IT’S ALL BEEN DONE BEFORE
You bet it has!!
I had the pleasure recently of being on a very Super-Secret Squirrel committee deciding the final nominations for a prestigious governing body that recognizes outstanding achievement in the music industry.
It’s always a totally inspiring experience.
I have been doing it for a few years now but what I learned this time was that if any of the material contained a “sample” of a pre-existing recording it would not be eligible for consideration. So, I guess artful appropriation through technological processes is not being original?
“Rockists” people who are racists but only about rock music are always attempting to devalue the importance of Hip Hop and Modern Pop that incorporates current digital production techniques or sampling technology.
The originality demonstrated in reconstituting the past into a valid musical creation is exactly how it’s been done forever. Just like Led Zeppelin, who used the same chord progressions of their blues heroes. Just like Cole Porter inspired The Beatles. Just like The Beastie Boys with The Dust Brothers sampling over 100 songs for their ground breaking Paul’s Boutique album.
How about the idea that creating music is similar to putting together a dresser [wardrobe if you’re from the UK] from IKEA, a prefabricated piece of art that you have to assemble yourself. The pieces are all there – hopefully.
All you have to do is put the pieces together in the correct order. And there is no map. Well, you do get those freaky instructions. You know the ones; there are no words just pictures. Pictures that reduce it to a simplified, easy to understand, a child could do it, process.
No room for error.
If you have ever put together an IKEA product you know there are some secrets. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of tricks you have to know otherwise the thing is only going to last 3 months before it starts to loosen up. Then you have to find that silly wrench that came with the instructions to tighten everything up again.
So, what really happens is you end up with YOUR IKEA dresser. One that looks like the picture but really has the stamp of your individuality. And maybe your past experience of assembling one of these prefab pieces of art gives you the insight to wait to tighten everything in the proper order. Or, don’t over-tighten the corners etc.
Connecting the ideas, recognizing the combinations, refining the process, seeing the possibilities of amplifying what came before by adding your unique spin on it is what makes the end product rare and uncommon. That’s being original!!
The value comes in not necessarily coming up with completely original idea but augmenting an existing idea and magnifying it so it becomes uniquely yours.
Almost all successful, creative endeavors start from a place of reproduction.
So, then what you could say is “ Yes, this has been done before but, not by me and not this way and not for this audience”.
And that ability to put inspiration together with your influences is what we can think of as the heart of your originality. The knowledge of your craft combined with how to reinterpret what has come before.
Originality happens when you are “in it”. When you are doing it. When you are actually doing the work. The romantic idea that “I don’t have to really work, it should just come to me” sounds like you are letting yourself down.
It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, it would not have as much value.
Don’t let yourself off the hook. There is a much bigger process involved than just being inspired.
Being original is a risky thing to do, if we wait until we are inspired to do it than it might not happen. Then there is no risk at all.
The most creative people usually have a lot of time in with their “process.” The more time in… the more “original” we seem to become.
To be really valuable, your originality should be hard won. You have to know what, why and how to find importance in what has come before. That’s where your individual creative statement will ultimately come from.
It’s all the listening, learning and discussing that gives you the ability to be original.
What is really being asked of you is to step up and take responsibility for your originality. It doesn’t matter how it manifests itself, only that it does.
Next time you start complaining about the DJ’s in the EDM scene are only just pushing buttons, you might want to consider they are just using the modern tools to do what’s always been done. Putting themselves into the musical narrative.
Wasn’t it T.S. Elliott who famously stated “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”.
Yeah, and the Ramones only used two chords…but they were the RIGHT two chords.