Band Practice Is Toxic To Creativity – By Jesse Cannon
One of the most common creative tools for the novice leader of a creative team is the brainstorming session, which is structured nearly identical to most musician’s band practice. The idea being if everyone sits around and spitballs ideas, some greater good will come of it and the creative decision at hand will be solved by the group, since after all a few heads are better than one. Right?
The concept of brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn of famous ad firm BBDO. He’s thought to be one of the inspirations for the character Don Draper on Mad Men. He popularized the idea of brainstorming in a series of business books he wrote through the 50s. While you could point to years of creativity that occurred that followed his book’s lead as evidence of how great this idea works, the first rule he outlines for brainstorming seems to have been lost on nearly every one of the hundreds of bands I have ever attended a session of. This rule was that you aren’t allowed to criticize the ideas of others in the group.
Disobeying that rule has led to the toxic environments of latent resentment present in nearly every band I know that’s made more than one record. Osborn said that if the members of group feared negative feedback and ridicule the sessions would fail. Anyone who has been to a band practice knows members are commonly reduced to having “stupid ideas” or even worse “ideas that never work” etc. While I do believe jibing and friendly teasing to be key to a great environment, when it comes to discounting creative instincts, a boundary needs to be created in order to make better art. But this balance is delicate, so delicate that Osborn called it a delicate flower, whereas most bands treat their creative brainstorming session like a food fight.
While many musicians have a short temper for trying many ideas, Osborn found the best results came from allowing people to think of the absurd and not being afraid to share the dumbest or most adventurous ideas. Quantity should come first and then through evaluation quality will come as a result.
Most successful creators have come to learn there’s no shame in throwing out a bad idea, it’s part of the process. An environment is established where it is known people will have bad ideas and that’s the only way to get to the good ideas. You come to learn that, unless you have a few bad ideas, you can’t be sure that your final idea is the best one.
Dissent and discussion are helpful and every study on the subject shows that dissent can help come up with better answers, so hating that your bassist doesn’t always love your ideas can be the reason you make good songs. But that’s not to be mistaken with just saying “no” makes better products. Figuring out how to augment the good and identifying it is just as important as saying no. The balance lies in experimenting but in the end trusting your gut to make sure you made the right decision, even if your original idea is what you stick with, it has at least been thoroughly vetted.
Even if your band practice is a positive environment that would make the happiest of hippie kindergarten teacher give you a gold star, band practice is still not the optimal place for creativity to occur. Keith Sawyer a psychologist at Washington University, talks about decades of studies that show brainstorming results in a worse creative result. Instead the best creative outcomes come when the individuals work alone and later pool their ideas. This is why over the years a common trend in the great acts are a single songwriter writing the skeleton of a song on their own and then bringing it to the group to vet, dissect and ultimately bring to greater good.
While I know most of our favorite songs were birthed in band practice sessions, this doesn’t mean we can’t reach greater heights by learning from this concept. People will always defend the status quo, but learning to not have a demeaning creative environment and that it is good to take your creative contributions out of the practice room to develop can most likely help many musicians get to a much better creative place.
Jesse Cannon is a Brooklyn based record producer, mixer and mastering engineer. He is co-founder of Noise Creators a service that connects musicians to the best producers in music today. He is the author of Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business and the upcoming Processing Creativity.
Click here and listen to Jesse’s guest URM Podcast episode where we discuss strategies upcoming audio engineers can use to promote themselves, and lots of juicy mastering tips.
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