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.