Snare

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Rabbits. As I sit at the proverbial blank page that all creative people face, I always have a profound sense of infinite possibility. Oh the things we might do. But the real question we have to ask ourselves is what should we do. In a sea of infinite possibility, the happy, brilliant and productive among us are those who are able to winnow down to the essence of what they are attempting to accomplish. Multi-tasking once became a fashionable virtue, now it may be a weakness. One who tries to catch two rabbits at once, will ultimately catch none.

Heavy Breathing. I've had a little one-word phrase taped to my keyboard for years, "breathe." It's my way of reminding myself of a couple of things. Foremost, I actually need air now and then, and when I'm real caught up in the moment I could use a reminder to take a deep breath. But more importantly, this word reminds me to always try to write and produce music that has both action and repose. It's amazing how easy it is to over-produce music with all of the technology available at the click of a mouse. Whether it's writing for a real live "breathing" flute player or a complex drum loop, let there be air.

The Perfect Fool. Something I unfortunately learn over and over is that the quest for perfection is very bad. It's an illusion of control that consumes the mind's resources, bogs down creative thought and leaves you sitting on the floor in the corner rocking yourself for comfort. Striving for beauty however is a noble and useful mission; but clutch on to the dangerous goal of perfection and you'll end up forever in one place, never moving forward, never completing anything. Famed Beatles producer George Martin understood this well - he said that when mixing a record you're never really finished, you just eventually have to give up.

It’s Easy to Write Music, Right? It's a piece of cake to write music. All you have to do is to decide which notes to use and which ones not to use. Making the myriad of decisions necessary to create something requires a balance between experience and intuition. It’s kind of like a puzzle with both subjective and objective parameters. So what do we keep and what do we dump? We keep those things that serve the ultimate idea with a unique twist and dump the things that may only be there to serve our own egos.

With The Push of A Button. I had a well meaning ad client once who challenged my reputation for being level-headed and reasonable. After writing and recording a well liked piece of original cinematic, world-beat style music, they returned for a “jazzy” arrangement of the same composition. Great assignment right? But here’s where things became challenging. After outlining the costs and time needed to make the translation to a very different style, my client was incredulous; “why can't you just push the ‘jazz’ button on your computer and be done with it.” If it were only that easy. Hmm? Does the person you work for know all that goes into doing what you do? You might be surprised.

You Are What You Eat. When people discover that I work in music I'm almost always asked "what kind of music do you listen to?" And I always fight the urge to reply with a question right back at them; "what kind of food do you eat?" My listening includes most everything, just as a good diet contains a wide variety of foods. I love Thai but I wouldn't want to eat it every day. Treat yourself to something you might not normally listen to now and then, it will help keep your ears healthy.

It's In the Oven. We’ve all heard that “greatness can’t be rushed,” but what does this really mean? I believe it has to do with the fact that time must temper our ideas. They need to settle in to assure depth and find resonance. I also think that if we edit ideas as they creep up, we’re cheating ourselves. If we expect something to be perfect right out of the box, this creates a great deal of undue pressure and this may force us to make bad creative decisions. I like the simple process of first brainstorming, then allowing for fermentation and then execution. It yields the best harvest.

Can You Tell I Studied Psychology? I’ve always been interested in what inspires creativity in people. Ultimately it’s really just a stimulus that triggers a series of cerebral connections which leads to that coveted “ah-ha” result. For me it starts with what I call “collecting.” I might look at photographs, listen to strange music, watch a YouTube video of roller coasters or even kittens, take a walk in the city or just reflect upon life experiences; whatever it takes to get ideas flowing. A line from the movie “Pollack” says it all. To encourage him to break out of his own thinking, artist Jackson Pollack’s wife says to him “if you only work from within yourself, you'll repeat yourself.”

Are They Real or Fake? For years we had a marketing slogan at Mosaic Music; “Real Players, Real Results.” And it still holds true. I'm a firm believer in using live, breathing talent whenever I can. I will always push to include as many real artists in my work as possible. While all music producers have a complete arsenal of the latest and greatest computer simulated reality devices; the energy and experience that live players bring to a project is the magic that really pushes our buttons. Whether it’s a sax player in his 70’s or a dj in her 20’s, there is power in authenticity.

Ready, Set, Go. I spend lots of quality time on a piece before I write one note of music. The value of preparation and research is immense. For ad work I look at any past work for the brand or the category and ask, “what works, what falls short?” I try to find out what other brands are doing musically. And, of course, I listen to tons of music in and around the genre in which I’m writing. All of this preparation fuels me creatively because I allow myself the luxury of delving deeper into the idea and what the outcome needs to accomplish.

Oops, You're Brilliant! Mistakes and accidents as well as randomness, can be our friends. I remember when I was in college and thought I was cheating if I came upon brilliance as a mistake. It wasn't until I was doing a very in-depth paper on a favorite composer of mine Igor Stravinsky (Firebird, The Rite of Spring) that I saw the light. I uncovered a book in which he wrote about the delight he found in finding ideas that came to him as his hands accidentally happened upon the wrong keys of the piano. I've felt free to screw up gracefully ever since.

The Idea is King. In my opinion, ideas rule. Execution is important, but give me a raw, beautifully simple idea any day; one that has a hook and stays with you like a good meal. Think of all the movies, commercials, or songs you've experienced that were based on absolutely weak ideas but had tons of money thrown at their execution. The response? “That was stupid and a waste of my time.” We forget it or maybe worse yet, we don't like it but we're not sure just why. So why does this happen? It happens when we lose track of the 'big picture' reason there is for creating whatever it is we're creating. Always serve the idea and it will serve you.

Making the Sausage. The game of making advertising is one best played by those who possess the thickest of skins. Over the years I’ve seen many of my ad clients -all of whom are immensely gifted, charming, well mannered and good looking- wrestle with their clients to execute the great ideas that those very same clients had hired them to create in the first place. Beautifully conceived, clever work that would easily cut through the massive glut of messages that we receive every day, died on the vine due to a company's inability to let the ad agency do what they hired them to do in the first place. I try and bring this lesson with me to every one of my sessions by not over-managing the talent that I’ve hired and entrusted to help bring my music to life.

Abracadabra, You Have Feelings. Artists are magicians of a sort; able to take colors, shapes, movement, words, images, and in my case -vibrating air- and evoke feeling in another person, a notion or even a desire. This is not particularly easy to do nor is it done by accident, we work a lifetime to learn associations and are super-sensitive to nuances of the human experience. And like all good obsessive people, we who create are always fine tuning these perceptions day by day. And this is why we're so hard to figure out; at least that's what I tell my wife.