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How Limits Help Us Make Better Art
Narrowing the scope of action helps us craft better art. That’s why limits are so fascinating. They wipe out the ‘choice barrier’ between creativity and expression.
Not long ago, I sat down on a half-built drum kit. All cymbals were missing, with only a snare, kick drum, big tom and a jam block in place. I started playing, and frankly, it was the most refreshing experience that has happened to me in a long time. With such a weird kit, I had to re-imagine grooves and fills, coming up with new ways to make the elements at my disposal make sense. In other words, making art within a set of limitations.
The results were surprising! Finding new sonic formulas and drum combinations was electrifying, and it all sounded quirky and refreshing. My creativity got sparked instantly, thinking about the kind of arrangements and sound design that could be applied to such unconventional drumming.
I started contemplating hard about limits. Narrowing the scope of action helps us craft better art. That’s why limits are so fascinating. They wipe out the ‘choice barrier’ between creativity and expression. By eliminating the number of choices one has to make, and thus implementing creative limitation, we achieve two things:
More authenticity: not focusing on the process, we are free to pursue its final result, creating a continuous flow between our ideas and our actions.
Less distraction and confusion: fewer tools and elements to manage, more mental clarity to develop our goal.
For a songwriter, limits are often beneficial. Have you ever stared at a blank page, wondering which topics you could write about? Narrow it down. Write about one specific thing, and build upon it. If you are a producer, experiment by removing most of your plugins and producing a whole track just with a couple of them. It is crucial not to get lost in the infinite possibilities of ‘picking a sound’.
There’s a very famous quote by visual artist and performer Phil Ansen, from his 2013 TED Talk: “Embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity … We need to first be limited in order to become limitless”. The whole speech, titled “Embrace The Shake” - describing his journey towards creativity after a physical injury - is hugely inspiring and motivating. The stuff of dreams!
When The Major Drops You
I came across an interesting story this week, by discovering an artist called Nicky Lipp. I’ll make it short for you: his band had been signed by a major when he was younger, and - as it happens often - it just wasn’t successful enough. There’s an interview on Youtube where he reflects on the whole experience, with a very honest and realistic take on it. It’s worth a watch!
Also, his new single is really good - check it out here.
Too Many Songs, Not Enough Hits
Billboard explores the changing landscape of up-and-coming artists, and how is it becoming more and more difficult to ‘break’ an artist into the mainstream realm:
“Insiders have plenty of theories about why the market for new artists has become more difficult. Chief among them: a deluge of new music. It has become so easy for aspiring artists to release tracks that songs are hitting streaming services by the hard drive-full, making it harder for any single tune to stand out amid the glut. “Due to the sheer number of things coming out, songs that were shoo-ins for being hits five to 10 years ago now have to fight to see daylight,” says veteran producer Warren “Oak” Felder (Usher, Demi Lovato). Even the biggest record companies are taking notice — “If there are 80,000 tracks a day being uploaded on major [digital service providers], then [major-label] market share is going to be diluted by default,” Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer told investors this summer.”
“In the future, the definition of “breaking an artist” may have to shift. “It has become so fragmented where and how people discover music and become fans of something,” says Ben Blackburn, who manages girl in red. “The metric needs to change if you’re going to correctly judge success.”
“British organisation Black Lives in Music has announced its anti-racism code for the music industry, which will be adopted in 2023 with the backing of industry bodies and the UK’s Independent Standards Authority.”
“The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has been taking evidence for its ‘Misogyny in Music’ inquiry, and this week the Musicians’ Union’s response was published, informed by a survey of its women and non-binary members in June this year.”
“The company has published a guide for artists on how to get ready, including a new feature that enables them to record a 30-second video message thanking fans for their support.”
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