The Suck Factor

I was talking to an artist I met the other day & was intrigued that he was not only getting by with his art, but that he was living a pretty good life from it. Most of what he makes sells out pretty fast, and it’s not like he lives in a big city, so I was impressed. Naturally, I had to investigate what made him tick & what separated him from all the starving artists.

I already had learned that he was very good at what he did so I figured that he obviously was born with quite a gift.

well… yes & no…

He definitely had a gift, but it wasn’t as an artist. A least not from the start. His gift had more to do with his ability to plan for what most artists would consider red flags for any artistic pursuit. Sucking.

Where most people would try something once & fail, try again maybe a year or 2 later, failed again, then give up, he didn’t look at things the same way. His art of choice was ceramics, something I tried once or twice and gave up (anyone need an ashtray?). What really surprised me is the story he told me & how he viewed his experience.  It’s not the way most of us approach things or define the experience at all.

Apparently, this artist was far from naturally gifted at ceramics. I guess he started off as a hell of an ashtray sculptor himself, but he came from a physics background & instead of feeling like a failure, he looked at his artistic venture in a more scientific way. If one approach didn’t work, he would take note and try again slowly improving his technique.  Sometimes it would take 10 or 20 tries just to figure out where the issue in the process was. It seemed that in his mind, he already knew he would nail it given enough time. Keep in mind that he wasn’t even thinking yet about selling or even showing his work. He was still getting the process down.

After about 1000 attempts he was prepared to show his work & people bought it up right away. Some things obviously sold better than others. There was also pricing to keep in mind. He didn’t want a $20 piece to devalue his $500 pieces but he knew he needed both to make a good living. He didn’t really have an artistic conflict about one thing selling better than another because he simply enjoyed the process of creating, not necessarily the specific piece. He knew that his art was a job, a job he could love, but a job nonetheless.

This really hit me hard and made me take a good look at my creative beliefs, my work ethic & my definition of failure & success. Was I willing to try something 10 times? 100? 1000 times? until I had mastered my creative art? If I am being honest, I’d have to say no & the reason for that is that I was defining failure as a certain number of times I don’t succeed. Sound familiar?

Remember, there is a huge difference between the art you make and the art you share. Don’t let the art you are making now deter you. If your goal is to be great at something, plan for a lot of sucking & missing the mark. Try not to let it get you down.

Remember that many people have to go to college for 4-8 years before they are prepared to do what they do well. Can you imagine someone judging their architecture skills on what they were about to accomplish & understand after a week of schooling? So why then would we judge ourselves on our art or music before we put in the proper amount of time? From that point of view it sounds a bit silly doesn’t it?

Now once you become a “natural” at one aspect of music, don’t think you weren’t meant to explore another style just because your work is not nearly up to par with the style you excel at. How about making 100 attempts at it before you judge?

I can give you a perfect example for myself in how I will use this new process. I am not great with many soft synths. My strengths would be Ableton’s Operator, Subtractor (reason), and TAL’s Juno 106 clone. Most soft synths I just poke around on the presets, tweak the knobs I understand & then use EQ, Filter & fx to get an interesting sound. If I don’t get the sound I’m looking for, I go back to the familiar. This, I must admit, slows me down & limits my options.

You could argue that less options is a good thing & I would strongly agree, however I believe that too many options mainly becomes a problem if you are not already skilled or familiar with the tools you are using. For example, you can’t have too many words in your vocabulary unless you have no idea what the words mean & how to use them in a conversation.

What I’ll have to do to get better at more synths is put the breaks on making songs & take a week (or a month) on 1 new soft synth until I can consider myself proficient at it. Then I can add it as another option. I predict that doing this process a couple times will make the process go a bit faster each time as I find similarities and common themes among different tools.

What is it that you can apply this to?

What is it that you think you are a failure at?

Do you think you will still be a failure after 100 or more attempts?

Are you willing to let go of instant gratification to allow yourself to improve at whatever pace is necessary?

If the art you make doesn’t satisfy you, pat yourself on the back for the improvements you made since your last attempt & then refocus on perfecting your weaknesses in your next attempt.  When you attempt something new, set aside some time for the “suck factor”. Maybe that’s why they call it suck-cess 🙂

Happy music making,

Jason

 

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