Creative Strategies for Producers w/ Matt Shadetek: Get Ready to Fail

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains that the fruits of action only become available when you perform your prescribed duty. 


One of the main things that motivates us to become artists is that we care about art. We have a strong opinion: we want more of this kind of creation in the world, and not so much of the other kind. This is taste. It’s a form of decision making. We decide we like X and dislike Y. Making taste decisions is the lowest rung on the artistic ladder, the place we all start. Taste is something that even a consumer with no creative skills can exercise, through choice. However, it’s also an important part of the creative process for artists at every stage of development. I’ve written about this before, and explained how decision making is at the core of what makes someone an artist, instead of simply a craftsperson. Taste and craft are separate–it’s common to find things that are executed with excellent taste and poor craftsmanship, or vice versa. The ideal scenario is one where excellent taste is combined with superb craftsmanship.

Manifest Taste

This brings us to a new concept: manifest taste. When someone has manifest taste, they have closed the gap between having an opinion about something and being able to manifest that opinion as a reality. The gap between the vision and the execution has been made as small as possible. (Closing the gap entirely is probably impossible, like perfection itself.)

So here we are, standing at the beginning of our road as an artist. We’ve got lots of opinions about the work we want to create, but very limited skills to make those opinions real. As you may know, this can be a painful place to be. We know where we want to go–often we can see it just down the road–but our skills to execute are not there yet. This disconnect between vision and execution is greatest at the beginning of the process. It’s especially painful for adults who have spent time cultivating and refining their taste. Children don’t have as much of this problem. They aren’t married to an outcome. If they slap the keys on the piano and a sound comes out, terrific! Something happened! They take the results as feedback, and incorporate them into their worldview with minimal judgement. This allows them to learn rapidly, because they’re not constantly pausing to worry about controlling an outcome they have very limited control over.

The process becomes painful when we have an expectation for ourselves (our taste) which is not being met. We know what we want, and continuously fail to achieve it. Unfortunately, this is a gap many people fail to cross. The difference between expectation and reality is too great, and the progress feels too slow. For some, the feeling of disappointment is too powerful to push through, and they retreat from the pain into inaction. They stop struggling, and do something less painful and disappointing instead.

Doing the Work

How do we minimize this pain? We get better at execution. How do we get better at execution? By doing a lot of work. But doing work that sucks is painful!  Yes, it is. But why?

Let’s ask ourselves: who or what is causing me this pain? Asking this, we recognize that it is not the actual process of doing the work that is painful, it’s the meaning we attach to it based on our expectations. Making poorly executed music is only painful if we set out with the goal of making good music. Instead, let’s create some new goals. What if, instead of the goal for today’s session being to make some good work, the goal is just to make some work, period?

The Fruits of Action

One of my favorite quotes from the Bhagavad Gita is this: ”You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action.”

Here’s my interpretation: the work itself is your reward. Showing up is the reward. The product is for others to judge–maybe it works for them, maybe not. Luckily for us, showing up and doing work is something we can control. We cannot control whether the work we do is good, but we can control whether we show up and do it. Eventually, like putting pennies in a jar, all that work adds up. Our skill to execute improves, and we start to find ourselves doing some work that meets or (if we’re really lucky) exceeds our own expectations, and ascends to the level of our taste.

Author’s note: This article was inspired by a quote from radio documentarian Ira Glass, in which he says in a few words what I have said in many here:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website


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