Guest article by Bryce Harrisberger (@bkharrisberger)
I hate the term “creative process.” I realized this in quarantine and, after some conversations with my peers at Berklee. I discovered that a lot of us artists have been taught the “creative process” in the form of specific steps to take in order to guide us through creating our best, most unique content. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s helped me push out a lot of ideas and I’m sure it does help some artists. But quarantine made me face the fact that this “how to be creative” outline I had been conditioned to use was not capable of adapting to the new extremes of our world today. And I know I’m not alone. The global issues of 2020 uprooted our lives in ways we could never have imagined, not only physically and financially, but creatively and inspirationally. It forced me to rethink how I view creativity.
Two months into quarantine, I had a big realization. Uniformity (in my case a bullet pointed list on how to be creative) is not synchronous with creativity. In fact, it goes against what creativity is all about! Spontaneous, fluid, adaptable: these are the words that describe balanced creative thinking. Our biggest influence, whether we like it or not, is this world and the world is not uniform. It’s chaotic. So, for the purposes of this article, I will not be talking about the “creative process,” but rather the things you can do to influence your creative spirit, because spirit is inherently free from regularity.
For this article, I reconnected with a past colleague, Petey Martin. Martin has worked in collaboration with artists including Celine Dion, Galantis, Zac Brown Band, and recently helped write and produce five tracks off the new Kygo album Golden Hour. He has also taken on the unique task of working with actor Vin Diesel who is making his first attempt at a music career by partnering with Kygo’s label, Palm Tree Records. Martin’s success in songwriting and music collaboration, both in and out of quarantine, makes him a great source of knowledge as we try to navigate these uncertain times.
Take a second
“For the first two weeks when the quarantine was mandated, I took the time off but honestly for me it felt necessary to take a personal shut down.”
Before we dive into it, it’s important to note that we can all use a reset given the state of things. Take a moment and consider what it would look like to take a break from creating for a while. Dive into that book you’ve been meaning to read or album you’ve wanted to listen to and ease off the creative gas. Reset the mind.
All experiences can influence creative spirit
“If I don’t have something to say, then I’m better off not trying to just make something for the sake of “creating” or “working.” That’s just stupid. You’re better off listening to music. I think a lot of songwriters and producers forget that listening to what else is out there is part of the job and it’s what started the whole thing, right?” Petey Martin
I am 100 percent guilty of forcing myself to churn out ideas when I’m not in the right headspace. Sometimes you don’t have anything to say or you’re not in the right mindset to flesh out your creative ideas, and that’s ok. Forcing yourself into this mode can leave you with low quality ideas that might discourage you from entering a creative, productive space in the future. But Martin raises another good point; if you don’t have something to say, you’re better off looking for inspiration. The best way to do that is through experience.
Experience does not have to be some life-changing international trip or some psychedelic spiritual journey. Don’t get me wrong, those can be incredibly influential and I highly recommend everyone have at least one in their life. But often, artists rely on deep, meaningful experiences alone, draining them of every ounce of creative juice they bring, until they’re left with the need for another experience behemoth fix.
If what I just explained sounds like you, I have a solution. Downsize the way you interpret a meaningful experience. In an interview on the Ernie Ball YouTube channel, St. Vincent answers the question of “Where does any idea begin?” by saying, “Oh boy well, things you’ve lived, things you’ve seen, things you’ve stolen, I mean, I get more inspiration walking down the street in New York for a day than anything.”
Take a moment and think of all the things you’ve interacted with today: music, books, nature. Now think of how each one has influenced your day, be it your mood, your outlook, etc. Personally, I am amazed with how my life is influenced by what I sometimes consider insignificant experiences, like the music I’m half listening to while writing this article.
The point is no experience is insignificant. Even though you may be stuck at home in quarantine, you can still have meaningful interactions with the world. Today’s technology can be a fantastic medium for helping us have all sorts of virtual experiences. For musicians, as Martin said, sometimes we’re better off going where it all starts which is just listening to music. But for non-musicians, there are an abundance of opportunities. Go online, take a virtual museum tour, go down that YouTube rabbit hole, or go for a walk.
Quarantine has left writers with an unspoken opportunity
“Kygo released his album Golden Hour in May. I wrote and produced five songs on that album and things have only stayed busy since then. Because touring isn’t possible, in my opinion, writers and producers have been able to place [successfully pitch] more songs with artists who suddenly have all this time on their hands to create music since no one knows when touring will be back in full swing. - Petey Martin
This year has been extremely hard on the whole world, but professionally there’s a silver lining for musicians stuck in quarantine, and Martin hit the nail on the head. Without touring to take up a large portion of the year, writers and producers are successfully collaborating with more artists who have suddenly found themselves with a lot of time to build their repertoire. Whether you’re a writer, producer, or performer, now is an opportune time to take experience driven creativity and apply it to your work with others through collaboration.
Lucky for us, our transition into a Zoom run world has been quick, effective, and is starting to become the new standard. So consider reaching out to past, current, or prospective artists you wish to work with. Chances are, they have the time and are hoping for someone to reach out and collaborate with them.
What do you get when you combine collaboration with a free, fluid, and experience-driven approach to creativity? A collaborative experience that will draw in influential people with shared interests and draw out creatively exhilarating ideas. Ahmir Thompson, known more commonly as Questlove, of the band The Roots, is achieving exactly that by combining his love of food with his passion for collaborating in music and social change. Back before quarantine, Thompson spoke with NPR about this idea. Thompson would hire the best chef in Philadelphia and invite friends over. “Nothing says lovin like free food” Thompson adds. He goes on to talk about how people would come in the name of free food and then “coincidentally it was like, oh hey, I have some instruments over here, why don’t we write a song or two.” These gatherings, influenced by the experience of enjoying food, led to the meeting of people like Jill Scott, India.Arie, and Musiq Soulchild.
Obviously, quarantine hinders us from having big potlucks like Thompson’s, but Zoom allows for some incredible virtual gatherings such as the E&A Bookclub. As limited as this current reality makes us feel, we have more options than we think, some of which have yet to be seen in the mainstream.
“I think the idea of having a specific process is anti-creative in itself.” Petey Martin
We, as creative beings, are not made to be confined by one creative process. In fact, we aren’t meant to be confined to one creative passion. We live in a chaotic world that is ever-evolving. So, let your creative spirit flow with the ever-changing world around us, let your desire to experience run rampant, and invite others to join you for the ride.
Article image by Bryce Harrisberger