11 June 2011

Etymologists Agree, Muse is Music

What I do for a living often involves creative problem solving. This means the variables, the problems and the stakeholders for the projects I work on are quite diverse. I have worked with a very eclectic mix of clients too. I wouldn't have it any other way, to focus in one area would bore me to tears. I need to always be learning. Doing something that I've never done before is how I've spent the last 20 years of my career.

A smart businessman and friend once told me, always hire people that are smarter than you - so, I've surrounded myself with some amazingly talented people and they too have thrived on the varied projects that have come through our small shops' door. Some projects are bigger, more complex than others and that's when everyone really shines - in collaboration.

Sometimes however, we need to work alone on certain elements of a project, this often involves reflection, ideation and research - thought is critical. This can be tough to do in a busy office, even when it's quiet.

Then, there are times when the excitement of the project or the thrill of the chase isn't enough and you find yourself bogged down with the details of a very large project and facing a hurdle.

It's these times when I seem to look to music to motivate and guide me.

Music clears my head, sets me up for creative thought and helps me focus, puts me in the right frame of mind for a specific task - even when it's loud. More often than not, I find myself playing the same song or artist over and over again. I set my player (sometimes vinyl, sometimes not) on repeat and I don't get tired of it until I'm through my problem.

Music is my inspiration, my muse.

It may be that through music I am able to block out all other distractions. The motion, beat and melody carries me, elevates me to a place where I can concentrate on one task or problem solely and give me that elusive 30,000 ft view needed for objective analysis. This view gives me multiple angles.

Some songs are so perfectly crafted and original that they amaze me, they are pure genius. I have a wide variety of tastes in music and I know that not all songs or artists are worthy of being put on repeat, not while I work that is. Not to say they're not good songs, just that not all songs have that certain 'mojo' that takes me to that special creative space. These songs are hard to discover.

I began this practice of listening to music when my job involved a lot of design - as a designer, I would select a song or artist based on the audience that I was targeting and that would help me 'get inside the heads' of the end customer and design to their expectation. Like selecting a typeface, the selection of the right song is critical as it helps me better analyze the target audience, the people that are going to see the piece.

A sampling of the artists that have created a song or songs that I have listened to repeatedly while working on a project are as follows (no particular order):

Warren Zevon, Blue Oyster Cult, Widespread Panic, Johnny Cash, Ian Tyson, John Hiatt, John Prine, Judas Priest, Old Reliable, Five Blind Boys from Alabama, Iron Maiden, Kaiser Chiefs, Cheap Trick, Kenny Rogers, Gay Delorme, Ray Charles, Bourne & McLeod, Wilco, Richard Thompson, NRBQ, Frank Zappa, Gram Parsons, Len Price 3, Flying Burrito Brothers, Sex Pistols, Deep Purple, BB King, Louis Prima, Robert Cray, Nanci Griffiths, Kinematic, Taj Mahal, Franz Ferdinand, Lyle Lovett, Pigeon Detectives, Flogging Molly, and a few others.

My two favourite bands are not listed above as I've never listened to them while designing or working on a project for others. If you want to design something for me, do it while listening to the Rolling Stones or the Who - you'll likely come up with something that would appeal to me.

Any work being done for others needs to be taylored to suit the audience it is intended for and in my experience, there's no better way to do this than through 'their' music. It sets the stage for a role reversal, putting you in the shoes of your audience which is where you need to be if you're going to produce good work.

Even though I don't do much design work these days, I still find that music helps me focus, helps me be productive and on target for who I'm doing work for.

Going to eleven is always an option - thank you Spinal Tap.

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