Beyond the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, musicians work their butts off. What you see on stage or hear on your iPod is a distillation of years of hard work. Naturally, they have a lot of lessons we can all learn from to be more productive. Here are a few.
Don’t Try to Live Up to a Great Project, Just Do the Next Task
-Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones
You work hard, you ace that project, you earn plaudits and promotions. What’s next? A huge success comes with its own pressure of living up to those standards, of meeting those high expectations. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger’s advice is to forget about the success and just do the next job:
RS: Did you think “Satisfaction” would become the number one pop song of this era as it has?
Jagger: No, not at all.
RS: Did you think about the problem of writing a song to follow it?
Jagger: No, I didn’t give a f***. We knew it wouldn’t be as good but so what.
The advice, as its core, is as simple as “just do it.” But it’s Jagger’s reasoning that makes it worth listening to. A huge success is hard to replicate in back-to-back scenarios, and that’s OK. You don’t have to try to live up to your past, all you need to do is take the next step.
The Most Popular Tool for the Job May Not Be the Best Tool for You
-Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam
People introduce new systems and workflows all the time, in the name of making work easier. While the intention may be good, you should stick with what works for you, unless the new tool makes life significantly better.
Computers are obviously the most popular way to write, but Eddie Vedder still prefers to use a typewriter — sometimes as many as three so that he can write multiple thoughts:
I like them because you can write on them late at night, depending on what you’re fortifying yourself with, and the next morning you can still figure what you wrote. There are times where I would keep three typewriters on a table, and I’d have three complete thoughts going. With computers, you make folders, files — I don’t know about those things. I have sheaves of paper polluted with words and paragraphs. I found it a good tool for me.
Too often, we get so caught up in maximizing the benefits of technology that we lose sight of what already works for us. There’s nothing stopping Vedder from learning about computers, but he recognises that it’s not important; his core task of writing a song is done well enough on a typewriter. So he sticks with it.
Keep Working Even If You Don’t Have Ideal Conditions
-Paul McCartney, The Beatles
How many times have you stopped working just because the office Internet was slow? If you actually want to do your job, the onus is on you to find a way to get it done. You have to make the adjustments. As McCartney discusses the song-making process in this interview in Clash, he always seems to have a guitar nearby or some other instrument that lets him put his craft into action. And if he doesn’t, that won’t stand in his way:
It was a long, dusty, hot drive with nothing to do, so sitting in the back of this car I just started thinking of words, and over those three hours or so, I figured out what I wanted to do. I’d forgotten that bit, but Bruce reminded me recently; he said, ‘Yeah, don’t you remember? You came to the flat and I was just moving out, you were going to move in, and you said, ‘Have you got a guitar?” And he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s right-handed — you’re left-handed.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I could just about fudge the chords. He said to me, ‘You sang ‘Yesterday’ – you had all the words to it.’
The next time you complain about a malfunctioning key on a keyboard, remember that Paul McCartney wrote a Grammy Hall of Fame song playing wrong-handed on a guitar.
Skip the Shortcuts to Force Yourself to Experiment and Learn
-Brian Eno, Roxy Music
Most of us have been trained to seek patterns. If something goes right, the next time, we’ll try to do it the same way to replicate that success. We’ll take notes of how we did it, remember the exact routine, and practice it perfectly. But that doesn’t challenge you to learn new things, says Brian Eno.
Eno is widely credited for pushing the synthesiser to its limits and coming up with great new sounds. He credits this constant creativity to forcing himself to experiment:
I made a rule very early on, which I’ve kept to, which was that I would never write down any setting that I got on the synthesiser, no matter how fabulous a sound I got. And the reason for that is that I know myself well enough to know that if I had a stock of fabulous sounds I would just always use them. I wouldn’t bother to find new ones. So it was a way of trying to keep the instrument fresh.
We’re all about little shortcuts that save you time, but sometimes, taking the long way around encourages creativity. There is no harm in knowing how to do something well; but sticking to that is when you get into trouble, because you won’t grow beyond what you already know.
Look for Synergy Over Skill to Make Great Teams
-Adam Clayton, U2
I read a lot of interviews to research this article and there is one thing most of the great bands have in common: The band, or the team, is not formed by the skills of the individuals; it’s about the synergy and how well they work together.
Most talented members of a band can play multiple instruments and take on multiple roles. Paul McCartney, for instance, plays lead guitar, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards and sings. But it’s not about his skills or ability to take on certain roles, it’s about how he worked well with that team. Adam Clayton of U2 sums up the formation of a team or a band:
I (Adam) can’t say what it is I bring to U2. It is not necessarily my bass-playing. Sometimes Edge might play bass, sometimes Bono. The best idea survives, no matter who has it. But something take place when the band plays together. It is something unquantifiable, its the thing that excites me the most. It’s the thing that we built U2 on, the spark of excitement and energy between us, and you have to be there for that to happen.
While working in teams, you probably divide the work as “that’s his job and this is my job”, and that’s fine. But don’t form the team with that in mind. Make a team where everyone gels and works well together, and then give them tasks.
They might drive cars into swimming pools and live out debaucherous experiences you can’t even imagine, but these rock stars are some of the most successful people in the world. Success doesn’t come easy, they have toiled to do that just like you work tirelessly at your job. But yeah, their job is way cooler.
The point is, don’t write them off saying, “Their advice could never apply to the life of a simple person like me.” Remember that they were struggling for a long time too, and put in the effort that catapulted them to the success they have now. Who knows, heeding their words might do the same for you.