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89db8a0d — Derek Sivers formatting 4 months ago
                                                                                
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<title>6 things I wish I knew the day I started Berklee | Derek Sivers</title>
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<header>
<div class="blogparent"><a href="/blog">Articles</a>:</div>
<h1>6 things I wish I knew the day I started Berklee</h1>
<small>2008-09-05</small>
</header>

<p><em>
	This is a talk I gave to incoming first-year students at <a href="https://www.berklee.edu/">Berklee College of Music</a> today: September 5, 2008.
</em></p>
<h3>
	#1 : Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted.
</h3>
<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>
<h3>
	#2 : Do not accept their speed limit.
</h3>
<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 <a href="/kimo">Kimo Williams</a> who used to teach at Berklee and convinced me that the standard pace is for chumps.
</p><p>
	In just three intensive lessons, he taught me three 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>
<h3>
	#3 : Nobody will teach you anything. You have to teach yourself.
</h3>
<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>
<h3>
	#4 : Learn from your heroes, not only theirs.
</h3>
<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 five 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 five senses.
</p><p>
	Then finally I noticed that my favorite lyrics 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>
<h3>
	#5 : Don’t get stuck in the past.
</h3>
<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>
<h3>
	#6 : When done, be valuable.
</h3>
<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>
<hr/>
<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 Facebook, and watching TV.
</p>
<hr/>
<p>
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxYt--CFXK0">Video on YouTube</a>:
</p>
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