Category Archives: Do It Yourself
How to write and produce songs yourself.
A few weeks ago, Derek Sivers (best known for founding CD BABY, but now a dedicated philanthropic helper of up and coming creative people…visit www.sivers.org) e-mailed me to ask if I would read and APPLY “Ignore Everybody – And 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh MacLeod to my creative endeavors and my business. He was clear that he did not want a book review. Anyone can do that. He expressly asked that I consider how the book‘s contents might be applied to the development of my own artistic creativity and associated business of music, and then report those actual and potential applications, or lack thereof, on my blog (i.e., this site), so that other artists might benefit from it. I thought it was a great idea.
In exchange for doing this analysis, and writing about it in depth, Derek was willing to provide me with a complimentary copy of the text, mine to keep (I think…), which I just received in the mail from him. It seems like a fair trade, and it is quite an honor to be able to tap two of my strongest creative passions at the same time – MUSIC and WRITING.
I look forward to faithfully (and promptly) reading and internalizing the book‘s passages with respect to my art and business, and I will regularly post my interpretations here like a parent penguin regurgitating a pre-digested meal for consumption by its eager and receptive offspring (you!). OK, perhaps not the most appealing analogy…
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This opportunity from Derek tickles me pink. It confirms for me so many beliefs about the power of believing in yourself, thinking positive, and pursuing your dreams regardless of what the world may think. My first thought was, “Why should I be so lucky?” But my second thought was, “Why the hell shouldn’t I be so lucky?” I have faced my fear and risked a lot to pursue my artistic dream. I’m quite honored, but by no means undeserving. I have “done my time,” as they say. Although, one never really finishes their time, I think.
It’s actually somewhat ironic, if you think about it. The book is called “Ignore Everybody”. But I might subtitle it “Ignore Everybody – except Derek Sivers, or else you might miss out on something really cool.”
Well, I’ve preambled this post far too long, so let’s get on with it.
As a self-employed artist who voluntarily parted with “corporate America” to pursue my artistic dreams, luxury expenditures of this sort usually require careful consideration, and often a trip to the library rather than a book store. It was on my AMAZON wish list, where it was likely to remain for the indefinite future.
So it was with great excitement that I received and accepted Derek‘s kind offer to “barter” intellectual property in this way. Much greater was my pleasure when this opportunity actually came to fruition and I received my copy of “Ignore Everybody – And 39 Other Keys to Creativity” in my mailbox just after Christmas.
I had retrieved the mail late at night, just as I returned home from a music gig in Madison, WI. I think it was about 2:30 AM. Fatigue consuming me, I nonetheless hungrily tore open the packaging and sat down to consume the preface and the book’s first chapter, not surprisingly entitled “Ignore Everybody”.
Thankfully, each of the 40 chapters in this efficient little book are short, concise and dense with concepts rather than facts and wordiness. With eyes half closed and a mind wandering in the direction of my bedroom irrespective of my literary desires, one particular passage leapt out at me in Chapter 1.
This chapter conveys the simple concept that good ideas (and the pursuit of them) alter the nature of our relationships with those around us. When you decide to pursue a great new idea, people who are used to the commonplace are sometimes thrown. They are used to interacting with you in a certain way, and when asked to accept you another way, they balk and experience a “cognitive dissonance” of sorts. Their belief in the way you have been and are “supposed” to be changes as you change to accommodate the pursuit of your creative ideas.
I’ve discussed the CREATIVE PROCESS previously on this site. When you conceive of something you wish to CREATE, an iterative process occurs where you assess your internal and external world to determine if your circumstances will lead you in the direction of your creative goal, and if they don’t, you then decide what changes must be made to reach your goal. If you truly desire and believe in the goal, you make these changes regardless of what others will think. Thus, you often have to ignore people.
Ignore everybody? Well, that’s a bit strong. Some people shouldn’t be ignored. If I had ignored Derek Sivers, I would probably be sleeping right now, and thus completely useless to the world. But now I feel empowered and perhaps useful to you, if you are still reading. And I actually don’t like ignoring the critics of my music (and writing). I don’t ignore them at all. I don’t always agree with them, but I listen to them because they help me be better and improve where I need improvement. I guess “ignore everybody” sounds nicer than “disagree with everybody.” I get that.
For example, my girlfriend Tracy and I just co-wrote a poignant sorrowful non-romantic love song called “Mia”, that I produced in my home studio. I’m a self-taught producer. My studio is decent, but I know I’m never going to produce more than high quality song DEMOS there, for commercial use by others. I know some critics will hammer me on recording quality and production. Bring it on. I want to know where I can improve.
And the song has a terrible title, frankly. “They” say never use a person’s name in a song title. We ignored “them.” It’s based on a true story of a child angel whose name was Mia, so we named it that in tribute. Does that hurt our chances for licensing the song? Maybe a little bit. It certainly doesn’t convey any particular theme. But presumably a music producer or publisher seeking non-romantic love ballads will judge the song on its merits, not its title. (NOTE TO READERS: If you’d like to propose a new title for this song, please comment below or E-MAIL ME.)
But we didn’t ignore the actual song reviews people gave us. We posted the song on BROADJAM.COM, since I’m a full-fledged member, and subjected it to the peer review process offered there. We read the reviews, especially the negative ones. I kind of know from gut instinct what is weak and what is strong in any given song. The negative feedback confirms what we know and points out areas for improvement. In any artistic pursuit, one of the goals must be advancement toward some Platonic ideal of perfection, regardless of whether you ever get there. Knowing what is good about the art is cool, but unhelpful in advancing the art form. Negative critiques provide the fodder for improvement. So we don’t ignore the reviewers and critics.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. We actually did somewhat ignore the reviews and critiques we received from friends and family. These people are (no offense) THE WORST critics. They want to be supportive and non-critical, which renders them useless for determining the areas for improvement. Occasionally, the persnickety (wow, I actually spelled that right…) friend or two will give you their “honest opinion.” But most critiques from friends and family can be completely ignored after a cursory listen, unless you are feeling down and need a boost for your ego. But egos take a pummeling in the creative arts and they should be kept locked in the tool shed for most of their natural born lives, as evidenced by the CRAIGSLIST ADS for musicians that state in no uncertain terms – “no egos!”
The pursuit of creativity results in change, and change throws some people, often the ones who love and care about you the most. For me it was my parents, life-long academics who had pursued their intellectual interests with a strong work ethic their whole lives. They were at first alarmed by my decision to quit a perfectly ordinary and fairly secure private sector job to pursue my dream of being a songwriter (first), a performing musician (second), and a freelance writer (third). I knew that I had to pursue my dream irrespective of any disappointment they might feel.
For the better part of 40 years, I had “listened to everybody” tell me I had to work hard at a good job to make a decent living so I could retire comfortably in old age…then die? I kept waiting for someone to explain when my dream manifestation would occur in that scenario. No one did. Finally, I started asking pesky questions. I tried to bring more of my passion and creativity into my “work life” and people didn’t like that one bit. Just as Hugh McLeod suggests in “Ignore Everybody”, change threatens peoples’ comfort zones and sometimes their prosperity (in the case of employers). The fear is irrational, but that doesn’t matter.
I encountered this fear of creativity numerous times in “corporate America,” and it was the principle reason that I “fired” my boss and jumped off the cliff into the abyss of self-employment, growing my wings as I did so. I am incredibly creative and I am quite good at harnessing my creativity for the pursuit of a vision. Perhaps I was too creative for the conservative company I worked for, because my ideas were systematically rejected, until the time came where my creativity had no outlet and I voluntarily freed it from its prison by quitting. Seemingly simple ideas, like having a company blog that customers could use to dialog about the company and its products, and serving as a way for the company to gauge customer satisfaction and guide customer service, were viewed as too radical. This is idea is not even considered new now. But this particular company, privately owned by family of the original founder, was still firmly situated in the mid-1960s, fully indoctrinated by the concepts of mass marketing and public relations via the popular press and, ironically, they pretty much “ignored everybody.” The problem was, they ignored the people with the good ideas.
I had explained to my family many times that while my corporate job (as a science writer) was on paper in accordance with my creative passions, I was unfortunate to work for a boss who stifled and crushed creativity whenever he found it, like a reptilian predator who chances upon a nocturnal herbivore caught accidentally in the light of day – and pounces. Once he realized my enjoyment of creative writing, he willfully re-purposed me to boring non-writing tasks and whenever I would request CHANGES that would allow me to write more, the requests were rejected. He even explicitly stated to me one day that were he to allow me to do more writing projects, he would “not be able to control me.” In retrospect, it is fascinating that Hugh McLeod describes this very phenomenon in one short paragraph of Chapter 1 of “Ignore Everybody.”
As he says, business colleagues, particularly superiors, are used to having a certain degree of control over you. Things that relieve them of this control, such as unfamiliar CREATIVITY, are “bad.” Their prosperity is dependent on their control of the situation. I agree that my boss would have relinquished a great deal of control in letting his reports be more creative, perhaps even to the point of making his job redundant and shortening his tenure there. I can certainly see how he may have perceived his job security being threatened by relaxing the leash on employee creativity.
That was the beginning of the end for me. The company ended up losing one of their most creative people…me! I had always viewed myself as somewhat of a free agent in the universe. A job was just a “profit center” for my grander vision in life. I used to say THE MAN was underwriting my music. But eventually, THE MAN’s demands were no longer tolerable or in keeping with my vision and I required CHANGE. On the one hand, I failed to “ignore everybody” for a long time. I won’t deny that I was scared sh*tless by the idea of quitting my job with nothing but my wits to support me. I deliberated for a long time and probably stayed at that job about five years too long. My total time there was eight years, but the first three of those were spent working with a refreshingly open minded and creative boss that I loved working for. Sadly, her creativity and desire for change were also threatening to the company “fathers” and she left the company, replaced by the aforementioned tyrant who lacked the slightest shred of creative vision. He was a perfect fit for the company, but not for me. Still, I remained stuck by fear.
I had started running 3 miles a day to help relieve my anxiety and stress with an increasingly unenjoyable workplace. These jogs put me in a thoughtful frame of mind and it was through these zen-like physical exertions that I drew closer to my goal of making changes in my life. If the company could not offer them, I would go elsewhere.
It was around that same time I read two very important books hat gave me a new outlook on things and also gave me the tools and the courage to make the necessary changes in the face of fear.
The first was “4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss and the second was “Making a Living Without a Job” by Barbara Winter. A synopsis of these screeds is beyond the scope of this post. But suffice it to say, if you are considering making CHANGES that will advance your creativity and your artistic/business goals, these books are a good starting point. There is no harm in reading a book, right? And if you are too busy working a job you hate to read books, that should speak for itself.
That’s about all I had. I promise my future posts about Hugh McLeod’s “Ignore Everybody” will be considerably less verbose. That may please some and sadden others. I can’t please everybody. But that’s the beauty of “Ignoring Everybody.”