NOTE: This blog was originally posted at BretAlexanderMusic.com
I sat down here a few minutes ago without an idea. For some reason, one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings (at least to me) came to mind. She always said: “Do SOMETHING, even if it is wrong.”
I wrote about this mindset a few weeks ago as well. It’s sort of a corollary to the old adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Wise advice. Whether it be business decisions or the songs that you write, every musician needs to keep this little piece of wisdom in mind.
In the movie Midnight Express the main character is sent to a prison ward for the insane. There he engages in the daily activity of walking catatonically around a pillar with the other prisoners. One day, he starts to regain his senses and starts walking in the other direction, pushing his way through the other prisoners just to wake up and “get out”.
As a musician, sometimes you have to do the opposite of what you would normally do to go forward. As a technique for growing as an artist, that is certainly not limited to music making. I’ve written songs where I opened a book randomly and pointed at phrases. Then you just string them together in your own words. You would be surprised what you come up with. Collaborating with someone else is also a good way to get out of your usual groove. Write a song in a style you hate.
You always hear the phrases, “Go with your gut”, “Follow your heart”, and “Trust your instincts”. These are all good pieces of advice to use when creating something. But it is also true that it is a moth’s instinct to fly into a flame. That never works out well for him. Sometimes apparent nonsense is its own form of wisdom.
There is an episode of Seinfeld where George decides that every instinct he ever had was wrong. So whenever he is faced with a decision he does the exact opposite of what he would normally do. And everything starts going right. It’s very funny. Highly recommended.
So I guess the moral of this blog is not to be afraid of nonsense. Don’t discount the wisdom of the fool. Your creations (whether they be songs, paintings, or whatever) will be better for it. Your subconscious is already ahead of you right now. Throwing it a curve ball is a good way to get it to turn around. You’ll be surprised what you will learn.
If I’ve confused the hell out of you today maybe that is a good thing. As the great David Byrne once said, “Stop Making Sense.” At least for a little while.
Then you can go back to walking in the “right” direction.
Bret Alexander is the owner of Saturation Acres Recording Studio as well as the guitarist and chief songwriter for The Badlees. His “Real Gig” blog runs each Friday.
The Real Gig: A Musician’s Guide to the Universe by Bret Alexander. June 28, 2013.