ON BEING VAGUE

Lately I've been watching YouTube clips of great artists reflecting on making their great albums.  The two that I've watched multiple times so far is Pink Floyd reflecting on the making of 'Dark Side of the Moon' and The Beatles in the studio making the 'White Album'.  Two classics that sound like they were made by people who were sent from the heavens specifically to make those albums.  Although Pink Floyd had made 7 albums prior to Dark Side of the Moon, they were still an underground band with no hits.  The Beatles, quite the opposite.

dsotm_whitealbum.jpg

You would imagine that The Beatles would have such an air of confidence in their ability to write and record classic after classic that they wouldn't be afraid when starting something new.  Same for Pink Floyd, who were pioneers of live performance visualizations and had a rabid underground following.

But, the one major take away from listening to the members of both bands talking about initially starting the recordings was that they only really had a vague idea as to what they were doing.

John Lennon talks about being paranoid during recording sessions.  Paul McCartney talks about how certain songs unfolded in a collaborative, open-minded, loose way.  They tried things.  They failed sometimes, made adjustments, jammed, experimented and worked through the songs on the fly to get to the final piece they were happy with.  But the ideas they started with were still very vague.

Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd talk about "On the Run", the second track on Dark Side of the Moon, in a very shoulder-shrugging manner.  They had almost no idea how to use the VSC3 synthesizer they used to create the track.

 Waters and Gilmour just, ya know, fucking around.

Waters and Gilmour just, ya know, fucking around.

The footsteps and voices heard on the track are the only external sound effects used.  The plane sounds, explosions and the sonic tapestry of anxiety and hurriedness were all made using a machine they initially had no idea how to use.  They had to bring in someone from the company to give a demonstration on what else it could do.

The lesson here is that the artists who made these albums set out to create something that was only a vague idea when they had started it and they were not confident going in.  I don't know about you, but to hear John Lennon admitting that he was nervous and paranoid about succeeding on what eventually became the White Album is pretty reassuring.

In my own personal experience, being vague and leaving the door open to let other ideas in (or out) is an incredibly freeing way to work.  I think it's the best way.  They don't tell you that in film school.  At SVA, animation was posed as something that is rigidly planned.  Clearly you don't want to do anymore work than you need to do but following the same exact steps every single time and never leaving your lane can be pretty stifling.  Maybe it works for some.  Like, if your goal is make hit TV shows that sell a bunch of merchandise, then the rigid method will probably work for you.  But if you're trying to push your own personal boundaries and create fresh and exciting work, be vague.