Allow me to get personal for once: Usually I try to remain objective and businesslike when I write on these pages, but this time I must be candid. I have been thinking a lot recently about the process of creating something, and how hard it is, and how your feelings tend to get hurt in a million different ways, especially if you are a beginner, especially by that little voice in your own head. The publishing industry, like any other; the music industry, the fine art market, and so on, are caves in which bears wait for the hapless novice to wander into like a tasty wee mammal, soon to be a wee mangled mammal. What can you do, how can you get a break from this?
The answer is: Generosity of spirit.
Do you know what the phrase means? You probably think it’s just a wishy-washy term, but it’s a quite practical thing, actually. Generosity of spirit in everyone involved in an undertaking, but especially from those who have to finish or refine the work, is the remedy. It’s the thing that helps to keep you going and not lose your grip. So often, way too often, I see that professionals who work on projects only do so for the money and often with a hefty degree of cynicism. (Don’t let me get started, please.) They don’t even like the thing they are working on, or they think it’s poor quality, but hey, money is money.
The key word there is ‘only’. As an artist, as a creative person, and as a professional who is helping to bring a creative product to market, the objective is to get the job done. But, without also showing some kind of generosity of spirit, it is a soulless, cynical, bleak endeavour. And that type of thing never lasts.
How does this work, in practice?
Let me give you an example.
Yesterday I watched the video feedback from sound engineer, Luke Garfield, on my latest batch of music, which he had mixed and mastered. (It’s the 7th album of mine he has done.)
Mixing and mastering is a highly technical, finicky, detailed process, which includes a dictionary of industry jargon. It is after all, engineering. After every mixing and mastering project, one song at a time, Luke records a video of how it went. (I call it a post-mortem video.)
But, in all of his very informative feedback about plug-ins, notation, chords, keys, instruments, breaks, drops, beats, tails, sweeps, reverbs, etc., etc., I noticed that he tried, in fact he was focused on, making the most of the best aspect of each song. That told me much more than the technical information he provided.
You see, he does not have to.
Other people I have worked with do not do this. I pay him for the engineering, and the outputs of the various stages in the process. But what I get and do not pay for are gentle comments and advice on what the heart of a piece is, what it feels like, how it sounds, what it means, and how to make it the best it can be. Not always in those words, but underlying each decision and step.
What I benefit from is the thought that goes into him listening to a dog’s breakfast of a composition, and finding the inner creativity to fix it up and add in what’s missing.
That, dear Readers, is generosity of spirit.
To have generosity of spirit is to act with kindness, to be open and willing to share with others without having any expectation of receiving something in return. It means to celebrate the success and efforts of others without envy or resentment. When generosity of spirit is combined with intense seriousness of purpose, it leads to the sharing of meaning and understanding, which is invaluable.
When collaboration is a delight, not a torment
If you can work with someone to make something that you think is good, and there is that generosity of spirit, then your project becomes a joy. Everything about it becomes an adventure, something you can learn from, something that makes you proud, and that makes you proud of the achievements of the other person as well. Something that makes you try to be better.
I have watched his own music videos, and they are quite revealing. He is an artist in his own right and an infinitely more accomplished musician than me. He is a professional, with magic fingers on the guitar, and a velvety voice. I realized while watching the videos that what I’m feeling isn’t envy or enthusiasm. It’s more sobering than that: it’s respect.
Generosity of spirit means that he has shared his skills with me, with no expectation of getting anything back, because what am I? – an amateur. I know this. I know me. But I never knew that there might be something more. Something good perhaps. His feedback has taught me that: There is a small little flame of creativity in me, that may, one day, let me make a truly beautiful thing.
Will this last?
His technical work is bang on target and spot-on in quality. But it’s the other, deeper aspects that are critical, that have lasting value: His intense seriousness of purpose means that when he addresses the other, non-technical aspects, he does so with transparent earnestness – understanding the aesthetics, finding and strengthening the element of beauty, identifying the essence, expanding on the expression of the meaning of the music, and understanding my process. He knows by now where I overwork things, get it wrong, mess up, miss-hear.
He has passed all that on to me without the expecting to receive the same in return. I don’t even think he realizes that he is doing it. I had not understood this until now.
It’s a philosophy
How do you explain to people who are looking for sound engineering services, that this aspect is more important than the software, the hardware, the bands they have worked with, their rates, or their turnaround time? It took me this whole page just to explain it. Philosophers, theologists and psychiatrists write books about it.
And if you do sign on a sound engineer, you would not know that they do or don’t have generosity of spirit until much later. Check their star rating or their one-line write-ups? Not useful. Picking such a person is a craps-shoot, no doubt about that. I just got lucky.
You might not want to know
The creative process is very much a process of disambiguation. Some prolific authors, painters and musicians may seem to be simply pumping out work like a factory assembly line. But they know who and what they are, and what they can do. Do you think for one moment that each time I finished a painting, I looked at it and told myself; That’s perfect? No. What I’d say is…Mmmm, it’s adequate. Or, Damn, no good. Rarely, I would say, yes, it works.
You cannot lie to yourself in those moments: that thing you have made is a mirror that shows who you really are.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
To move forward, you need someone who has professionalism combined with generosity of spirit.
I’ve discovered that in real life, in faraway Oz, he is a husband, father to five children, has a career unrelated to music, and is a Christian. When you listen to his music, his faith is clear. You can see it in his face, hear it in his lyrics and in his voice. He is as open and as vulnerable as a bright tulip emerging from the frozen ground at the end of Winter. Does his spirit of generosity come from his faith? I have not asked him. But I suspect it may be the case.
Regardless of his personal circumstances, and his own beliefs and values, he’s been like this towards me from day one, many, many difficult songs ago.
Wat ‘n pragtige uitdrukking van waardering en dankbaarheid.