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Music Life: 10 - Allowing Yourself To Create Crap
By Brian Donovan - 07/15/2009 - 03:51 PM EDT

Hi.  So, another month has gone by and I’ve been so busy with road work, creating music in my home studio and family life, that this monthly bit of advice seems to have fallen off my radar again.  Although, this event ties in nicely with a very important topic that we all face...even me.

I live in Los Angeles.  And if you were watching PBS on July 4th (assuming you know who I work for quite often) you’ll know that I was in our nation’s capital for the holiday.  We did an 8 day stretch of road work (travel days, rehearsals, Pittsburgh, Rochester...) around a 4th of July performance I can only describe as a career high.  Wonderful memories and pictures for a life time of great nostalgia.  AND, a TON of ideas that were born out of quieter moments...ALL of which I recorded on my iphone’s voice recorder.

Okay, now that I’m home, how many of those ideas are great enough to work on?  Hmmmmm....listening back to them now as I sit here: probably 3 (out of 34.)  Am I stressed that the percentage is so low?  No.  I simply gave myself time to weed through the bad ideas.  Why are there bad ideas in the first place?  Because I gave myself time to create crap.  And WHY would I do that?  Because the 3 great ideas are things I would’ve never let myself record had my filter been on when I was recording.  IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO SAY AGAIN: Because the 3 great ideas are things I would’ve never let myself record had my filter been on when I was recording.

Here’s the theory: when you have a creative idea, you instantly try to “improve it” with your “education and knowledge” ...bad idea.  Usually, you can’t second guess a great idea.  A good idea can be second guessed into a great one, but honestly, who are we to second guess the divine muse?!  I definitely cannot.

So, how to shut off the filter?  Good question.  Here’s how I do it:

Understand that the only reason we have a filter in the first place is because of society.  We’re all looking to be recognized for our musical brilliance on some level.  So forget that.  The best way to forget it?  Force yourself to write and record an idea you know is NOT a hit.  In fact complete something that is NOT EVEN a song!  Or even good enough to play for other people.  And do it the best you can.  Then don’t play it.  Keep it.  But don’t play it for anyone but yourself.  Consider it a gift to yourself.

Okay, why would you do that?  To prove to yourself that it’s okay.  You don’t always have to create a hit song, or even an alright song.  I have plenty of songs that are downright silly, completely lame, blatantly crass or just plain bad.  I even have a couple that got assigned names even though they are just noise that I recorded.  And that makes me alright with the idea that sometimes I will just explore what my ears feel like hearing.  That’s the emotional side of allowing yourself to create crap.  Now here’s the all-important organizational part:

I have recently switched to an iphone (you can hear my excitement by the fact that I have mentioned it a couple times already, right?)  ;)  and this revelation (given my love for technology) has opened me up to not having my laptop permanently attached to my hip.  I use my iphone for almost everything (I’m even exploring the idea of having it be the remote for my car to lock and unlock the doors!) and thus, I now leave my laptop in the studio for creating music and doing more intensive searches for gigs, etc.  Doing that keeps all my organizational tools in my hand and has the computer be the backup when I sync my iphone.  It’s a handy system that even includes writing lyrics on my phone, and then having it sync with the program I use on my mac.  Thus, my creativity is all backed up without me thinking about it and with the phone always available in my pocket, I can write and/or record my ideas anytime . . . anywhere.

That leaves me with a TON of ideas to sort through...UGH, right?  Nope.  Here’s the easiest way out of the heap of ideas you have daily, weekly, monthly...

Listen to the ideas any chance you get.  Bored at the airport?  Driving to work?  Waiting in line for a sandwich?  Pull out the ideas (in my case, on my phone) and listen to a few.  Listen to just one.  It doesn’t matter, just REALLY listen to it.  And either keep it cause you hear where it can go AND YOU’RE EXCITED TO TAKE IT THERE, or delete it.  There is no middle road with this.  You either love it or you don’t.

* * * * And if you don’t love it now, you won’t love it enough to finish it later. * * * *

By keeping an idea that doesn’t excite you, you overwhelm your desire to let new ideas flow out of you.  Don’t do that!  Because then you’re just stuck with the so-so ideas that don’t get you jazzed up to complete them!  Yipes!

- - Side note here, I have so many ideas daily, that I utilize “smart playlists” in itunes.  I know not everyone uses iphones, macs, or even itunes, but I’ll give you my system and let you determine if something that I do can be applied to whatever technology you have. - -

So, I record all the ideas that I have onto my iphone, sync the iphone when I get home with my itunes library and every recording, gets dumped into a smart playlist.  If you don’t know, that’s a playlist in itunes that automatically sorts files based on pre-set criteria.  In this case, every idea is a file and when it gets synced up with itunes, it has no star-rating attached to it.  So I’ve set up a “VOICE MEMO TO SORT” smart playlist that automatically compiles every “voice memo” with a rating of “0 stars” from my library.  If I then listen to an idea on my iphone, and assign it 1 star - that means it’s crap.  It will automatically be sorted out of the “voice memo to sort” playlist and occasionally, when I’m in front of itunes, I will search for all “1 star” rated files and delete them.  If I were to assign it 5 stars, well, then it’s automatically sorted into another smart playlist of GREAT IDEAS to file away for later use.  This way, I can sort at will, and never get confused because after the simple act of listening and rating each idea, the computer’s doing all the work for me.  Try using this idea with your own itunes library and iphone or ipod.  If you don’t have those items, try using the principle with your own setup.

As for this article not getting done on time every month, I’ve NOW set myself up to write it on my iphone while I’m out traveling for work.  Let’s see if that helps me stay on target...

Next time, we’ll discuss creating the perfect songwriting studio.

Until then, appreciate the horizon...

Brian Donovan is a songwriter/composer in Los Angeles, CA, graduate of Berklee College of Music and has been working in the music industry for over 12 years.  Check out Brian’s newest CD: “Mugu Point” at his website:

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