Mar 162018

I’m fascinated by the topic of drug use in the arts. You cannot separate the drugs from the art because without the drugs, in many cases, the art would not get done, or it wouldn’t be as “free from restraints”.

Booze, cocaine, speed, heroin as well as pharmaceuticals like Adderall and beta blockers, all are the fuel that drives the creative arts industry.

I’ve never done hard drugs myself. (Full disclosure: I’ve enjoyed some pot an a few occasions.) I’ve watched a number of friends use drugs to “get creative” but in the end it killed them and they were only, really, 1/10th as creative as they could have been because having a ton of great ideas and having a ton of finished works are not the same thing.

Many artist have said, both privately and publicly, that without their drug they “couldn’t do it”. That’s statistically true; most people are not creative and they’re full of anxieties. You give them some drugs and woah! they relax and the ideas come flooding in. I’ve always believed that there was a better way.

You have to also ask,”are drugs for artists like steroids for athletes?” I think that, yes, they are. Cheating really.

Cheating because, well, take speed or cocaine for example. Watch old footage of Tommy Shaw from Styx playing on that 12 string acoustic and just tossing it around while playing complex chord patterns. The drugs gave him “super-human” abilities. Abilities that are, really, a lie because without their magic powder those artist cannot perform the same way. You can see that in old videos too.

Look at guys like Jimmy Page. On drugs he was a god, now he can barely strum a chord. Others like Johnny Cash were fuelled by speed and whiskey, while being sold to the public as a wholesome country singer.

That’s why I believe that music made by drug users is false and leads to a shitty, selfish mindset in the public that says, “I don’t care if they fuck their lives up on drugs as long as ‘I’ get some good music to listen to!”. And that’s the very thing I have heard people say time and again, “…who cares about the drugs…the music is Great!”

A tragic downside to this is that it informs other up-and-coming musicians that they either must suffer from being not as good or fast or creative as the drug users or they should do drugs to compete; it’s the same quandary as athletes face vis-a-vis steroid use.

Having some music biz clown offer an artist cocaine is de rigure, that is to say, it’s pretty much a thing. A great line from, I think, (but could be wrong),  the movie about Judy Garland is, “I don’t care what’s wrong with you! Get those drugs into you and get the hell out there!” Regardless of what movie it’s from I have heard this said to musicians at real shows by real music industry people. No one should ever have to put up with that in their careers and we should not tolerate, let alone celebrate, drugs as a tool for art. Or worse, as a tool to enrich the music-management class.

We should not dismiss drug use in the arts just because we selfishly love the music. That concept is so lacking in human empathy and dignity that it reeks of a kind of black magic or voodoo, where spells are used to get others to do your bidding. No thinking, feeling person should accept it as the status quo.

When I hear music made by the drugs all I hear is the artist’s soul leaving their body through the doorway of the music. It’s a bargain with the devil. But more than that, when I hear someone doing something that they could not easily do without their magic substance putting a spell on them I know that it’s kinda fake. But it’s mostly just sad.

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Mar 152018

I see this argument a lot, “musicians put in a lot of effort making music and deserve to get paid for it. Music should not be free.”

The problem with this is that it refuses to see music as a business, but rather, it sees musicians as “entitled” to get paid. This is fundamentally wrong from a business perspective.

Music, like any other product that is offered to buyers in the marketplace, is also at the mercy of market forces. That is to say, it’s value is determined by those who have the money to buy it, and whether or not they choose to pay the price that is being suggested. If people are not willing to pay that price, then, it is said, “the bottom drops out of the market”. True with horse-draw carriages, true with music.

But unlike horse-draw carriages, dinning room suites, sticky buns etc, whose manufacturers do what they do specifically for the money they can earn, music makers are motivated by other reasons. I say this because music has Never been an “upwardly mobile” occupation. Other than the 1% who become actual “rock stars” musicians generally have never made that much money, compared to, say, a guy who’s a plumber, electrician, accountant or dentist. Those are Real Professions. They make Real Money. Music is, for the most part, not a real profession for the vast majority of people engaging in it as evinced by the constant whinging about there being no money. Not much of a professional career then, is it? More like wishful-thinking combined with tons of time, costs and effort leading to potentially fatal economic outcomes based on the Hope of success.

Hope is not a strategy.

Other professional careers generate money because they are essential services. Music is not an essential service, no matter what musicians egos tell them.

The biggest thing that musicians overlook is the lie they tell themselves about how important music is to society. It’s not important at all. According to Neilson/Soundscan greater than 80% of all people will NEVER purchase music. Ever. And only about half of those people will go to see a live performance. Ever. Many people will never attend more than 5 performances In There Lifetime. A solid 20% will never attend even one performance. Ever.

That’s just the reality of it. They listen to music on the radio in their cars or at work and that’s it. It’s just background noise. There’s a real, biological reason for this, but it’s too long and complex to get into here.

Music buyers have always been a niche market. That’s to be expected and predicted in what is called the Pareto Distribution. 80% of a thing is done by 20% of the people and it has a long tail that predicts that at the 50% of the participants mark the number of people who profit from their efforts will drop to zero. It’s just a true fact.

But musicians don’t want to believe that. They want to believe that “everyone loves music” and they then inject the flawed inference that “everyone who listens to music should be required to purchase music” and then it just goes down the slippery slope of bad logic to, “therefore all music should cost money or you shouldn’t get to hear it” (which I’ve read countless times in the music whing-o-sphere) and further down to the bottom of the barrel of fallacious thought that, “I’m a musician, therefore You Owe Me Money for my music”.

No one should get paid merely because they make music any more than any other maker of any other thing should get paid merely because they made something. It’s what you do with it in the marketplace that counts.

So, what to do to make money then?

Making money from youtube or any other internet display site? Nope. Won’t happen for the vast majority of participants. It’s a numbers game just like a “getting paid at the door” gig. You bring fans to, say, youtube, then you can get the Subscribers and hours of view required to meet the qualifications to get paid. Like a gig; no one comes, you don’t get paid.

People buying your CD? Nope. CDs are dead, unless you happen to have an existing fan-base of people, mostly older people statistically, who still listen to CDs.

So, digital downloads then? Probably not. Again, without the fan-base who the heck do you suppose will buy your stuff?

Okay, streaming! Right? Good luck with that. Like all things Internet, streaming, just like youtube or soundcloud or, well, the entire internet, really, is just advertising, promotion, PR. Traditionally, all other businesses pay BIG BUCKS for these things. But musicians somehow feel that they should be exempt from paying promotional cost associated with marketing their product. See the problem?

Musicians believe that they, and their music, are special and are entitled to, nay, Deserve! to get paid for their efforts. I always tell musicians who believe this to Sell Your Gear and get a real job because you clearly don’t understand how either music-as-a-commodity or business-in-general works and your delusions will only lead to a life of bitter envy, resentment and disappointment.

So, am I saying that musicians should not get paid ever for anything? No, of course not. Musicians should, and do, get paid all the time, though usually not much and never enough to recoup operating costs. My live guitar rig alone is worth around twenty grand. How many gigs do I have to do before I break even on that up-front cost and begin to turn a profit? Most musicians will tell you that the cost of hard-goods, tools and ancillary expenses of doing business are sunk costs and therefore a loss. This, of course, is a form of Gambler’s Fallacy where you count the winnings but don’t take into account the losses it took to get you there. Musicians, like gamblers, will pay a thousand dollars to get fifty bucks.

This is why even gigging is economically treacherous. Clubs and venues are only in it for the money: they are capitalists, not socialists. They have bills to pay and that can’t happen if they are paying musicians. Sports TV is much more cost effective.

If you want to gig you have to step up your game and play, what the AFofM traditionally designates as, Class-C or Class-B venues. Actual venues. You’ll need a real-world booking agency to accomplish this. You’re Wednesday night open-mic that hopefully leads to a Thursday night gig for a hundred bucks will only disappoint you and further stall your career. Sure they can be fun, but do them because you want to, not because you Have to.

All the money in the industry is made by people who are beating their brains out touring. Touring WHILE having a day job, I might add. My friend Troy worked at a music store during the day and toured Thursday through Sundays, and one solid week per month, while promoting their first TWO albums. BTW, they were well funded and signed to a real record label. Selling Fenders on Wednesday, playing to fifty thousand screaming fans in Brazil Saturday, selling Fenders again on Monday.

That’s the pure, economic reality of the music business.

And THAT is why I firmly believe that music should me made solely by people who love music so freekin’ much that they would make it anyway, regardless of whether they get paid or not. The rest of the poseurs, egotists and colicky wannabes should sell their gear and get out of the way. The marketplace doesn’t need to be more diluted with low-effort, low-talent offerings that diminishes the ability of real artists to display their work. This “talent” glut hurts us all, because it creates a buyers market, one where music is so ubiquitous and plentiful that it’s value drops to near-zero.

Just look at the 2017 Neilson/Soundscan stats. 96% of all the money in the biz is being made by less that 1% of the participants and, here’s the real kicker, of the 80 million, 80-frickin-million, songs on the internet, 79 million, 79-frickin-million of them have ZERO plays. That’s Zero as in “no one gives a fuck about your shitty music” Zero plays. Even your fucking Mom didn’t listen to it. Yet all of these hopefuls think that they “deserve” to get listened to and paid just for having shown up. Participation trophies all-around!

And THAT is why I, in my business model, give away my music for free.

Now, that’s not for everyone. But if I were a painter or sculptor, would I charge people to see my art? Don’t be daft. So why should I expect them to pay to hear my music? For record pressings and live shows, indeed!, no one should work for free, but to hear and enjoy the fruits of my creativity? I say, “Free the Music”.

Music is for the enlightenment and edification of all who enjoy it. It’s a cultural enhancement that beautifies the hearts and souls of those who hear it. Should people have to pay to be spiritually enlightened by music? Perhaps, if they feel they want to help support the efforts of the artist. But they are by no means obligated to. The world is made a better place by those who choose to ornament it with music regardless of it’s financial outcome.

This is what I do. This is what I believe. This is what I teach.

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May 042014

Imagination is not Creativity

This infographic artist has mistaken the word “creative’ for the term “imaginative”. Also, it’s more of a list of narcissistic traits than a guide to creative behaviours.

Imaginative people have these problems because they live inside their heads and are usually a frustrated mess internally, but creative people are too busy actually ‘creating” stuff to be bogged down by such things. Indeed, it’s because they aren’t afflicted with most of this that they even ‘can’ successfully create things. Imagination is like internet social networking: it’s just self-absorbed pointlessness unless you can manifest it into the real world.

I know, literally, dozens of very successful, creative people. None of them get bored easily, because there’s always something to create that keeps them busy. People who are bored easily have no ideas, no goal to attend to and are generally not artistic in any meaningful way. Bored people are often depressed. Depressed people rarely create things. Until they get a manic upswing. That’s a different discussion.

Not all ‘risk’ is created equal. Doing dodgy things that are risky isn’t a requirement for creativity. But to be sure, creators take big risks. They take the risk of being hacked on by the judgey/critiquey class. Being original takes guts! That’s why so few do it. Most self-described artistic types, imaginationists mainly, are only looking for a quick fix of positive attention and are unwilling to develop any personal convictions that may stray from the rather sycophantic, mainstream goal of being liked by others. They don’t risk creating things that might not give them the external validation they seek that confirms their belief that they are, indeed, awesome. The courage to create in the face of potential judgement is awesome. Anything less is, well, less than awesome.

It’s often said that real creativity colours outside the lines. But, really, it only seems like they colour outside the lines. Again, this is what the judgey class says when something is not ‘normal’, because ‘colouring outside the lines’ is the way they say “not like us, but still acceptable by us”. Real artists do what they need to do to express their ideas regardless of the arbitrary lines drawn by the denizens of self-interest-ville. That’s why being original takes courage. Because the mediocres believe in limiting themselves and will always attempt to limit others. “Cutting the tops off of tall trees” is how it’s often put. So creating things always puts the artist at risk of the BS from this bunch. Real creative artists don’t know anything about these ‘lines’ which they are said to cross. Real creativity is as expansive as the whole world, not lived in a hallway which they sometimes stray out of.

Points 4,5,6 & 7 on the infographic; being overly emotional, incompetent, a miscreant and a loner, sound more like personality problems than the attributes of successful artists and are often entwined within the excuses they use to justify their lack of success. If you want to be ‘creative’ you might consider not nurturing these bad habits.

Every great artist that I know is emotional, but also highly studious and intelligent, knows the rules down cold so as to have a better understanding of how to contravene them and bend the rules to their will. Though they make mistakes, those mistakes are merely a nudge towards course correction, not an actual screw-up level of error. Conversely, imaginative-but-not-creative types all like to think that they are breaking the rules, but again, that’s just a behavioural problem. They don’t even know the rules and refuse to learn them, ‘cuz, f*ck rules! They also rarely, if ever, actually create anything meaningful, or at all because one of the rules they refuse to learn, which they freely break, is to get really good at something and use that skill to create actual things.

Working well alone is a must, though, unless you are heading a team of creative people working towards a creative objective. Top level creators always have a team of highly skilled people assisting them in manifesting their vision and will be comfortable cooperating in a team based effort. Though they may have started out working in isolation, it’s usually sociality and the ability to deal well with others that is the driving force behind their successes. This inability to work well with others is exactly why most bands suck and die.

When it comes the notion that creative people change their mind a lot, or are indecisive, that’s just not what I’ve seen in the real world. Sure there are decisions to be made and sometimes plans need to be course corrected because of unforeseen issues and obstacles, but that’s not the same as indecisive waffling. That’s what imagination-driven people do. They can’t hold a thought long enough to bring their vision to fruition without having it change into something else.

Which brings me to the darker side of the imagination; brain crack. Idea monkeys get their supply of positive reinforcement by imagining great things, which gives them a squirt of serotonin/dopamine/endorphins that has the same effect as drugs. It’s the biggest reason why they can’t move beyond imagination into creation: instant gratification. Creation takes a ton of effort, is often unpleasant and, while creating, often temporarily unfulfilling because creation takes, often, all your waking hours for long periods of time, depending on the scope of the project. No brain crack to be had until it’s done. Few can put up with the effort creativity takes. So they chose low-hanging fruit, easily achievable goals, and deceive themselves about their accomplishments in order validate and justify their self described creativity and public perception of their self projected awesomeness. Hence Facebook.

Artistic eccentricity has two flavours: People who aren’t really eccentric, but appear that way, or are judged to be that way, by outsiders/failurists/criticisers, and people who live to make others ‘think’ that they are, indeed, eccentric, for egotistical reasons. The first group, in which I include myself are “not weird for the sake of being weird, but for the sake of being themselves” regardless of what anyone thinks. This is where courage/risk comes into play. The second group invariably will, at some point, refer to themselves as ‘artsy’. Not actually an artist but fully intent to publicly self-define as a one, regardless of their artistic output. Doing a couple of pieces of art no more makes one an Artist than dancing at the local disco makes one a Dancer.

However, to Dream Big is the crux of the biscuit, but it leaves one thing out. To dream big often rolls out as just more brain-crack driven imagination and the dreamy-dreams of a lush fantasy life. “Can you put your hands in your head? Oh, no!” The narcissism of the lush inner world and it’s attendant, onanistic self appraisals notwithstanding, to dream big is the germinous at the core of creativity.

Those who create must dream big. I like to believe that if I, “aim for the eagle, and only bag a pheasant, I’ll never eat crow.” That’s been my motto since I first heard it when I was a kid. Dream big, bigger even, and make a great plan to achieve that result. (…and perhaps read the book, The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz).

Those around you who don’t live that way will try and squash your dreams. It’s makes them sad in their pants that you might be/get/have/do more/better things than them. To dream big takes guts. Takes courage. But to actually Do anything about your dreams takes greater than average amounts of both. And some really thick skin. But not so thick it turns into that brutal form of cynicism that insists upon itself like a cigarette burn.

People who attach themselves to artists, for their own personal/social benefit, are dime-a-dozen and will subtly attempt to make you conform to their idea of who/what you need to be to please ‘them’. Don’t fall for it. Those who support true self-realization and unrestricted creativity are rare. Finding people who support your work and cheer you on, especially if you create anything that is poignant, anti-establishment or anti-authoritarian, culturally re-inventive, uses destructive or decaying iconography, is irreligious or even sacrilegious is the single best thing that will ever happen to you as an artist. They will incalculably improve your life and your art. Better one person who “gets it” than a hundred who say they ‘get it’ only to give you a pat on the back for your effort while offering you their ‘constructive criticism’. They are not your friends.

Dream big, work alone or with a team to accomplish your vision, don’t ever believe in ‘lines’ that need to be coloured outside of, know the rules down cold and take them to the next level of contravention, let your heart guide your ideas but make your intellect guide your hands, do your best to get your inner vision, your imagination, into the real world regardless of what anyone else thinks about it or about you, have the courage of your convictions and the guts to risk being laughed at, judged, critiqued; risk failure or lack of results, but most of all be yourself for the sake of your own integrity and refuse to be something you’re not.

Be. Love. Do. Only then will your life and your art be one seamless definition of ‘you’.

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Aug 192013

During a discussion I had recently a friend of mine was giving his opinion, based solely on a single TV news blurb, to which he then added some Information Helper to fill out the story. Information Helper is the name I give to ones own imagination. It’s the most common type of thinking error that I come across in conversation.

Everybody does it, calling imagined ideas knowledge. They take a talking point, bullet point or soundbite and then use their imagination to pad it out into being what that person believes to be the whole story on whatever the topic is. The problem then becomes that I’m now conversing with someone who’s basis for their “knowledge” is their own imagination. Imaginings that have turned into strongly held beliefs and opinions forcefully put forth when the opportunity presents itself.

Imagination is Not Knowledge

But imagination feels like knowledge. Someone once asked, “What does it feel like to be wrong?”. The answer was, “It feel exactly like being right.” Because if your “knowledge” actually  *is* wrong but you believe that it is true and factual stuff, you’ll get a boost of positive brain chemicals associated with learning. You’ve learned something. Something that is factually incorrect. Imagination is not fact. But it pays out like a slot machine full of positive, highly addictive, chemical reinforcement for your brain. Like a built in crack dispenser.

Later on in the conversation with my friend I pointed out a fact, a very important fact, that he was unaware of. Not a heavy handed critique of his argument, but as part of the general give-and-take that makes for a robust conversation. Unfortunately the facts I presented, actual go-look’m-up facts, completely negated his premise. Without going into detail, I can say his premise was overtly racist against all things Middle Eastern.

Faced with my fact-based claim, rather than attempt to refute the claim directly, he merely said, “I don’t buy that for a minute. Look, Jef, *you* can’t  know everything.” I get that a lot when talking to people who use Information Helper rather than just doing their homework on the topics that interest them.

Imagination is Not Information

Information is data. Information is not knowledge. It is, however, the first step to acquiring knowledge. Research, study, doing ones homework on any given subject, are the only means by which you can gain quality information. Where do you start? Find the best and brightest, the textbooks and scholarly writings and read them. Develop a system of keeping track of which authors are credible, scholarly and non-corporate and which are propagandists and hacks. Use Michael Shermer’s “Bullshit Detector”. Understand and use the rules of logic, reason and argumentation and approach life and the claims of others using the Scientific Method. Do these things and you can’t go wrong. As a ancient philosopher once said, “One word to a wise man is sufficient, but a thousand words to a fool will fall on deaf ears.”

Use of the Rules of Logic

To say that “you can’t know everything” is true, but it’s also nonsensical rhetoric. Knowing a basic fact about something doesn’t mean you know everything, or anything really, beyond the supposed fact as asserted. Saying “you can’t know everything” is actually a  tactic to change the argument from the point that was made to the person making it. This qualifies it as a passive-aggressive version of that old chestnut of logical fallacies, the ad hominem attack. It implies that the person’s claim, as asserted, is not valid because there is something fundamentally wrong the person making the argument. They might as well have, more directly and honestly said, “You are *not* smarter than me, Mr Thinks-He-Knows-it-All !”. Or as Michael Swaim puts it, “Your argument is wrong and you are stupid”. At least that shows that if you can’t be right, you can at least powerfully attack your opponent into giving up. Ego crisis averted.

Beliefs Are Inexorably Linked to Happiness

As far back as the Old Testament days writers knew that there were two ways of approaching knowledge. “A fool thinks himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” A good observation, that. And also it’s the definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Truly intelligent, well educated people know that there is so much information about every detail of everything that it’s not humanly possible, even if you could live to be a thousand, to know everything. Yet that doesn’t stop intelligent people from pursuing education on the topics of interest to them. Rather, it inspires. It inspires me that, given my brief time here on Earth, I can pursue information and understanding of our world and it’s inhabitants with great vigour. I encourage everybody I converse with to devoutly pursue their educational goals. Because information leads to happiness. As the Bible correctly puts it, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Information leads to knowledge which leads to freedom from the shackle of error which leads to success which leads to happiness.

Freedom? Happiness? Really? Yes. One can only succeed, in life or in commerce, if the things one believes are factually true. Believing things that are false, or at best unproven, or “true for you” won’t cut it.

I know a woman who believes that ghosts communicate with her, angels assist her and that she can move the moon with her mind. None of this is true of course. She’s one of the least happy or successful people I’ve ever met. You might say she’s getting a failing grade in the school of life. And it’s sad. It’s even sadder that she has purposefully chosen her life’s path to be this one. The fatal flaw in her beliefs is that she is always right and not coincidentally, everyone else is wrong so, naturally, she disdains reading, science and education. She isn’t mentally ill; her unhappiness is a direct result of her low-quality beliefs.

To be successful in any endeavour one must be, or must be endeavouring to be, an A student in the school of life. You can only achieve this by acting on what you believe to be true and those beliefs must be based upon a solid foundation of factual, evidence based information. Wrong, bad and incorrect information cannot possibly lead to success. “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit”, so the saying goes.

Television is Not Truth, But it IS Education

Television has turned all of the greatest ideas about truth upside down. Television hates and disparages any education or information that doesn’t come from the producers of television programming and the talking heads that represent them.

All television content is created by, and wholly owned and controlled by, corporations that are collectively part of what has been termed the Military Industrial Complex. This is the Pentagon, US Gov’t, Oil companies, Mineral and mining companies, reconstruction companies, 3rd party support services such as food, transportation, laundry, medical and communications companies, insurance companies, automobile manufacturers, NASA, weapons manufacturers, security state infrastructure manufacturers, security consultants, video and movie production companies that are on the payroll of the Pentagon, private security firms, private mercenary armies, entertainment and broadcast corporations, think tanks, astroturfed grass roots movements and assorted people in high positions who stand to profit heavily from war and the security state or who merely need to manipulate your beliefs and opinions for the profitable and political reasons of power and control.

Television is the tool of mass propaganda and outright lies that is owned and controlled by this military/security industry. It’s a weapon they use to control the desires, tastes, voting decisions and general opinions of the masses.

Worst of all it teaches you to use the deceptive language of television. Your new vocabulary and talking points that will make you sound just as knowledgeable as the Really Smart People on TV. Now you’re smart too. Thanks Mr Syme.

So, What Can I Do To Avoid Being a Televictim?

Rather than passively watching TV, actively observe it in action and you’ll soon realize that television is always Pro-War. Television is always Pro-Elitist, Pro-Oligarch, Pro-Wealth and overwhelmingly Anti-Poor-People, Anti-Citizen’s Rights,  Anti-Union and Anti-Education. Television tells us that all money should flow in one direction only; from the poor, who don’t deserve it to the wealthy who do. Television portrays the wealthy as the saviours of humanity and the poor as criminals, drug addicts and lazy louts out to steal the hard earned wealth of the ruling class.

There is no Liberal Bias on television, only people who claim that there is. Television is, by it’s very nature and ownership, highly Conservative, Status-Quo, and Extremist in it’s view points, without fail. It demonizes intellectuals, educated thinkers and commentators, and promotes the points of view of known criminals, felons, ex-jail birds, war criminals, corporate profiteers and ideological menace-to-society types.

You don’t have to believe me on this. As with any claim I make, do your own homework and, if you look up the credentials and background of those whose opinions are the go-to opinions of mainstream media, you will discover that none of these observations are polemical or unjustified; merely an accurate observation of what your television promotes.

How The TV Virus Spreads

Usually, at this point, the avid televictim will retort, “I only watch educational channels like Discovery, The Learning Channel and National Geographic.” Though I would never say it, I often think to myself,  “Really? Which shows on these channels do you like best, Honey BooBoo, Monster Garage, Storage Wars or that one with the drunk monkeys?” These channels are the worst form of stupid. They work on the premise, “Make a man actually think and he’ll hate you; make a man think he’s thinking and he’ll love you.”

These so-called educational networks work their evil in a subtler, more insidious, way. But ultimately use the same exact tactic as a mainstream current events opinion show. That is, they give you 4 or 5 talking points, virtually meaningless factoid  bullet points, that are specifically crafted by professional psychologists to cause your passively absorbing brain to learn them, then pad those points out with opinion. Then tell you that only you can decide what’s true and let your imagination go to work. This is a common theme/tactic you’ll see time and again. “Did Nostrodamus predict 911? You decide.” It’s the nature of how your brain, at it’s most fundamental level, works. They actively stimulate your learning-reward system, you passively absorb the information, they tell you that it’s all your idea, you feel smarter because you actively decided either to believe or not to believe their claims and then, either way,  you reap the rich biochemical rewards that make you “addicted” to your television. Literally. Symbiosis at its finest.

What then happens is that the viewer, having learned and internalized the talking points, parrots them to others and adds their own special brand of Information Helper, usually a goulash of other things they’ve seen on TV combined with a dash of low IQ, a generous helping of lack of education and research on the topic, and of course sexism, racism, nationalism and bland tribal xenophobia. An undigestable casserole of ignorance, to say the least. This has the effect, within the brain of the person pontificating on the talking points topic, of squirting out even more blasts of biochemicals as a reward for being “smart”, reinforcing their own sense of correctness. Remember, when you think you are right, even when you are not, being stupid feels exactly like being smart. Armed with the latest well crafted talking point propaganda you’ll be all set to get a full days supply of attention and brain crack.

My Journey of Escape

I was lucky enough to have read Chomsky, McLuhan, Kurtz and others when I was in high school in the 1970s. From then on I didn’t watch television, only observed it doing its insidious thing and studying how it was being utilized as a weapon of mass propaganda. This connected perfectly with my studies in psychology and marketing to help form a Big Picture view of how governments and corporations implement social control.

You can’t know everything, it’s true, but you can at least know enough not to get your “knowledge” from television.

But it’s not like I don’t own a video appliance, I do, mostly used  for watching rented movies, which often aren’t much better than TV shows, though I don’t give up much of my precious life to watching movies either. Life is too short and there’s are too many songs yet to be written.

In 2004 I finally did what I’d been wanting to do for years; get rid of all incoming television broadcast signals. The rest of the household was onboard with the plan and encouraged my anti-broadcast-television initiative. So I chopped down the antenna mast, unsightly thing that it was and that was that for that. A beautiful garden is now situated on the site of the old television mast.

So, though you cannot know everything, you can study, use the rules of Logic, Reason and Argumentation and the Scientific Method to better yourself and improve your life.

My lifetime of study and the diligent application of what I’ve learned has made me and my loved ones successful and happy. I am free. Free from ignorance and the alleged blissfullness that is said to accompany it. You can be, too.

The truth is out there and it will surely make you free, but it’s not on TV.

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Jun 252013

Scientists often complain that non-science people use the word “theory” incorrectly. In science a theory is something that is backed by so much evidence that it perfectly describes and predicts something. It’s a variation of a Law. The theory of evolution is equivalent to the law of gravity. To the general public a “theory” means “something I imagine to be true”; exactly the opposite of it’s actual meaning.

There is a similar misunderstanding in the arts. People, both inside and outside the field, refer to ideas as “creativity”.

Imagination is not creativity, it’s just imagination. We all have it, artist and layman alike. But creativity has, at it’s root, the word “create”. To actually create something is to be creative. Not to be involved in actually creating things is not to be using your creativity.

In the study of creativity I believe there needs to be a more well stated taxonomy of production that allows for a description of all the steps in the process. The raw chain of events could be described as:

Loading – Imagining – Editing – Creation

Loading is the effort it takes any imaginative person to achieve a high functioning imagination. It’s going to include things like reading books, watching movies or TV, going to new places or having new experiences, meeting people and having relationships of various quality. These things all serve to fill your mind with new ideas.

Without the raw material that comes from external input imagination becomes limited and often mystical or disconnected from reality. Knowledge and experience gives the imagineer lots of raw material with which imagine art-objects that will speak to others in real world ways. A book might have a moral or give an emotion that leads to a touching lyric. Or it might be a book about writing lyrics or music and it just changes the way you approach the subject of the creative process altogether.

The next stage is where your imagination is put to work in the service of imagining a compelling idea for an art-object. This is the phase where you decide what it is that you wish to create. A song, lyric, playing style or even “how to get the kids to eat vegetables”. Sometimes, with the proper loading, an idea will come, seemingly, “out of the blue” and you will suddenly have an all-but-finished art-object idea. This often is accompanied by a squirt of positive brain chemicals and an overarching emotion. That’s when you know you’ve really rung the bell and come up with an idea you can really believe in. The best art-objects are emotionally driven. But that emotion doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the loading of life experience combined with knowledge that help explain to the imagineer what it all means. Much of this happens subconsciously, but often it comes from having thought about it. Those who notice their own imagination working will notice that things that come from out of the blue are often answers to some question that the artist has been pondering such as, “why do I feel this way?”, “why did this happen?”, “how can I describe the awesomeness I feel?” or “where did I put my keys?”

Sometimes imaginative ideas take a bit of effort. People who work every day in the creativity industry can’t afford to rely on some magical inspiration to strike them out of the blue. They are often on a deadline and have to create something NOW! and it has to be high quality and be appropriate in whatever context that art-object will be offered, whether a movie cue or desert topping. In context, movie cues make lousie desert toppings. At this level of imagineering you can see the need for extensive pre-loading of knowledge and experience. High quality creations come from, generally speaking, people who have spent a considerable amount of time studying and experiencing a wide array of different things. There are many books available on the topic of how to get more ideas and I encourage you to look into it.

There are many techniques to prime the pump, the standard being; “think long and hard on the subject then stop, relax and forget about it and the solution will emerge as if from out of the blue over the next little while.” This one works well because most people do think long and hard about the solutions to their problems or for the road maps to their goals. They just don’t often realize that they are actually attempting to use imagination to achieve the result they are after. Those results could be anything from, “how can I have this 7/4 section pleasingly change into this 11/8 section of the musical piece?” to “how can I eat differently and still enjoy eating?” . Both require some imaginative effort to make them happen with a pleasing outcome.

In giving your desired outcome the consideration it requires it’s usually a good idea to write down or record every idea that comes to mind. Every one, without editing, judging or being critical of any of them. This will stimulate your imagination to look down new avenues of thought and has the added bonus of giving you excess material that you can possibly use in another project.

But, taken to the extreme, imagination can have a dark side: enter, the “idea hamster”. We’ve all met someone like this. A thousand ideas but none of them ever gets finished. Some call this “brain crack” because idea hamsters are clearly more interested in the little squirts of endorphins and dopamine, and the resulting emotional boost that accompanies successful brain transactions, than in the work it takes to actually follow through and create something. They are often good folks and well intended, but can be surprisingly ineffective on a team that requires actual accomplishments. In the music world they are the ones that write 20 songs a week but are so busy writing new ones that none of them get edited, recorded or performed beyond the moment of creation.

For the truly creative person there must be something they are actually intent on creating and emotionally driven to create. To this end the creative person needs some idea that has been thought out, but more than that, some idea that’s been run through the rigours of editing so as to refine the idea and polish out the quirky or unworkable bits so that upon execution it will yield a result, an art-object, that is exactly as the artist intended.

It’s been said that “great songs are not written, they’re re-written”, meaning that though the first draft, which is the main heart and soul of the art-object given directly from the artist’s muse, is the foundation on which to build the piece, it’s not always the best version that will completely capture the emotion and vividness in the art-appreciators heart and mind that the artist requires it to. The re-writing, the Editing Phase, is where the raw ideas take shape and become the thing that the artist is seeking to express to us. A change of wording here or a new chord there or raspberry sesame dressing rather than balsamic vinegarette. It’s all in the editing stage that these little nudges towards perfection occur.

But don’t be a slave to the edit. The hardest thing for an artist to do is know when the piece is finished. I believe it’s this one thing that separates the pros from the rest: they know when to stop editing the piece and begin the next phase, creation.

Creativity, to be creative is to actually create something in the real world, outside of the imagination. Whether a sculpture or play, a song or delicious meal for it to qualify as a creative act it must be created, ex-utero, and birthed into the lives of those for whom in was intended.

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Jun 202013

The commercial music market is awash with mediocrity. Low-effort music that challenges neither the writer, performer nor listener. It’s a sea of sameness as broad as the Earth and as deep as the need for immediate gratification that inspired it. Incomplete people writing incomplete music.

“It may be crap, but there’s plenty of it.” is a growing concern to those who are looking for more than McHits on which on feast their ears.

I attribute this to the growing narcissism of the marketplace. The hollow feel-good notions that permeate cyberspace and are reflected back to us in music and lyrics. Chord patterns scientifically designed to tug at our heart strings. Slogan based lyrics that are indistinguishable from ad copy.

But if you ask any of the authors of such works they will, invariable, parrot the slogan of our current psychological recession: “I’m following my passion”.

Following one’s passion is a slogan for narcissists and others who seek to define themselves as excellent without the commensurate effort. The history of exceptional achievement, whether in art, sports, intellectualism or commerce shows that it is better to quietly become so good at something that your skills, on their own merit, cannot be ignored. To become expert at something is far more useful to yourself and to others than to be passionately mediocre.

Gaining skill in your favourite area, whether music, science, business takes years of dedicated study and practice. Most of all it takes the ability to critically analyze your own efforts, not in a self-recriminating or harshly judgemental way so as to undermine your confidence, but to dispassionately determine where more study and effort are needed to advance your progress in your chosen endeavour. It has been my observation that it is this very area where the “passionate” ones fail.

Passion can sometimes be a word people use to announce to others what is, in essence, self-flattery. Growth requires the courage of self-sacrifice; an actual sacrificing of one’s haltering beliefs and their resulting unproductive habits on the alter of self-understanding, shedding those personal characteristics that stand in the way of mastery. It has been said that to master any skill one must master one’s self first. Many that I’ve known who are “passionate” prematurely consider themselves to have achieved mastery, false modesty notwithstanding, their deficits being hidden from them by their “passion”.

I find it tiresome to be in the company of those seeking the dull leaching of attention so often accompanying this crowd and of the equally distasteful people who supply them with it.

This observation of human nature is nowhere more pertinent than in music circles. Semi-talented players who display airs of all-that-and-more fill the beer halls and community dance nights from coast to coast. This distasteful social condiment has been exacerbated by a growing hoard of ageing boomers, now retired, who bloat the ranks of the weekend warriors. When asked, many will tell you they are just “following their passion”, a passion that failed to take root in their prime.

But those handful of guitar lessons in the 9th grade now combine with a retirement income that allows for them to be seen wearing instruments of conspicuous consumption. Their passion is as obvious as the price tags of which they so eagerly brag. Tubes! are their battle sound; Analog! their rallying call that enjoins the neo-Luddites to partake in peering down their snouts at all things digital and modern. And God forbid that their imaginings, passing for knowledge, not be given unquestioned deference. No sir! No lowly MP3 shall ever reach the sonic purity of their iTunes downloads! Or so I’m told.

Regardless of the passionate folk, it is skill that will make your art and craft stand out from the din of those who seek to be the next guy that sounds like the last guy.

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