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.

As we do research, we learn the tools available to express our emotions; the more tools you understand how to use, the easier it is to find the right one to express yourself with. Since we respond to the authentic expression of emotions, it's crucial to understand how you develop the ability to express yourself. Fluency is the ability to draw from inspiration by turning it into the expression of our emotions. This skill is important to express yourself authentically since you need a wide vocabulary to express your emotions. If you’re trying to tell someone how you feel yet you only know a hundred words, it can be hard to describe the complicated nuance of emotion you feel. Fluency allows us to express the emotion we're trying to convey as authentically as possible since we have more tools to describe this emotion.

The greatest creators are always fluent in what they make. It isn’t a passing interest they're lightly interested in. When a musician has a limited amount of fluency, it's obvious to everyone listening. They have a limited palette to express themselves with and it shows by making a less potent expression. This is what regularly leads to being perceived as derivative or imitating since the tools being used aren't diverse enough, therefore the origin is easy to see. When they're well researched, there's a huge lexicon of inspiration to draw from. The embodiment of fluency is the ability to draw from hundreds of sources instead of a few. If they have a limited lexicon of research, the expression is less potent since they can’t find the most effective devices to express their emotions with.

Chance Favors The Connected Mind

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

When we see someone create something amazing, we often have no idea how anyone could even come up with it. The first time you hear "Master Of Puppets," "Bombs Over Baghdad" or "Come To Daddy," it's easy to ask yourself how anyone could even craft a song like that. But there's usually an explanation for it; the artist is fluent in their craft, so they're able to make connections which they can then express in ways those who aren’t as fluent can’t understand. It's said that Einstein wasn’t the best physicist of his time, but he saw everything instead of knowing everything. He had a great oversight of knowledge that was able to connect things others couldn’t understand from being fluent in many aspects of science.

One of the common assumptions made of successful musicians is they lucked into it. While they may be lucky, more often than not luck is mistaken for knowing how to make the best of life’s circumstances by seeing what others don't see. While you'll occasionally see a musician succeed as a one-hit wonder or have a short career, the musicians who continually make great music are more fluent than others. They know when to take the right chance, connect it with something else and turn it into opportunity, which is commonly mistaken for luck.

“Chance favors the connected mind.” ― Steven Berlin Johnson

This quote gave me one of my biggest epiphanies in all of my research for this book. The more you do research, the more you see how each piece of the puzzle connects together. When your mind can visualize how the pieces fit together, it can see a small piece of inspiration to take advantage of as "luck" happens to come your way. This is why luck is rarely actually luck. Instead, those who are well researched are constantly making connections others can’t see that can maximize what's given to them in life to make the most of this inspiration. When you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you're able to see what's available by making something great from it by exploiting chance. This happens every time a lyricist hears a great turn of phrase that would fit perfectly in the subject of a song they're working on.

But it's not just luck. One of the reasons research is so important is it helps us develop an expertise of our creative medium. Once we gain this expertise, we can achieve more than stringing two ideas or a mosaic of a few elements together. We can piece together a vastly complicated collage of our emotions that's inspired by the makeup of our research to express what's emotionally resonant to us. When we're fluent, we understand countless tools that we can utilize to express an emotion that enables our expression to be more resonant since we can choose the most potent tools to express ourselves with.

Anyone who's being creative is stealing from their favorite thieves, whether or not they know it. It's not that we enjoy the most original music – we enjoy the music where creators have made enough connections to know the right ways to elaborate authentically on their emotions for the maximum amount of resonance. They have a large lexicon to draw upon when they need to make their intent as resonant as possible and are proficient in the skills to correct flaws and mistakes. When you have a limited lexicon, you draw from a limited pool of resources that aren’t always the right elaboration on your intent.

Those with a vast vocabulary can find the most effective emotional tools to elicit the most potent expression of what's inside them, which is commonly perceived as "originality." Since our emotions and vocabulary are unique to ourselves, the more fluency you have in expressing yourself the less it sounds derivative. The works of those with a limited vocabulary are inherently derivative since they only have a few tools to draw from. However, for this music to be emotionally resonant, this vocabulary needs to be an expression that's elaborating upon the intent, but because there's more to draw from this also results in the sound being perceived as fresh or original.

When you only know Tiesto and Galantis’ tools, you won't be able to draw upon a wide enough set of options to express yourself. Your language is so limited that to articulate yourself you'll never be able to express the nuance and detail needed to give a listener a proper understanding of an emotion. But once you learn the words and their many uses, you can begin to express how you feel even when it’s complex.

This musical vocabulary can be expressed in many different palettes. Those using a traditional rock band instrumentation or the standard dance synth set need to employ different rhythms and sonic trickery to express their emotions more potently, whereas those who use different ethnic influences are incorporating other musical languages to communicate with.

Fluency In Emotional Expression Is Constantly Evolving

In James Flynn’s TED Talk on IQ, he talks about how the average IQ of each generation is about 30 points higher than their grandparent's generation. Despite the internet being full of articles on how each generation is getting dumber from various ailments – video games, iPhones, Snapchat or whatever advancement conservatives who wish it was 1950 are pretending poisoned our society – the science doesn’t agree. What Flynn describes is our grandparents never talked in hypotheticals. Instead, the most common expression was plain language and the occasional light metaphor thrown in for relation. The way we're able to convey emotions to relate the human condition is constantly evolving, and we're becoming more fluent in how to relate it to one another.

Everyone has had thoughts they can't figure out how to express. As we're able to build on the vocabulary of others who learn how to express a thought we've been trying to say, it becomes easier to express new ideas as we learn to talk about them fluently. As we begin to understand the world better by figuring out a more macro understanding of emotions, we develop new ways to express how we feel. A decade ago the fear of missing out (FOMO) was rarely discussed or expressed concisely, now it’s one of the most common emotions expressed by artists today (take a look at this Google trend chart to watch it continually grow and inevitably decline as the concept becomes obvious). As we figure out emotional shorthand, we learn to elaborate on thoughts that bear greater resonance to our present experiences.

Our musical instruments also evolve to create new envelopes and tones, which can express emotion in new ways as these new sounds sound closer to what our emotions feel like. The sound of distorted guitar opened up the doors to express more aggressive sounds in music, and the invention of the sampler allowed all sorts of lyrical narratives to be painted in hip-hop. As instruments evolve, we can make new sounds that express emotions in greater resonances. The way we express ourselves is constantly evolving through lineages of inspiration. For example, you can't have a Daft Punk record without Kraftwerk coming first and Detroit techno after them, since it would seem too weird and noisy. Without Daft Punk, you skip the inspiration for Justice and then Skrillex. With each subsequent year, the way we're expressing ourselves becomes more and more complex. By hearing possibility, we're influenced by it and continue to build off the new possibilities shown to us by those we're inspired by.

Just as The Beatles went from love songs to talking about spiritual enlightenment in less than a decade, we're forever evolving the complexity of discussing the human condition. We’re furthering our discussion of the nuances of life. Every year our language evolves to talk about more complex feelings in more detailed ways. It's commonly said that lyrics are emotional shortcuts and as we begin to understand what they hold, clichéd shortcuts lose their resonance. To express new emotional territory, you have to devote yourself to become fluent. There's a reason there's rarely a moderate-selling record that employs only a single instrument and voice. Our need for more complex emotional elaboration deepens as we get used to artists finding ways to further the emotions we want to be comforted with using more narrative tools, so we continuously crave new ways to express emotions. While there are classics that never die as well as those who appreciate this simplicity, the vast majority of us are looking for new heights to be hit in emotional power.

The Low Hanging Fruit Is Gone

It can seem pretty ridiculous how little creative output musicians release today. Releasing a dozen songs every two or three years is a pretty common occurrence for established artists. Looking back on artists of the past, this is at an all time low (let's remember The Beatles’ entire catalog occurred in nearly seven years and they recorded about 275 songs). Once the Ramones and The Clash had their intent down, it was easy to crank out four classic records in about three years. With classical composers, you'd have Beethoven ― who’s not even in the top five in this measure ― churning out 110 minutes of music every single year. This is not to say that an artist that's turning out a large quantity always results in high quality work, but with these outliers that was the case.

One of the reasons we see this slowdown in output is the immense amount of time it takes many artists to contemplate an expression that isn't overly derivative. Most of the low hanging fruit in creativity is gone today, so artists now need more time to develop a large understanding of music since the most simple emotions of the past have already been expressed. Today, if you wrote a song with an emotional expression at the level of The Beatles’ "She Loves You" you'd be laughed right out of existence even at a fifth-grade recital since that expression is taken for granted as being a given. While “In My Life” is one of the most thoughtful and beautiful expressions of love ever written, it has been expressed countless times and anyone looking to do this sentiment needs to find a new way to do it since that ground has already been tread heavily.

The common complaint in classical music today is that every new work ends up being avant-garde since there’s no new emotional ground to express in “classical classical” music’s multi-century existence (this is also caused by most would-be classical composers creating IDM and other forms of electronic music, but that's another story for another time). To make music resonant, we must dig deeper than some of the more obvious themes made in the music of yesterday. We need to find new ways to express ourselves, since hearing the same musical conversation over and over again gets boring.

You'll see this evidenced in pop records that regularly employ 50+ producers and songwriters. While internet memes will mock this throughout your Facebook feed, there’s a reason for this that has a parallel in science. Before 1975 there were plenty of lone wolf inventors who made great strides innovating scientific breakthroughs, but now that we've discovered most of the low hanging fruit of innovation, we need contributors who are experts in multiple disciplines to make innovative creations. The same has happened with music today. To make music that's resonant to the masses, a few heads are usually needed. The pop groups of yesteryear wrote amazing songs, but we're tired of those songs. We crave new emotions and, since the bar for emotional communication has been raised, it becomes more difficult for a single creator to have all of the skills to evoke a new emotional expression. The cumulative skills of these collaborators may not always be necessary but are a faster route to an inspired output that achieves the results record companies want, which is sales.

The innovators of every genre never had it easy. To express an emotion within them, they had to become fluent in their expression to give us new heights of resonance. You can trace this back to their pedigrees. The Beatles played covers for thousands of hours in Hamburg, learning every tool of emotional expression in the book available for rock instruments. Mozart's most famous work was #25; becoming fluent in his expression took many lackluster works. The Ramones changed the sound of music despite many cynics equating it to an accident from a bunch of dumb guys from Queens. It was no accident. While their songs seem simple to play, the true intensity of the Ramones was derived from Johnny Ramone’s innovation of doing all down strokes that brought a new aggression to music. He developed this sound by disciplining himself to play only down strokes; after being a bass player in the past, it was easier for him to deal with the smaller gauge of strings to handle this expression most musicians shied away from.

Just as the simple one-word band names are all gone, so are many of the simple ways of expressing an idea. As time goes on you need greater fluency to make emotionally resonant work since we crave new ways to comfort our emotions. Barely a decade ago, artists rarely had access to good quality reverb. Now, every computer can include it for a few hundred dollars. As we get access to a larger palette, we find more ways to express our emotions. To hit new heights, we need to form ways of expressing ourselves that are more complex than those of the past.

Those developing new emotional resonances in electronic music are spending hundreds of hours in front of a computer composing a track. In rock music, they have to gain such a large fluency of a genre to evoke new emotions that it becomes more rare each year. This is why the artists who win the Grammy for rock these days are rarely expressing themselves with traditional rock instruments. The low hanging fruit is gone, so for there to be any resonance among the masses, they need to discover a whole new way of communicating with different tools.

Since the low hanging fruit has already been plucked, we need to gain more fluency than previous generations of musicians to express ourselves. We, as listeners, want to hear more resonant expressions of an emotion. To do so today, you can't just come up with three chords on a guitar in a simple strumming pattern like The Rolling Stones used to. We've heard people express themselves with tools that elaborate upon emotion further than this can convey. This is why music is ever evolving. You need to become familiar with the vast amount of tools available to find how to reach higher levels 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.