Forced Creativity and Why Miguel and I Don’t Write Music Together

by Chris McGinty of

I’ve had a long standing argument
with Miguel about whether or not creativity is better when you wait for
inspiration or if it’s ultimately better to frequently force yourself to be
creative looking for inspiration. I’m not sure where he is in this discussion
now. He may have come a little more onto my side of the debate, or he may still
feel that creativity is waiting on the muse. For my part, I’m more convinced
than ever that you should strive for creativity frequently, and find
inspiration along the way.

I think that maybe there is a
definitional problem in how we once had the conversation though. I think in our
youth we had this feeling that every time you sat down to create that what you
created was the result. If I said to Miguel, “Hey come up with some lead guitar
for this song we’re working on,” that Miguel felt he was stuck with that lead
guitar forever and ever. If I sat down and wrote a short story later that night
about how a misunderstood McCartney couldn’t get his fucking Lennon to just
come up with something over what he’s playing, that whatever way I wrote that
story I was stuck with it.
Sometimes that’s how songs,
stories, video projects, etc. do come about. You feel inspired, you sit down to
work on something, and the result is just amazing. Some of my best work has
come about this way. Some of my best work has also come from forcing myself
into the creative space, coming up with nothing good for hours, and then having
an odd thought somewhere along the way that turns into something great. I feel
like I’d miss out on many of those ideas if I didn’t spend the time trying.
When I write a blog post, I usually
do find that what I write is what I’m stuck with, because I usually only do
some light edits before posting. When it comes to the past work Miguel and I
did, I think we were unaware of how much iteration generally goes into making a
great piece. I think that where I was demanding a guitar riff from Miguel, we
should have been jamming a little more to find a riff that Miguel liked. But I
also think Miguel should have just come up with something as a placeholder,
because there was nothing saying he couldn’t change it later when he was
inspired. Miguel was never really all that interested in practicing, and I
think we missed out on a lot of opportunities to not only improve as musicians,
but also to find those riffs that would make Miguel happy.
I was of the feeling that if “John
and I sat down and wrote the first hundred songs or so” that we would find the
hour and a half of music that we were actually interested in playing somewhere
in those hundred songs. I also felt that while some of the songs would never
quite get there that we would work out a few of them. I think we were
idealistic, and unfortunately our idealism wasn’t compatible where our
songwriting was concerned.
If I have a point here, it’s that
creativity isn’t generally all or nothing. There may be times when you’re under
a deadline and what you create is what gets presented to the public. The rest
of the time, I think you have time to take the bad presentation of a good idea
and turn it into something better. It’s not just about forcing yourself to be
creative to come up with something new. Sometimes when you sit down to “be
creative” you’ll find inspiration on that thing you’ve been stuck on for years.
Sometimes you’ll pull something out that isn’t very good in its current state
and find a way to make it better.
I think that even Miguel would
agree that when he’s working on editing a video that it’s mostly about sitting
down and making some sort of progress. That when he spends time on a project that
sometimes the inspiration makes itself known through the tedium of the work.
Yes, sometimes you’ll sit there for hours and not create anything worth sharing
with the world, but other times you will. Since you never know which it’ll be,
you might as well sit down and come up with something. You can always change it
Chris McGinty is a blogger who
decided to take a week off from writing since his mom was visiting. He still
found himself frequently writing throughout the week. It doesn’t really turn
off, I guess.

1 thought on “Forced Creativity and Why Miguel and I Don’t Write Music Together

  1. Here's my current position. I'm a believer that your work shouldn't be dictated by just making your fingers move. When we were working on Sheltered Life/C&C Paul Factory/Burn Base Down at Horizontal that's what a lot of it was. At least that's how it felt to me.

    Obviously you have to make your fingers move to execute the art. And that's not to say you can't find something interesting by mindlessly making your fingers move. But if it's all about fingers moving and you're not thinking through your ideas you're probably going to miss way more often than you're going to hit. Which is fine if you're working in solitude and you have the freedom of just being in a zone where mostly nonsense is coming out.

    But when there's the added social pressure of having to get something done in a specific setting and you're not necessarily on board with the idea that's on the table it wasn't something I necessarily had the experience or requisite craft to deal with.

    So these are things I've heard over the years with respect to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Some of them might be way off and I'm not going to try to source them so take it for what it is:

    1. Most of the songs were written more by one than the other. Meaning that Paul McCartney would write "Yesterday" and Lennon would write "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" but the songs would be credited to both as a songwriting team. Why I think it makes sense is it allowed each to have autonomy over their respective compositions. There wasn't an issue of, "Hey I think it would be better if you did this instead of that."
    "Well I don't want to do that. That's stupid."
    "Fuck you."

    They weren't writing together in a literal sense where they had to be in the same room the entire time. Maybe it works that way for some collaborators, but I think other teams figure out their role in the team and stick to it (i.e. Elton John & Bernie Taupin or Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice).

    2. Lennon and McCartney were performers first. They put bands together and just started playing songs they liked by other artists. This had the effect of giving them an education on song craft just by the sheer repetition of playing Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry songs all the time. The craft becomes second nature and makes it so you can deploy it when you're working your own material.

    3. The Beatles were rip off artists. A few years back the Marvin Gaye estate lawsuit against Robin Thicke revealed a dirty little secret of the music business. A lot of songs start out with the artist saying, "I want to write a song like X." That song will then be the model for the creative process. It's kind of how you get a bunch of material together on a deadline.

    I use the word rip off in a judgy kind of way, but I basically did this shit too. Back in 1993 I wanted to emulate Alice In Chains. Some of the riffs I came up with were the result of hearing a particular rhythmic pattern and then by — well — making my fingers move I just put in new notes over that pattern.

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