03|31|10   Why good is no longer good enough

A few months ago I read an interview between Derek Sivers and Seth Godin and couldn’t stop re-reading this particular paragraph:

“Sure, some music that’s great is great for the ages and it’s okay that’s it’s not being heard, but so much of what people call great isn’t actually great, it’s merely “very good.” Very good music goes unheard every day, because very good music is not in short supply. There’s a huge surplus of it.”

“I’ve sampled hundreds of songs on CDBaby and I can say that almost all of it is very good. And virtually none of it is great, if we define great to mean music I need to buy, to give away, to talk about to everyone I know.”

I have to admit: reading this really shook me up. How much of what I had released, had been truly great? How much material have I released that I knew to be “merely good” or “interesting”?

Hand on the heart? I’ve probably released my fair share of songs that I could have made better, had I worked harder, had I thought more deeply about the song, had I had more confidence in my ability to turn good into great through sheer work and determination.

Now, perhaps there was once a time where it made sense to just get on with it and start releasing music, but whatever the case for that might have been, that period is now over.

Therefore, I hereby promise you that – from this day onwards – I will only release a song after I’ve done everything I can to make it the best song it can be. And while this will not guarantee that everything I ever release will be great, or perfect, or even close to it, I promise you that in the future, when I fail, I will fail because my very best efforts were not good enough, and not because I was too scared and lazy to really try. Pinky swear.

So, how does this promise impact the making of my new album, In Perfect Blooms Of Color?

Well, for one I am working a lot harder to make the music more beautiful, more memorable, more structured, more polished. I’m also doing my best to raise my production standards to the next level. Not only do I want the songs to sound better, but I want the sounds and performances to be more nuanced, rich, and more expressive.

In addition, I’m finally allowing the needs of specific songs to trump my concerns for genre identity, “indie-cool”, or listener expectations. I’ve often had ideas that I ended up self-censoring because they wouldn’t “sound like Enright House”, or because I was worried I would alienate people who had grown to love my music as it was.

But I’ve finally come to realize that worrying about all of this only drains my creativity. In fact, it’s enough to turn a sane man positively neurotic.

Thus, if a song now sounds better with brass, I include brass – no matter that I’ve never used brass before. Now, if a song benefits from a 4-to-the-floor rave kick drum, then that’s what’s going to happen – no matter that I’ve never before written a song that one could dance to. If a heavily auto-tuned vocal a la Cher sounds perfect for a particular song, then a heavily auto-tuned vocal it is! – no matter that its sonic signature is almost exclusively associated with top-40 pop music.

In short, if an idea sounds good, if it makes the song better, and if it excites me, it’s in – whether it fits into a previous Enright House canon or not.

There are other ways, too, in which I am working to improve my music. For one, I’m trying really hard not be lazy about lyrics. I’m trying to dig deeper, be more straight-forward, less cute, less sentimental, and, generally, just a tad braver. No doubt I’ll be making myself quite vulnerable with the new lyrics, but I’ll own that. I’ll write my heart out, and when people start making fun of certain lines – and I’m calling it right now that there will be those people who will – I’ll take it.

But the biggest thing I’m doing to ensure that In Perfect Blooms Of Color will be the best thing I’ve ever done is by preventing you from ever hearing the vast majority of it. If a song is “good”, it’s out. If a song is “very good”, but doesn’t really inspire me, then it, too, is out. Good is no longer good enough; like Seth pointed out, there’s already too much of it out there as it is.

So, hang in there with me. I think it will be worth it.

xOx


Yay! Check out the new Enright House Shop I just finished making! Even if you’re not the type of person who buys music anymore, do take a look at how pretty and shiny it is! :)

View Comments



  • rob

    “we might as well have stayed young” is a Great song, with a capital G.
    Not everything can be great, because if it was then the goal posts for great would move, in the same way as if everything thing is loud then nothing is loud. Loud and Great are comparative terms.
    Defining Great also comes with time. Having produced and collated a number of great collections for bands quite often great wasn’t recognised at the time but in digging up their past I discover these gems. So to make it even harder for you great isn’t necessarily easily identifiable at the time. Second opinions help, but go with the new trimmed gut feeling too.

  • rob

    not to mention that “Great” is completely subjective

  • Mark

    Yeah, I think you’re right about most of what you wrote. “Great” is definitely a slippery concept. But still, I think what I really wanted to get across is that I don’t think I always worked as hard as I could have on every song. There have been times that I “settled”, so to speak. And, given just how much “good music” is flooding the internet every day, that not trying harder is no longer acceptable.

  • rob

    no problem with that at all. just don’t leave it too long :)
    listened to WMAWHSY and Starash this morning over breakfast. Namiko commented on how she never gets sick of listening to them and loves them. We don’t say these things lightly to appease friends.
    Work hard my friend. :)

  • http://www.myspace.com/pushmipullyumusic John Praw

    I really disagree with that quote. Who is he to make blanket statements about art?

    There are tons of things you may find great that I only find okay. And vice versa.

    Whatever you make, Mark, it’s probably going to be baller as hell.

  • http://www.theenrighthouse.com Mark

    @Rob thanks you two! I’ll work hard and get this album done this year.

    @John I definitely see your point about great vs okay being a subjective matter, and that one shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss hundreds of bands, as Seth does.

    But, that said, I sympathize with the points he makes. Good bands don’t excite me. Good bands don’t make me want to tell other people about them. This, I think, is an interesting observation. Now who are good. and who are great? That’s for us to decide as individuals – I agree with you on that.

    But here’s the point. Good bands complain that they haven’t broken yet, because – after all – their music is really very good, and so deserves an audience. All that Seth is saying is that these bands oughtn’t be surprised by this, as there are a million “good” bands, or, in his words, that “very good music is not in short supply.”

    Isn’t he right about that? I think he is.

    My other point then, is just one of personal accountability. I won’t know conclusively if something I do will be great or good – I tried hard to avoid those terms when talking about my own music. What I can know is when I’ve exhausted all my creative efforts, and when I just settle for something. And I – and I am sure I am not alone in this – have occasionally settled. I would like not to settle anymore. Does that make sense?

  • Jo

    I agree it’s all very subjective. You can absolutely adore a song and someone else won’t like it at all — it’s not to say that it’s a fundamentally “good” or “bad” song.

    I just wouldn’t like the idea of you overproducing/polishing (if that’s the word I want) something – for the songs I have enjoyed most of yours over the last 3 years have been the really raw ones which showcase your vulnerabilities. I remember you playing ‘Fever and Green’ once at the Dux and feeling somewhat awkward, as if I had somehow walked into your darkened lounge and found you there stripped down to all your insecurities. But from that moment, you created this amazing version of this song, a moment I can hold onto and will never forget. I can feel special to be allowed to be part of that.

    To me, that’s what makes your music amazing. It’s you. Whatever you is in the future and whether it’s “Enright House” enough – as long as it continues to be and breathe you, I am happy with that. And I think that’s what you’re doing here, continuing questioning what you are, where you’ve been and where you are going.

    I can’t wait.

  • Chris

    I agree. We Might Aswell Have Stayed Young is indeed great

  • Mark

    Hey, can I just say how thrilled I am to hear from you all? It means a lot to me that you share your thoughts with me.

    @Jo I totally share your concern about over-produced music crowding out the personal component. I’m working really hard not to loose that aspect of my music. It means the world to me that people connect with the personal element in my songs, and I would never try to replace that with gloss. My goal is to bring a stunning production together with the most personal music I have ever written. Fingers crossed I can pull it off.

  • Simon

    This entry makes me even more excited to hear the new album, looking forward to it.

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