We are all parrots

But even parrots can build beautiful things.


This blog is partly self-reflection, and partly a step in the process of building compounding good habits.

But it is also about creating a platform and collection of content that I can use in the future to build beautiful things.
(In the not too distant future I’m going to start writing about my music-making process, and linking to my songs here. So if you want to be part of that journey, watch this space.)

As I have been putting the pieces in place for a future that includes exercising my creativity and getting paid for it, I realise I keep using the phrase:

“Build beautiful things.”

This idea captivates and motivates me, in no small part because most of my last 8 years have been spent doing what I must (read: lots of admin) to help pay the bills.

That is no insignificant thing, but as the years passed and I kept saying “I will get back to writing music eventually“, I lost contact with that animating force that powered me through tight deadlines and late nights at 13thFLOOR.

See, back then I was in the honeymoon phase. And while writing music was my job, it was also my bride; the most beautiful thing in my life that, no matter the expectations or frustrations, kept me completely captivated.

Then I left the fertile creative space that was 13thFLOOR, and the honeymoon went with it. And we fell into the rhythm of so many quietly unhappy relationships, constantly in each other’s space but quality time a celebrated memory, approached in flushes of nostalgia but otherwise completely ignored.


Two things have held me back from writing more music. (This is actually true of most creative endeavours in my life, now that I think of it.)

The first is an urgent need to be original. For as long as I can remember, I have always looked for a different angle, a new perspective, a fresh way of saying or doing something. I’m not certain if this is a character thing, a therapy thing or something else entirely, but it is so core to my process I can’t imagine doing life any other way.

In a creative industry at a time where anyone with a laptop and a few ideas can make great music, the subconscious drive to be “original” can be suffocating. And my Friday ritual of listening to new releases on Apple Music just amplify that there is truly nothing new under the sun. So instead of writing through the shit to get to the gold, I would get started, get bored and stop.

The second thing is my tendency towards detail-focused perfectionism. You see, most people I know of write music in one of two ways:

  1. Write lyrics
  2. Add a basic song structure
  3. Mess with the arrangement until it clicks
  4. Ship it

 

Or

  1. Take a good melody / musical idea
  2. Create a basic song structure with it
  3. Add lyrics
  4. Refine it
  5. Ship it

 

My process most of the time — when I don’t impose strict constraints —  is something along the lines of:

  1. Come up with an awesome groove or 10 second concept
  2. Clone the groove / concept and mess with the arrangement
  3. Get to about 1 minute’s worth of content, and realise that I’m not happy with so many details, because “they are the soul of the song” (or whatever other bullshit my subconscious sells me to get me into perfection mode).
  4. Spend the rest of the time I have available (and often more besides) messing with individual midi notes, refining drum grooves, and generally hyperfocusing on the details instead of writing a whole song
  5. Shut down Logic happy that I wrote something, but frustrated that it is yet ANOTHER 1-minute clip that went nowhere

 

I know I can do a lot with those 1-minute clips, given time.

The issue is that my perfectionism feeds off my need for originality. So instead of coming back to that clip later — because perfecting is so much more work than creating — I play with a new idea. And so the cycle goes on.


What does this have to do with parrots, you may be wondering?

The thing is — as Picasso and Austin Kleon say far more eloquently than I — mostly everything that we create today is largely inspired by or derived from someone else’s work.

(In related news, I read the other day that some smart dudes built an algorithm to write every single possible melody, then released them all under the CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license to “head off costly infringement litigation that can hobble creative freedom.” So technically, no pop thing I ever write will be truly original. ~sighs)

Even Solomon (scholars think) felt this tension about 2400 years ago (and that was before the internet and mind-bending algorithms):

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Eccl. 1:9

 

We are all parrots.

Everything has already been said; everything has already been created. We’re just repeating it back into infinitely patient ears of history.

So unburden yourself from perfect originality, and just build beautiful things.

Because even while it is not new, in your context, it is.

Because even while it is not perfect, it is good enough.

(And as a bonus, regularly building beautiful things will also build generative habits. Yay!)

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