*Roughly speaking*, things are they way they are for a reason. It may be for a very bad reason, but a reason nonetheless. There are so many things we encounter on a daily basis that were the culmination of many brains thinking of the same problems, for a very very long time. Music as a language is a great example of the hive mind working; rules and boundaries created that don’t necessarily come from one authority from on high.

Though it may take way more time and effort, if you encounter something that doesn’t make sense to you right away, maybe consider why that is. Why would someone else make this decision? Why would a ton of people do it this way? Can I see it from their perspective? Why isn’t this thing valued the same way anymore?

Things will probably not be the exact way you want them to be right out of the box, but that would be boring if it were real life. Investigate why, consider if it works, use that information (“useless” information is still useful), don’t settle for short cut answers, and continue the journey.

While you’re out there gathering information from experts, it is imperative to remember that the times-they are a changing. In a Facebook group that I am a part of, a fellow musician was talking about the hardships of selling recorded music as a form of income. Record sales are a perfect example of this shift; just because something worked 20, 10, or even 5 years ago does not mean it will work now, or when you are “ready”. Looking back on the entire history of music as a profession, record sales as a major income stream will be a blip in the tale.

Zoom out far enough to see the blips, have footing in what works now, and be flexible to change for what’s to come. Sitting back and remembering how things used to be is time spent; someone else is out there making “the now” work in their favor.

“The worst they can say is no.”

 

We have all heard this, right? Well, it can be a very useful tool. If you see a professional/expert out there in the world right now who you want to learn from, there’s no harm in asking for advice or help. The worst possible situation is that they don’t reply or they say no. You never know; they may be eager to share their knowledge, or they may be looking for someone to take on their mantle in the future. You may also have the skills, time, and ability to do a task they have been meaning to do, but have put off because of their busy schedule. Who knows! You certainly wont until you ask.

Being polite, professional, and eager is sometimes enough for an expert to make time for you. They certainly won’t be working with the person who never asks.

 

 

One more thought on standards.

Your goals should be lofty, but not too far out of reach. Putting too much pressure on yourself to achieve huge goals can crush you completely. Having high standards is important, but not to the point of self destruction. I am sure we have all experienced disappointment with something that maybe no one else even noticed (“I sounded so bad because of that wrong note!”……”I didn’t even notice…?”).

Your goals may even change along the way ¹

Try to be as objective as possible when analyzing your progress. The things you may see in yourself today will maybe disappear tomorrow. Yes, with no risk or hardship there is no progress or reward, but if you go too far you may completely kill your productivity. Know you limits, and buckle up for the long journey.

 

¹ There is nothing wrong with that!

Being your own fiercest competition has another essential tie in: the ability to set your own standards. If you allow the world around you to tell you how hard you need to work, what you should do with your life, and how to go about it, you may end up feeling disappointed.

I am in no way against looking at whats going on around you, asking questions, and studying with mentors in order to get a lay of the land and in turn pursuing your goals. But if you let others set up the goal posts for you, you will be constantly judging yourself based on what they have done, and that is most likely not what you are going to do or who you are meant to be.

On top of that, having clear and self generated goals in mind will supercharge your productivity. You may finally feel like you’re doing what you were meant to do, instead of what someone else told you, or just meeting up with what the standard may be around you. The experts out there right now are in a time and place. When the next generation of experts rolls around (which hopefully includes you!), the world will be much different. Listen to advice with your ears wide open, but make sure you tailor it to your goals and what the world is asking of you.

The great institutions, architecture, literary works, music, any human creation was created by someone not that much different than you. It is easy to feel like 300 years ago was a long time, but it was not. Look at all the things that have been built, made, created and destroyed in that short amount of time….by people, not that much different than any of us. Though some disagree with how things came about or how they are maintained, the possibility of change for the better resides in any one of us. The permanence, power, and influence of these institutions and creations can be overwhelming. Who am I in comparison to these things? Do I have any power to change or improve upon them? Why are certain people portrayed as gods in the history books? Is this institution or way of thinking as permanent as it seems?

A start to thinking about this is realizing the people who brought these things into existence are as flawed as the rest of us, and a way to deal with the complications of the world is by starting with ourselves. Study what worked, study what didn’t. Persevere knowing you may better the lives of other’s around you. Question why things are regarded as they are, but do not throw everything you value away in the process. Pursue greatness and who knows what will happen, you may make history.

 

While you are out there seeing who’s ideas work for you and who’s do not, it is useful to understand what to do with the people who you think are doing it “wrong”. It is easy to convince yourself that these people are “lesser” by talking down about them either in your head or to others. Making an environment where you and your tribe is convinced that “Blackberry Harvest” paint color is a superior purple to “Purple Passion”, and that anyone who uses any other color besides Blackberry Harvest is below you…..can be dangerous. (Yes, those are real paint colors).

If you think someone is doing something “wrong” (usually most of the time, wrong means different), allow them to work out the “wrong” for you. Stifling difference of opinion before they can be completely thought out leads to strict and unchanging existences. How can someone possibly know everything? And where is the fun in that?

Take the “wrong” things that have been worked out by those who hold a different opinion from you. Use it to either strengthen your reasoning for the ideas, or perhaps the “wrong” will be incorporated into your thought process, and you may…..change.

You have the luxury of other people working out things that you don’t have time for. Don’t throw it all out at once because it doesn’t match your ideas at first glance. Though the “wrong” may actually be useless or destructive in the end, at least you have the body of work to explain why the next time it comes around.

Fundamentalism of anything can be your worst enemy. While it may seem comforting to completely subscribe to the ideas of others, you are not that person. Let their ideas come into contact with yours, think about it, and throw away what is not useful. Beating your head against a wall in the attempt to be someone else usually ends in close to zero productivity.

The masters and innovators aren’t masters and innovators because they copied someone else. Steal, borrow, emulate (to a point), but don’t lose yourself in the process. Being true to yourself means experimenting with what works, and getting rid of what doesn’t.

Just because someone hasn’t done it before does not mean you can’t be the first.

A struggle of being an artist or any innovative type is the ability to express yourself while being able to exist in a given system. Existence could be defined as keeping your job, paying your bills (can I eat food and live indoors {s/o to Lance LaDuke}), being in the economy or market as a whole (who’s going to buy my stuff, do people want my stuff in 3 years), or the world (is my stuff accessible or useful enough for people to enjoy it?).

The Beatles are one of my favorite examples of this phenomenon. The band started out as a cover band, catching the ears of listeners with the familiarity of the material, eventually incorporating more of their original tunes. They then wrote happy go lucky songs about love and having fun, things that are easily relatable. New songs began appearing that had a more dark mood (“I’m a Loser”); great example of this is the song “Help“.

The lyrical content is actually very depressing, but it is underscored by happy pop instrumentals. Here’s the original demo.

Can you imagine if that was the final version on the album? I think the group would have seen question marks from fans and critics alike if they made such a sharp turn artistically that early in their career. From there we see a continued transition into the more creative and reflective side of The Beatles; coming to fruition through the musical exploration of their songwriting, or from the freedom of being released from any mold, genre, or expectation due to their unprecedented success.

This fine line of innovation and tradition is essential when navigating life’s windy path. Study the masters, fit in with what is going on, do not alienate your audience or peers. But at the same time- become something new, make your mark on the field, and continue to push the limits.