I have been focused on my career as a composer for over 20 years now.
In those 20 years I have received a great deal of advice. Some helpful and some not at all. Some I would probably class more as an insult than advice.
There are however three pieces of advice that have completely changed my life for the better, both as a creative person and a human being.
1. Whether you feel like it or not, do the work
I didn’t always know this lesson in that exact terminology. For years I simply followed the rule that I would create regardless of how I feel.
That has and still is an absolute game changer.
As a creative person I am prone to feeling my emotions very strongly and that can manifest into a very bad mood.
These bad moods aren’t always being angry. They can be feeling exhausted, sad, or even just feeling “MEH!”.
When I feel like this I am not in the mood to do anything let alone be creative.
So simply forcing myself to do the work anyway has been amazing for the simple fact that sitting down and doing something often lifts my bad mood.
I come away from my work session feeling much better and having something to show for it too.
It was not until recently that I heard the phrase, “Action precedes motivation” from a YouTuber I follow called Matt D’Avella (although I think Robert J McKain said it first).
When I heard him say these words I realised that it was a much more eloquent way of saying “do the work anyway no matter how you feel”.
It harks back to something I wrote in my book Guaranteed Inspiration, that you don’t always have to feel motivated to do the action. Do the action first and you will find that your actions have created the motivation.
Or as I like to see it, your actions have cleared the blockage for you to feel the constant flow of creative energy that we all have.
As a composer what this meant was that I was no longer a slave to my energy levels or mood I could just produce music at any point during the day.
This is not to say that there are not times when you feel more productive or more focused but it stopped being a reason for me not to work.
2. Little and Often
I spent 6 years of my life attached to musical instruments.
Not because I was in some living nightmare where instruments get sewn to you whilst you sleep.
I just thirsted to understand music and to be able to express myself on as many musical instruments as possible.
I actually got pretty good at the guitar and was lucky enough to play on stage with the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith.
What this all taught me was that talent means a lot less that most people give it credit for.
Talent is vastly overshadowed by consistency and perseverance.
Practice makes perfect.
Eventually I started teaching music as a peripatetic guitar teacher. I did this in many school over a period of 7 years.
The best students I ever had were not the most “talented” or even the most “musical”. My best students were the ones who put in a little practice everyday.
They practiced a little bit each day.
Little and often.
This small amount of practice starts to compound and the improvements those students began to see were amazing.
This is similar to the 1% principle that James Clear talks about in his book, Atomic Habits. That if you improve by 1% every day for one year, you will be 37% better by the time you are done.
As a composer this translated to write music everyday no matter how little.
Over the years I got better, faster, and more confident in my writing and now can look back at a back catalog of hundreds of albums worth of music.
3. Done Is Better Than Perfect
I have a reputation in the Trailer Music world for being a very speedy composer. I have been known to produce whole albums in a day or several albums over a period of a few weeks.
As a result I often get asked the question, “How do you produce so much music so quickly?”
The answer is that I do not chase perfection.
In fact I openly welcome the idea that perfectionism is insecurity masked in workmanship.
What I mean by that is that there is a tendency to think it is ok to chase “the perfect idea” for the sake of art, respect, self worth etc.
What is really happening is that you are too scared to share your work for fear of being ‘discovered as a fake’...yes, imposter syndrome.
“If I always say the track is not finished then I can’t be judged for it not being good enough”
Or something like that.
This isn’t healthy.
My motto is:
Done is better than perfect.
Produce the work and share it with the world.
If I waited till each of my ideas was ready I would be loaded up with a ton of “unfinished” tracks.
I am blessed to work with producers who give their own advice as to how to finish a track and they love that part of their job. I produce a demo that I like and send it off whether it is close to finished or not.
What this idea has done is that it has allowed me to let go of my ego’s attachment to my work, to let go of this notion of there only being a limited amount of ideas in the world.
It has set me free of worry and anxiety that my work is not good enough…mostly.
Create. Have Fun. Let Go
If I were to surmise what these three lessons have taught me it is that I need to create, have fun, and let go.
This is what I want you to practice this week;
- Take action whether you want to or not
- Do it as often as possible
- Get it as close to done as possible and then let it go (share, release etc.)