5 Things You Can Learn From John Lennon

lennon-4cd-3-coverI was born in the same hospital as John, and I live a matter of minutes from his childhood home.

So Lennon has always been a big part of my musical life, and is an undoubted influence in my own music, despite being in a different genre.

I’ve just seen a really great interview with him from 1975 that I think you’ll enjoy watching. I like the interview a lot. He’s chatting with Bob Harris of the seminal British music show The Old Grey Whistle Test.

So he’s pretty relaxed and open, and in an honest, easy mood.

For us musicians, it’s especially interesting as he discusses aspects of his creative process.

You can watch it here.

Here’s the 5 things that stood out for me:

1. “I do it cos it’s fun!”

Bob asks John about his collaborations with David Bowie and Elton John. The answer is simple. “I do it cos it’s fun.”

Isn’t this something that’s easy to lose sight of when we’re doing music?

There are times when I’ve stopped enjoying music altogether. This is typically when I’m chasing some outcome or other.

How do I get out of that fog? I get back to what Lennon is talking about. I remember that I am in love with this stuff because it’s fun. And I reconnect with the in-the-moment aspects of making music.

The writer Neil Gaiman once commented that he realised that he was a professional emailer who wrote novels in his spare time.

Keep on eye on that balance. We do this because it’s fun. If it stops being fun, get back to what it’s all about and enjoy yourself.

2. “I’m a studio guy.”

I love that Lennon is clear about what he gets a kick from.

I have a great time gigging, largely because I like the social interaction that happens between the audience and me.

But I get completely immersed in the studio.

If I had 6 months to live, my thought wouldn’t be about the gigs I’d not played. It would be about the songs I’d not recorded.

So even though I enjoy my gigs, I know that making albums is the thing that really presses my buttons. Getting a song and dressing it up, and sharing it with the world.

What presses your buttons? It’s good to know. Then you can build your music business model around that.

3. “I leave nothing in the can.”

I tell this to my friends and clients all the time. If you’ve got stuff recorded, release it.

Lennon is talking about his experiences with Phil Spector on the Rock n Roll album, how the project went to pot, and how he was faced with just leaving the recordings unreleased in the can.

Check him out in the video. He has a visceral dislike for the idea. You can see it in his response.

“I leave nothing in the can. And nor did The Beatles.” The very idea is alien to him. If you’ve created something, share it.

What do you have that you’ve not yet shared? Commit to sharing it in some form with your audience, whether that be an unrecorded song that needs recording, or an unreleased song that needs to be set loose into the world.

4. “I take 8 weeks to make an album.”

People think you have to take ages to make an album. Many bands lock themselves away in a studio and emerge months (sometimes years later) with their record.

I remember when I first started making records. This idea of being locked away for months puzzled me.

“What the hell do they do in there?” I used to ask. After all, it takes me 3 minutes to sing a song. So how can it take a whole year to record 10 tracks?

With this wide eyed naivety, I booked just one day’s worth of studio time for my first album. Worse still, my drummer didn’t show for the first 6 hours of the session!

We still got the album done in the 6 hours we had left. That included mixing too!

I can see with experience how a bit more time would have improved some things. But fundamentally, we were pretty much done within 6 hours.

An extra day would have allowed us to put the finishing touches. Yet good rehearsal meant we didn’t really need more than that.

Lennon had a similar approach. “It only takes me 8 weeks to make an album.”

Perfectionism is a kind of waste, and a form of procrastination. Lennon often did things in one take, as you’ll see next.

5. “Just finish it.” 

He talks of how he salvaged his Rock n Roll album. The project was a mess. But he said to himself “just finish it.”

It’s advice that I dole out to colleagues all the time and was the subject of a previous blog post.

Rather than leave it all unfinished, he went and got it done within five days, doing three songs a night in one take.

Like he said, “it’s rock and roll.”

So what are your unfinished projects? Do you have a song half recorded? Or an incomplete album? Or a half written song? Follow John Lennon’s example and just finish it.