Dreaming big is easy. At dBs Berlin, it’s not just a mindset, but a routine – like morning coffee or setting up a drum machine. Like that cheesy hand-holding girlfriend travel meme, your ambition’s been one step ahead wherever you’ve been. Perhaps so familiar that it’s become inseparable with ‘me.’ The hard part? Knowing the whats, hows, wheres and whys to make all of it a reality.
When we asked tutor of Creative Music Production & Sound Engineering and Electronic Music Production & Performance Brian Ledwidge Flynn how to achieve success in the music industry, we knew he’d have some answers. A freelance composer, arranger and label owner outside of dBs Berlin, with such names as BBC, Sky TV and Ultraphonic on his CV, frankly, he could probably write a book on the whole thing.
In fact, you can consider the following text Brian penned for us as the unofficial preface to said success story. Proving that his knack for analysis far exceeds the audio realm, according to Brian, the answer to success can be found where you least expect: in the question itself.
The Unanswered Question
Brian Ledwidge Flynn
“It would be poor advice to follow in the ‘successful’ footsteps of Van Gogh, Bach or Nick Drake”
Here it is. The big question we all want answers for: “How does an artist achieve success in the music industry?” It is possibly one of the most widely pondered noodle-scratchers in the arts sector.
We’ve all asked it at one point or another on the path of expression. I certainly have. But we are not going to address it here.
Because there is a very real possibility that the question can only ever be viewed rhetorically. There may very well be no specific answer. To ask it is to enter a labyrinth of subjectivity in that the answer morphs depending on your perspective, and even your mood.
You’ll be no doubt aware that most true and long-lasting successes are recognised retrospectively (and, all too often, posthumously). It would be poor advice to follow in the ‘successful’ footsteps of Van Gogh, Bach or Nick Drake as all received either harsh criticism for their greatest work until decades after their passing, or little recognition whatsoever during their lifetime. So what can we learn from this?
It may very well mean we have been asking the wrong question. So let’s try another. Perhaps a question that is in itself the answer. A question which will offer a suggested practice, process and path. Too good to be true? Probably. Yet, here goes…
What precedes how?
The answer to which is perhaps exactly that: ‘WHAT’ precedes ‘HOW’.
In other words, before you get caught up with HOW you will do something (e.g. fiddling around in a DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] until something ‘hits’ you), you may be better off considering WHAT you are expressing and then deciding HOW it can be best achieved.
The premise being that your intention is what people experience through your work whereas the chords, beats, film, illustration etc.. are merely the means by which you communicate that intention, emotion or suggestion. Like a sealed envelope which is opened when someone engages, the work contains the message. The style of presentation is like the address and postage paid. The actual message is found inside.
“If you successfully convey something as infinitely complex as an emotion through your work then you have really succeeded in some significant way”
A better question may be, ‘What do I truly feel about x, y or z?’ and it’s a much bigger question than that with which we started. But armed with the answer, you are free to work in any way that relates to that feeling in the confidence that something real is being expressed, however subtly. Thereby increasing your chances of making a real impact on a potential audience.
So, how does all this address our original tricky question? Well, I personally believe art is an influencing form of expression and expression resides in the realm of the emotions. If you successfully convey something as infinitely complex as an emotion through your work then you have really succeeded in some significant way. You can only achieve that if the work is infused on every level with that intention, therefore you must know (or feel) this from the outset. No amount of Amen breaks, blistering guitar solos or use of compression can mask a lack of clear intention, or soul/heart/centre etc. Therefore, our best shot at success starts with true intentions infused into one work.
The world is full of successful artists. Perhaps they just ask the right questions.