Music Creative – Music Creative


3 Lessons from American Idol – Top 8 Female Semifinalists

In last night’s episode of American Idol, I saw a few themes that you can apply to your musical performance.  At one point in the evening, Kara DioGuardi talked about how there were two kinds of contestants:

  1. Contestants who really know themselves as artists
  2. Contestants who DON’T yet know who they are as artists

I would say there’s also a third kind of contestant – ones who have an idealized picture of the kind of artist they want to be, but that isn’t really the best expression of their true talent.  Lil Rounds was that kind of contestant.  She has an awesome blues/jazz vocal, but wanted to be a Diva a la Whitney.  Her vocal instrument just wasn’t suited to that kind of music. Her performance suffered from that and I believe that’s why she was eliminated so early.

Kara is dead on – some of the contestants have a really solid handle on who they are as musicians and performers, as artists.  And some of them are struggling to find that identity.  But what Katie Stevens really showed was that she has an idea of who she wants to be, but she hasn’t yet discovered:

  1. Whether her idea/ideal of herself as an artist is suited to her unique voice
  2. How to bring that concept of herself to fruition through her performance

In past Idol seasons, the contest has clearly favored artists who had a solid and internalized concept of who they are as an artist; that concept was well suited to their unique voice; and they had learned the skills necessary to communicate who they are to the audience.

Lesson One: Identify your unique essence as an artist And learn the skills necessary to communicate who you are to your audience.

Which leads me to the second lesson from last night’s episode.  Learning how to communicate to your audience through your art.  Whether your art is music (either composition or performance), theatre/film, visual, fine art or writing

Lesson Two: All art is communication

In the performing arts, the key to communicating effectively comes down to Intention and Choices.  When you don’t learn how to do this effectively your audience WILL NOT CONNECT WITH YOU.  They won’t know why.  You heard it multiple times last night from Randy Jackson and Ellen DeGeneres.  They didn’t really know why it didn’t work.  But they knew it didn’t work.  They didn’t connect or perhaps they didn’t feel like the singer was authentic or genuine or really feeling it.  But really, the problem was with the contestants’ intentions and choices.

What I saw were artists whose intention was about pleasing the judges and surviving the cut. The result of holding that intention, made them seem stiff, disconnected, or as Simon put it, “like you sucked the energy right out of the song.”  The intention behind the song needs to be about the impact you want to create in your audience – and it can’t be about them liking you. In order to create an impact, your intention needs to focus on your audience, not on you.  You need to make specific choices about who you’re singing to – and what you want them to do, feel or know.

What is the experience you want your audience to have? How do you want to affect them?

Lesson Three: Make choices that allow the power to build throughout the song and that communicate the clear message of the song.

The artists whose intention was focused on telling the story of the song – Lacey, Siobhan, Didi and Crystal – all did extremely well.  The difference was in their intention and the choices they made in the communication of the song.  The resulting performances were of tremendously high quality.

For example, when Didi sang Rhiannon – she was genuinely asking the question – “Would you stay if she promised you heaven?” and “Will you ever win?”  She really wanted to know.  They weren’t just words and notes – there was a choice and an intention behind her words and the result was that the music created a true response within us as an audience.  It was the intention and the choices behind her words that generated the response.  Katie, on the other hand, was focused more on the technical use of her voice and on getting the approval of the judges.  How do I know?  We didn’t connect with her and felt like she wasn’t connected to the song.

And its not enough to have intentions and choices, they need to be the right intentions and choices.  Paige made strong choices that didn’t work.  She chose to focus on the “though your heart is breaking” aspect of the lyrics, completely missing the uplifting and inspiring aspect of the song – which was to SMILE – as Ellen pointed out.  And the result was that Paige was overcome by emotions and we were left unable to connect with the song or with Paige.

So the 3 lessons here are –

  1. Make clear choices and intentions
  2. Make those choices and intentions about the effect you want to create in your audience or the message you want to communicate to your audience (and wanting them to pickup the phone to vote for you is about you, not them)
  3. Make choices that allow the power to build throughout the song and that communicate the clear message of the song.

One last note on Simon Cowell‘s use of the word indulgent.  I really think that what Simon is commenting on is the result of the singer’s intention and attention being focused on themselves and what they want, instead of creating an intention about the impact they want the song to generate in the audience.  A better word might be self-involved.  But whenever I’ve seen him make that note to a contestant, it’s usually because the singer has communicated a message of “me, me, look at me!”  Instead of communicating the message and the impact of the song.

How do you create intentions and choices from moment to moment in your performances?  Is this something you work on and develop?  If so, what are your methods?

Debra Recommends Songwriting with Jason Blume

Debra Russell recommends, songwriting, Music BusinessFellow TAXI Drivers Ed Faculty -I often talk about getting feedback from qualified experts – and Jason certainly is that!

Songwriting tutor and cross-genre hit maker Jason Blume recently celebrated ten years of BMI-sponsored workshops and seminars. Since the BMI Songwriters’ Workshop inception in 1997, Blume has mentored more than 6,000 aspiring songwriters from at least 38 states. More than 120 workshops have been held in music hotbeds and invigorating locales including Nashville, Austin, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Kauai, and Atlanta.

If you want to learn specifically how to write hit songs, songs that will sell, Jason is the guy.

Check out Jason Blume’s Website



Debra Recommends Songwriting with Steve Seskin

Debra Russell recommends, songwriting, feedback, Music BusinessI’ve known Steve Seskin for several years as we are both speakers on the Music Conference circuit.  Steve is renowned as one of the best songwriting craftsman around and you can learn tons about the art and craft of songwriting from him.  He can teach you how to make your songs good and then how to take your good songs and hone and polish them until they are truly great.

One of the best in the business – and an exemplary teacher.

Find out about studying the Art of Songwriting with Steve Seskin


Debra Recommends Music XRay

music business, A&RI have recently been listed as an expert – under career coaching for Music Xray.

Music Xray is a resource for both musicians, composers and the buyers of music to connect in a professional and transparent environment.  Music industry professionals use Music Xray as the preferred, direct and transparent method for interacting with artists.

Music Xray is developing unique applications, patent-pending methods and user interfaces that leverage the cutting edge of Music Information Retrieval Science.

Music Xray also funds, licenses and commercializes research, development and patented technology created by several of the most prestigious universities that are engaged in expanding the science of music information retrieval.

Music Xray is currently providing related products and services to notable legacy and startup companies within the music industry. Technology and services provided by Music Xray enable:

  • Music consumers to obtain accurate music recommendations.
  • Music industry professionals to make accurate and informed music investment decisions.
  • Artists and music industry professionals to measure, monitor and more easily grow market demand for music.

Music Xray’s technology and services are designed and developed to radically minimize the effort currently required to quickly connect any artist/song to both intra-industry and consumer audiences.

Music Xray plans to end the need for artists to engage in inefficient, pre-popularity promotion.

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Creator’s Block

Here it is a rainy March morning and as I sit down to write to you, I realize that I’ve been avoiding doing this writing for some time.  Would you call this writer’s block?  Perhaps.  And it occurs to me, that writer’s block – or creator’s block for the purpose of this conversation, can look different for different people.

But if you endeavor to live a creative life, and even more so, make a prosperous living from your creative endeavors, feeling blocked around creating can be an unpleasant, even painful place to be.  And of course, it just may get in the way of pursuing your dreams.

What Causes Writer’s Block or Creator’s Block?

Whether you are writing words, writing songs, painting, taking photographs, sculpting, designing jewelry or in any way creating on a regular basis, creator’s block can happen.  Perhaps it shows up by being “too busy” with other things.  Perhaps, you sit down and nothing comes – just blank.  Or you get “distracted” by email, the phone, the dishes….

In my experience, most creative blocks are caused by one of three obstacles:

  • Your inner critic,
  • Your outer critics,
  • And/or a lack of creative space – physically, temporally or emotionally (which leads back to the first two).

I’ve often heard from clients that they got blocked because they got a bad review or what they perceived as negative feedback and found they couldn’t create for months after.  Has this ever happened to you?  I’ve found that the artists most vulnerable to this are already fighting an inner critic and that external voice, especially from a mentor or someone you really respect, can just amplify the inner critic to the point where all creative juices stop flowing.  For artist’s who have a strong internal supportive voice, external feedback becomes just that – feedback.  Take what you can use, leave the rest.

When it comes to your environment blocking your creative endeavors, this can be tricky.  There are so many ways in which your environment can act as a block –  whether it’s your physical space (like the gardener who is right now outside with his leaf blower!), your temporal or time management, or your tendency to give other people’s requests for your time and energy more importance than your own creative priorities.

Learning to set up your environment to support your creativity is a key skill for any creative entrepreneur.

All of these issues can be summed up into one: the inability or unwillingness to prioritize yourself – prioritize your needs, your values, your beliefs, your own inner voices and muses.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to other people’s needs or constructive criticism, but if their needs and voices are drowning out your own, then you have a problem.  And I’m betting a creative block isn’t the only way that issue is turning up in your life.

In the Artists Marketing & Business Academy, I have several classes designed to address these issues.  I also will be writing more about them in my blog.

How Can I Move Past My Block?

For this issue of the Newsletter, I’m going to focus on a method that has helped me tremendously and that my clients have used with great results.  When you are creating, whatever you are creating, use the following steps:

Step 1 – ideas, brainstorming, brain dump – no editing
Step 2 – sort through the ideas and brainstorming and develop an idea into a first draft
Step 3 – edit that idea into a first public draft and send it out for feedback
Step 4 – take the feedback and polish and hone the work
Step 5 – repeat step 3 and 4 until you are truly happy with the result!

Step 1 – The brain dump

The first step is to put all your ideas down on paper.  Good ideas, bad ideas, bits and pieces of ideas, unformed ideas – everything.  You want to have absolutely no filters here.  You may work this step in a structured way – you sit down to the page for 1 hour every day.  Or you may just carry around a notepad or tape recorder with you, every where you go.  The key here is to capture the ideas – good, bad and ugly – all the ideas down on paper.

This step can show up in many forms, depending on the medium in which you’re creating.  For a visual artist, it may be doodling in your sketchbook, jotting down ideas of themes or concepts.  For the songwriter, it may be bits of melody, lyric phrases, or even just a book of song titles.  For the novelist or screen writer, it could be bits of dialogue, scene ideas.

I was working with a novelist awhile back, and she was blocked.  My assignment to her was to write 1000 words a day – badly.  She was to write as badly as she could.  We were going for her writing to really suck!

The point is to just put the perfectionist on hold here.  This isn’t about creating a final product or even a good first draft.  It’s just to allow the creative juices to flow.

Step 2 – Creating the first draft

This step should be scheduled and given a decent chunk of time several days a week.  What you want to do with this time is to sit down and look through your ideas, your bits and pieces and starting with the pieces you feel most drawn to, flesh them out into a first draft.

You may work on more than one project at a time during this stage.  But what’s most important is that you set up this time as completely separate from either Step 1 or Steps 3, 4, or 5.  Again, we aren’t going for a final product here and you want to continue having the perfectionist on hold.

During this stage work on your projects enough to find out if there’s a solid idea.  Flesh it out enough to be ready to show to some people for feedback.  Get to a first draft.  And then put it aside for at least 3 days.

Step 3 – First round of edits on your first draft

After you’ve left this project alone for several days, come back to it and give it a read through.  Edit it, play with the language, the order.  Try different things with it, perhaps change the rhythm or the key it’s in.  Try using a different size brush or color scheme.

Again, do not mix this step with either Step 1 or 2.  The part of your brain that you use during editing and adjusting is not appropriate during the initial stages of creation – it only tends to block things.  Because this is when you begin to use your critical facilities.  This is when the voice that tells you that you can do better becomes useful.

But beware of spending too much time here.  Again, we’re not going for the finished product yet.  We’re looking to create a version that’s good enough to get feedback on, which leads me to Steps 4 and 5.

Step 4 – Get constructive critique and create a second draft

There are two critical factors for this step.  You must choose your people very carefully.  You want someone who is going to be ruthlessly honest with you.  You want someone who really knows your medium and your genre (and if they know your niche, it’s even better).  And you want someone who can communicate feedback in a voice you are willing to hear.

Some successful artists use family – although this can be tricky.  Most successful artists use experts in their field (which includes editors for the written word).  Some even use their loyal fan base.  Many songwriters use the TAXI submissions to get feedback to improve their music or the TAXI forums to get feedback from fellow songwriters.  Some writers will go to a writer’s group or their editor and agent for feedback.

Whoever you choose, remember to stay open to the pieces of the feedback that you can use.  Not all of their suggestions will be immediately useful – that’s ok.  Sometimes they may make a suggestion which you don’t want to use – but if you stay open, it may trigger you to discover the exact right change you need to make.

Sit with the feedback and go back to your project and edit it.

Step 5 – Rinse and Repeat until finished

You may go through Steps 3 and 4 several times.  Probably the hardest part is to know when you’re done, to know when more editing ends up doing more harm than good.  Be wary of ironing out all the ripples in the fabric of your creation.  There’s no such thing as perfection.  And if there were – it would bore us to tears.

If you listen to your inner quiet voice – you will know when you’re done.  And use your discipline to stop, declare the project done, and start marketing it!

One last note:  Your voice is the voice that matters.  When being open to feedback, trust yourself.  Stay open to their opinions, reactions, and suggestions.  But don’t sell out on yourself.  It’s a fine line and one that takes practice.  This isn’t about creating by committee.  It’s about always growing, developing and honing your craft.  No matter how talented you are, truly powerful art is always a marriage between talent and craft.  This method allows you to use the best of both.

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