Friday, April 19, 2013

Be Great, or Be Gone (and Listen to the Muse)

I love Neil Young. In addition to writing and performing music for nearly 50 years, Neil Young has quietly made several films, designed technologies for Lionel Trains, and developed a fuel-efficient hybrid concept car called the Lincvolt (using a 1959 Lincoln Continental) "to inspire a generation by creating a clean automobile propulsion technology that serves the needs of the 21st Century and delivers performance that is a reflection of the driver's spirit." His latest venture is a start-up company called Pono (which means "righteous" in Hawaiian), which "aims to rescue [his] art form, music, from the degradation in quality that [he] think[s] is at the heart of music sales and ultimately music itself in popular culture." Simply put, Pono is supposed to bring master quality sound to the digital world.

Neil Young is a consummate artist. He also epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit. In his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace (which I encourage everyone to ready), Neil Young expounds on his many passions and the entrepreneur that lives inside him:

"None of these things would have happened if I hadn't done them myself. No one believes in my ideas until I actually do them….and I don't do them to make money. I am entrepreneurial. I can see it happen before it happens."

Passion. Having an idea and having to see it come to fruition, even though no one may believe in you. That is the entrepreneurial spirit. To create something that will somehow change the world, if even in the smallest way. The most successful entrepreneurs do not do what they do to make money. They are listening to an inner voice, a muse, which has inspired and compelled them to forge ahead and create their idea, and most importantly to do it right. Here is Neil's take:

"It hurts to be honest, but the muse has no conscience. If you do it for the music, you do it for the music, and everything else is secondary. Although that has been hard for me to learn, it is the best and really the only to live through a life dedicated to the muse."

Listening to the muse as an entrepreneur is no different. If you are developing an idea or a company, your devotion must be unyielding. "Be great or be gone," Neil Young recounts his long-time friend and producer, David Briggs, as saying. "Quality whether you want it or not," Larry Johnson, another long-time friend of Neil Young, would say. To me, these simple phrases speak to the heart of the artistic and entrepreneurial spirit.

Being an entrepreneur and being inspired with new ideas is a lot like being a songwriter. At their core, each shares in the majestic creative process. While one may pick up an instrument, the other may pick up a pen or open a laptop. But each starts with a feeling, a sensation. An inexplicable moment of inspiration. Follow that feeling. Listen to the muse. I leave you with Neil Young's description of the song-writing process:

When I write a song, it starts with a feeling. I can hear something in my head or feel it in my heart. It may be that I just picked up the guitar and mindlessly started playing. That's the way a lot of songs begin. When you do that, you are not thinking. Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song. So you just start playing and something comes out. Where does it come from? Who cares? Just keep it and go with it. That's what I do. I never judge it. I believe it. It came as a gift when I picked up my musical instrument and it came through me playing with the instrument. The chords and melody just appeared. Now is not the time for interrogation or analysis. Now is the time to get to know the song, not change it before you even know it. It is like a wild animal, a living thing. Be careful not to scare it away.

You can also check out a clip of Neil discussing songwriting and the responsibility to the muse here:

1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting---I love Neil Young too, (Harvest Moon is a special favorite and always brings a tear to my eyes) and I am impressed by his entrepreneurial spirit. As an entrepreneur myself I am always looking for insights from others and agree that true success comes from people using their gifts to do what they love, not the quest for money. As someone who dislikes the auto-tune aspect of recent music I am glad to hear that Neil is pursuing a new quest to save the music he loves. Very Pono!