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Excellent Free Booklets About Making Money Out of Music

Last week I mentioned that Andrew Dubber’s e-book 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online is available as a free printed booklet and pop-up desk thingamy. Mine arrived this week and very nice they are too. The kind people at Digital Central also included another booklet, Making Money Out of Music.

Making Money Out of Music

Both booklets are excellent, full of practical advice for musicians seeking fame and fortune in the new musical landscape. They’re also free, so if you’re in a band and wondering how to make some money from your music, you’d be mad not to send an e-mail to Digital Central and ask them to send you a copy. More details here.

‘Too Many Notes’ – How Not to Give Feedback on Creative Work

Too many notes?

Giving feedback on creative work is a tricky challenge, for two main reasons:

  1. Artists and creatives identify very closely with their work
    When a creative worker puts a piece of work in front of you, it is as though they were putting a piece of themselves there to be judged – because of this, it is almost inevitable that they take criticism personally.
  2. The value of creative work is largely subjective
    We all know this from arguments with friends about music and films – one person’s masterpiece is utter rubbish to someone else. Shakespeare, Welles and Picasso are only ‘great’ because there is a current consensus of opinion that makes them so, and fashions can change. So it’s very difficult to make a final judgement with absolute certainty, no matter how strongly you feel about it.

But feedback is vital to producing outstanding work. Without some sense of how one’s work appears to others, it’s very hard to decide how to develop it. For Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, feedback is an essential ingredient in the experience of creative flow – when we sense that we are creating something valuable, it increases our pleasure and absorption in the work.

So feedback is essential, but how should we approach it? Specifically:

  • How can we give genuinely constructive feedback on a piece of creative work, even if we aren’t experts in the medium?
  • When we’re on the receiving end, how can we make the most of the feedback we receive from others – or at least develop a thicker skin?

‘Too many notes’ – the Emperor from ‘Amadeus’ shows us how not to do it

My favourite example of how not to give feedback on creative work is the Emperor Josef II of Austria, as he appears in Amadeus – a film I’ve previously written about as a parable of creativity.

The Emperor is not stupid, nor is he a philistine. He comes across as an intelligent and honest man trying to do his best for his subjects. And he aspires to culture, as an amateur musician and a lover and patron of music. The ‘musical King’ surrounds himself with composers and music scholars, patronises the opera, concert halls and music schools, and commissions exciting new works from established composers and rising stars.

And yet, as Salieri points out, “actually the man had no ear at all”. This is partly a deficiency of talent – regardless of the approach he took to musical studies, the Emperor would never be in danger of rivaling Mozart or Salieri. But it is also a deficiency of circumstance. Because of his position, the assembled musical experts around him are afraid to tell him where he’s going wrong, or even how bad his playing is. [Read more…]

What Amadeus Shows Us About Creativity

Comedy & Tragedy

When I first saw the film Amadeus as an impressionable teenager, I had a lot of sympathy for Salieri. Not for what he did to Mozart of course, but for the frustration and disappointment that drove him to it. Listening to his account of his early life and motivations, they sounded perfectly noble:

While my father prayed earnestly to God to protect commerce, I would offer up secretly the proudest prayer a boy could think of. Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music – and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life, amen!

After this pious prelude it was hard not to share Salieri’s astonishment and disgust at the childish, lecherous, drunken Mozart, and to question God’s purpose in bestowing the gift of divine music on a “giggling, dirty-minded creature”:

But why? Why would God choose an obscene child to be His instrument? It was not to be believed!

It just didn’t seem fair.

Yet every time I’ve watched the film since, my sympathy for Salieri has waned a little more. And not just because I’ve seen the ending, or the Director’s Cut which makes his crimes against Mozart and his family more explicit. The seeds of Salieri’s downfall – and the justice of it – are plainly there to see in that speech about his ambition: [Read more…]

Brian Eno – 77 Million Paintings

A few months ago I saw an amazing art installation in the basement of Selfridges (I have such postmodern Saturday afternoons) – Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings. Like you, my first thought was “Brian Eno may be a genius but even he can’t do 77 Million Paintings… or can he?”. Well, he has – sort of. He actually painted about 300, then used software to merge and blend them at random, to create a shifting kaleidoscope, inevitably accompanied by his signature ambient music.

1 in 77 million

OK that description doesn’t sound too mind-blowing and even this YouTube video doesn’t do it justice – but when you see the paintings blown up on massive screens in a cathedral-dark space and you feel the deep notes vibrating through your body, it’s a genuinely mesmerising experience. As if stained glass windows had come to life.


One of the most impressive things about it was the slowness with which the images changed, so that the transformation was barely discernible. I would stare at an image, waiting for it to change, convinced that nothing was happening, then suddenly realise I was looking at a different picture. I had the feeling that at last I was looking at what computer-generated imagery should be capable of – not in terms of dazzling fireworks, but subtlety and suggestion.

1 in 77 million

So it was great to come across this post on the Bad Banana Blog, informing me that 77 Million Paintings is available as a DVD and software CD – so I can (ahem) install the installation in my living room and experience something of the (ahem) ambience of the original. And so can you – Amazon links on the 77 Million Paintings site.

Thanks to Roger for introducing me to the Bad Banana Blog which looks terrific – written by Tim Siedel, Creative Director of Fusebox, who have won so many awards they’ve given up entering them. A man who obviously knows his creative onions, well worth reading.

(Photos courtesy Mrs WT.)

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Creative Synaesthesia – If You See What I’m Saying

I discovered the Reactable, a new music-making interface, via City of Sound and Peter Marsh.

Why do I find this so fascinating? I think it’s the way it opens up new creative possiblities via artificial synaesthesia.

According to the scientists, ‘true’ synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense is involuntarily translated into another – e.g. colours are experienced as sounds or vice versa. It is popularly associated with psychedelic drugs, but can also result from a stroke, blindness or deafness. I encountered synaesthesia in my work as a hypnotherapist, as it’s a fairly common occurrence in trance subjects.

Synaesthesia and Creativity

Less extreme versions of synaesthesia, sometimes called ‘pseudo-synaesthesia’, are reported by many people as part of their normal thinking processes. This kind of everyday synaesthesia seems to be particularly common among artists and other creative types. Like a lot of poets, I experience a kind of grapheme-colour synaesthesia, whereby words (and numbers) are associated with particular colours. Louis MacNeice describes the phenomenon in his poem ‘When we were children’:

When we were children words were coloured
(Harlot and murder were dark purple)
And language was a prism, the light
A coloured inlay on the grass,

Another of my favourite examples of synaesthesia is the artist and writer Mervyn Peake. A brilliant draughtsman and illustrator, while writing his novel Titus Groan Peake made sketches of characters in the margin:

As I went along I made drawings from time to time which helped me to visualise the characters and to imagine what sort of things they would say. The drawings were never exactly as I imagined the people, but were near enough for me to know when their voices lost touch with their heads.
(Mervyn Peake, ‘How a Romantic Novel was Evolved’) [Read more…]