As musicians and fans around the world mourn the passing of Lou Reed yesterday, here at Spinnup we’ve been thinking about what people with creative ambitions can learn from this great artist and songwriter. Here are a few we’ve come up with.
1. Take your music seriously
Please note, serious does not mean being boring and dull at the expense of being fun. Lou Reed wanted to be a musician because he knew and never lost sight of the fact that music really matters. Music is unlike anything else in its ability to reach out to people. Whatever kind of music you are making, whether you are creating the next generation of rock operas or three minute slices of pure entertaining pop music, be in absolutely no doubt that what you are doing, what you are creating, will enrich people’s lives. Lou Reed always knew that he was making something very special and he was. If you don’t feel that, why should anyone else?
2. Understand your own voice and musical style
Not just vocals and lyrics but all aspects of your music. One of the most dismissive ways to describe any kind of music is to say that it sounds like everything else. Throughout his long career, with all the different groups and collaborators he worked with, Lou Reed was always clearly Lou Reed. What makes your music distinctive?
3. Get to know other musicians and artists
From Andy Warhol and David Bowie to Metallica and Kiss, Lou Reed never stopped getting to know and working with other artists and musicians. He understood the artistic benefits that comes from working with others. Many musicians collaborate with each other to help reach a wider audience than they can on their own, which is a perfectly valid and enjoyable thing to do, but there’s also immense value to be had as an artist in just hanging out with and working with other artists. Whether it’s coming up with new ideas, solving problems, keeping up your motivation or anything else, nobody will understand what it means to be an artist better than another one.
4. Be an expert
There were few things worth knowing about guitars and sound recording that Lou Reed didn’t know inside out. Whatever your role, instrument, tool or thing in music is, become an expert at it. Once you know something intimately and really understand how it works, you’ll find it much easier to make it work how you want it to and come up with new ideas.
5. Be your own (very tough) editor
Lou Reed worked very hard indeed at his songwriting. He didn’t just record the first lyrics that came into his head but edited and re-wrote them over and over again. There’s a quote often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway about this point: “The first draft of anything is shit.” That’s maybe a little on the harsh side, but the underlying point is absolutely true – thoughtful editing and re-working are very hard to overrate.
You should be ready to get out on the road now! Check out Gigging And Touring – Decoded.