Just focus on not sucking

When making music, especially in the beginning, there is a LOT of pressure that artists put on themselves. Their first priority is usually to make music that all their friends will like. This can be a very slippery slope & I’ll let you in on a little secret.

Most people have bad taste

Steve Jobs put it brilliantly when he said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

The same thing can be applied to a good DJ. He doesn’t poll the crowd and ask them what they want to hear, he shows them what they need to hear. If you want to stand out from the herd of sheep, you should live by this.

There is a philosophy to my music making that is so ingrained in me that I often consciously forget it was there. From the time I first picked up a guitar I had no idea how to play, to manipulating synths, samples & computer screens, I’ve always had this approach.

Don’t worry about being amazing, just don’t suck

Not sucking sounds much less serious & attainable than being amazing or perfect. You’re guaranteed to be much more productive with this intention.

As time goes on, you will develop your style while getting a much better ear for what is good & what isn’t. An incredibly important thing to remember is that a great song doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the imperfections will make your art better. If your goal is to be the best of the best, good luck on finishing any tunes. You’ll never be satisfied with a single thing you start.

By vowing not to make crap from the start, this steers you away from the temptation to lower your standards in order to please a wider audience. You will find yourself dumbing things down instead of challenging yourself and your listener. When your goal is simply fame, your standards become based on who is popular, not who is good. And that my friend, leads to the dark side.

What is amazing is that with having the goal of not sucking, chances are you will find your unique genius faster than with any other approach. You set some important guidelines & then you have the freedom to just go for it, instead of second guessing everything.

Another benefit of  keeping your focus on not sucking is you will finish more songs. Expecting perfection from yourself is a lot of pressure, but just making sure you aren’t making crap gives you the freedom to explore your own abilities without constantly comparing yourself to others.

Technically, Joy Division, Bauhaus or Jesus & Mary Chain (I might be dating myself here, but who cares) aren’t the greatest musicians & you could argue that the singers would never last a round on “American Idol”(ok, maybe peter murphy), but they have stood the test of time because they don’t suck. They expressed something unique with their limited musical abilities, and that is what I am suggesting you do.

I’m not trying to say that with this philosophy you will never create crap. In fact you probably will. The early incarnations of my bands as well as when I started making electronic music definitely had some garbage. The reason for this is not talent related, instead it’s that your listening skills haven’t developed to the point where you can recognize the subtleties that can make of break a good song. This process is going to happen either way, so don’t worry about it. If you are aspiring to be like artists that take the road less traveled, the ones that really blow you away, you will develop in that direction.

I’ve always believed that having good taste in music was far more important than talent. It saddens me that in this day and age people have access to more amazing music than any other time in human history, yet never bother to dig any deeper than the top 100. That is a certain path to sucking. I’m not saying there isn’t any good pop music, there is (however, less now than ever before), but if you aren’t a hunter of good music, if you don’t get joy from being the first to share a rare B-side with your friends, you probably don’t have a music passion. You’re probably more obsessed with fame.

Although there is plenty of money going around for playing the fame game (Paris Hilton DJing Ibiza, anyone?) in the music industry, just realize that your mountain of cash will be proportional to your mountain of suck.

On the other hand, if you just focus on stripping away anything that sucks from your music, you will actually start to discover that your music starts to sound pretty good, and more importantly, you will sound like YOU. There is no better gift you can give the world than yourself (which will always be the accumulation of your biggest influences filtered through your own creative process).

Feel free to borrow the best ideas from other artists that you think are great. Don’t worry, they borrowed too. Just don’t lose yourself in one artist to the point that you become a crappier version of a band you love.  Instead, pick 5 bands to be your main influence as well as little tidbits of 100’s of other musical ideas you come across. Continue to fill your toolbox with these wonderful musical vibes & you’ll find you never run out of ideas.

These influences will be the ruler that you measure against to avoid sucking. Eventually, your sound will be so ingrained in you that you can abandon your direct influences & explore without the fear of making garbage.

Now go out and make me proud!

happy music making,

Jason

 

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