Mayer began the clinic explaining that, although the industry has changed with the advent of social media, creating music requires the same discipline it always has, if not more discipline to combat the added distraction of online promotion. Referring to the allure of having an instant, albeit often shallow and fleeting, online audience, John Mayer cautioned against seeking out “joy in little, tiny statements – little, tiny applause hits.”
“I remember playing the guitar through the amplifier facing out the window of my house onto the street in the summer time – that was social media in 1992.”
John Mayer explained how this seemingly isolated musical grounding allowed him to concentrate on perfecting his craft and that students’ time at Berklee is perfect for this same level of focus.
“This time is a really important time for you guys because nobody knows who you are, and nobody should. This is not a time to promote yourself. It doesn’t matter. This is the time to get your stuff together. Promotion can be like that. You can have promotion in 30 seconds if your stuff is good. Good music is its own promotion.”
But John Mayer’s main reason for discouraging promotion came from his own struggle to curb using social media, which should have been an outlet for promotion but eventually became an outlet for artistic expression. Mayer shared that he found himself asking himself questions like “Is this a good blog? Is this a good tweet? Which used to be is this a good song title? Is this a good bridge?”
And possibly more alarming, Mayer realized that pouring creativity into smaller, less important, promotional outlets like twitter not only distracted him from focusing on more critical endeavors like his career, it also narrowed his mental capacity for music and writing intelligent songs.
“The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long…I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.”
Although twitter was his most frequent whipping boy, Mayer also targeted the urgency beginning artists feel to update their blogs and youtube channels with new songs or videos to maintain steady flows of interest for their work. Instead, Mayer explained that he found the separation of creation and promotion necessary in his own career, saying “as you start playing music you’re going to stop thinking about getting better. As soon as you flip the switch into showing other people your music, for some reason, the other brain sort of goes away.”
“You got the distraction of being able to publish yourself immediately, and it is a distraction if you’re not done producing what the product is going to be that you’re going to someday use the promotion to sell…I had to go through the same thing I’m talking to you about – what you have to go through – which is to completely manage all the distraction. Manage the temptation of publishing yourself.”
So, to avoid the temptation of publishing himself and to increase his mental capacity for creativity, Mayer deleted his twitter, stopped blogging, and created a strict regime for recording his next album.
“Here are the rules for recording this record… no drum machines, no loops, no keyboards to start out with, no excuses, no breaks, no laptops, no nothing. If you take a break, it’s to eat. If you’re done, you go home.”
In addition to the distractions of promotion, John Mayer also discussed another enemy of creativity – judging songs before they’re finished.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to write bad songs. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to finish songs because they don’t think they’re any good. Well they’re not good enough. Write it! I want you to write me the worst songs you could possible write me because you won’t write bad songs. You’re thinking they’re bad so you don’t have to finish it. That’s what I really think it is. Well it’s all right. Well, how do you know? It’s not done!”