Prepared but not over-prepared.
In the midst of a vast YouTube binge the other evening (I’ve got a thirst for seeking out to interviews with musicians I like, and seem to be hopeless at turning YouTube off), I happened to come across Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne talking about making music and being in a band.
He was saying how they are always a little unprepared, always a little short on material and forever cramming the night before to avoid things going pear shaped onstage or in the studio. They apparently never have enough songs for studio sessions, and are never quite organised enough. There was a hint that this slight unpreparedness might actually fuel their live performances as well as their studio efforts.
a little unprepared, always a little short on material and forever cramming the night before
As well as the rush of adrenaline that comes with being required to create something and not being totally 100% sure what you need to do, there is also the chance to open up and trust your own instincts. You can almost step back and let your unconscious take over, and part of the joy of this situation is the sense of almost being a spectator too – another part of you is at work and although the effort needs to be put in, you can to a degree relax.
Sometimes you can even surprise yourself with the material that you produce. It might seem like something random or unconsidered, but anything that comes from your mind has been formed by you. Even stuff that seems like it’s been beamed in from another planet will just be a collection of influences that might prefer to linger under the surface. Things you’ve heard or seen but not consciously pondered.
influences that might prefer to linger under the surface
Being under-prepared can force you to rely on these instinctive ideas, and that tap into a deeper inspiration.
On the other hand, they say that confidence is preparation in action. When it comes to business presentations and job interviews and the like, then I’d go along with that.
When you are talking about creating art, or “creative entertainment” if you don’t want to sound too uptight, I think that playing a little looser is sometimes better. Tapping into something less considered, less rational can open up greater truths.
Truthfulness is important in music – in the sense of being truthful about how truthful you are being. It’s fine to lie – as long as the audience knows you are lying. When you mislead the audience and they don’t get to be in on the joke, then you start to turn people off.
By mentioning truth, I’m not getting into any kind of argument about “absolute truth”, or any kind of moral issue, merely that your music should be truthful to you, and to itself.
It’s fine to lie – as long as the audience knows you are lying
If this is not the case you cannot open up to your instinctive ideas and spur of the moment inspirations in the same way, as the music will not be a representation of your true self. I know this sounds like I’m getting close to hippy territory again, but I think in these days of overwhelming amounts of software-based music, and quantised/tweaked live music, the more of a real human soul that ends up in the mix, the better.
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenberg’s Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.
Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’
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