After 1 & 2 came 3. Seems obvious in retrospect lol…
Rule Three: Whatever worked last time DONT do that again.
This one isn’t mine, I read it in an interview with Brian Eno. Another way to put it is this “Formula is the death of artistry.”
This is another one I had to learn from painful experience, and I see artists in every scene and every scale fuck it up. I think its such a huge problem because it is not instinctive, and it is therefore hard work – you have to catch yourself doing something that is natural to yourself, and then do the opposite. We all operate under the idea that if something works, keep doing it. This is true of almost everything, but not art.
I made this mistake with Remix Records, (and with Kniteforce Records as well, to a lesser degree). Remix Records succeeded quickly, and over the space of the first few releases established a formula. And it was a good one. Mixable intro. Breakbeats with a kick drum. Hip Hop vocal snippet. Drum rolls. Drop into stab pattern or piano or vocal line. Nothing too crazy, no sudden jarring changes in pitch or key or style. Always happy. It was never written down, there was no big plan, it was simply a matter of finding out what worked and doing it. And it did work. It worked extremely well.
Until it didn’t.
Because art requires an element of inspiration, it requires something which surprises the audience, something audacious or beautiful or powerful. Something that shocks them and makes them take notice. I don’t know what it is, no one does. But I know what it isn’t – it isn’t using the same kick drum in each release. It isn’t having the “good” bits in the right place. It isn’t making sure the release is easy to mix, or uses the latest VST. All of those things are great, and all or none of them can be part of a good release, but they are not the reason the release is good. And they are dangerous, because as soon as you rely on them, as soon as you think “this worked so well on the dancefloor last time, it will work again” you have lost some of the power. Want proof – who loved the follow up to Robert Mies – Children? Or the 2nd single from that Sandstorm bloke? Or the second Smart Es release? All three were derivatives from the “big” single, trying to repeat the same trick again. Of course some people loved them…but I know the sales figures for Sesames Treet versus Loo’s Control, and I bet you they are mirror images of the other two artists I mentioned. Simply put, its not gonna work. It might for a little while, if you are lucky…but sooner or later (usually sooner) everyone will have had enough of it and then thats that – your precious formula is dead.
And you see it in all music’s and all scales. I loved the first Mumford & Sons album. I thought it was amazing, really different. I think the second album was good too….but…it was more of the same. If their third album is more of the same again, I very much doubt I will be interested in their fourth album.
Its not fair of course. But fair is irrelevant. An artist works hard to get their “sound” and so they want to keep it. And some people manage just fine without ever changing their sound. But mostly, it doesn’t work. Huge artists – Radiohead for example – mature and change. OK Computer does not sound like Hail To The Thief. Kid A is not The Bends. But they are still distinctly Radiohead. How do they do that? Fuck knows. I doubt they even know. But you can be certain they didnt do it by sitting in the studio thinking “Hey, remember that great chord structure in “Creep”? Lets do that again, only change it around a little and make up new words” lol.
More importantly, apart from the “successful” question, there is the artists personal fulfilment to be considered. I dare say some artists are fine with retreading old ground all the time – I understand that. I like to just relax and make an old skool track every now and again. Its a pleasure to do, and requires no new ideas (plug plug) and no real effort as far as innovation goes. But I recognise it as the dead end it is if I try to just do that. Even if I made millions, it would still be an artistic dead end for me because without progress, you stand still, and if you stand still when the world keeps moving, you get left behind. I have done that too.
So yeah. Once you have got it exactly right, whatever it is you are creating, you have to then move on. Or quit making that form of art any more. If you truly think you have made the best piece of music you will ever make, there is no need to keep going – except for money I suppose (See rule two).