One of the greatest obstacles we have to being creative is that critical voice inside us that controls what we say, how we say it and even how we write. I’ve actually seen people in graduate school handwriting sections of their thesis (yes, I am dating myself for all you Surface owners) then throwing away perfectly good idea snippets because what they wrote wasn’t neat enough or had too many cross-outs. Conversely, I’ve produced or engineered bands who’ve walked into the studio with chord progressions and lyrics on the backs of napkins and recorded some of the most incredible songs imaginable. Next time you listen to Sir George Martin’s productions of those amazing Beatles songs, remember how the words looked on paper before there was anything to listen to!
Give yourself every day a few minutes to free write your thoughts without regard to what’s coming out or what it means. Just let your mind do a data dump through your arm to your hand and onto paper. It’s the best way I know of to tame the control beast and to give your creative energies the paths they need for expression. When you build on that habit, amazing things will happen. Try it! Give yourself a ticket to write…
Producing legendary American jazz pianist and composer Erroll Garner for London Records taught me as much about creativity and defining success in life and career as it did about his musical genius.
Born in Pittsburgh on June 15, 1921, Erroll began playing piano at the age of three. Like most kids, he didn’t write his goals down on paper or construct a rudimentary business plan; he simply played. He was self-taught and “played by ear,” never learning to read music. He appeared on KDKA radio at the age of seven and by the ripe old age of 11 was performing on Allegheny riverboats. In 1947 played with Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” session. Tall on talent but short in stature (5’2″), Erroll performed while sitting on a stack of phone books. An instrumentalist, his grunting and groaning vocalizations can be heard on his recordings and are his signature while his musical style is a combination of using his right hand to play behind the beat while his left strummed a steady rhythm. His musical sense of humor came from his improvised introductions to pieces that had nothing to do with the songs they set up. His composition “Misty” is a jazz standard.
Erroll Garner’s s life and legacy taught me:
- Follow your passion without compromise.
- Life is about improvisation.
- Don’t wait to learn it to live it. Live your passion every moment and keep learning along the way.
- Don’t play to convention. Do what comes naturally and feels “right” to you.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep your sense of humor and share it with others.
Bass, Electric Bass – Bob Cranshaw
Congas – Jose Mangual
Organ – Norman Gold
Percussion – Grady Tate
Piano – Erroll Garner
Producer – Garrison Leykam, Martha Glaser
Tambourine – Jackie Williams (2)
Given my passion for motorized two- and four-wheel nostalgia, it’s great to see a company like Marmon Holdings’ heritage of innovation and quality exemplified by Ray Harroun and his Marmon Wasp. Ray is best known for the 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 8 seconds it took him to win the first Indianapolis 500 automobile race, at an average speed of 74.6 mph.
A part-time racer, Ray Harroun was foremost an engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company, an early 20th century producer of passenger cars that are frequently cited as exemplars of the golden age of the American automobile. He designed the six-cylinder Marmon Wasp, so named for its yellow and black color scheme, from stock Marmon engine components. Unlike most racecars of the period, the Wasp was built with a smoothly-cowled cockpit and a long, pointed tail to reduce air drag. That little item in your car called the rear-view mirror? That was Ray’s idea!
Not long after Mr. Harroun’s return to Indy, Marmon-Herrington Company, a successor to the old Marmon Motor Car Company joined a growing group of businesses that had been acquired by brothers Jay and Robert Pritzker. At the time, the group included a dozen businesses, but lacked a name. In 1964, Marmon was chosen to connote excellence in engineering and performance.
Kudos to Marmon!
Kudos to Sharon Fisher on her wonderful article in Laserfiche, Will Computers Make Pens and Pencils Obsolete? I readily admit to my passionate affair with my fountain pens, Crayolas and pencils to the point at which I will have a graphite duel (“choose your No.2”) with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to defend the pencil’s existence against threats by computers, smartphones, tablets and the removal of cursive writing from “Common Core” instruction in our schools. The single reason that the printing industry was profitable in 2015 was the demand for adult coloring books. Follow-the-dots books are about to further insure print publishing’s bottom line.
My relationship with the No.2 pencil goes from loyalty to sublime aesthetic passion anytime that Russian artist Salavat Fidai’s miniature carvings into the tips of graphite pencils are on exhibit. They are unique art forms and never fail to elicit “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from observers.
So, as far as No.2 pencils becoming obsolete, it will take more than technology to move me away from my graphitic creative wanderings.
Change has a way of eluding most people because they believe that in order to change you have to eat the whole enchilada rather than have just one bite. Take dieting, for example. Some of the most grandiose plans go into the most short-lived dieting strategies which fail because the incremental steps are dismissed in favor of all or nothing goals. But, just one small change, the right one, can bring major life-changing results.
51-seconds seems like an infinitesimal bit of time. Yet, for the American R&B, soul and funk band Bloodstone, it changed their musical path and launched them into the charts. “Natural High” was the first single and title track from their London Records album of the song name released in 1972. When I edited “Natural High” from 4:53 to 4:02 in 1973 to garner airplay on time-restricted AM radio stations, the song skyrocketed to the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #10 and to #4 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. The 51-seconds change turned out to be monumental in Bloodstone’s success.
That storm-strewn endogenous maelstrom we call our emotions can be calmed with “Just One Look,” as the lyrics of Doris Clark’s 1963 hit single exclaimed: “Just one look, that’s all it took” and “I fell so hard in love with you.”
As big as the world is, tiny things have changed the course of history. The failure of the tiny O-ring on the space shuttle Challenger led to a re-examination of the country’s space program and dashed people’s hopes and dreams. The Arab discovery of the zero (“0”) made modern mathematics possible. The invention of the printing press made mass education a reality. Security officer Frank Wills’ discovery of a piece of masking tape keeping a hotel room door unlocked led to the arrest of five men inside the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Washington D.C. Watergate building leading to an FBI investigation and the resignation of a president.
A tiny change can have massive creative and life-changing implications. Identify that one, small change you can make and do it. Focus all of your effort on it. Ignore the musical score and take laser focus on the one note of your life or career that moves you in a new direction.
The Beach Boys’ 1966 release of “Pet Sounds,” produced, arranged and almost entirely written by Brian Wilson, forever changed the landscape of pop music and is considered one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music. Inspired by the immaculately constructed and filler-free Beatles album, “Rubber Soul,” Brian’s masterpiece incorporates unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans, and even barking dogs.
Record producers, musicians and arrangers are continuously on the lookout for unique ways to incorporate novel sounds into their productions. The 13th Floor Elevators are remembered fondly for Tommy Hall’s work on the electric jug in “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” That’s an ocarina solo happening halfway into The Troggs “Wild Thing” and Nirvana on “Drain You” made musical use of a rubber duck, some chains, and aerosol cans. On “Harvest Moon” that down-home sound is created by an old corn broom being swept across a sheet of sandpaper and Brian Eno fastens down a contorted guitar solo with a deft typewriter beat on “China My China.”
Being able to see alternative uses of anything is a key to jump-starting the creative process. A slice of white bread with the crust removed will eliminate greasy fingerprints from painted walls and bicarbonate of soda sprinkled into offending shoes will eliminate the odors. Crayola crayons serve as excellent fillers for small gouges or holes in resilient flooring especially since the color options are immense. And, don’t throw away those scratched CDs. Screw them onto stakes along your driveway and they make great nighttime reflectors.
My point: looking at objects and problems from different perspectives is key to coming up with novel solutions to any challenge. Right now, wherever you are sitting, pick up any object within reach and think of all the alternative uses you can imagine for it. And, when you think you’ve exhausted the possibilities, think again. The best ones are waiting for you. Now, apply alternatives to life and career. The possibilities are endless!
Producing and engineering for London Records during the height of the British wave of music was a rush that has never left me. I’ve applied to business, leadership and team building the lessons I learned in the studio to bring out the best performance in any setting.
One dynamic in particular that occurred naturally when working with bands and groups was this: as rehearsed as I made sure band members were before they entered the studio (this was the pre-digital analog era and hourly studio costs prohibited wasting any time) I always allowed for natural, spontaneous creativity to emerge. While working through a part like a guitar solo or background harmonies, band members would give immediate feedback to one another as to how they heard or saw a particular part and the suggestion would be tried. No pre-thought was given to the exchange of feedback. It just happened. As invested in a musical part any band member was, they were open and creatively quick to listen to the suggestions of their mates and to try them.
To amp up our own creative juices we should condition ourselves to step back from the challenge at hand to “see” it and “hear” it as we would imagine others might; especially our targeted audience. What would they say or recommend at this stage of the process that might direct us in a more productive or unique way. When I’m working on a creative project of my own I sometimes get up from my desk chair and imaginatively “invite” someone else, often a specific person, to give feedback. I literally stand behind my chair, like I used to do in the recording studio during playbacks when I put my “commercial audience ears” on and assessed whether a song was a hit or not, and try to imagine others’ responses and suggestions. You can be involved in a solo endeavor like writing and still engage the recommendations of others. Think of it as conjuring the creative spirits of those you respect the most! You might surprised at the outcomes!