Trent Reznor and the Confidence to be Creative
Yesterday, The Academy nominated Trent Reznor in the Best Score category for his work on The Social Network. I should first say “Yay.” This is a good thing for all of us who hope to do a movie score someday but are not making traditional movie soundtrack music (like with a symphonic orchestra and the whole nine yards). But there’s a story behind this award that is more interesting to me personally.
Hearing this news, I was reminded of an interview I saw last month where he talked about his hesitation to get involved in the project. Director David Fincher initially approached Reznor and asked him if he wanted to do a movie soundtrack. Reznor thought it sounded interesting but initially:
“I said no…I don’t want to mess it up and I really didn’t have the confidence at the time. I felt like ‘I don’t want to bit off the next year of my life doing something I may not know how to do’ and I just didn’t feel confident about it” (Full interview below)
He didn’t feel confident? Dude, you’re Trent effing Reznor! You’re a leader on the whole post-industrial music scene! Not confident?
I began making what I loosely call industrial music just a couple years ago (and didn’t know I was doing either). I honestly hadn’t listened to Nine Inch Nails much before I was asked to start producing work in that vein, but I have always respected Reznor’s production talent and the new sounds he brought to my friends’ stereos. During college, NIN was one of the bands for whom my friends would say “You’ve GOT to listen to this!” with the kind of urgency that does not happen very often. I saw NIN at the first Lollapalooza festival and was struck at how fervent a following they had even then. He had the respect of clubbers, college DJs, and composers alike. And he’s been at this for a while now. Eight albums and counting.
So hearing that, at this stage in his career, that he had a lapse of confidence was downright inspiring to me.
Fact is, it can happen to anybody at any time. It can happen to a lot of people a lot of the time.
Every time I face my equivalent of a blank canvass (an empty project in Logic Pro waiting for me to start adding notes) I fear that I’m suddenly going to sound like an amateur. It’s even worse when you’re a couple days into a project and it still sounds like total garbage. You try to be logical and tell yourself that you’ve been here before, you worked through it, and ended up with something great. But the fear is stronger–the fear that you just got lucky all those times before. You convince yourself that you were possessed by a more creative person. Someone took over your mind, did some brilliant things, and now they’re gone. This time it’s just you left alone to hammer out some lousy idea nobody is going to like.
Yeah, sometimes you get lucky and strike gold in the first 5 minutes and you feel brilliant again for…about five minutes after that. Then a new project begins and you face those fears all over again.
Fincher was persistent and Reznor, obviously, found his confidence and eventually agreed. And now he’s won a Golden Globe and is nominated for the Big Enchilada. We can’t all expect those kinds of rewards, but just getting something finished that you think is pretty good can be the greatest feeling in the world. No exaggeration. That’s why honest artists, as Reznor appears to be, are so humble when they actually get awards. We are our own hardest critics, and satisfying that inner craving to make something cool is hard enough. Awards are just icing on the cake, and he already has the cake in the form of a work he is proud of.
Reznor did explain that the reason he was not so confident at that moment was that he had just finished a tour, which is more about performing and less about creating. He wasn’t in the right mode to be creative. That is another key observation: sometimes our brains are just not ready to put out. You can’t expect yourself to be brilliant on command. Sometimes it takes a bit of conditioning. Go for a walk. Have lunch. Or stew over it for a month if that’s what it takes for you to eventually do work that you’re happy with.
Me, I’ll keep grinding away until the true inspiration strikes, the ideas flow, time melts away, and I’m again possessed by that guy who has the confidence to do exactly what needs to be done.