Pay Attention






I listen to a lot of music. But I rarely just listen to music. Instead, I keep it on in the background while I send emails and texts; I pause and unpause whatever’s playing to watch movie trailers on YouTube. The music typically sits beneath another task/activity, demoted to little more than white noise.





Maybe I don’t really listen to much music, then; it depends on what counts as “listening.” Let’s skip the obvious semantic debate and get to the point: there’s something to be said for listening to music and only listening to music. (There’s something to be said for isolating any activity, I think.)

Good listening requires a certain awareness that isn’t possible when your mind’s divided between tasks. Stop doing other shit and listen closely.




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Scram – Come On (Empire Mix)

Gotta Get Up to Get Down






People like stories. We’ve been telling them for thousands of years, huddled around campfires and kitchen tables.

People also like songs. We’ve been making them and listening to them for just as long.

The two art forms are, I submit, structurally identical. Great stories and great songs (and any art form that follows a linear start-to-finish flow) both deal with the proper escalation and release of tension.






It’s not surprising that words we use to describe the plot of a story—beginning, conflict, resolution, end—have near-perfect partners in words we use to describe the flow of a song—intro, buildup, breakdown, outro.

We’ve all read books and seen movies that make us think, “When the fuck is something going to happen?” And we’ve all heard muzak that feels flat and uninspired. The root cause of the boredom is identical: no build up, no release.




The rules are pretty simple: build it up, then break it down.

Good luck.




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Sultans of Swing – Move It To The Left (Rise Mix)




Do Something About It



We’ve all got good ideas. All of us. All the time.

But few actually execute any of these good ideas. We keep talking about the book we’ll write or the company we’ll found, yet keep finding excuses to put these things off. We talk and talk and talk about how tomorrow or next week or next year we’re gonna hunker down and get to work. Most of us.





The world’s creative leaders aren’t necessarily the people with the best ideas. They’re simply the ones who turn ideas into finished products. Creativity requires action.

Writers write.
Painters paint.
Singers sing.

Stop talking about that awesome thing you’re going to make. Go make it.


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Electric Lush (Original Mix)

Double-Edged Shotgun


If you want to be a successful musician, you’ve got to take risks. No guitarist ever blew up by being derivative; no cover band ever topped the charts. But once you’re successful, risk-taking is also the best way to screw yourself over and ruin your career.

Taking risks is easy (and necessary) when you’re a nobody with no record deal and no money and no fans and no mortgage and no kids. But once you “make it,” there’s so much at stake that it sorta makes sense to not take risks. Because if you’re at the top, the only place you can go is down.





Suppose, for example, you’re an unkown musician who wants to bring a dog on stage during a performance. (I know it’s a silly example, but stick with me.) If you’re playing to a single-digit crowd in a poorly-lit, badly-ventilated stage in the middle of Cleveland, you’ll be able to pull off the dog-on-stage thing no sweat; just call your friend who owns a dog and tell her to swing by at 8 and you’ll get her some free beer.

But if you’re famous, the whole dog-on-stage thing is a logistical nightmare. You need to find the right dog and make sure it’s properly trained by some obedience expert (your label/manager is still uneasy about the whole idea). And you’ll need insurance too, in case the dog jumps off the stage and bites a quick-to-litigate spectator. Oh, and don’t forget to give PETA a heads and make sure they’re OK with it, lest the whole event turn into some PR nightmare. Then maybe put some flyers around the venue explaining that yes, there will be a dog on stage, and if you’re allergic to dogs here’s who to contact about a refund. Ugh. All of a sudden something as simple as bringing a dog on stage turns into one enormous hassle. You’ll probably just say “forget it” and nix the idea altogether.





But risk-taking doesn’t just get harder and more complicated with success. It also gets, well, riskier. Because with success comes a new mentality of “don’t mess this up.” You realize you’ve been pigeonholed as, say, a punk band, and that people like you because you’re a punk band. So if you want to start playing polka your fans will feel alienated and angry and cheated. (“False advertising, man! Play your old stuff!” yells someone in the front.) Now you feel like you’re stuck doing whatever you started doing, whenever you started doing it. Which totally sucks. Because your fans are in the creative driver’s seat, so to speak, and you’re trying to please other people.





That explains why a lot of musicians eventually turn into weird parodies/imitations of themselves and release the same album every 1-5 years (or maybe take tiny steps in a new direction but never stray so far as to actually risk upsetting any old/current fans). I get it; but I’d still rather see my favorite musician try something new and fail than do the same stuff from two years ago. The old album isn’t going away.





So here’s my advice to any aspiring musicians: once you get to the top, don’t forget how you got there. Take chances. Risk pissing people off. You don’t owe your fans anything. And if you’re not gonna do something new, don’t do anything at all. There’s something really ugly and profoundly sad about a musician who does the same stuff over and over.


Rockstars don’t sell out; they bitch out.




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Broken Bells – Meyrin Fields (Sub Swara Remix)


Gross Domestic Creativity



Gutenberg never wrote a novel. He didn’t write much at all, really. But he developed technology (the printing press) that let others become novelists. New media develop over time; it’s refreshing that creativity is inherently part of economic/technical progress.



The above paragraph is neither anti- nor pro-capitalism, but it’s maybe worth noting that most modern inventions come from companies rather than individuals. It’s anecdotally true (how many people do you know who’ve invented something? how many companies do you know that haven’t?) and statistically true (the majority of patents are given to corporations rather than people). It’s like we’ve just gone over some weird metaphysical complexity hump, the other side of which renders individual invention impossible. Adobe, Rane, Apple, Moog, Akai, Sony, Avid—these companies build software and products that are so rich, intricate and powerful that a person literally couldn’t make them alone.



So maybe there is, in some sense, a weird trickle-down pro-creativity effect of capitalism. The end goal of a capitalist society might be maximized profit, but the citizenry gets some cool synthesizers and paint along the way. Half-assed economics aside, my feelings on the matter are a lot simpler: it’s nice that other people make things that let me make things.


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Big Crunch Theory – Arrows (Juan McLean Remix) UhOhDisco.com