Intrinsically inventive artist, Tom Hogan, reveals the lessons learned as a creative mind, and the blurred lines of projects that unexpectedly appear.
Speaking with honesty and experience, Hogan reveals the necessity to set creative goals and be prepared to do something weird shit to yield imaginative results. Check out Hogan’s 10-step guide to managing a creative lifestyle:
I’m just going to make it clear; this isn’t a “How Be Creative” list. This is just… 10 stupidly important things about being Creative. And it starts with the most obvious.
You may have plans to write a song or to make an album, but you have to actually start before you can do anything. The moment you are past the blank page, you have done infinitely more than nothing. When it comes to creativity, you don’t have to wait until you know everything, or have the most expensive gear, or have the degree, or whatever. So many people have made things, and made great things, without being totally ready for it, and with extreme limitations put upon them. Whatever you do; start, and figure out the rest as it comes.
Research, Consciously & Unconsciously
Nothing happens in a bubble – an idea has to come from somewhere. So read books, watch videos, listen to other artists, and observe things that are related to what you want to work on. You can then synthesise those things, and make something out of it, or dip into it when you need to.
And along the way, you also have to read/watch/listen/observe things that aren’t related – different genres, different cultures, everything. Let it all pour over you, switch your brain off sometimes and let it bubble away in the back of your mind, as all those thoughts come together and make sense of themselves. Honestly, literally anything you do could be considered research. I consider a good long nap to be an integral part of my process.
I knew someone who didn’t like to watch blockbuster movies, because he didn’t want it to “infect” his own specific artistic genius film style that he was busy crafting. He made sure to only watch films that he wanted to be influenced by. This, to me, is like trying to learn Spanish without speaking to Spanish people. As far as I know, that guy hasn’t released anything yet.
You could make things on your own and hide from the world – but other people are going to be your firepower, and your foundation, and your audience, and your lifeblood (…and also your anxiety). They’ll also spur more ideas, more projects, and will energise you, and keep you grounded, and keep you filled with ambition. You have to meet people, and experience the community that you’re hoping will enjoy your work. And on top of that, meet the people who make work that you love
I made a quiet and wholesome podcast a few years ago, called Missing Richard Mercer. Podcasts, for all their awesomeness, can be quite distancing, solo affairs – but each episode I spoke to different people, met people on the street, interviewed Uber drivers. For one episode I interviewed Polish Club, and we talked joyfully about the Spice Girls, and Savage Garden. It was never the intention for this to spiral out of control, but soon enough, Polish Club then hired me to make a podcast about them called Polish Club’s Sophomore Slump.
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Without exception, my most memorable moments are with other people, and my most interesting work is with other people. It can be at any part of the process, by the way. That could be a producer, a bandmate, or a co-creator, or whatever. I just tend to find that all the things I did entirely by myself… sort of happened, and it’s a bit hazy, and I barely remember being there while it happened, and I don’t remember the hard work, and they’re just things I did. With the Love Song Dedications (without Richard Mercer) theatre show with Bonnie Leigh-Dodds, I remember every moment of devising and performing that project, and neither of us could have made it on our own. The collaboration is the part that feels real, feels human, feels bigger than just me, and makes me genuinely excited to go on tour and show people.
Hot Tip: Collaborate with people who are different to you for more interesting work, different backgrounds, experiences, and styles. And collaborate with people who you want to see more of in the industry!
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Tangible Goals & Expectations
Beyond the project itself, I’m terrible at this, but I’m getting better because I’ve discovered it’s vital. You have to set yourself goals and expectations. Otherwise, you have no way to quantify your success. This is fine to an extent, but let’s say you’ve poured your heart and soul into an idea or song, and then you release it onto the world. If, say, 10% of your friends click like on your post… is that enough? It genuinely might be, by the way! You have no idea, unless you set the expectation yourself. But what if your goals were to get 500 listens… 5000? 50 000? Radio airplay? Well, there are actual steps you can take to get those specific goals. Those goals and expectations shape everything you do, and will shape the next project too. And that’s where satisfaction lies!
Hot Tip: Did you exceed your expectations? Great, next time aim higher, and adjust accordingly. Didn’t meet your expectations? Great, next time aim lower, and adjust accordingly.
Do Some Weird Shit (You Don’t Know What Will Come Of It)
In January 2012, I went to Finland, to make an album of ambient music that I had big plans for. It was going to be the first step of me being a solo artist, making interesting instrumental music. But while I was there, I discovered Finland has this amazing creation myth, called The Kalevala, which is largely impenetrable to non-Finnish people. I made a one-shot video of me explaining the story of the Kalevala, specifically not understanding a lot of the content. Looking at it now, that video has over 60 000 views.
That’s pretty good for a 9-minute poem that doesn’t even rhyme. On top of YouTube, that work has toured art festivals and has been presented in galleries across eight different countries. This work was even in Finland’s curriculum where students learning English would translate my poem back into Finnish. Like, wtf. The point is… I made it on a whim in the space of a week. I didn’t think much of it at the time – I didn’t even post it under my real name. That project launched me into a hundred other directions, and was a genuine turning point in my life.
Set a Deadline
If something doesn’t have a deadline, it can be incredibly freeing for your creative process. Great. But the flip side of that is creativity never really ends. If you’re unable to make decisions, you need to find a hard deadline. I recently put out a song called True Enough, a song I was a bit unsure of in the demo phase, and I could have kept writing and rewriting and editing it forever, tweaking individual words, and how they’re pronounced. But I’d booked a studio to record it, and the day came, and it had to be done. The day before, I hadn’t figured out some minor details, but your choices come down to either cancelling the booking entirely, or just making some hard decisions quick.
The other classic deadline is, of course, the gig. If you book a gig, you’ll have to have something ready to put on that stage.
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In Words & Music In 6 Seconds, Dan Wilson says; “A pretty good finished song is worth about 50 great unfinished ones”. That will stick with me forever.
I want to make it clear that your unfinished or unreleased projects are definitely a part of the network of your creativity, and maybe they’re going to be amazing one day… but until they’re done, it’s only your finished work that friends or audiences can engage with.
Accept the Compliment
This is the hardest part of the creative process – because you’re hyper-aware of the imperfections and shortcuts you took to finish a work. But if someone says you’re great, or they enjoyed your work, learn to say thank you. You may not believe it, but they believed it enough to tell you. The worst thing you can do is throw the compliment back in their face. Australians are famously bad at this – and you can of course go too far the other way and come across like an arrogant ass. At the very least, just practice saying, “Hey, thanks! I’m glad you told me.”
Do It Again
There are many rewards for creativity, and maybe it’s money, and maybe it’s fame – but pretty much all of it goes towards you being able to do it again, or having a life that allows you to do it again. I’ve heard it described as being a bit like the myth of Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again – but I totally disagree. That makes it feel hopeless, or pointless. At the very least, Sisyphus would inevitably get really good at pushing that rock. He probably knows to anticipate the hardest parts of the hill too.
You’re not Sisyphus. Sisyphus was cursed, and had no other option than to do this thing he didn’t enjoy doing. You, on the other hand, with all the options available to you, have decided – that it’s worth the time and effort to make something. So do it.
Check Out Hogans latest single True Enough and get crackin’ on some creative goals!