Derek Sivers

Interviews → Brian Funk / Music Production

Making music and the creative process. Really fun conversation.

Date: 2020-01

Download: audio (mp3)

Link: https://brianfunk.com/blog/2020/1/23/derek-sivers-on-the-creative-process-and-making-music-music-production-podcast-149


Brian:

Welcome to the Music Production Podcast. My name is Brian Funk and this is a show about all things about making music. Today, my guest is Derek Sivers. Derek has played a major part in music. He created CD Baby, which is one of the ways I distributed an album back in the day. Two albums, actually. He is an entrepreneur and a musician. He was a former circus performer and author and writer. He’s someone who has a really great perspective on creativity and following his gut and his heart and not necessarily listening to what people are telling him to do.

We are going to have a lot of fun talking about that, and he’s also very accomplished and a trained musician, so we’re going to learn some stuff about that, too.

So very excited to have you on the air today. Derek, thanks for joining me.

Derek:

Cool. Thanks, Brian.

Brian:

Good to have you. I’ve followed your work for a long time. Various shows and podcasts and read your book, which is Anything You Want. Definitely worth checking out. I appreciate your brevity and your thoughtfulness and in how you approach things. I’m excited to dive into some of the other stuff that I haven’t really gotten a chance to hear a lot about. Of course, like your accidental creation of CD Baby and I’m excited to hear about some of the other stuff that brought you to CD Baby in the first place.

Derek:

That’s why I’m here. I listened to one of your podcasts and really liked it a lot. Then I listened to a couple more and I really like what you’re doing, and I still think of myself as a musician first. Anything I did entrepreneur-wise came as a side effect of being a musician. It’s funny, I feel like I got mis-categorized after I sold my company. People thought I was a tech entrepreneur that just happened to do music, but it was quite the opposite.

I was really doing music and helping musicians and then I accidentally started and sold a company [laughter]. I’m much happier talking about music. I think I have much more in common with musicians than I do tech entrepreneurs.

Brian:

That probably has a lot to do with your success as a business person because you created something that you thought you needed and wanted. The story goes that your friends said, “Hey, can you put my CD for sale too?” That’s the most natural way for a business to start.

Derek:

Let’s face it, a lot of it was just really good luck and good timing. It was 1997, the internet was just taking off. If you were a musician wanting to sell your CD at the time there was no PayPal, no Amazon, no Bandcamp, no Soundcloud – none of it. There was literally no place on the entire Internet that would sell your music. Not a single one.

Just a few weeks after I started my thing, if you were a musician trying to sell your music online, the was the only way to do it was there was a guy named Derek in New York who would do it for you. It was just really lucky timing. I don’t think I can take that much credit as an entrepreneur.

The other stuff we could talk about here. People tell me I’m an unconventional thinker, but I think even that grows out of the musician mindset where you don’t want to do what everybody else is doing. It’s almost your imperative or your mission to do what nobody else has done before.

Unless you’re a cover band in the Philippines for something like that [laughter], then you’re trying to do something that nobody’s done before. The same thing goes with everything else you do in life. You look at it all as an experiment – a creative challenge.

Brian:

That’s being an artist, right?

If you’re painting by numbers, it’s not that interesting, but it’s when you go outside the lines.

Derek:

Right. It can be good practice. It can be a good craft. But the real challenge is to do what nobody’s done.

Brian:

You tap into an idea that I like to share with my students. I’m a high school English teacher by day.

One of the things that I remember being surprised by when I became a teenager and started to become a young adult was that all of the adults in my life that were older – teachers, parents, or any sort of authority figure that would tell you what to do – were human beings just like me. No smarter, just a little more experienced. I like to remind that idea to my students and tell them that wisdom and experience is very important.

You can learn a lot from it, but don’t forget that we’re all just winging it here. There’s no plan. We’re all just thinking well, “I guess I’ll do this!” So the idea that there is a prescriptive way to live life is something that we all fall into very easily and it’s a good thing to question what people are doing sometimes.

Derek:

Even the masters of the world disagree. Let’s say Socrates disagrees with Aristotle, Aristotle disagrees with Haydon.

Pick any two philosophers from history that people consider to be masters, and they probably disagree with each other.

So there’s no one “right.” Unless we’re talking mathematics or something, There’s no correct answer and wrong answer. It’s all just different ways of approaching things.

This applies to music too. It’s fun even when you hear a rule in the music business like touring is crucial. There’s plenty of examples to the opposite that prove that touring isn’t crucial. There’s a long list of artists who have become incredibly successful without doing a live show.

If somebody tells you that getting airplay is important or having a great website or anything that people tell you is crucial, you can show plenty of opposite examples to show that it’s not. Even the things you hear in business when people say, “You must do this and must do that.” Eh, it’s just one approach.

Brian:

It’s true. Especially the way things change these days with the music business, or any kind of business. It’s probably dangerous to do what people did in the past.

Derek:

Who knows? Maybe you want to keep one foot in expectations and one foot in trailblazing, but now we’re making another music comparison.

If you do something musically that’s like, “I’m not even using notes, man. No notes! There’s no rhythm!”

I’d think, “Okay, well, you know, good luck [laughter].” The blend that will find you the widest audience and be creatively satisfying will probably be one foot in each. You have traditional song structures mixed with interesting instrumentation, or really well crafted melodies mixed with interesting harmonies, or textures behind them, or whatever it is.

It’s one foot in safety, one foot in risk.

Brian:

We still appreciate familiarity, but the unexpected is part of what gets us excited, too.

Derek:

Do you also find that if you go too far either direction it’s unsatisfying?

Brian:

Yeah. I get this thing when I’m writing music and this is more of my ego and insecurity tapping in, but if I’m doing something that’s too predictable and done too often, I get uncomfortable with it. There’s definitely a thing in my head saying, “This is not intelligent enough.”

However, a lot of times when I let go of that. I find some of my favorite stuff I come up with is rooted in some sort of familiar idea or something simple that I just twisted a little bit.

Derek:

Yeah, a lot of big number one hit pop songs are almost nursery rhymes in their simplicity.

[Sings melody] These little do-re-mi melodies, and it’s the biggest hit. That artist has done a hundred other songs that are way more interesting, but the one that’s as simple as the nursery rhyme is the one that everybody likes.

Brian:

I know I’m like that, too. There’s definitely music that I know is more intellectually stimulating that I’ve sat down and forced myself to enjoy [laughter], but a lot of times it’s the simple pop song or the classic Beatles song that gets me.

Derek:

I think a lot about deep happy versus shallow happy. Deep happy is setting out to achieve something really difficult. You may be miserable while doing it, but damn, when you’re done, that’s a deep, happy feeling, right? Shallow happy can be sitting there with ice cream, watching TV at home. Deep happy is ultimately more satisfying than shallow happy. I think about this stuff a lot.

I have a seven year old kid, and I teach him a lot about the difference between deep happy and shallow happy. You can never tell if they’re listening sometimes, but it was really satisfying when out of the blue when we hadn’t talked about deep happy vs. shallow happy in a few months, he came back from school one day and he said, “Dad, there’s a new kid in school!”

I said, “Oh, cool.”

He said, “He’s really cool! So I taught him about the difference between deep happy and shallow happy.” [Laughter]

I thought, “What!”

Anyway, I hadn’t thought of all of this until you just said it.

Smart happy versus dumb happy being that you can listen to some really complex piece of music that because you’re a trained musician and you understand what that composer did there, you can appreciate the nuances of how much work it took to put together that arrangement or whatever it may be. It’s smart appreciation and smart enjoyment.

Then you just put on a dumb, fun AC/DC song and you’re just like, “Fuck. This is a good song,” and it can just be dumb appreciation, which isn’t to mean it’s a bad thing. You don’t need to be smart to appreciate this, but there is a different layer of that smart appreciation for something when you’re using what you’ve been trained in to appreciate the nuances that most people probably can’t appreciate.

As a creator, if you’re only creating things that scratch your deep satisfaction or your smart creator itch then you can’t really expect many people to appreciate it too – except your fellow craftsmen.

Brian:

That’s the feeling I get when I stand in front of a group of 15 year olds and try to get them to read Shakespeare.

I can appreciate it and enjoy it on that deep, happy level, but I always tell them, “Listen, this is great literature. It’s really well written. You’ll learn a lot and there’s a lot of great themes, but I’m not going home and reading this for fun.”

I’m studying and I’m digging, as you say, to keep that metaphor going. You have to do some work to get something out of it.

So when they say, “Do you really enjoy this, Mr. Funk?”

I have to stop and say, “In a way. I enjoy conquering it [laughter],” and digging out the gold, but it’s heady and it’s almost like exercise to find the fun in it.

Derek:

This is a fun thing to talk about. I hadn’t really thought about that so much.

You’re right. Even something like reading Shakespeare or listening to a Bartok string quartet. I’m like, “Man, this is dissonant as fuck, but this is some interesting stuff going on in here.”

Enjoyment? Yeah, but on a different level – a digging deeper kind of level. It’s really funny until five minutes ago, I hadn’t thought about this simile between these two things.

When you set out to achieve something difficult and that even something like literature or listening to music can have a deep happy versus shallow happy aspect to it. Wow.

Brian:

Maybe there needs to be a little suffering in your happiness [laughter].

Derek:

We shouldn’t say “needs to be,” but there’s a place for that.

It’s a different level of satisfaction as a creator too because anybody listening to this has probably had it happen where you create something that is so clever and complicated and you’re really proud of it.

You play it for your friends and they go, “Eh. I don’t know dude. It just doesn’t work for me,” and it’s like, “Well, fuck it. I like it.” Because it was personally fun to make, but other people don’t like it.

Brian:

That’s like art that requires an instruction manual on how to enjoy it [laughter]. n You’re not going to like this unless you understand these components. I guess that’s good for academics?

Derek:

This is a more fun subject than I counted on!

I like computer programming. I enjoy it. I actually bounce out of bed in the morning to get back to what I was programming the night before. Even in programming, there are easy languages and hard languages. There’s a computer programming language called Haskell that real computer nerds say, “Oh, man. Haskell is the deepest thing. Once you go to Haskell, you can’t come back. No other language can compare.”

I wonder if it’s the equivalent of Bartok’s string quartet. It’s hard to appreciate, but if you really get into it, it’s a deeper level of happiness.

A modular synthesis. There’s something to be said for that. If you can realize that you’re going after deep happiness while you’re doing it, maybe that process will be more enjoyable. Ride through the suffering.

Almost like one of the dichotomy spectrum where people who are introverts, are often told that they’re shy, or told that they’re no fun, or teased for wanting to go home early, or skip a party, and it’s not until you have this term introvert/extrovert that you can justify it in your head and go, “OK. It’s not that I’m no fun. It’s not that I’m shy. It’s not that I’m timid. An hour at a party is enough for me. I don’t need six hours at the party. After one hour, I’m done.”

You can understand it better in your own head if you have these labels to put on it and categorize it that way. Maybe this deep happy vs. shallow happy when it comes to creating, listening, or reading something complicated can help you understand it. It’s like, “OK. I’m doing a difficult, deep, happy thing now, but if at any point it becomes too difficult, maybe I just need to go put on some AC/DC and eat some ice cream for a bit too [laughter] before I come back to this.“

I need a better example than AC/DC. I heard some AC/DC last night and I had that moment where I was like, “Damn, man. This is fun.“

Brian:

Yeah, I think that’s an important way to enjoy music. It doesn’t have to be something that challenges you all the time. I think AC/DC is actually a good example because you can enjoy it right away and just feel the energy. You don’t have to think about it. And when you do look at it, you can start to dissect the guitar play and start to get into a deeper level there. Maybe not lyrically. It is what it is.

Derek:

Honestly not even guitar-wise [laughter]. There are some little solos, but whatever. It’s just straight ahead. Same with some of those classic pop songs. You listen to some extremely well written, well-crafted songs from the 1960s.

Here’s an example. I’ve never been a big fan of The Police, but I remember Sting, Andy Summer, and Stewart Copeland – they were all very accomplished musicians that could play very sophisticated music.

If you listen to album tracks on old Police albums, they did some pretty complex stuff, but then they would have this simple song like “Every Breath You Take,“ and they’d say, “OK, this is what we’re doing now.“ Just a dead, simple melody. That’s what I meant by a nursery rhyme song – dead simple, skip all the complexity, and get right to the point.

Brian:

That song is one of those perfectly written songs, too. There’s really nothing that changes. It takes you through all the parts. It goes verse-chorus, it’s got a nice little bridge. . .

Derek:

You sound like a realtor [laughter]. “We got a kitchen, we got a bedroom. Here’s your bathroom. Got a verse-chorus, a nice little bridge. . .“

Brian:

It’s funny you say that. My brother was a big Police fan growing up, and he’s now a realtor, too [laughter]. Funny connection that just happened there.

I think there are certain songs that are just like crafted so well and they just work. They run well, like a reliable car.

Derek:

I love well-crafted pop songs no matter how sophisticated my other tastes are. My two favorite kinds of music to listen to these days are Debussy and traditional Persian music. There is a streaming station called Radio Darvish, and I put it on quietly in the background when I’m doing other things. I love having this traditional Persian music streaming. It’s like somebody in the next apartment is cooking something really interesting. It just kind of wafts into my home.

Besides those things, I’m always a sucker for a well-crafted pop song. Friends are sometimes surprised when Britney Spears comes on and I’m like, “Oh, hell yeah!“

And they say, “What? How are you into Britney Spears?“

I say, “Because ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ is a pop masterpiece! It’s a perfectly crafted song,“ and they just look at me weirdly.

Most non-musicians hear the surface. They hear the production or the artist’s image. They think of who Britney Spears is and what she’s done in her life, but I’m just listening to the crafted melody. I forget who wrote that song, but I heard it was originally pitched to TLC.

Brian:

Oh yeah?

Derek:

They said “no“, so they it to this little unknown teenager named Britney. So when I’m listening to a song like “Hit Me Baby One More Time,“ I’m probably listening more to the creative producer, Max Martin.

Brian:

That’s an interesting choice. I was about 17 or 18 when that song came out. A band I really loved at the time called Travis did a cover of that.

Derek:

Right! I remember that.

Brian:

They posted a cover and they made a comment before they played it and said, “This is a good song. Take away the pop and the icon of Britney Spears and look at this beautiful song.“

Derek:

Exactly.

Brian:

They did a really cool version of it. It was a lot of fun. It’s almost funny to hear it with all that stuff taken out of it. You get to see it for what it is.

Derek:

When I made a living as a musician, I did about a thousand shows at colleges around the US for a few years. I did the university gig circuit, and I’d do a lot of covers. I’d do a three-hour set, which would be around two hours of covers and one hour of originals. The only cover songs I would do are songs you would never expect a guy on guitar to do.

I would do a lot of female pop songs – an old Cyndi Lauper, TLC, Alanis Morissette – but always switched it up. You’d start playing the song and people would say, “It sounds a little familiar,” but you’d never recognize it right away. You’d have to get into the verse for a while before people go, “Oh my god, is he doing? Oh wow, weird,” like the Travis example.

Brian:

Something funny happens when you take a song and you change the gender, the age of the person singing it. Any of those aspects can really flip the song on its head.

Again, this is something I’ve thought about through teaching English. You don’t always want to confuse the narrator with the author. I could write a story from the perspective of a 7-year-old girl. Right? I can do that as a man. I might not understand it very well, but that doesn’t mean whoever’s singing the song or whoever is the character in the song is the person that wrote it.

Derek:

Right.

Brian:

What you said about Britney Spears is that we can’t un-stick the two.

I get this feeling a lot with movies, with some famous actors where I can’t really see the character Tom Cruise is playing. I can only see Tom Cruise chasing the car [laughter]. I think he does a lot of his stunts too, so it’s kind of fair to say that about him. But I see the superstar. I don’t always see the character.

Derek:

Right. Some actors, it’s hard to not know. It’s hard to not see that it’s Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio. On the other hand, there’s an actor named Oscar Isaac. I watched four different movies that Oscar Isaac was in and didn’t realize it was the same guy. He plays Llewyn Davis, a folk musician in Greenwich Village, and he’s the star of the film.

In the next movie he plays a superhero villain in The Big Thing and I didn’t recognize him. Then he was in Ex Machina, where again, he’s the main character. Sometimes, he has a shaved head or a full beard. Then he was in the new Star Wars movies as the pilot named Poe. Again, I was like, “Oh, who’s that actor?” I looked him up on IMDB and thought, “Oh, shit. That’s Lleweyn Davis. Oh, my god and that’s also him. . .”

I love it when an actor can really disappear into the roles. Speaking of this, musically, you just made me think about the two words you said, the narrator versus the author. I like that.

I hadn’t thought about the term “the narrator,“ but I don’t know of any contemporary musicians that are doing a different narrator voice. Back in the ’70s, Randy Newman was infamous for writing songs where he wasn’t the narrator. He was the author of the song and the one singing it, but he wasn’t singing it as himself. He was singing it as someone else. He had this hit in the ’70’s called “Short People,“ and it ended up being a big hit song.

The lyrics were, “Short people got no reason to live,” and people were mad at him. They said, “Randy Newman, how dare you say that?”

He goes, “No, no, no. I was just writing the song from the perspective of a really prejudiced person that thinks that short people have no reason to live.”

People had a really hard time wrapping their head around that, because we just assume, like you just said about Britney Spears, that if somebody is up on stage with a microphone – we know the routine here – that this is a singer expressing their personal feelings through a public address system. We assume that musicians aren’t acting.

David Bowie confused that a bit, too. He would do it almost in that Oscar Isaac kind of way. I guess we all knew it was David Bowie, but he would make you believe that this is who he is now artistically.

He’d put on Ziggy Stardust makeup and he would be the Ziggy Stardust-David Bowie for a few years. Then he’d put on a suit and be this other guy. We’d think, “Oh, this is just who he is now.” Then he’d deliberately change who is.

By the way, if I’m wrong and there’s somebody that is putting on personas and playing narrator, if you’re listening to this, please email me and tell me because I would love to discover some.

Brian:

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of people doing things like that. I just pictured Marilyn Manson, for instance. I don’t know if that’s a character. That’s an interesting one, too.

Derek:

Right. But even Marilyn Manson at this point was 20 years ago. I wonder if there’s somebody famous currently doing it. Listeners, please let us know.

Brian:

I find a lot of times I like to approach writing songs from perspectives I might not have ever been in. I sometimes get stressed out that this will be interpreted as me, “No, I’m not upset in our relationship. I’m totally cool with it.”

I’m feeling for this situation and what it might be like. It’s fun to put yourself in there and explore it a little. I think that’s a cool way to write songs – is to live that life a little bit.

Derek:

Yes. Did you ever see an artsy film called Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould? I highly recommend it to anybody listening to this. Go find this movie. This is one of those deep, happy things. If you’re a musician, you’ll get this movie. If you’re not, you won’t. The reason for the title is because Glenn Gould was a Canadian classical pianist in the 1950s and ’60s that was known to be one of the best ever.

He was most famous for playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which I think might be 32 variations on a theme. So inside this one 90-minute movie are 32 tiny little snippets, almost like 32 different little pieces.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they match up to the Goldberg Variations in some way that I’m unaware of, but it was a great movie about the creative process. It’s also slightly fictionalized, but basically a true story about Glenn Gould as biographical snippets of his life.

The film shows how he started out as a traditional concert pianist. He would go on tour, and at a certain point, he said, “I don’t like this relationship. I’m sitting on a stage and a few thousand people are sitting in uncomfortable chairs watching me do it. I don’t like this one to two thousand relationship. I’d prefer that music was a one-on-one relationship directly from me to the listener.”

He quit touring, quit the stage, and only did recordings for the rest of his life, which of course, purists were furious about. What I love is he went beyond that to say, “Ideally, I think the listener to artist relationship should be a one to zero relationship where we don’t even know who the artist is. The relationship is really between the listener and the music. I wish we could remove the performer, the artist, even the writer from this. So you could just be somebody enjoying music, not the stuff around it.” So you can see where I’m going with all this.

You wish you could write a song expressing an emotion or a point-of-view that is not Brian Funk’s point of view, but you’re kind of worried that you’ll be scolded for doing.

Brian:

I’ve had that come up in my life [laughter]. People asking, “What did you mean by that?”

Derek:

A lot of artists have felt that. Again, the Randy Newman example at this point is 50 years old, but if you go back and read some of his interviews, he had to be extremely defensive because he did this over and over again.

He put on a few personas. I think most of the songs he wrote were as a narrator. He was putting on a point-of-view, but everybody kept thinking it was him. He kept having to defend himself, saying, “No, I just wrote that from a point-of-view.”

If the artist/performer was anonymous, you could get rid of that entirely. Nobody would have to defend themselves because we wouldn’t even know who to attack.

Brian:

Maybe that’s why some authors use pseudonyms.

Derek:

Yep.

Brian:

Even studying English literature, there are a lot of literary critics, and there’s a bunch of schools of thought. There are some of them that will look at any piece of literature as a product of the time it came out of. So you can’t separate the two. There are others where you have to look at the author’s life to consider what’s been written, even if it’s fiction.

Then there are others where you don’t look at any of that stuff and just let the words speak for themselves. I’ve always liked that myself. It’s interesting to say, “Give a piece of literature a read from a feminist perspective or give it a read from all kinds of perspectives, but the one where you just let it speak is pure in a lot of ways.

The other schools of thought would argue that you can’t have pure literature because there’s always life experiences, there’s always the time, and the culture and all of that stuff to factor in.

Derek:

I get the feeling that that’s something we could creatively play with.

What if you were to record an album and then find a way to play it all in a certain style so that it would actually sound like something done in the 1950s? Through and through convincingly sound like it’s the 1950s. Then you make an artist persona, an artist name, and you even find a way to take some old photos or something so that you could put out something as a re-release of a 1950s artist.

Suddenly now you’re artistically playing with that thing you just said about literature, “Oh, well, you know, it’s of its time.“ I’m going to make a weird comparison. One of the things I appreciate most about electronic music is it started playing with timbre – low-pass, high-pass

Low-pass, high-pass was not a thing that you could really do on acoustic instruments so directly. I so appreciate that electronic music is able to play with this.

It’s like we’ve just taken one note in one rhythm, but by playing with the spectrum of the frequencies that you’re letting pass through, you’ve introduced a new spectrum to play with along with tempo and pitch.

Now, can you imagine adding the artistic perception of time and image as another instrument you can play with as a creator? Put out something or create something that’s old, or create something that’s done by somebody else.

Brian:

I like that idea a lot. It’s almost like throwing a new chapter in the history books.

Derek:

Time-traveling. Because we’re writing the books, maybe we can stick it in chapter six, even though we’re on 68 now. Why not?

Brian:

There’s a lot of fun you can have with that artistically. You’re dissecting a lot about culture. It’s also from the perspective of the rearview mirror.

I could see it being a lot of fun to create the head superstar of 1965. Didn’t they do a movie where everyone forgot the Beatles?

It’s almost like that in a way?

Derek:

You’re right.

That’s a fun, creative way to re-imagine an alternate past. After U2 did Achtung Baby and then maybe one more after that, the same guys went into the studio with Brian Eno, who produced Achtung Baby, and they called themselves The Passengers.

They made an instrumental album that was a soundtrack to a movie. They basically recorded a soundtrack album, but if you look it up and you look into it, there was no movie. They invented the movie and they made a soundtrack to a movie that never existed.

That was their creative challenge to themselves. A very Eno type thing to do. He loves those kinds of things, and that’s what I love about him. I like his theories more than his music itself. That was fun because if you read the liner notes of the album, it says, “This music is the scene where the hero comes back and he’s walking through the fields. We see him for the first time since he’s been gone.“ They described the scene that this piece of music was for, and it was just a fun, creative exercise.

I have to tell you something I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody publicly. Way back in 1995, when the Internet was so brand new, it’s uncommercial. People had e-mail addresses, but we were still just starting to poke out and see what this thing was. I found Brian Eno’s email address. I sent him an email and he replied, which blew my mind. But the reason, he replied, is because I told him an idea I had that was kind of inspired by Passengers.

The idea was this: To make a soundtrack album to a movie that you say is coming out. You know how soundtrack albums often work? Not like when Trent Reznor does a soundtrack for a whole movie. The movie would pick songs from different artists, and so the soundtrack album to City of Angels or whatever it may be, and they would have 15 different artists doing one track each.

My idea was to record a soundtrack album to be 15 different artists, but I would be all of those 15 artists and it would be my creative challenge to make it so you couldn’t tell it was one person doing all this, and then it would be for a movie that didn’t exist.

I emailed this idea to Brian Eno and I said, “Hey, this is inspired by you,“ and he replied back with an exclamation point or two because he said that he had the same idea and thinks it would be fun and to let him know if I do it. But then I accidentally started CD Baby and things got distracted.

Brian:

Things got away from you [laughter].

Derek:

Out of hand [laughter].

If anybody wants to do that idea, I don’t think anybody’s done it yet, and Brian Eno would be very happy if you did.

Brian:

Maybe he’ll still reply to that email, too [laughter].

This brings us to one of the things I wanted to talk about a little bit. I heard you say on the EDM Production podcast that you were playing music as a series of exercises or experiments. You were talking about Tom Waits at that point. Sometimes something you do seems obvious to you while you’re doing it, but to another person, it might come out as totally fresh.

I was curious if you had any of those in mind? Are there any particular exercises or challenges you’ve tried – maybe it’s like what you mentioned even with the movie soundtrack – but I was wondering if you had any to spare and share with us as we’re all trying to figure out what to do with our next piece of music?

Derek:

To those of you listening or reading, Brian sent me an email before we talked, about some things we could talk about or that he was curious about. After getting this question by email, my first thought was doesn’t everybody do this? This isn’t rhetorical.

Actually, if you don’t mind, I want to ask you, Brian, about your process when you’re sitting down to write a song. Are you going with whatever happens to flow through you or don’t you give yourself a little “let’s-see-what-happens-if“ kind of challenge?

Brian:

There’s a big part of me that loves to be the free spirit when I get into the studio and see what inspiration will hit me and try things out and play around. Often when I do that, I get nothing really accomplished but sometimes really cool stuff happens, unexpected surprises. But I find that I’m best when I do have some kind of aim – some kind of goal.

The example that really sticks out to me was when I did a project with a friend of mine where we made songs. He’s a special education teacher, so he uses music a lot to guide his students around. We made a set of songs mostly directed for kids with autism to teach them proper or acceptable social behavior.

Social stories is the tool that they use in education. It might be a story about how to sit in a restaurant and behave, and we turned them into songs. We have songs like “1,2,3 how calm can we be?“

”Quiet Hands“ is one. We’ve got “Our Fingers Don’t Belong There.“ There’s a whole bunch of little songs and the point is to teach this lesson, not to be artistic. That was a relief, too with what we talked about earlier – being intelligent. We just had to throw that away because that wasn’t not the point. In fact, we wanted the songs to be kind of simple and nursery rhyme memorable.

What blew me away about that project was that I think we did 11 songs, and it was just so easy. Everything came so easy. The lyrics came easy, the structure of the song, the recording. It was just a project that was like rolling a ball down the hill. We had that aim. We had that very specific goal for everything. I think when I show up with an idea, the more well-formed the idea, the more productive I tend to be. You know where you’re going.

Derek:

Right, and why? You knew why you were doing that project. You had a specific aim. Whereas when we sit down and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to write a song,“ a lot of the mental labor we can do is to figure out, “What am I doing here? What’s the purpose of this? What’s the point of this song?“

Brian:

It’s good to think about what the audience is going to be doing when your song is on. Are they dancing at the club, or are they getting over a breakup?

I’m doing a thing that a lot of people are doing right now called Jam-uary. The idea is to just record yourself jamming a little piece of music and share it. You’re supposed to do it every day, and it’s surprisingly challenging, and it’s also surprisingly easy when you commit to it. You might have the time, but you have to suck it up and do it.

I’ve done it a few days where I didn’t know what the heck I was doing in there. Some days I had a structure, but the best days I’ve had were when I was trying to create music for people that are either going to sleep, meditating, or maybe studying – this sort of ambient, drone type of music. Maybe because that is a little bit easier than writing complex melodies, but all of the action in that kind of music happens in the timbre, the filtering, and the tones.

It’s not rhythmic. It’s really not very melodic. But in order to keep it interesting, there’s subtle shifts in tones. I had a very specific ide,a and I did that for four of the days and I came up with four tracks that I liked. I had the idea in mind, “This is why you’re going to put this on. This is what it’s for. These are my parameters. These are my limitations. I’m not going to be doing any drums or anything rhythmic or even melodies. It’s just going to kind of flow.“ It was very specific.

Derek:

Right. Cool. Even musically, do you ever sit down with a really specific thing like you heard a certain melodic interval or phrase that inspires you, so you sit down and say, “I want to do something like that melody, and you sit down with that aim of making something like that melody?

Brian:

That’s what happened to me last night, actually. I was listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain and I was enjoying how simple their progressions are. I could listen to it and probably know the progressions just because they’re so familiar, 1-4 and 1-5, but I was also really impressed with how enjoyable it was. The simple melodies and the drenched guitars and distortion.

But what I came up with wasn’t really in that vein. I went into it with that in mind, but it wound up being acoustic and really quiet with fairly simple chords with a little spice here and there. Sometimes just knowing you have a target is helpful, but if you totally miss it with your arrow, you’ll hit something.

Derek:

Not necessarily missing it, but I love this concept that we are imperfect mirrors. That even if you’re trying to imitate something, you can’t because you’re warped.

You are warped in your own particular Brian Funk way. So even if you tried to completely imitate whatever song by whatever artist, it’s never going to sound exactly like them. It’s going to have your own bend to it.

Brian:

That idea has comforted me a lot because when I first started with music, a lot of it was imitation. I learned guitar off of Nirvana and all the alternative grunge rock that was happening at the time, and there was always a fear that you’re just copying what you’re learning from.

Sometimes that’s very true, but I think even when you try to copy things, in one way or another, you’re going to screw it up and make your own [laughter].

Derek:

Or you could do a very kind of academic copy of something. When I was a teenager and into guitar, I learned all of my favorite guitar solos, note for note. I could sit there with recordings and play along and exactly imitate all of these guitar solos.

Later, when I got my own little home studio and I was learning production, a few times I would set out to imitate this Prince song, every instrument of it. Prince was especially inspiring to me because I knew that he played all of the instruments on his own recordings.

I thought, “If he can do it, I can do it.” I would sit down and reproduce the entire arrangement of the entire recording of a Prince song. Then that one would sound like him, but it was an academic exercise to clone something, to learn it.

Even some writers do that. Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, said he got good at writing by copying writers he liked. He would literally hand write their essay over again just to feel his hand writing those words and then figure out why he liked it. So it started to feel natural for these well-formed sentences to flow out of his pen. So that’s a different thing.

Here are two of my favorite things to do that I find most interesting. One is to take the technique of some music you like and figure out what it is about that melody that you like. Maybe it’s a certain melodic leap, or it’s a way that it jumps in a sixth here and then falls and then goes and jumps in another sixth there.

If you really break it down, you could say, “Ah! That’s what I like about that melody. That’s what makes it cool and repetitive, but not,” and so then you go write a new melody using two sixths, the jump. You’re not imitating that melody, but you’re imitating what you liked about it. You’re imitating the technique that made it good.

Same thing if you notice arrangements – arrangement and production can be kind of intertwined. I often think of arrangements as far as what instruments are coming in and dropping out. I found that some of my favorite arrangements were the ones where every four bars or so, something was changing instrumentation wise.

I’ve never been a fan of one person with a guitar that sits there, and it’s just a single voice and guitar for the entire song. That’s never as interesting to me as the ones that bring in a bass halfway through, or drop out this or bring in a couple more things and it can even be a bit chamber-like. It doesn’t need to be a lot of instruments, just a few. But combining them in different ways is so exciting.

You can imitate an arrangement you like with a song that you wrote, and so now nobody calls it copying. You’re copying an arrangement, but it’s still your song. Nobody except a fellow song arrangement crafter would realize that you copied the arrangement from another song.

The other one is where you make yourself some crazy little exercise. I wonder if I could quantize a conversation? Could I take this conversation between Brian and Derek and quantize it and clip it so that you can hear that there are voices, but you can’t even hear the words anymore.

How would it go to quantize a conversation? Not oversimplify it into a two-bar loop, but keep the voice rising and falling? Make it a longer 32 bar kind of thing that has the rising and falling tones and the dramatic, dense parts and the sparse parts. Those are the kind of production challenges I like. Can I make a drum sound like a flute and make a flute sound like a drum?

Brian:

I think the arrangement one is a cool idea for sure. Something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time is to take some pop songs, or great arrangements, and put that in your project. Then say, “OK, this is where the bass came in, and this is where the drums came in. This is the drop and the chorus, and then kind of delete the song and build roads around that.”

Derek:

Yes! Right!

Brian:

I’d love to have a library of arrangements of songs I love. Something I need to sit down one day and just do. Deep happy [laughter].

Derek:

We should do that! Don’t you have stuff like that on your site? I saw these kind of Ableton libraries, one of them was a Costco cash registers or something, right?

Brian:

Yeah [laughter].

Derek:

That would be amazing – hit arrangements minus the music or something like that [laughter]. Put your drums here, put your bass here, put your guitar here. We’re not even going to tell you what song this came from, but follow these. That’s a funny half-way paint by numbers. That’s like color by numbers, but we’re not going to tell you what colors.

Brian:

Right. You can’t tell what you’re painting [laughter].

Derek:

Something here. Put the same color at those four different number one spots. Then something here at those seven different number three spots. But we’re not going to tell you where it originally came from. Let’s see how it turns out.

Brian:

I use Ableton Live, as you know.

Derek:

Oh really? [Laughter].

Brian:

Have I made that clear to everybody? [Laughter].

One of the reasons I use it is because they have that session view. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not, but the session view is what I think of it as the palette. That’s where you put all your paints. Then the arrangement is where you go to the canvas and put your paints on the canvas.

I’ve always felt my whole life I can come up with a bunch of cool parts on my guitar, cool sections of songs, but I was never so sure of how to put them together. I would usually need the band together and we’d have to play them and move them around. What I love about Live is you can put those parts in there and then jam on them and switch between them.

I find a lot of the writing I do, especially when I play these songs live, is that I have my sections and then I just jam on it. After a while, the arrangement starts to blossom and starts to show up and it makes sense.

Derek:

Cool. I like that a lot.

Brian:

But because you can stay in that session view and never commit to anything. It’s very easy to never finish anything. You have these 90% done songs, but you can’t decide if that intro should be four bars or if that intro should not even happen. So I like the idea of having these prescribed arrangements. I get stuck at deciding where to go and what to do, and the faster I can get my paint on the canvas instead of just keep making more paint, the more likely I am to finish. So I need the guides.

Derek:

Which is funny because the guides could – hold on, I’m going to make a weird comparison here – if you have a friend with a messy garage or a house, it would be much easier for you to go to that friend’s house and say, “OK. Get rid of this, this, this, and this,” because you’ve got no emotional attachment. It’s always easier for an outsider to come in and say, “No. We’re gonna get this done now. We’re gonna give ourselves two hours and this can be done.”

That’s a good argument in favor of a co-producer coming in and saying, “Alright, Brian. Good ideas. We’re gonna get this all wrapped up in an hour. I’m going to help you make some of these decisions,” but it’s unrealistic for us to all get a co-producer.

So you’re right. In a way, a session view templates help you just commit to it. There are an infinite number of ways you could arrange, rearrange, rearrange, and remix your stuff, but do this one. Do it like this and then call it done. That would be a great way to help people finish their unfinished stuff. Help take that decision away from them.

I just ran across this idea a couple days ago in a book I was reading about Japan. It’s called Beginner’s Guide to Japan by Pico Iyer. He lives in Japan with his Japanese wife, but he doesn’t speak Japanese and he never got a resident visa. He’s lived there for 32 years on a tourist visa coming in and out. He does that on purpose because he says it keeps him inquisitive about the culture. He never fools himself for a minute to think that he actually understands anything about Japan. He’s continued to observe for 32 years now.

He said, “One thing I’ve observed is how it’s considerate to make the decisions for somebody. When my wife says, ’where do you want to eat tonight?’ And I say, ’Anywhere you want to eat,’ I think I’m being considerate by letting her choose. But actually, the more considerate thing is to just say ’Here, I’m taking you out to this place. I’ll tell you when we get there,’ and to take care of everything is actually more considerate because most of us feel the weight or the burden of making decisions. If somebody takes that burden away from you, you appreciate it.”

So again, session view templates. Do it like this. Trust me. We’ll take this burden away from you of deciding how the final arrangements should go.

Brian:

That’s a great comparison, really. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that situation. “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s up to you. Whatever you want?”

“I just want you to pick!”

Derek:

Do you know about Brian Eno’s oblique strategies?

Everybody listening to this, if you don’t already know about Brian Eno’s oblique strategies, just go search the web. It’s your cultural imperative to understand Brian Eno’s oblique strategies. Keep a copy of them and turn to them occasionally as you’re producing music.

The whole idea was that it would be a deck of cards that tells you what to do when you get stuck on anything. You’re forced to shuffle the deck and pick one and you have to do what it says, whether you think it’s a good idea or not.

They’re ambiguous. One of them would say, “Cut the cord,” or, “Now double it.”

They’re ambiguous enough that you could apply it to whatever kind of music you’re doing in whatever way that it means something to you.

Brian:

There’s a website somewhere that will randomly generate one of them for you. You reload the page and boom. Start at the beginning.

Derek:

Make it a bookmark on your phone’s browser so you can just grab your phone if you’re stuck and hit that button and it’ll give you a random command.

You asked earlier about other little musical challenges. I don’t claim to be a fountain of these or have better ideas than anybody else, but I’ll give some examples. I think you can come up with your own better than I can, but for example, I like the challenge of, say, write a lyric using only nouns and no verbs.

But still have it be interesting with an emotional impact. Can I make an emotional impact and write a lyric that has meaning without verbs, just nouns? Maybe you’re allowed adjectives. Definitely not adverbs [laughter].

Another one would be to take to a classic melody, whether it’s Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday“ or “Over the Rainbow“ from Wizard of Oz, some amazing, classic, timeless melody and reverse it.

Maybe you play the midi notes, and then flip the midi notes. I think there must be some command where you can select and then flip. Inverse it in pitch, or reverse it in time, or both, and now make it your own. Keep it as is, and I don’t think that would be considered stealing. I think it’s a unique melody if you do this.

Then use it like that. Put your own lyrics to it or keep it instrumental, but reverse a classic melody.

Another one would be to cover a song that’s completely out of your realm. We talked earlier about the Britney Spears example. But I was thinking about what it would be like now in 2020 and onward, to take something that’s just not in pop culture anymore, like that ’70s music that’s disappeared, like Supertramp or Steely Dan. Or a 1920s pop song. Something that nobody listens to anymore. Nobody’s aware of the song.

Go back and find a hit song from the 1920s or 1930s and do a cover version of one of those that appeal to you. Something that’s way out of your usual realm. Something from ’80s metal. If you’re an electronic music artist, do something from ’80s metal that nobody would ever think that an electronic artist would be covering, like a song by Quiet Riot. Something just way out of your realm and then make it as unlike the original as possible.

Then there’s the creative challenge to do many things on one subject.

Can I write ten songs about food? Any of us could probably come up with one song about food, but could you actually write 10 songs about food? And if your answer is no, well, then why not? Isn’t that a challenge right there?

Brian:

Think about how that would focus you. If I’m gonna write a song about food, I might talk about dessert and breakfast.

But if I have to do 10, I’m thinking of cherry pie. But that’s been done, “She’s my cherry pie [laughter]” But you know what I’m saying?

Now you have to get granular and get into the details. You might talk about eating in a restaurant, having an appetizer there. Then in the next one, it could be about grilled cheese sandwiches. Instead of just food.

Derek:

Right. Push yourself. Like I said earlier with using only nouns and not verbs and still trying to have an emotional impact. How could I write 10 songs about food that are actually worth listening to? Good lyrics that have an emotional impact, that take the listener somewhere, that stir the emotions, and aren’t just me listing kitchen items?

That’s a writing challenge that goes beyond being clever. You’re aiming to actually have an emotional impact. This is the biggest challenge of people that are really out there writing screenplays, novels, or whatever else. It’s not enough to say, “Hey, look, I did a screenplay.” No, you’re trying to make the person in the movie theatre cry. That’s a real challenge. How can I make somebody cry with my writing and how can I do that with a song about food?

Lastly, another idea is to collaborate with somebody really unlikely. Use the Internet to find a musician on SoundCloud that lives across the world from you. Find a musician that’s in Ethiopia doing a certain style that’s way different from yours. But if you like it, you contact them and say, “Hey, I live in Long Island. I’m doing this electronic music. Yes, I know that you’re playing traditional Syrian music, but what if we collaborated? Let’s try to do something together.”

It could open you up if you’re doing a real 50/50 collaboration and not just saying, “Here, play this.” It’s a different thing. I’m not talking about hiring a musician to play their instrument on your track. That’s not a collaboration, that’s a sideman. But to actually do a real collaboration with somebody that’s very different from you, and especially across the world would be amazing.

Even if it’s not across the world, imagine collaborating with a gospel music artist, or a country music artist, or a thrash punk band. If you collaborate with them and do something 50/50 if they find it worth their time, too, would be really creatively opening.

Brian:

Think of all the alternate ways of working you would come across, and methods, and philosophies about what music should be. Very eye-opening.

Derek:

Anyway, this is the kind of shit I just find it endlessly interesting. Years ago, Brian Eno wrote an autobiography that was called A Year. A publisher paid him to keep a daily diary for a year, and at the end of the year, they would publish it. It was while he was doing the Achtung Baby album. It was interesting reading about how U2’s album Achtung Baby came about.

My favorite thing, besides hearing his interesting thoughts about producing music, was that when the album was done, he had a week off and then he went straight into producing the next album for Coldplay. He’s just staying in this creative mode at all times. Whereas the band U2, when that album was done, now they had to put together the tour and now it is time for them to go on tour for three years to perform those same 16 songs every night for three years.

That sounds miserable! What a terrible job to have to play the same songs on stage every night. That sounds awful. But being in a studio and constantly challenging yourself to come up with these creative challenges, that’s interesting stuff to me.

Brian:

It’s funny how there are endless ideas that you can come up with, or endless challenges, but it’s very hard to jump on those when you actually get the moment to commit to it. I’ve said this on the podcast before, but I think this is the modern creative person’s real challenge. There are endless opportunities and possibilities and choices that it’s so important to have some kind of filter or funnel to get rid of a lot of that.

Derek:

That’s what I like about this challenge approach. Especially once you’ve got interesting synths, it’s just too unlimited. The only way you’re going to do anything is to limit yourself. There are too many distractions online, there’s too much sugar in the food store, whatever it is, in every way, we have to limit ourselves in order to get by in this world. Setting limitations – it can be very freeing in a way.

Brian:

That’s something you do a lot, I noticed. On your blog, it’s almost like the Derek Sivers field manual of how you live your life. There are so many things you’ve thought about, and you’ve eliminated decisions for yourself in advance.

One that struck me was the one you sent me when I asked you about coming on the show. You said, “Well, read this.” It’s about being a slow thinker.

It’s about taking your time and not being afraid to say, “I don’t know.” As a teacher, I’ve experienced this a lot. I’m the teacher, of course, I have to know. You’re tempted to just barf up an answer when someone asks you a question, but I’ve found by saying, “I don’t know,” it humanizes me for one, and I’m off the hook now in the future for a lot of other things. It also gives you a chance to actually consider what you’re gonna say and not just jump in.

Derek:

After I posted that article, somebody in the comments was a salesman in India who read it saying, “Yes, but I’m in sales. What do I do when I’m visiting a client to sell my product and they ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to? I can’t just say ’I don’t know.’”

My reply was absolutely yes, you can. In fact, I think that would be really impressive. If a salesman was trying to sell you a corporate software package and I ask you a question about it, instead of spitting out some B.S. right away, instead, you say, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure. You know what? I’m going to jot that down and I’m going to find out the real answer for you and I’ll let you know later this week as soon as I find out the answer.”

I think that would be more impressive to a customer than somebody barking out an immediate answer. In general, we think that we’re supposed to always have the immediate answer to everything. In a way, it’s more impressive to admit that you don’t know because you’re not going to flap your lips [laughter] unless you do know. You’re not going to waste someone’s brain or air, filling it with nonsense. You’re going to find out and you’ll let them know when you really do know.

Brian:

Imagine if a politician would say that. “I really don’t know.”

Derek:

“That’s a good question. I’ll find out and I’ll let you know when I know.”

Brian:

It’s counterintuitive in a way. You want to seem like you know what you’re doing but. . .

Derek:

Right! But the counterintuitive thing actually proves you to be smarter.

If you say, “That’s a good question, I actually don’t know. I’ll find out.” It shows that you were thinking not just having a knee jerk reaction.

Brian:

You don’t think you know everything already.

That’s the goal, right?

Derek:

I think there’s probably some Socrates type of quote about that. Wisdom comes from knowing that you don’t know.

Brian:

I think Einstein said something along the lines of the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.

Derek:

Sorry, I laughed when you said Einstein because I thought you were doing that thing on the Internet where anybody can make up a quote and put, – Albert Einstein, or Mark Twain, or Oscar Wilde, or Socrates.

Brian:

I went through that recently with a Mark Twain quote with my class. I said, “I think he said this. But the point is not who said it. The point is the wisdom behind it.”

Derek:

Yeah. Well, thanks for a fun conversation. I love talking about this stuff.

Brian:

Yeah, me too. It’s great stuff to think about and consider. The spirit of your work – I’ve enjoyed it a lot because it’s this idea to question. Think about things before you do it and don’t just do it because you’re supposed to do it. I think people should read your book, Anything You Want.

Derek:

Thanks. If you’re gonna read my book, understand it’s not going to be about the kind of things we’re talking about here. The story of my book, Anything You Want is that I never intended to write a book, but after I sold CD Baby and I learned some lessons doing so, Seth Godin, who’s just a personal hero of mine, called me out of the blue and said, “Derek, it’s Seth Godin.”

I said, “Oh, wow, hi.”

He said, “I’m launching a publishing company and I want you to be one of my first authors.”

I said, “Oh, my god. Okay!” So I never intended to write a book, but he asked me to do that. So Anything You Want is my story of how I started, grew and sold CD Baby, and 40 little lessons learned along the way. But it’s not about this kind of stuff. On the other hand, my next book, which is called Your Music and People is all about music. That’s not out yet.

I’ve finished writing it so that one’s going to be done soon. Anybody who’s listening to this, the reason I do these interviews is, as you can tell, I’m not here to promote anything. I just do it honestly for the people I meet because some of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life are people that find me through things like this.

If you made it all the way to the end, go to my website, sivers.org, and my email address is there in a big font and I reply to every email and I enjoy it. So introduce yourself.

Send me a “hello” and include the link to your music damn it. I’m blown away by how many musicians email me and they say, “Oh, I’m a musician,” and then they just sign their email, Dave. I’m like, “Well, fucker. Where’s your music? Give me the link.” [Laughter] It’s always my next question. So include a link to music.

I like listening while I’m answering emails. So introduce yourself.

Brian:

I bring up the book mostly because it’s just littered with these instances of you not doing what people say you’re supposed to do.

And how that leads to the success of the company.

Derek:

That’s the musician thing, isn’t it? You get to make your own game. Make your own rules.

Brian:

One thing we’re getting at a lot with this is the idea of when enough is enough, when things are done and finished, when to move on, and when to try and a new idea. Do you have a way of knowing when enough is? Because this is something I can help us with finishing songs or finishing chapters in our life.

Derek:

It’s a hard-learned lesson. You learn from experience that if you don’t at some point, just say, “This is done,” then you’re just not going to put anything out. You have to. You learn over and over again. It is a little painful. I like that in English we use the word “release”.

You release an album. You release a song. It’s because you gotta let go of it. Just say, “OK. There. It’s out. Of course, I can improve it and maybe I will someday.”

But you have to let go of it in order to get it out there. Anybody can dabble with things, but so few people actually get things launched. That should always be your challenge, to get things launched. Whether it’s a project, a life plan, a song, a career move, whatever it is, you gotta get it launched.

Brian:

Just get started.

Derek:

Get it finished! No, no, get finished. Anybody can get started. The challenge is to get it finished. That’s the hard thing.

That’s what you’ve got to focus on is how can I finish this? That shapes a lot of how I work. I hate multitasking, I really tend to do one thing to completion, even if it takes me months or years. I’ll only do that one thing until it’s done and then I’ll do the next thing.

I am very, very single-focused like that. I don’t multitask to a fault. I have to just do one thing at a time until it’s done.

Brian:

There’s all that science about how we can’t really multitask anyway, we’re just shifting. I don’t think I enjoy things as much. If you really pay attention to everything you do, you can find a way to enjoy it. I proctored at a three-hour test yesterday and it wasn’t that bad.

I’m supposed to just sit there and watch students take a test. I found a way to sort of entertain myself. I read the test. I thought about what they’re trying to get at with this exam. I could have sat there and said, “This sucks. I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was doing something else. I wish. . .” But of course, I would’ve had a terrible time.

I’m not an expert at making the best of every situation, but once in a while, you realize that when you do it, it comes from not wishing you were somewhere else, or doing something else, or being distracted with other things.

Derek:

Or there’s also, do it anyway, even if you’re not enjoying it. Yesterday I finished a month-long project of in-short, refactoring my database, which was a lot of work.

I’ve been using the same database for 10 or 20 years. It needed a lot of overhauls. I had to change the functions and put them into schemas. It was a lot of monotonous work and it was many, many, many twelve-hour days of doing this one monotonous thing. I’d be like, “Oh my god, I’d like to stand up, but I’d just go get some caffeine. I hate this. I want to do anything else. OK, time to get back to it.”

You don’t even have to like it. There are some things in life you know you need to do. Even creative things. There are some songs where you think, “Oh, man, this thing needs a fourth verse. It’s gotta be there. I can’t just repeat the first verse again. I gotta take it somewhere else.” You can kick and scream and make noise, but just get it done. Even if you’re not enjoying it, it doesn’t have to be all pure pleasure.

Again, deep happy versus shallow happy. There you go. Shallow happy is doing whatever you feel like doing now. Deep happy is what you want most. What we all want most is to finish things, to launch them, to get them out there, which isn’t always what you want now.

Ira Gershwin, a famous songwriter from long ago said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”

That’s a famous quote because it’s a wonderful reminder that the process itself can suck, but sometimes the process is fun. All the creative stuff we were talking about. Sometimes the process just sucks, but you do it because it’s gonna get it done, and when it’s done and out there and people are listening to it, it’s so worth it.

Brian:

That’s always something I like to remind people. Especially when they’re learning and new in music production. It looks like fun on Instagram and it looks exciting here and there, but there’s a lot of blood and sweat. Just know that’s gonna happen because sometimes people say when they’re learning,“This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

It’s not easy. It can be a lot of fun, but don’t mistake that. It gets tough, and it can drive you crazy. As you said, there’s no right or wrong answer, just answers.

Derek:

The process of becoming a better and better musician is the process of making quicker decisions. I found it interesting that the Latin root of the word “decide” means to cut off. When we decide something, we are cutting off the other options.

Especially electronic music. You gotta make decisions. There are always more patches, more sounds, more banks you can go through. You got to just make your decision and say, “OK, this is good enough. Keep going.”

Brian:

Gum Road is the company I used to do all my digital distribution with my packs and stuff.

I was at a dinner they had. And it was really cool they even did this, but they had a quote, “Enough is a decision,” and I thought that was great.

Because sometimes you just need to decide. That goes for making music, that goes for making money, that goes for going out to the party. For now, it’s a decision. Realize that you don’t ever get there with making a song – it’s not like you hit a point and a little coin pops up on your screen in a star and it says, “You did it! [Laughter] You’re done!”

Derek:

[Laughter] Right.

Brian:

Did you get one of those when you finished your book? A little nice sounding, video game success tune? It just doesn’t happen. You have to make that decision.

[Well, I thank you so much for your time. You’ve been very generous and very thoughtful in your answers and I appreciate that. You made me very thoughtful in my approach to the process, too, by being a slow thinker.

Brian:

It helped me, too.

Derek:

My whole thing with deciding to to rock my slow thinking approach is that I love going past the first idea. I think about that all the time. Whether you’re coming up with an idea or answering a question, the first idea that comes to mind, is overrated. People mistakenly think that the first thing that comes to mind is somehow more authentic or more sincere, but I think that usually the first thing that comes to mind is thoughtless.

It’s the next two or three things that come to mind that are always more interesting, more considerate. You’re digging a little deeper. I think it’s fun before having a conversation like this to trade a couple e-mails about what we could talk about. It veers it into a more interesting conversation.

Yeah. So thanks for that, too. I love this. Let’s do it again someday.

Brian:

That’d be great. So, everybody, thank you for listening. Thanks to Derek, of course. Check out his website, sivers.org

Poke around there a little bit. There’s a lot of good wisdom and nuggets and things that you can apply to many aspects of your life, including music.

Derek:

And send me an email and introduce yourself. That’s my favorite.

Brian:

And send your music [laughter].

Derek:

Yes!

Brian:

I feel the same way too. When I get an email, I want to hear it.

Derek:

Come on, every musician: Go into your email settings and include an email signature that automatically goes out that has your URL at the bottom. Come on.

Brian:

That’ll make you feel less icky, if you don’t want to feel like you’re self-promoting. It’s just automatically at the bottom.

Yes. Thanks a lot, everybody. I hope you all have a great day.