SEVEN DEADLY SKILLS
I mentioned in the very first MSG post, introducing the Seven Deadly Skills, that if we practice each and every one of them, there is absolutely nothing to stop us from going out in to the world and creating the path we want. We claim our path as our own as we wind our way through. We set our goals, and through Innovation, Thoroughness, Sociability, Publicity, Self Drive and Working Smart, we get out of bed and we make it happen. But the last of the Seven Deadly Skills is perhaps the one which underpins them all every step of the way. A skill which stitches them together, allowing each one to cooperate with the next as part of a cohesive workforce. A skill which acts as glue, binding the Seven Deadly Skills as they push and pull through all the progress, and all the tribulation. Perhaps you're reaping the rewards of your Self Drive with a recent burst of Innovation. Conversely, perhaps your Sociability is dragging your Publicity behind, through your efforts at being 'not-too-pushy'. Perhaps your Thoroughness has helped you become more aware of how you use your time, and in turn you've become better at Working Smart.
There is no way of determining with absolute certainty what will happen between taking off and landing. There will be unexpected turbulence. There will be unanticipated weather conditions, henceforth changes in altitude. There may be a sick passenger so an emergency landing is called. But whatever happens, the plane will always reach the destination. And on the next flight, a completely different destination may be set.
The truth is, we are all pilots - and our life, the plane
To get to where we want to go, we need to twist and turn, rise and fall, with the situations we are dealt in order to find a level of control through all the unexpectedness. This is our Adaptability. This is what brings cohesion, setting everything in one place and making ‘You’. And because of this, Adaptability is perhaps the most critical skill we need to develop. This is the final piece of the puzzle in realising the goal of becoming a successful musician.
So plane metaphors aside what the hell does Adaptability actually mean for musicians?
Music by it’s very essence is an expression of emotion, through creation. However, I probably don't need to explain that emotions aren’t exactly the most…*ahem*…consistent part of our human experience. So where consistency is lacking we create something we can make sense of, we create something more coherent, all though our ability to adapt through change.
This 'adapting through change' is intimately linked to the process of writing music. Really, writing music is a constant series of adaptations until a destination (a song, a composition) is reached. However...the thing with Adaptability is that it extends way beyond the Creation element of music, to when we want to show this music to other people - when we Perform. Because, in an environment as dynamic as live performance, something can always happen in a different way to what is expected.
In fact it even extends further - to the Logistics involved in creating these live performances . Why? Well, how do we go from writing a song to performing it? Rehearsal, working in a team, and traveling a hell of a lot. All of a sudden the plane metaphor becomes a little more literal.
Break it down
OK let me explain. We've established three areas of Adaptability:
With each facet of Adaptability come different considerations, and subtle differences in their nature. Each one can be applied to any work environment really, so I’ll give a universally applicable equivalent - or UAE - with each of them.
UAE: This is the conception of your product or service. Shards of ideas which in turn are pieced together and made in to coherent & identifiable concepts, which ultimately we aim to sell.
Musically speaking: Whether writing music on your own, or with people, the process of constant adaption is very much the same. Developing the ability to ‘let go’ of ideas, and concede that sometimes someone else’s, or a different set of ideas, may actually be more appropriate in the wider context of the work - this requires us to adapt. When rehearsing with a band, taking direction from someone else also requires us to adapt our performance techniques around something another person is imagining.
When recording with an artist at State of the Arc studios a few years back, we’d just reached what we thought was the end of recording a cover song, when the producer and I agreed it needed to sound different; it needed to sound fresher. We then started a completely new version of the same cover from scratch, to indeed find we much preferred the sound second time round. This was the two of us working with a huge adaption - an adaption which required changing nearly everything about something we previously thought was finished. When ‘on the clock’ in an expensive studio, making these calls can come with risk - but sometimes you have to tread that line in pursuit of a better result.
UAE: The delivery of your product or service, the manner in which it is executed, with what kind of aesthetic and by whom.
Musically speaking: Performance environments by their nature are completely dynamic - changing all the time - even if you’re Beyonce. When performing with The Beach at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo in November 2016, we were supporting Kodaline - whose stage footprint is quite large. I not only had to set my drum kit up in a place that both looked aesthetically decent for The Beach’s performance, but I needed to consider the implications of getting my gear off stage quickly as soon as we’d finished with as little disruption as possible. All of this was nothing that could have prepared for, so required a quick set of adaptations.
Look at Mariah Carey’s performance at NYE 2016, she held her composure through about the worst set of circumstances possible to throw at an artist. She used her Adaptability to make the best of the environment around her.
UAE: The nitty gritty. How you get from one place to another with the goal of delivering your service. Crucially, how people are communicating with one another along the way.
Musically speaking: In a great deal of jobs we end up spending a lot of time with the same people. This is very true of working in music, particularly when it comes to touring. With enclosed environments come a new level of Adaptability, particularly one which engages with your Sociability. In life some people, however nice each may be, just don't mix well in enclosed spaces. So, with practiced Adaptability, we learn to navigate around sometimes difficult social situations - avoiding any cause for friction. This can help relieve any unpleasant encounters, and ultimately keep the artist you're working for more comfortable, surrounded by a positive environment, and happy to keep employing the band.
only Human after all
As human beings we are already pretty well practiced at Adaptability. Our very consciousness is pieced together through a constant steam of adaptations - our mind is incredibly powerful at quickly finding a way to ‘make sense’, or ‘smoothen out’ the bombardment of visual stimulus we experience every waking second of our day. So skilled is our mind already at adapting we even find patterns in, what is essentially, randomness. The famous Rorschach Test shows us this - where, through our own mental adaptations, we assign meaning to arbitrary blotches of ink. Perhaps we see a flower, perhaps we see a face. Either way - we’re generating meaning in our mind by sewing together pieces of information distinct from one another. We're 'smoothening out' the details we're receiving, in order to make more sense of it - just as we do when thriving in any three of our Adaptability environments listed above: Creation; Performance; and Logistics.
Swinging this back round and keeping it relevant to our point in case…as musicians it’s vital we dive deeper in to each area of our Adaptability, past ink blots and past Jesus in your toast, and learn to work well in each of them. Since we’re already, to an extent, used to constantly adapting to the changes that unravel around us through our lives, it’s simply a case further honing a skill set that’s already there, and making the most out of something we’re preprogrammed to do.
Thank you once again for reading, this post marks the completion of the Seven Deadly Skills. I'll be extending the Musician's Survival Guide beyond here, so feel free to subscribe to keep in the loop.