Earlier in the week I couldn’t sleep, so I did my usual thing of picking something at random to read.
This time around it was a chapter in The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well about legendary funk innovator and producer George Clinton.
Look up Atomic Dog on Who Sampled and you’ll see 245 songs (and counting) which have borrowed from his groove-laden 1982 track.
Without George Clinton there would be no Snoop Dogg. In fact without him, there would be a gaping hole in the history of modern music. The legacy of his sprawling funk collective—which included Parliament and Funkadelic—stretches from doo-wop to hip-hop and beyond.
How did a hairstylist who had never played a musical instrument become the second most sampled artist on the planet? (After James Brown).
Well that’s not a question I’m going to answer just now.
But I do know that funk wasn’t just about playing music.
It was a way of seeing the world, and then taking action.
Or as George Clinton would put it:
“Free your mind and your ass will follow.”
So, here are 6 ways to get your funk on in 2016, inspired by his can-do attitude to life and music…
1. Be the ringleader
Someone has to be… why not let it be you?
(Clinton organised a baseball team when he was 13, even though he couldn’t play the game himself).
Have the courage to step up, and good things will happen.
Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean being on stage — but it does require that you take a stand:
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there”.
And you can start small:
- Organise a meetup for a group of professional peers. (Trust me, if someone as shy as me can do it, you can).
- Write about what you believe in. Playing it safe is not an option though.
- Keep doing what you believe in. It might take a long time for anyone to notice, but you have to stick to your guns.
- Don’ try to please everyone. Ignore the 95% who don’t understand what you’re doing and embrace the 5% who do.
2. Grab what you like and bring your own thing
Keep your eye on what’s happening around you, and don’t be afraid to mix up your influences; funk was born when soul was flipped upside down and the volume cranked up.
Clinton took the discipline of Motown and the psychedelics of Jimi Hendrix and mixed it up with R&B and James Brown and a hundred other things in a hot-pot of inspiration.
Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist hits the nail on the head in describing the magic of this approach:
“You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.”
3. Free your mind
Deliver your own unique message, in your own unique manner. Give people a unique perspective to chew on. But don’t force it down their throats:
“We were going to deliver our message our way, to the black community… It’s not that we were into preaching. We were just about having people think.”
Or as Paul Arden suggests in his brilliant book Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite:
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4. Put yourself on stage
George Clinton—with a burning vision of an Afrofuturist space opera—told his record company “Get me a spaceship”. And they duly delivered, with a $275,000 stage prop from a Broadway set designer which became known as the ‘Mothership’.
I’m not saying you need a crazy costume to get yourself noticed.
But you do need to be willing to speak up.
A great place to start is by doing some public speaking.
Well because speaking in front of other people brings clarity to your thinking (even if it feels scary as hell).
The fear won’t go away—you’ve probably heard the stories about famous performers who are still physically sick with nerves at every show—but you can channel it into excitement.
Use fear to propel yourself forwards.
Whenever you find yourself thinking “I’m scared about this”, rephrase it as “I’m excited about this” instead.
And if it helps, get your funk on too:
“I’d come out of the door as Dr. Funkenstein with my outfit and cane, and the crowd would just go crazy. It was ridiculous how good it felt”.
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5. Transfer the funk
To really fire up your audience, make them feel like they are a part of what you are doing, not just spectators:
“Through the music and the energy and how much fun we’re having on stage, we’d transfer the funk to the fans until they got the message. I never wanted them to feel like they were just an audience.”
Let your fans know you can hear them, and that they matter to you.
6. Keep chasing the dream
Chasing happiness can be a dangerous strategy. But done right, there is no real end-goal, and you’ll keep pushing yourself into new places:
“It’s easy to get tired at 70 years old, but I’m not successful yet. There’s always more ground to cover. If you get to the top and catch up with happy, you got a real problem because you’ll get bored. I’m not trying to catch up with being happy— because it’s the > pursuit> of happiness I’m after. I want to be so close… I can almost touch it. That’s what keeps me looking forward to moving ahead”
You don’t need to try all of these things at once.
(Actually I think you might melt your brain if you did).
But you could pick one or two of these ideas for 2016, and see where they take you.
I’d love to know where you end up.
This article was inspired by The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well.
Posted to Uncategorised in 2015.