The bigger musical projects get – the more possibilities arise. Not only do the budgets increase, but also the resources in terms of teams and outside players involved.
But big budgets don’t necessarily produce high-quality outputs. Or even creative outputs, for that matter. On the contrary – there’s a certain danger attached. You can buy talent. You can buy an aesthetic. But that doesn’t mean you can actually pull it off, owning a production the way you should.
This can have several reasons – money is just thrown around, without planning or heartfelt creative direction. Or “boring” ideas are just juiced up a bit, without adding true value to the creative core, there are many reasons.
What this article explores are various ways in which limiting factors actually help a project evolve. Maybe even keep it real and humble.
Keeping expressive muscles warm
Confronting yourself with hard, creative tasks keeps your mind busy and healthy. In order to push beyond literal, physical boundaries you have to develop musculature to support you. It’s the same with writing music, conceptualizing videos, artwork etc.
The more you outsource, the less you train your mind’s capability of creative problem-solving. One could argument – what’s the problem with that? Well, there are two, actually: 1) dependency 2) missing creative direction.
If you get used to an outside assortment of “hired-creative-guns”, it might elevate your standards and output for a certain moment. That’s ok. But you will also have to keep that going, in order to maintain artistic consistency. You will be dependent upon those influences, because you will no longer have the ability to recreate this output. Dependency is not necessarily something artists in this “DIY day and age” should strive for. That’s why you should always consider at least taking part in creative execution, to know why things come together the way they do. This leads to the next problem, the issue of missing creative direction.
The more you distance yourself from a process, the more you outsource, the less you know about creative decisions that are being made. Around your work, within your vision. And that’s what it still should be – your vision.
Even if you compartmentalize various steps – giving music out of your hands to external mixing or mastering engineers, if you let an external video crew produce an upcoming video, maybe even hire an art director for your artwork and overall look and feel – you should stay in charge of your vision. And you can only do this by maintaining a certain amount of creative direction. At least on an executive level. Even better – prior to that, on “lower” levels of creative execution. Do the footwork, even if you’re climbing up the ladder.
Everybody knows the feeling – hearing a production and getting tired of it before the first chorus drops. Or watching a video that is so pumped and glossy that you lose interest in the first minute or so. You’re overwhelmed, something essential is missing, there’s no arrowhead, no focus.
Well, this a risk you’re taking when engaging in a path that has no boundaries. this sentence is thrown around a lot. Creativity has no boundaries. True art is limitless. Well, in a moral sense – yes, of course. Art should be free-flowing. But just as a Monet needs a canvas, so does a song need a form – at least in contemporary styles likely to be placed within the music streaming sphere. So does a project need some boundaries to work within?
Dave Grohl supposedly said, “If it works with a guitar, it works.” And this can be applied to a wide range of musical styles but also forms of expression. Great outcomes rely on great ideas. If the idea is huge, unique, maybe even weird, the packaging serves the purpose.
And this is something a lot of people seem to be criticizing nowadays. Cut to Diplo, saying “It’s not about where the sound comes from, it’s about what you do with it.” Focusing on simplicity doesn’t mean creating a simple sound. It means boiling down your ideas to the absolute core, or at least being able to do so. Every kid with a mac can juice up a bedroom production with a universe of massive synths, choirs, and bass hurricanes. Luckily. The more, the merrier.
But it takes taste – and especially self-control – to create something outstanding. And this starts with the embrace of limits, of setting boundaries to the possibilities, but also im-possibilities of musical creation.
Knowing what you don’t want, or can’t, or should do in a production is the key to making the most out of what you have. What you are capable of. Creating in this day and age means creating in a world of abundance. That’s why limiting yourself can act as a surefire way of evolving, of becoming better with less.