Why (in my experience) its best to keep creating, ignore self imposed limitations and telling yourself you can’t do things because you need stuff…..
I’ve realised over time that the main thing that stops people accomplishing their goals, more often than not, is themselves. I know it’s true in my case and some of my friends, especially when it comes to music and self promotion or just keeping creating. As soon as you invent a need in your head for something to be a certain way, have a certain sound, have a level of quality or improve over the last thing it tends to bring things to a halt. It becomes a reason something “can’t be done”.
I’ve thought for a while it would be good to get out there some of my ideas about music and creativity as I’ve really struggled at times, to the point where in my head I’ve “stopped” doing music. Thankfully I’ve managed to change my perspective and keep involved in various aspects of it over the years.
The main solution I’ve worked out as I’ve struggled with the mental barriers I’ve put up for myself is the only way to keep creating is to keep creating. What ever equipment you have (or don’t have), band mates / collaborators you think you need or even skills you’re missing absolutely CAN NOT stop you from sitting down and in some way creating.
If you’re a creative person, it’s an itch you need to scratch, or it works away at you and unsettles you. This can cause major life issues and general unhappiness.
In my late teens and early 20’s I was in a frequently gigging band. We practiced weekly and played often and it was a major part of life. I grew up playing guitar based music with actual people. As grown up life took over, we had less and less time available to get together and it eventually fizzled out. I spent a good few years not doing anything, with my equipment gathering dust. This created a massive gap, almost as if part of me wasn’t getting used.
Eventually the cracks began to show and I decided that if I couldn’t get together with people I’d just have to “learn” electronic music so I could work on things on my own whilst working away. I bought Reason 2.0 (I think) for my windows laptop with the aim of seeing where it would take me. I’d enjoyed Bjork, Massive Attack and Portishead but was by no means an electronic music fan. I certainly didn’t understand the software I would be using or how to get the most out of it.
I vividly remember thinking “I’m going to have to get into electronic music more”, which was strange to make a conscious thought to alter, to some degree, my music taste to enable me to make music. It was a genuinely Damascene moment when I dropped all the baggage that was stopping me doing things and just started messing around and having fun with music. I also discovered some amazing music that I may not have discovered if I hadn’t of broadened my horizons a bit.
Off the back of that I completed a few tracks that I still think hold up today and built a bit of momentum. Initially just using a windows laptop, Reason and consumer earbuds, more often than not in my downtime whilst working offshore, because I had less time at home due to family life. Now I regularly spend time making music and have a few DIY releases and collaborations I’m proud of but more importantly I regularly take time to do something that makes me happy. I still, however make much more music sat in a tiny cabin on an offshore oil rig on my laptop than at home where I have all of the trimmings.
The key to gaining momentum was stopping procrastinating over what I didn’t have (time and people to play with) and actually just make the most of what I did have. It’s better to do anything than nothing.
There’s definitely an element of the fast paced, instant gratification modern lifestyle at work here, too. You have all of the great sounding music in the world at you fingertips, all the reference books and all the gear guides. Life is busy, if you’re in full time education, have a full time job and / or family it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees and carve out the time for creating. If you’re not in that situation there’s still the impression that everything good comes quickly and should be amazing all the time. Good things take time, imperfection isn’t a killer.
Do you flog away at something repeatedly trying to perfect it and use all of your precious time and energy to get something perfect? Or do you temper expectations, learn from it and move on to the next idea? The key is knowing your limitations and the limitations of your equipment. You might legitimately not be able to resolve whatever is bugging you at that time. In that case, work out the issue and work towards resolving it in the long term. Either shelve the project and move on to revisit it later or just accept that this is the end product and the sum of its parts. Do what you want to do with it. What I advise against is using lots of precious, finite energy trying to herd wasps. Remember it’s a “long game” and aim to improve your gear / ability and thin out those limitations over time, however it’s important that the limitations don’t stop you from creating or you’ll never move forward. Even just putting something to one side overnight can give you a fresh perspective the next day. I’ve came back to a difficult track after months or years and managed to get something out of it that had previously been elusive, most likely due to a fresh perspective or ideas stemming from experiences I’d had in the interim.
Also, with the time restrictions a lot of casual creatives face, try not to use “I’ve only got 15 minutes, there’s no point” stop you from at least opening up the laptop and having to listen to something, giving something a tweak or starting a quick loop. It’s still better than 15 minutes on Candy Crush. For this, it does help to have a dedicated space where your equipment is set up but you can still put things in place to help you make the most of little blocks of time. When you finish a block of work, mix it and send it to your phone to review later, have some music apps on your phone that are easy to cobble a quick loop together, etc.
It’s very very easy to trick yourself into thinking something can’t or shouldn’t be done now due to various limitations. I implore the reader to ignore those thoughts whenever they crop up and do what you can with what resources you have. Embrace your limitations, tailor your methods to the limitations or use them as a stylistic theme. Build on them and eradicate the limitations as you go. Buy another mic here, better interface there, but don’t fall into the trap that you need to wait for the stuff to write your next song.
Read almost any biography of successful musicians and you’ll see they (almost always) started with nothing, used what they could get their hands on and it was just time and commitment (and often a bit of luck, but we make our own luck I suppose) that pushed them up the ladder.
I’d rather listen to a phone recording of something awesome than a expensively produced turd any day of the week.
Do some stuff.