Inspiration vs. Persipiration: A Foray into the Creative Process, June 2012 Vhcle Magazine Issue 9, Music
Issue 9: Inspiration vs. Perspiration: A Foray into the Creative Process
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What does an album that took more than 10 years to create sound like? In Guns n’ Roses’ case, popular opinion suggests the long gestation period didn’t lead to better results. Chinese Democracy was a commercial bust and several critics said it sounded like a bloated mess that was recorded piecemeal over the course of many years.
D’Angelo, who has a history of taking his time on music, might fare better with his album. It took him five years from his first album and dozens of hours in the studio to complete his second disc, Voodoo, a touchstone of the neo-soul movement. The irony is that the effort he put into it doesn’t really show. Heavy on extended grooves, it sounds like the type of album that was casually recorded over the course of a long weekend in between Hookah sessions.
It’s interesting to compare the creative process of musicians to that of filmmakers. Though it’s a completely different art form, there are similarly some directors who prefer to work quickly and others who take the opposite approach.

John Hughes is associated with some of the most successful comedies of the 1980s. Perhaps just as impressive as his output was the pace at which he completed it. He worked at a ridiculously fast pace by normal screenwriting standards, writing some of his movies in just a few days each.
In just a seven-year period from 1983 to 1990, he wrote and/or directed Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck and Home Alone, among others. While none may be the cinematic equivalent of War and Peace, they are almost all considered comedy classics.
Quentin Tarantino is an example of the auteur writer-director who works at a far more methodical pace. He has directed only seven movies in a career that has now spanned 20 years. In interviews, he has stated that part of the reason for this is his writing process is slow in a literal sense.
He writes all his scripts by hand prior to typing them. But since he’s not a good typist, he only uses one finger to hack out an entire script, thus resulting in an extremely lengthy process. Nevertheless, he stated it makes for a good editing system because any lines he decides aren’t up to par get cut or condensed so he can avoid typing them. Though most of his movies tend to be on the “talky” side, they rarely have boring parts.
If anything, the contrast between artists’ working styles proves there is no formula for ending up with a quality result. No mathematical process exists for creating a masterpiece and spending more time on something doesn’t necessarily translate into a greater product. I suppose Axl Rose just never got that memo. It’s ironic though, considering his previous band reportedly wrote “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in just a few minutes.

WHEN I WAS IN high school, I was obsessed with VH1’s Behind the Music. This worked out well, because it frequently seemed like it was the only show the network played at the time.
For someone who spent far too much time analyzing the story behind rock songs, it was a wonderful resource for informing what was happening with bands while they created their tunes – what drugs they were on, who they were sleeping with, who was fighting over money, etc.
But one thing that always annoyed me about Behind the Music, was the show didn’t delve very far into the “music” part of an artist’s career. As interesting as it was to learn about Billy Joel’s fledgling boxing career before hitting it big as a singer, the show always spent way more time on these types of details than say, Joel’s choices for the chord progression on “Movin’ Out.”
While I understand this to an extent, as the songwriting process would probably make for boring television, I’ve always been curious about the method of creating music. In fact, almost any creative process has been a curiosity to me.
Whether it’s Michelangelo’s painting at the Sistine Chapel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or maybe just Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” it’s interesting to learn what went into the making of iconic works of art. It’s also amusing to me how much the creative process can differ. Whereas the average classic novel typically takes years for an author to write, many of rock’s most famous songs were thrown together on the fly in one day.
Rock ‘n’ roll, which doesn’t require pre-written scripts or word processing, lends itself well to spontaneity and random fits of creativity. Most modern bands take a few years between releasing albums, but history shows this pace isn’t necessarily the way to stronger results.
In the 60s and 70s, artists like the Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin were churning out classic albums within months of their previous ones. This pace was the norm at the time - artists got into a creative zone (perhaps with the help of chemicals) and simply struck while the iron was hot.  
It’s impressive that the Beatles were able to churn out albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, The White Album and Abbey Road pretty much one after another in just a few years, but their songwriting process allowed for this to happen. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were preternaturally creative types and their songs often just popped into their heads close to fully formed. They didn’t need years to work out the bridge to A Hard Day’s Night.
On the other side of the coin, there are some musicians who seem to think nothing great can be accomplished in less than five years. The best example may be Guns N’ Roses, who took more than a decade to finish their Chinese Democracy album. But they aren’t the only ones.
Neo-soul R&B singer D’Angelo has been working on his third album, the follow up to his critically-acclaimed 2000 album, Voodoo, for close to 10 years. He is reportedly finally in the home stretch and the album will be released this year (though I wouldn’t hold your breath).
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This article can be found in Vhcle Issue 9

Marc Ingber is a communications specialist and writer for a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
Read other articles by Marc Ingber
Inspiration vs. Perspiration:
A Foray into the Creative Process
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