letting your standards get in the way

I’m weeks away from attending a music composition ‘bootcamp’ in France with a group of musicians and one of my musical heroes. I was asked to send some of my own music ahead of time for him to listen to. It’s so he can get an idea of what I do. I haven’t sent anything yet. 

Our taste often exceed our abilities. Ira Glass spoke about this during his video class in storytelling. The words were turned into a really fun short video. His advice is keep to going through that early phase were your killer taste far exceeds your not yet killer output. 

The only approach I’ve found that works is to generate a large quantity of attempts. Then every now and again you invariably make something pretty good. Almost by accident. In the run up to this camp I decided that I’d finally learn from past mistakes (trying for ages to make one great thing) and instead started making lots of little pieces fast. One of my teachers tried telling me to do this years ago. The word he would repeat was ‘VAMOS!’. ‘Work faster’ he told me. 

1-3 hours max to make a beat, loop or an ambient thing built around a Whatsapp voicenote vocal. No matter what happens I finish and post it as a demo on Soundcloud. Even if in that moment I feel it’s bad. It puts me in a position where I don’t have time to even realise, for example, how much better Flying Lotus is than me at making music. When you’re going slowly little thoughts like that have a habit of creeping in. The pressure of knowing you have to post it can help too. The fear of embarrassment is strong in this one. 

The results have been fascinating. I’ve shared these ‘micros’ with collaborators and they’ve all had different favourites. I’ve been shocked at which ones they’ve picked. The ones I thought were my best barely register. Once people mention which they like I’m finally able to listen to them again free of any anxiety. I realise that often I think I don’t like something I‘ve made because I’m too busy feeling too vulnerable or unsure. Your brain is tuned to hyper critical when you’re finishing something. If someone’s likes it even a little bit that feeling goes away and I’m able to see things clearer. 

Our Mellowing web series is another example of this. If I’d tried to perfect that first sketch script we did I would still be working on it. We certainly would not have filmed four short films by now. Every time we made one I learned and improved in ways I couldn’t have from books, videos or isolated obsessive rewrites. Maybe I could have learned as much intellectually from shadowing a hero fo mine for a while but, at the time, there wasn’t any danger of that happening.