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 constant discussion going on in every circle of the internet as well as bars and clubs across the world about why a record fails to live up to expectations:

“Why is this record not as good as the last one?” 

"This record should’ve been the same as their first."

“They’ve been making the same record forever.”

“I liked the demo better!”

When looking at the creative process from the outside, most fans don't understand why the musicians they love can't see what's so clear to them ― make the album the fans want. It seems so obvious to them what the musician should do. What they don’t understand is these musicians aren’t making their decisions based on cash grabs, trend jumping, phoning it in or the other assumptions commonly made by fans. While these are the common assumptions, the reasons an album's vision succeeds or falls flat are usually more practical.

Contrary to what’s usually discussed, these pitfalls stem from musicians’ lack of knowledge about what they should be doing to make music that both they and their fans want to hear. There's a treacherous path of decisions, ego checks, bad advice and skills that plague musicians when they try to make a great record. To get through it, they need extensive consideration of these plagues along with a resilient drive to authentically express what they feel. While modern technology has given musicians the most amazing tools to make music with, no one tool can show them how to consistently release great album after great album. Instead, they stumble into sophomore slumps (aka making a disappointing second record) or inauthentic, career-killing records that alienate fans.

This Book Exists To Fill A Void Of Mentorship

Look no further than the ramblings of countless music business veterans over the past fifteen years on how "the music business no longer develops artists." For the uninitiated, from the seventies through the nineties, musicians that had the potential to develop into a great artist were signed to big budget record deals. The hope was they’d eventually make a great record after learning a few lessons from recording some lackluster early albums. It was expected that on their first records they'd be "finding their sound," yielding a small fanbase and hopefully, by the third or fourth record, they'd become a creative force with a large fanbase that would justify the early investment. David Bowie, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and The Who are all legendary acts whose early records fell on deaf ears, but their label kept investing in them until they became the classic artists we know today. Today, this nurturing comes in the form of indie labels. However, the idea that musicians can receive a consistent paycheck that would enable them to devote their full attention to this artistic growth is nearly extinct, as few indie artists are cash-flush enough to forgo a day job.

The importance of this artistic development has been abandoned after years of humility-lacking record label executives (aka A&R) continually being confused when an artist gains success yet they fail to resonate with the A&R’s jaded ears – after all, if they don't understand how a musician got popular, it must be luck? Not really. We all have different emotional needs we look to comfort with music. Instead of acknowledging that it’s impossible to have a universal taste that understands what’s emotionally appealing about every artist, this lack of humility leads A&R to only sign "sure things" that need minimal development to recoup an investment. This turns record labels into banks with a marketing department instead of patrons of creative mentorship, polluting the music business with a practice that rarely yields lasting artists and places favor on short-term investments.

While some of the best music is being made today, the ability for musicians to sustain their creativity has suffered. Since this mentorship has declined over the past two decades, the decisions of A&R, management and artists are commonly based off poorly thought-out assumptions instead of research and practices that develop great music. While researching this book, I witnessed countless records fall short of their expectations. I was able to trace back these failures to a belief in a few creative “wives’ tales” that, had they been assessed properly, would have led to a much better record.

Due to the lack of investment from labels, the responsibility to seek out mentors who can guide musicians to avoid creative downfalls is placed solely on the artist and their management. Today, this mentorship is typically done by studying the endless amount of articles, documentaries and sound bites that litter the web. While the internet has brought a vast democratization of information, the knowledge of how to make good creative decisions is kept behind closed doors or spills out in so many sparse sources that loopholes in this knowledge are inevitable.

While nearly every musician greatly values creativity, they do little to no research on how to do it effectively. They want a highly creative result but have little know-how of how to gain one, outside of taking in small pieces of advice while imitating stories they’ve heard of those they admire. When I decided to write this book, I felt the need to take in every bit of the advice musicians would need to achieve these results and assemble it in a single source.

Record Labels Don’t Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

Despite everyone in the music business beating to death the advice "good music is the best marketing tool," the overwhelming majority of their practices shows they don’t practice what they preach. Record budgets are shrinking year after year and little to no thought is put into how to nurture an artist's musical output. Producers are hired based on poor assumptions of repeated performance despite every artist having different blanks to be filled in by a producer. Even worse, minimal research and favors-for-favors deals lead to producers with connections getting a job instead of the right producer, which doesn't put the artist first. Those involved with an artist's development treat their music like a meal that needs to be cooked quickly then served to get the next product sold instead of an expression they claim to value nurturing.

One of the more telling stories to illustrate this point was told to me on a podcast I did with Riley Breckenridge of Thrice. When the band made their first album for indie Hopeless Records, they were able to write two songs a month in a two weeks on, two weeks off schedule. These thirteen songs resulted in their sophomore record, The Illusion of Safety. The record catapulted the band from playing to twenty people a night to 1,000+ seat venues, all on a small indie budget.

Thrice was quickly snatched up by a major label, where they were thrown into a model that puts profits before artistic nurture. With the grueling tour schedule of their debut LP, they were left with three months to rest and write their major label debut, which would see countless dollars devoted to promotion. The result left the band feeling lackluster about the record despite its success, as their previous record had delivered new emotional colors to a genre that was largely stagnant. Their major label debut, The Artist In The Ambulance, was a reiteration on their previous release, sharing many of the same traits. Instead of continuing to exceed their hopes of developing their sound, they made the safe record that was expected of them since they were left with a minimal amount of time to devote to this development.

For their next record, they didn’t succumb to the pressures of the label and devoted the needed time to reach the artistic heights they wanted to achieve. The result is Vheissu, the record that Breckenridge says is the reason he still has a career playing music more than a decade later. The record exceeded creative expectations, being commonly cited as one of the most influential works in the genre.

Today, artists are expected to write a record in a single month in between tours and deliver exceptional results. Just a decade ago they commonly had more time than that to get inspired, never mind write an album's worth of material. They get handed a budget that's hardly worthy of reaching the heights labels claim to believe the artist has in them. Little evaluation is given when demos are finished or to even listen to tracking rough mixes before going to a mixer. As long as a final product is pumped out quickly, hopefully, the public will buy it. After all, the artist needs to get back on the road immediately since the only way the booking agent, manager and label will make money is sales of more albums and merchandise.

There's a better way to harness songs from artists that allows creativity to flourish while not costing much more money but may take some time away from the content-machine-work-ethic that's pushed on musicians today. With proper consideration, they can make more emotionally resonant music that affects listeners at a deeper level. Since there's been no clear answer on how to get musicians paid more fairly for their work, allocating resources to get a greater creative result can help musicians get past the tough hand they get dealt in today's music business by establishing a deeper emotional bond with listeners.

Righting The Wrongs Of The Creativity Industrial Complex

There's a massive creative self-help industrial complex that pumps out articles of half-truths all day. This book is written to correct many of the misconstrued quotations in these articles each day by applying them to a musical context. I've read far too many articles that oversimplify creative dilemmas to "this is the cure for every problem" or butcher quotes from famous people. Instead, it’s time to discuss what the common advice really means for musicians’ decisions. Since the word creativity didn’t come along until 1870 and wasn’t in widespread use until the 1950s, we’re still only beginning to get good at discussing it.

Most of what musicians are taught about the subject ranges from flat-out false to lacking a crucial detail that gets overlooked, resulting in many of the toxic relationships and unfulfilled visions littered throughout musicians’ lives. I found remedies for the most common breakdowns in the creative process while gaining insight into how to see them more accurately. I hope this book gives greater deliberation to your creative decisions as well as understanding how to cultivate an environment that makes you happier with the music you make. The thoughts in this book aren't here to tell you what to do; they're to help you consider decisions that may benefit from more evaluation.

 In the internet age, the web content vultures circle to find an article to write about every exception to a rule, ignoring the common rules where most artists achieve the creative result they're looking for. The story of what works most of the time is rarely as interesting as the exception that makes an amazing creation in spite of the "rules." There's no doubt there will be times you can find an exception to some of the ideas in this book. Every example in this book has an exception, but I try to focus on best practices along with how science can help us improve ourselves. There are no rules to creativity, but knowing science, best practices and common rules can help you find the best ways to get the results you want.

A No-BS Approach

Popular books on creativity regularly talk about intangible concepts such as angels, muses and gods. Too often in the past, authors of these books have equated what they don't understand or haven't researched to be intangible with an uncontrollable mystique instead of concepts that can be discovered, enhanced or influenced by applying emerging scientific research or common psychological techniques. Even worse, what authors don't understand or sufficiently research, they chalk up to unknown mysteries with no rational explanation. Sadly, the subject isn't thoroughly researched by those who traffic in it, since by nature they'd rather be creating than researching.

I pored over scientific papers, thousands of interviews, a hundred some-odd books, documentaries and years of active practice to draw correlations and actionable ways you can get past blocks to get an outcome you're happy with. I've written these ideas in a simple way that leaves little guessing about intangible concepts and instead gives you actionable methods to get the creative results you want.

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.