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<title>6 things I wish I knew the day I started Berklee </title>
<h1>6 things I wish I knew the day I started Berklee</h1>
<p><em>Talk I gave to incoming first-year students at <a href="http://berklee.edu/">Berklee College of Music</a> today (September 5, 2008)</em></p>
<h2>#1 : Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted.</h2>
<p>My favorite part of the movies is the training sequence, where a young Bruce Wayne, Neo or Kung-Fu Panda goes to a remote location to be trained relentlessly, nonstop, past all breaking points, until they emerge as a master.</p>
<p>The next few years can be your training sequence, if you focus.</p>
<p>Unfortunately you're not in Siberia. You're surrounded by distractions.</p>
<p>You're surrounded by cool tempting people, hanging out casually, telling you to relax.</p>
<p>But the casual ones end up having casual talent and merely casual lives.</p>
<p>Looking back, my only Berklee classmates that got successful were the ones who were fiercely focused, determined, and undistractable.</p>
<p>While you're here, presidents will change, the world will change, and the media will try to convince you how important it all is.</p>
<p>But it's not. None of it matters to you now.</p>
<p>You are being tested.</p>
<p>Your enemy is distraction.</p>
<p>Stay offline. Shut off your computer. Stay in the shed.</p>
<p>When you emerge in a few years, you can ask someone what you missed, and you'll find it can be summed up in a few minutes.</p>
<p>The rest was noise you'll be proud you avoided.</p>
<p>Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted.</p>
<p>This is your #1 most important challenge. If you master focus, you will be in control of your world. If you don't, it will control you.</p>
<h2>#2 : Do not accept their speed limit.</h2>
<p>You don't get extreme results without extreme actions.</p>
<p>Berklee classes set a pace the average student can keep.</p>
<p>If you want to be above average, you must push yourself to do more than required.</p>
<p>There's a martial arts saying, “When you are not practicing, someone else is. When you meet him, he will win.”</p>
<p>If you are a writer, you should not only write a song a week, but spend twice as long improving it as you do writing it.</p>
<p>Inspiration is a good start, but it's the diligence to make every note and every word perfect, that will really set you apart.</p>
<p>Luckily, when I was 17, a few months before starting Berklee, I met a man named Kimo Williams who used to teach at Berklee and convinced me that the standard pace is for chumps.</p>
<p>In just 3 intensive lessons, he taught me 3 semesters of Berklee harmony, so on opening day I started in Harmony 4.</p>
<p>In one intensive lesson, he taught me the whole semester of Arranging 1.</p>
<p>Then I learned I could buy the book for a course I wasn't enrolled in, and do all the examples myself, without even needing to attend the class. I could approach the department head and take the final exam for full credit. I did this for all the other requirements like Arranging 2, and traditional counterpoint classes.</p>
<p>I graduated Berklee in 2-and-a-half years.</p>
<p>Do not accept their speed limit.</p>
<p>Blow away expectations.</p>
<h2>#3 : Nobody will teach you anything. You have to teach yourself.</h2>
<p>When I first arrived at Berklee, I was disappointed. My teachers weren't teaching me. I almost dropped out.</p>
<p>I went home to Chicago and got accepted to Northwestern University. Then I realized their music program was more about memorizing the name of Bach's many children.</p>
<p>So I came back to Berklee with gusto. I decided to squeeze every bit of knowledge out of this place. Nobody was going to do it for me.</p>
<p>Do not expect the teachers to teach you.</p>
<p>They will present some information to you, but it is entirely 100% up to you to either make the most of it, or waste your time here, and go home and get a normal dumb job.</p>
<p>Berklee is like a library.</p>
<p>Everything you need to know is here for the taking.</p>
<p>It's the best possible environment for you to master your music.</p>
<p>But nobody will teach you anything. You have to teach yourself.</p>
<h2>#4 : Learn from your heroes, not only theirs.</h2>
<p>When I was here, I wanted to be a great songwriter, among other things.</p>
<p>Berklee's songwriting courses are amazing! I learned so much about song crafting that made me look at all of my favorite music with a whole new insight, and forever improved my own writing.</p>
<p>But... I remember a lyric writing teacher saying a good lyric needs to use all 5 senses. He'd say, “Don't just mention your grandmother. Describe the veins on the back of her hands. Don't just mention a bedroom. Describe the smell of the dust on the curtains and the sound of the creaky stairs.”</p>
<p>So for years I thought every lyric I wrote was crap unless it described all 5 senses.</p>
<p>Then finally I noticed that my favorite songs by Nirvana or Talking Heads were abstract collages of evocative nonsense.</p>
<p>My favorite glitchy electronic music by Björk is nothing they'd ever teach in a Rock Arranging For Live Performance 1 class.</p>
<p>So I finally realized the one important point I missed while here, that I hope you don't forget.</p>
<p>The teachers are taking their favorite music and using it to teach you techniques.</p>
<p>Learn and appreciate those techniques. They're great.</p>
<p>But if you only learn the techniques they teach you, you're only learning their favorite music.</p>
<p>Never think their heroes are better than yours.</p>
<p>You'll hear a lot about the greats, but whatever you love is great, too.</p>
<p>The same way they will break apart a Shania Twain hit song or a classic Charlie Parker solo to teach you the craft inside, you must learn how to break apart your favorite music and analyze it.</p>
<p>I finally analyzed my favorite Nirvana and Talking Heads lyrics. Finally analyzed the glitches and growls in Björk's music.</p>
<p>Distilled their ingredients for my own re-use.</p>
<p>Learn from your heroes, not only theirs.</p>
<h2>#5 : Don't get stuck in the past.</h2>
<p>While at Berklee, I felt I had to learn Donna Lee, the old bebop jazz standard, to be a good musician.</p>
<p>Got a great gig going to Japan for a month with Victor Bailey on bass.</p>
<p>Here's one of the best bassists ever, who's played with Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Sonny Rollins, Sting, and more.</p>
<p>He heard me playing Donna Lee a bit, and said, “Man - jazz was all about inventing something new. For a musician 50 years later to be stuck in the 1950s would be like a 1950s musician being stuck in the 1900s. There's nothing cool about that.”</p>
<p>A couple weeks later I was at the piano quietly working on one of my own songs, and for the first time he said, “Hey - wow - what is that? That's great, man. Can you show me?”</p>
<p>Innovation is needed more than imitation.</p>
<p>Don't get stuck in the past.</p>
<h2>#6 : When done, be valuable.</h2>
<p>While you're here, stay locked in the shed.</p>
<p>Enjoy this wonderful isolation, with no responsibility but to improve yourself.</p>
<p>But when you leave here, head to the business aisle of the bookstore and start reading a book a week about entrepreneurial things like marketing.</p>
<p>Never underestimate the importance of making money making music.</p>
<p>Let go of any weird taboos you have about it.</p>
<p>Money is nothing more than neutral proof that you're adding value to people's lives.</p>
<p>Making sure you're making money is just a way of making sure you're doing something of value to others.</p>
<p>Remember that this usually comes from doing the things that most people don't do.</p>
<p>For example : how much does the world pay people to play video games? Nothing, because everyone does it.</p>
<p>How much does the world pay people to make video games? A ton, because very few can do it, and lots of people want it.</p>
<p>...</p>
<p>Be one of the few that is clever enough to make money making music instead of pretending it doesn't matter.</p>
<p>Be one of the few that has the guts to do something shocking.</p>
<p>Be one of the few that takes your lessons here as a starting point, and pushes yourself to do more with what you learn.</p>
<p>Be one of the few that knows how to help yourself, instead of expecting for others to do it for you.</p>
<p>Be one of the few that does much more than is required.</p>
<p>And most importantly, be one of the few that stays in the shed to practice, while everyone else is surfing the net, flirting on MySpace, and watching TV.</p>
<p><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxYt--CFXK0">Here's the link to the YouTube of my talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxYt--CFXK0</a>.</p>
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