A famous producer once stated, “I’d rather record the best drummer in the world on the world’s worst equipment, rather than record the world’s worst drummer on the best equipment in the world.” I’m good with that statement.
Every so often, whenever I’m feeling stale, I take a few steps back and look over my original intentions. I can always tell when I’m hitting that ‘wall’ because I want to start looking on all of the websites for a new piece of gear. And it always seems to be the stuff that I can’t afford. Just like when I was a kid and Sears sent out their Christmas catalogues, nothing has changed. But I usually resist the temptation to place an order, because I’ve learned that generally a new wave of inspiration hits soon after every lull. Lots of people, however, yield to the temptation and find themselves in a roomful of new, expensive and, mostly under-utilised, gear.
If this phase doesn’t soon correct itself, we need to re-examine what the cause of this ‘gear acquisition syndrome’ is. We need to ask ourselves if indeed we are heeding a deeper calling, or if we are simply looking for a quick fix. It is my belief that if we are simply trying to ‘be a musician’ rather than constantly struggling to become one, we are out of allignment with the way that things are designed to work. Our main objective should be to listen to what is calling to us as songwriters and musicians, and to produce, as faithfully as possible, what we hear. If we hear Tchaikovsky and attempt to turn it into Nine Inch Nails, we are betraying that voice, attempting instead to please others in order to be ‘popular’, rather than satisfying our inner Muse, and in doing so, we will never be satisfied. Finally the voice will stop speaking, because we have stopped listening. We must realise that we have to sacrifice ourselves, but this is, unfortunately, a sacrifice that far fewer are willing to make. Joni Mitchell didn’t get famous because she could bust moves. It was only because she was an absolutely kick-ass writer who sacrificed herself to her work. The things that she heard didn’t come to her in standard tuning, so she tuned her guitar to what she heard. She didn’t ‘tune down’ just because it was the current fad. In becoming her own voice, she gave her voice to the Muse, and she was repaid tenfold. Her back-catalogue is astounding, and she never gave a second thought as to what was ‘hip’ at the time. She appealed to those who accepted her on her own terms, and fame took a back seat to her Muse.
This is how it should be with every one of us.
There is an ancient verse which states: “To he who has, it shall be given, but to he who has not, that too shall be taken away.”
Nothing is more important than practice. Nothing. Nothing.
Practice is the sacrifice that we make to the Muse. Whether we practice writing lyrics, or practice scales on our instrument of choice, this is the sacrifice that must be made in order to ‘make it over to the other side’.
My advice to everyone, is not to concern yourselves with how big an impression your studio rack makes on all of your colleagues, but how big of an impression you can make on the gear. One must remember that the gear is simply the highway. You are the vehicle. Whatever model, new or old, slow or fast, sleek or clunker, you are only trying to arrive at your destination. The way to keep this vehicle running is through preventative maintenence, and this maintenence is called practice.
If you ‘don’t have time to practice’ because something else is more important, whether it be watching a football game or going out and getting blazed with a group of friends or surfing around on b all day and night long, you don’t have time to be an artist in the true sense of the word.
And there isn’t enough gear in the world that you can to sacrifice to the Muse in order to save your soul.
Johnny is a songwriter first, excelling at philosophical analogy, and publisher second at Hell Paving Company (ASCAP)