You’re So Handsome

It seems to me as Artists living today- we have to face a painful reality–We all live in bubbles. I think computers have had a lot to do with it- it learns your tastes and then it feeds you what you want to see and experience- Leaving out other opinions and topics that might challenge us and educate us in other ways.

Facebook is probably the worst offender. I say we all have 7 friends on Facebook who love whatever we say or pictures we post. I know who mine are- I love them, who wouldn’t? – they unequivocally love me, but I don’t get my sense of reality from them. I’ve seen too many of my friends post ugly pictures of themselves and then see their 7 friends post “handsome” and “looking good”- My favorite is when actors take cheap head shots, where they look like their lighting is coming from the fluorescent bulbs from the meat section at Ralph’s- and the 7 friends still like it—or my songwriting students post fuzzy live videos of their mediocre songs – where they look bad and sound worse—and guess what? The 7 friends say “love the song” and “you’re sound great”

So what do we do?– We have to get “gate keepers” to keep us honest. Not your friends and definitely not your family ( they’ll either love everything you do or hate everything you do) But professionals in the fields we want to go into (teachers, producers and critics)- or really talented artists who are a couple of rungs up the ladder from us- and get their opinion about our work – our singing, songs and acting. Pick their brains and then take a deep breath and take notes. How do we get them? We network, we go to clubs and see who the good performers are- or we take classes and figure out who the stars in the room are or we go to teachers and critics in our field—AND we take them out to lunch and ask them questions. Most experts can be had for lunch!

Tell them to tell you what they like about what you do and (gasp) what you could do better. And then be prepared for a little “reality” Now I should put in a disclaimer here, I don’t think we should listen to everything people say and view it as the gospel truth no matter how learned or skilled the person is, but if the same thing keeps coming up 3, 4 or more times- I’d definitely think about it—

Which brings me to my moment of truth. I was producing a new CD last year and was working with a very talented musician. We had some things in common- we both loved jazz and singers (especially the one we were working with) and were from California- but we had a lot of differences- I was a lot older than he was- I wasn’t as crazy about long instrumental solos as he was, and I generally I liked simpler arrangements. At first, it drove me crazy to be collaborating with him, we had some fiery moments. But after each “discussion” I was impressed with his passion and smarts. There is always more than one way to approach anything—And to be honest with you, I’m a little spoiled– I work with some of the most talented people in the world who share a lot of my views on music. It all goes down very easily with a lot of camaraderie and smiles–But this guy didn’t fit the mold.

But somewhere near the end of the project- when I was mixing the tracks, the mixes weren’t coming together as I would have liked—I played them for him– and guess what- this kid came in and by hearing things differently than me, saved it!!! The mixes suddenly sounded great. He had different tools in his tool belt- and some of them were just what was needed.

I want to thank him for having his own ears, it expanded my horizons—and I’ve grown. He wasn’t one of my 7 friends on Facebook and I’m all the better for it

It always amazes me that when a lot of my songwriting students come into class, they generally like just a handful of artists, sometimes just one—and it is my job to expose them to. Other artists who they are not aware of and to go back in time to other periods—to pick up different rhythms, methods and attitudes they can use in their current songs. – People have been writing the American Popular song for well over a hundred years and there is a lot to glean from their masterwork.

Prince’s favorite artist was Joni Mitchell- Nina Simone was a classical pianist in her youth and Adele loves Barbra Streisand and Amy Winehouse.

Advertisers profit from feeding our prejudices and keeping our world targeted and small, great art doesn’t—We all need to get out of our bubbles- and keep people with lots of different opinions close at hand and view this as a strength and not a weakness.