by category. Having playlists for each song, final demos, riff ideas, etc. can make your creative time far more effective.

Commonplacing Notebooks

I'm not one to celebrate the past, but one of the lost traditions of creative minds was to keep a commonplacing notebook. These notebooks are a place where you retain quotations and other points of inspiration throughout your life. Essentially, anything you feel resonance with that may be worthy of further thought or development should be retained in one of these books. As you add these inspirational thoughts, you review them from time to time to put thoughts together to make epiphanies. John Locke, the economist and political theorist, was one of the first people to push this practice and later had notebooks manufactured to mimic the way he employed them in his creative pursuits.

 Composer Aaron Copeland said, "Most composers have a notebook where they put down germinal ideas that occur to them thinking, ‘well, we'll work on that later.’ You can't pick the moment when you'll have ideas. It picks you, and you might be completely absorbed in another piece of work. You put the ideas down where you can find them later when you need to look for ideas, and they don't come easily." This summation of why this type of retention is important couldn't be summed up better.

In the modern age, this can be a note in your phone, a Google Doc or, for the twee folks, a Moleskine notebook where you keep track of what inspires you creatively. Later reviewing what inspires you is one of the clearest routes possible to inspiration that'll put your mind into an incubation state that can continually reward your music. I think about how much less I'd know about creativity if I hadn’t had my mind opened by watching Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain for the first time, which I wrote down in a small memo pad I carried in my pocket.

Checklists Retain What You Don’t Want To Forget

Atul Gawande wrote a life-changing book called The Checklist Manifesto that talks about saving lives with medical procedures that compensate for our inability to remember crucial systems that insure processes don’t fail us. Although this book is written about medicine, its application to the creative process is broad and rewarding. Gawande says Rivers Cuomo of Weezer has developed checklists of considerations of songwriting tools. Many musicians notice they commonly forget details and considerations in the development of their song. In order to make sure they evaluate these considerations each time, they will employ a checklist at the end of their process to make sure no stone is left unturned. If you find yourself forgetting these details, employing a checklist can ensure they don't get skipped.

I make lists in an app called Checklist+ for remembering to listen to my mixes on different devices and with different perspectives, such as being sure I listened on three sets of speakers and listened for various elements. This ensures I don't skip crucial perspectives needed to make my mixes great and eventually become habits I don’t forget. If you find yourself forgetting to consider your work in ways that are helpful, consider making a checklist so you can make these reflections.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Flow States Enable The Highest Levels Of Music To Be Created

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 An idea can be perspired once it has been inspired and incubated, and the most effective way to perspire is to enter a flow state. Ever since Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book Flow, we've begun to understand this part of the creative process that's crucial to our own enjoyment as well as crafting great work. Flow is the state we get into where time seems to pass us by, as suddenly our inspiration seamlessly turns to perspiration and by the time we realize what's going on, we have a portion of our work completed. It can often be known by other names like “in the zone,” “losing yourself” or “in another world.”

When we talk about playing music as an escape, flow is the ultimate escape. There's a hidden gem in one of the most overly quoted parts of Steve Jobs’ thought on creativity where he says, "they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it." One of the strangest parts of flow is it runs right through us and we often can't figure out the details of how it happened. We lose track of time once we're in this state. We get inspired and take action, losing self-consciousness. Any concern for aches in our bodies, identity, problems, bills or conflict in our life disappears as we create with minimal friction.

This is also what's so addicting about flow since it can make us leave all our troubles behind as we evoke something new. What makes flow so special is we get our mind out of its own way and push out amazing ideas or performances. Without these mental blocks, we can perspire and have epiphanies that help us hit creative heights. We're at our happiest in a flow state; neurologists have seen it's a happier place than playing with kids or on vacation. They see it as a "theta state" that's akin to monks meditating.

Flow is a naturally occurring state for musicians during the creative process. The experience of flow comes in many forms. It can be writing lyrics onto a page where they seem to pour out or jamming with your band to realize it's been twenty minutes when it felt like two. Sitting in front of your computer experimenting with how to best tweak a song. Improvising lyrics for a song while on loop. If you've ever fallen in love, you've probably experienced a flow state. It's that special feeling where all of a sudden perspiration pours out of you where you can't stop expelling brilliant ideas, thoughts or a great performance that you've never said before. You don't think about your next move, it simply comes out of you in a burst of perspiration.

While flow isn’t necessary to create, it allows us to do our best work. Sadly, in this day of flipping from app to app, where attention deficit disorder is seen as a given by many, flow isn’t as easy to achieve when you're constantly distracted or never able to sustain a thought for more than a few minutes. Even stranger is some musicians can easily achieve flow on stage but can rarely achieve it in the studio or vice versa. Understanding what goes into flow can help us get to these states of higher creativity.

The Ingredients To Achieving Flow

 While flow is a natural occurring state for our minds, you'll need to have a few boxes checked to achieve it. The more you're able to increase the amount of these elements at your disposal, the more flow will help you to create:

Inspiration - Just as we've discussed before, perspiration cannot happen without inspiration. Flow isn’t a hack that gets you around this rule. Flow allows inspiration to perspire from you effectively and without resistance.

Proficiency - To be able to get into a flow state, you can't get obstructed by your inability to carry out what your mind is trying to perspire. If you lack proficiency on the instrument or tool you're using to create with, flow will cease as you struggle and become self-conscious. The struggle to get out what you're trying to do can halt flow as you try to figure out what you're trying to communicate. This is why flow comes easier with the more proficiency you gain on an instrument or tool. With that said scientists have found flow often when works best when you are taking slight risks to exceed your abilities by challenging yourself to perform at a slightly higher level than normal.

Limitation - While flow can go far beyond what we were initially inspired by, it can help to have focus. In music, having key and tempo restrictions along with making the choice of which instrument you’ll be using allows flow to be more effective.

Lack Of Distraction - When trying to get into these states, it's important to get in a distraction-free environment. The greatest killer to a flow state is a text message, knock on the door from a housemate or social media notification. Designating a time where you won't be taken out of these states is imperative for getting to this state and can help sustain creative bursts. While distractions and breaks have their purpose in creativity, you should be as free of interruption as possible when trying to perspire.

Collaborative Flow

 Flow can also be collaborative. If you've ever had a conversation where ideas perspire from you that you've never put into words but you all of a sudden become funny or insightful, that's collaborative flow. Jam sessions regularly give us our best flow states. We're inspired by others to get into a flow state where we're able to feed off one another to create a new expression. In music, this collaborative flow is often in the form of improvisation. What we hear others doing is an immediate inspiration that can put us into a flow state.

One of the biggest misconceptions of improvisation is the belief that it’s solely made from new thoughts that come from flow and not rehearsed parts that are up our sleeve that we can deviate from and revisit. This also illustrates one of the most important aspects of flow. Usually flow takes a bit of incubation and rehearsal beforehand, just like any other part of good music improvisation needs to achieve an intent. By picturing how your intent would sound and elaborating on past ideas that apply to this emotion, improvisation reaches its greatest heights. It’s usually helpful to prepare for flow by doing some rehearsal as well as pre-meditating on your intent.

These pre-rehearsed ideas you’ve already thought of, but are now being expressed in a flow state of improvisation often takes them to greater heights. When a rapper freestyles, they’re drawing from rhymes in their rhyme book while improvising a few aspects about the present location or foe they’re up against, fitting these variables into some fixed tropes they’ve already rehearsed. When a jazz musician does this, they know modes, scales and keys they must stay within, as well as a melodic line that’s already been established that they can vary. These ideas are contemplated and practiced for years at a time. Notorious B.I.G. didn't show up to that bodega in Bed-Stuy and freestyle without first becoming proficient in tons of rhymes as well as practicing improvisation before the camera was rolling.

Flow Usually Needs Refinement And Editing

“Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order.” Samuel Beckett

There’s a great myth in music about how magical the first take in the studio can be. The idea is that a musician sat down and played an amazing song on the first try. Yes, to a fan of the Grateful Dead, the idea of a first take jam sounds great, but there's also a reason their fanbase is known for being stoned out of their minds. All joking aside, even the Grateful Dead would do countless takes of their songs and later edit together the best bits of their recorded material. While flow can give us some of our best ideas, they usually need to be refined once the flow state has ceased. The key is to allow flow to occur for as long as possible and then edit it after it has ended.

Since flow allows us to ignore self-doubt and criticism, it commonly needs further consideration after the state has left us. There were countless failed takes of Kind Of Blue before Miles Davis got the right ones to put on the album. Contrary to the belief that editing takes in Pro Tools is cheating, The Beatles were doing the very same technique on their records along with nearly every other group since recording switched from vinyl discs to tape. Harnessing flow and collecting the best bits has been the way to great music for half a century, yet somehow some musicians frown on this as if first takes and a lack of editing are akin to winning some video game instead of viewing it as a tool to get the most emotional resonance.

Making Flow Work Optimally

There are a few best practices for flow that can help you more optimally achieve this state:

Notifications Are Distractions - The iPhone has a Do Not Disturb mode where all notifications cease, allowing only those you put on a list to call you in case of emergency. For those who aren’t concerned about contact from the outside world at all, airplane mode or turning your phone off works even better. Turning off wifi on your computer can also keep you from bad habits of switching away from your DAW.

A Cleared Mind - Flow only happens when you can focus and have passion, so it's less likely to occur unless the stress in your life has been dealt with. If you have trouble getting into flow, try clearing your mind by writing down your thoughts to retain whatever keeps popping up.

Guard Your Space - Put a “do not disturb” sign on your door as well as let housemates know you’re not to be disturbed until you come out. Too often flow is disturbed since others don’t realize it’s your priority.

Isolation - Author Jonathan Franzen locks himself in a room with nothing on the walls and noise-blocking headphones. The less distractions you have, the better.

Always Be Recording - If you think you may enter a flow state, be sure to have a way to retain it. Too many musicians forget they should always be recording rehearsals and noting time stamps of parts to revisit.

Meditate - Many people find meditation - more specifically, transcendental meditation - to be helpful in getting deeper and more sustained flow states.

How To Incubate Your Musical Ideas To Make The Best Music

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

After we're inspired, our ideas aren't always ready to perspire. Our minds usually need a bit of time to do further development so that when we're ready to perspire, it can pour out of us effectively.

Where “Random” Ideas And Sudden Epiphanies Really Come From

“Creativity is the residue of wasted time” Albert Einstein

One of the worst parts of short articles, memes and the rest of today's internet culture is that we rarely hear all of the amazing details within these stories. The part of the story left on the cutting room floor is usually an idea that was being tinkered with in the creator's head, both consciously and subconsciously, since it's pretty boring to show a person thinking in a movie.

A great idea never comes to anyone that hasn't been doing some research. It’s not possible to understand how to execute an idea unless you’ve been tinkering with related concepts. Even though we can't always trace where ideas come from, we know they don’t come from the ether or the blessing of a muse. Ideas go through an incubation period where your mind isn't thinking about the idea you had in a way that's evident to you. Instead, your mind is toying with this idea in the background to make connections that can later lead to an epiphany. This semi-distracted state where you’re partaking in menial tasks allows your mind to nurture your hunches into epiphanies.

The apple falling on Newton's head when he discovered gravity was not some divine epiphany; it is a myth. Instead, he was tinkering with an insane breadth of work in physics and this was the chance encounter that stimulated his connected mind. A famous case of this is Charles Darwin talking as if he thought of his theory of evolution in a sudden epiphany. Historians studying Darwin later went through his journals to find he was slowly coming to this "epiphany" over months and months of research. The same went for Tim Berners-Lee when he invented what would become the world wide web. For ten years he was making concepts that were close to the hyperlinks and connectivity the web is built on.

Most great ideas get developed over time. The idea for a great song may not be so great when you first build the skeleton. But, with a few more great ideas, this could be a song that becomes your best work. Great work won’t fall on top of your head just by chance - it involves development.

How To Get Your Brain Into An Incubation Mode

Graham Wallas’ The Art of Thought made one of the first attempts to define how the creative process works. One point he made in the book is that usually, a great idea has a lead-up to it. Then, after the initial idea is formed, there's a subconscious period where the idea incubates and you finally see how to put it into practice. You shouldn't expect that once you get a great idea it will be fully formed or immediately executable. Continuing to take in inspiration while tinkering with your ideas helps your mind develop these hunches into more realized ideas. You can even nurture the incubation of ideas by using a variety of techniques.

Musicians are regularly accused of being lazy (my last book may have done it a dozen times), but what looks like laziness is often incubation. To incubate ideas, the brain needs to be in a state that’s not fully engaged while paying slight attention to another task. This is evidenced in University of California research, which found that “engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.”

Many scientists believe the brain in an unconscious incubation mode can actually do more complex work than when you’re consciously thinking about a creative work. This means taking a break when you get frustrated can give you the time you need to further develop an idea. Taking walks, exercising, commuting and that odd state you're in when half awake in the morning or at night is when so many of the best ideas come out, since your brain is in a state where it can subconsciously nurture your ideas. This semi-distracted mindset allows us to be engaged in enough thought to give our brain the resources to figure out the problems going on in our minds and later form an epiphany.

 A University of Central Lancashire study found doing boring activities such as attending meetings, commuting or tedious writing exercises nurture divergent thinking. The bad news is video games and TV are too engaging for the brain to incubate. You can't force your brain to incubate a thought – all you can do is devote time to activities that encourage incubation while seeking out more inspiration that may nourish an epiphany.

Conscious Incubation

Incubation can also come in the form of consciously tinkering with ideas. A University of California study found that daydreaming allows your mind to go into incubation, which may give a clue as to why you may see your favorite musician staring into space all the time. It’s said that Mozart was judged to be quiet and aloof since he never had his attention in the room he was in. When reviewing Mozart's notebooks for his scores, he had dramatically fewer cross-outs than the majority of composers, since he was constantly developing ideas in his head.

In this day and age where we're constantly looking at our phones for entertainment, we should remember that the time we spend in a state of low attentiveness is the time where our minds can play with the ideas we've been accumulating to develop them into bigger ideas. In the age of constant distraction, it becomes less common to sit alone with your thoughts, trying to connect things. Breaking the habit of looking at your phone any time something isn't holding your attention can be crucial to the nurturing of good ideas since this practice can be effective for many artists.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Your Palette As A Musician Is Shaped By Your Inspiration

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Your palette is one of the most determinative factors in what your music sounds like. One of the main ways inspiration affects creators is learning both what they do and don't want in their palette. Hearing others’ music to decide what tools to use is one of the most defining aspects of what your music sounds like. Think back to the most basic example of palette, in the 1950s recording studios didn't have instruments on hand for musicians to explore their every indulgence. Unless you knew someone who played an instrument, you couldn't use that instrument as part of your palette for a recording. Since the 80s, as sampling technology became prominent, musicians have been able to employ any sound they can think of. Most sounds now come stock within a Mac laptop that costs $900.

Not everyone wants to be The Flaming Lips, Beck or The Polyphonic Spree, who will use any instrument in the world to create with. Instead, most artists paint with a smaller palette of instruments. EDM artists mostly use synthesizers while punk bands rarely dare to exceed the guitar, bass, drums and vocal format. Hip-hop producers who largely sample will keep their palette limited to sampling specific genres and instruments to keep their palette within their tastes and certain flavors.

Being conscious of your palette can have many benefits for your music. Many studies on the subject show those who impose limitations on themselves end up with a more creative result. To some artists, knowing every instrument is an option can create an eye-opening world of experimentation. Others experience option paralysis and benefit from the focus of limitations. If you're Jack White, you see the challenge of not using the editing tools inside a computer program and a 16-24 track tape machine's limits as being what excites you. He knows he has to make the most of the limitations he's imposed on himself using a finite amount of tools to accomplish his intent.

There's an artistic cliché that goes, "Don't be held down by the palette everyone else paints with." While this saying encourages some artists to superfluously use different instruments, it's really trying to tell you not to feel bound to the same old tools as everyone else. Figuring out the instruments and tonalities that help express your emotional intent is a large part of what makes you unique. Figure out who you are and what parts of palettes you like to employ for research into your music.

Palette can be taken to many other examples than just tone and instrumental use. The arrangement, syncopation, harmonization and production tricks in your lexicon give you a greater vocabulary to use to express your intent. This is an essential reason research is crucial to your work.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Inspirations From Other Disciplines Allows You To Be A More Innovative Musician

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

One of the most overlooked ways to get inspired is from other disciplines. In practice, this is architects learning from filmmakers who talk about how much improvisation they do on the set or about how they re-think form in their discipline, evolving it by picking up useful techniques from other creative disciplines. This is why you see Kanye West talking about being inspired by Steve Jobs, Steve McQueen and Stanley Kubrick. Much of this book I drew from the ideas of business bloggers, photographers and directors as much as I drew from musicians. If you work in other creative outlets, you can apply these processes to whatever field you create in.

Every skill I've learned in record production makes writing a book easier. I’ve learned I should capture my ideas while I’m in a flow state and then edit and draft later, just as I do when writing music. If you're fluent in creating in another craft, it can often help your expression skills manifest in unique ways that allow you to add resonance others aren't fluent in. In every book on the subject of creativity, this is a skill noted in every creator who has gone on to do work that changes the way we see a discipline.

Metaphor Quotient

In science, there's a concept called field theory where you take a theory or technique that works in one field of science and apply it to another. To apply field theory to your work, you need to develop the ability to observe how you can apply what you see in one field to another field. The ability is measured by Metaphor Quotient (MQ). Just like IQ (Intelligence Quotient), MQ is the ability to apply metaphors into your art, whereas IQ is the measure of intelligence. MQ is the measurement of how well you can apply metaphors to your art. MQ manifests itself in countless ways. Here are a few examples:

·       Honing in on your ability to see the creative process of someone in a different field and apply it your own.

·       Seeing how one lyricist applies a metaphor and figuring out how to do that yourself in a different way.

·       Hearing a rhythm in your radiator and applying it to a song.

·       Finding the roots of a word or a concept and finding other ways to recontextualize it in your lyrics.

·       Finding metaphorical sound effects to help emphasize your lyrical narrative.

In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about the importance of Metaphor Quotient as it inspires new ideas that aren't obvious. She even argues that MQ is as valuable as IQ in the creative process. The best songwriters and producers commonly cite movie director advice (this is a recurring theme on my podcast where I interview record producers) as being inspirational to the way they work. You can always catch an insightful mind knowing many great quotes as compared to those who can’t see past their nose thinking the world "is what it is" or whatever reductive statement of the moment idiots use. Artists who purposefully seek out metaphors and then apply them to their work can fluently express their intent.

One of the reasons this concept isn't discussed is because there's no real way to measure it on a scale since it's too wild, so any measure is purely observational. Since our fluency varies so much from medium to medium, MQ is hard to pinpoint on a simple test. For example, my brain can take business practices and see how they work in music or film in an instant, yet the second you talk to me about how a painting's color subtly express an emotion, the whole idea is lost upon me. I've never taken the time to learn the intricacies of expression in visual form so my MQ is very low in fine arts. While I'm fluent in one field, I'm nearly blind in another.

Many great creators consider the field they're known for to be their second discipline. Kurt Cobain, Lars Von Trier and David Lynch all consider themselves to be artists more than musicians or filmmakers despite being renowned as some of the most innovative people in their fields. Outsider art is cited as being the example of inexperienced creators being able to make great creations, but the key to outsider art is that those who do it well have a high MQ and are applying field theory to a new field. High proficiency in one field can be applied to others.

Improving Your MQ

MQ is one of those few skills no one is born with. It‘s instead learned and can be developed with practice. In Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind he suggests “Improve your MQ by writing down compelling and surprising metaphors you encounter." Watch movies to find subtle hints like film noir showing characters that are conflicted or lying are lit with their face in both the light and dark. Reading interviews with artists who are highly metaphoric or take the time to observe details in great artists’ work can bring out your metaphor quotient.

A habit that helps me develop my metaphor quotient along with an understanding of artistic growth is to take in my favorite artists’ work in series. I'll watch all of my favorite director's movies in a row (even the movies I don't enjoy) or listen to my favorite musician's records in chronological order (including the B-sides). This practice allows me to take in their tools and details to understand the correlations in the metaphorical tools they use. I watch a few of their movies in a day or one every few days, but I do it in as short a period as I can to keep the correlations fresh in my mind. If I understand their earlier work, it helps me understand the greater depths of expression they achieve later.

Most importantly, when I do this, I concentrate. I don't look at my phone unless the work is on pause. I don't do bills while they're on as I try to see the details in what I may have missed before when taking them in casually. When I do this with music, I make sure to have headphones on so I can take in as much of the details as possible, so I'm influenced by as little outside sound as possible. I try to ingest as many metaphors and hidden subtleties in their work as I possibly can.

While my approach to this is a bit academic for some of my friends, it can be applied to some of the most annoying moments in life. When you're dragged to see a movie, hear a song from a genre you don't appreciate or have to go to a museum you have no interest in, make the most of it to find what you can learn from the metaphors in use throughout these works. Not only will it make the time less miserable, but you may even get inspired.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

 

Seeing Your Musical Inspiration As A Diet

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Just as you'll only be as healthy as what you eat and your exercise regimen, your creative output is dependent on the inspiration you take in and how regularly you perspire (just as you perspire during your workout). Since inspiration is akin to nutrition in this analogy, your music will be the product of what you listen to the most. If it's what everyone else is listening to, you're more likely to make music that doesn't find new resonances. If you're taking in new inspiration from uncommon places in music, it'll bring on inspired work.

Right about now you’re probably thinking “but what if I only like rock or pop that's on the radio?" Well, that may be resonant to you, but to make music that has new heights of resonance you'll need to dig deeper. To find new ways to express the emotions in you, you need to find new ways to explain how you feel. The palette of only understanding what's currently popular won’t allow you to discover the most resonant expression of your emotions. Most musicians who only enjoy what's on the radio are that way because they’ve yet to do the research to find more tools that could be emotionally resonant to them. Instead, they settle on what's easiest to consume by flicking on their car stereo rather than taking the time to get to know the many other influences their favorite artists have consumed.

I'm not saying to make good Afro-beat music you should superfluously listen to classical music and EDM on a regular basis. This research doesn't need to be diverse in genres, but if you're going to stick to one or two genres, make sure you know those genres exhaustively. This can take effort for some and isn't always easy. Simply turning to the classics or what's popular won't be enough. You need to search until you find influences that are resonant to you and explore them to become fluent with all the tools at your disposal to express yourself with.

There's a balance to strike between being authentic and doing this superfluously. Forcing repeated listens to Mahavishnu Orchestra to get better musical ideas can be good for some musicians, but forcing that influence into your music when it has no resonance with you leads to making inauthentic drivel. Being weird for weird's sake or "inspired" for inspired’s sake won’t lead to resonant music. We won’t love everything we ingest, but we need to continually find what we can take from what we find resonant. It’s healthy to try new inspirations in an exploration to find who we are, but forcing yourself to get inspired by music you think will give your music a great depth doesn't make it emotionally resonant.

Making Sure Your Inspiration Is Properly Nourished

There's a famous saying that gets tossed around stating that you're the product of the five friends you hang out with the most. In finance, there's a similar adage that you're as rich as the five people you talk to the most. This also goes for musical influence. What you listen to the most largely shapes the songs you write. With years of music listening, this can be diminished down to what you listened to over the course of your life, but for beginners, this is especially crucial since you don't have years of accumulating influence, standards and palette to draw from.

After establishing that inspiration is research, we need to recognize that you should be conscious of the inspiration you're taking in as if it were a diet. When I'm trying to get inspired for a record, I try to consider my inspiration diet to nurture myself so I'm sufficiently ready to perspire. This is what I consider so I'm on the best possible diet for a project:

Favorites vs. Fresh - It's easy to get lost in your favorite records since getting to know them is some of the most important listening you can do to figure out what you love about them. Plus, it feels great to listen to them. But you also need to be taking in new records to gain fresh ideas. Even if these records weren't recorded in recent years, you need to continue to get inspired by new source material. The inverse can be true by focusing on new records versus exploring your favorites to figure out what makes them tick. If I give a concentrated listen to many of my favorite records, even after listening to them for decades, I can still find new details from them to get inspired by – but there's nothing like fresh, new ideas to get you inspired.

The Greats vs. The Local Trash - For every one of your favorite local groups doing amazing music that the world may never hear, there are ten other bands in the scene who aren't that special but get listened to far too much. I've seen many musicians get lost in listening to their friend's music that's just poorly done versions of great bands. This particular affliction goes especially for bands who only listen to the other bands they tour with. It drives their standards down, which makes them think subpar ideas are great, instead of getting used to the high standards, they need to achieve what the best musicians have.

Bells and Whistles vs. Solid Songs - On some records, an artist can be filled with inspiration for song structures and hooks but lacking in how to do the moody soundscapes they hope to explore. I'll often go on an inspiration diet depending on what a band needs from me. If a band needs help coming up with soundscapes, I may end up listening to Mars Volta, Clinic, The Talking Heads and Chrome to get ideas of what we could do. If they need help with song structures, I’ll listen to artists with inventive structures. If the band has a mind for those bells and whistles, I may try to get into the mind of their favorite songwriters to make sure we stay focused on solid songs. Consider where you feel deficient inspiration-wise and consciously take in inspiration that'll help nurture what you need on a project.

Intentionally Take In Inspiration

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, short stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines and music, you’ll automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I’ve never had a dry period in my life because I feed myself well.” Ray Bradbury

If you’re feeling drastically uninspired, it’s time to go down the inspiration family tree of reading interviews with your favorite creators to see what inspired them. Perhaps click on the Related Artists section of your favorite group’s Spotify or see who MetaCritic says they’re similar to. Observe this family tree to see who your favorite acts are influenced by, check out who they’re compared to on review sites or research the acts they wear shirts from. Make a playlist and give each song a few listens to try to find their merits.

Fasting To Get Inspired

“Removing all stimulation around you is a really positive thing in terms of stimulating your creativity.” ― Grimes

Just as we talked about inspiration being a diet that requires nutrition, you can also do a cleanse or a fast to get creative results. While you need inspirational nutrition to get inspired, there can also be a time in the process where you need to abstain from inspiration so you're not influenced by others. Many songwriters become thoroughly inspired and then isolate themselves in an intense famine when they start writing. By keeping a distance from their influences, nothing comes out that's too derivative. This regularly occurs after an inspiration period during the early shaping of their songs and ends when they need to get inspired on how to complete a few final details.

This famine can even go for expressing yourself as well. Robert Smith told me during the making of The Cure’s classic record Disintegration that he wouldn't speak to anyone all day. He could ask someone to pass the salt, but he wouldn't fulfill his need to get feedback from other humans on his emotions. Without his ability to communicate, when he wrote his lyrics, he'd have an extreme thirst to communicate how he felt. This technique was also applied when he did his vocals for the record. It would leave him dying to express himself by the time he hit the mic each day to sing. It goes without saying that the desperation to connect resonates through the recording of an album known for being one of the saddest records ever made.

For all three books I've written, I've written down as many thoughts I can think of on the subject as I can get out before I start my research to not have the established books in the genre cloud my judgment and own unique voice. I then begin to read other books on the subject to get new inspiration and figure out how to reconsider what I’ve come up with after the main form is shaped.

I also employ this famine when I mix records for artists where I wasn't involved in the recording process. I'll mix the song the way I hear it and then listen to the rough mix the band had as well as the reference mixes they give me of other artists after I try out my natural instinct. If the rough mix or references make me think my mix can get better, I bring in all those elements. I trust my gut along the way to decide what influences I should take in but don't allow my objectivity to get influenced by others, so I can form what’s emotionally resonant to myself first. This allows me to give a fresh perspective to the project but then blend it with whatever other influences they may have had to get the best of both worlds.