7 Lessons We Learned From Nile Rodgers @ London Electronic Arts Festival, 06.03.15
‘Nile likes talking and doesn’t like being interrupted,’ said LEAF patron Rob Da Bank before giving the stage and the mic to a living legend.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that Nile Rodgers is someone who has a lot to say. And it’s certainly not surprising that when someone like Nile Rodgers speaks, everyone listens.
Nile Rodgers gave the start to Friday’s day of panels and interviews at LEAF – the London Electronic Arts Festival – with a 3-hour-long talk under the motto ‘Unmoderated, Uncensored and Unlimited’. That’s to say that there was no moderator or interviewer on the stage – just Nile, his fittingly named world-famous 1959 Fender Stratocaster ‘The Hitmaker’ and a microphone. The questions were left to the packed Pennington Room at London’s Tobacco Docks and the elaborate, existentially multi-relevant answers – to the man of the hour.
The ‘multi-relevant’ part became apparent to me in the process of taking my notes during Nile’s talk. Almost everything he said applied to both life in music and life in general, hence my decision to write this post as a bunch of lessons.
Still, as Nile said several times throughout the three (and not nearly enough) hours of his one-man panel, don’t take this as the gospel – learn and interpret for yourself.
And to make this as enjoyable as possible, I made you a playlist of some of Nile’s hits that you can listen to while reading!
1. Don’t be a snob
‘I was a jazz snob,’ Nile admitted. But that changed drastically when he stepped into a disco for the first time, heard Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’ and saw a dance floor full of people having a great time and not caring in the slightest about what anyone might think about them.
The classically trained guitarist, who had never before thought he’d be making dance music, was transformed. And thank god for that because I don’t know what the world would’ve been like without the incredible amounts of music and good times that we owe to Nile.
‘I’m as comfortable working with the philharmonic orchestra as I’d be working with Basement Jaxx.’
Not being a snob seems to have been Rodgers’s lifelong line of thinking and one reason behind his mind-blowing catalogue.
‘I’m as comfortable working with the philharmonic orchestra as I’d be working with Basement Jaxx,’ he said and every person in the world agreed that they’re comfortable listening to anything Nile does, in general.
2. Learn from everyone you work with
It’s no secret that Nile Rodgers has and continues to work with some of the best musical artists from around the world and every experience has been a learning one.
‘Music can be intimidating,’ he said, ‘you can play with people who are a lot better than you.’ The important thing, however, is to make the best of that – prove that there’s a reason you’re there next to them and take the most from their expertise (much like we’re doing now taking the most from Nile‘s experience, eh?).
‘Don’t try to teach them your way – learn from their way.’
‘Don’t try to teach them your way – learn from their way,’ Nile said, adding that ‘everybody’s got different skill sets’ and it’s important to respect that.
3. Don’t get stuck on being stuck
‘Do you ever have creative blocks and how do you overcome them?’ – the million dollar question that every person with a creative job would want to know the answer to.
Can’t say I was shocked to hear that Nile doesn’t really have blocks – the sheer amount of material he has created, enough for several average people’s lifetimes, is a testament to that. In fact, Nile said that he has the opposite problem, meaning he can’t seem to turn off the constant flow of songs in his head.
But… ‘That doesn’t mean they’re all good songs,’ admitted Nile. In fact, most of them aren’t (I’d argue that the ‘bad’ ones are probably still pretty great and I’d gladly take them off his head and into mine but, you know, we can’t all be Nile Rodgers).
‘[When you force it] it becomes work and it doesn’t groove.’
So the point here is – are you stuck because you’re not generating any ideas at all or are you stuck because you’re not letting the bad ones come out, stubbornly obsessing over the genius one you’re waiting for?
And when the case is the former, Nile says: Don’t force it. ‘Go to the movies, go to a restaurant,’ he said but just ‘don’t force it’.
Why? ‘Because it becomes work and it doesn’t groove.’
And if that advice fails, there’s always an alternative. ‘If you get stuck,’ said Nile, ‘change it up… or call me.’
P.S. Do have in mind that this is, after all, Nile Rodgers – he once dreamed a song from start to finish and recorded it the same way he dreamed it. That song was ‘I Want Your Love’.
4. Don’t have rigid expectations
When you think about Nile’s career, it’s easy to assume that he has a magical understanding of what makes a hit and can predict with certainty that a song would be one. But that’s, apparently, not the case.
‘Hit records are elusive,’ said Nile. ‘I never know it’s a hit, I can only think it’s a hit.’
An unexpected example – no one thought that ‘Get Lucky’ was going to be the insane hit that it was. In fact, the predicted big hit from ‘Random Access Memories’ was supposed to be ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’. ‘Get Lucky’ was intended in a way as the ‘opening act’ for ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’, hence the latter’s higher production values.
‘Hit records are elusive – I never know it’s a hit, I can only think it’s a hit.’
And one from the history books – ‘Good Times’ was such an unexpected hit that Chic still didn’t know how to play it at the time it went to Number 1!
‘If I don’t practice for one day – I know it. If I don’t practice for two days – you know it. If I don’t practice for three days – everybody knows it.’
It is probably easy to forget that even someone like Nile Rodgers is only human and that even someone like Nile Rodgers still has to practice his musical skills.
As one of Nile’s music teachers once said to him – ‘Doing the work teaches you how to do the job.’
I thought this was an extremely important lesson for any budding musicians out there (or aspiring music journalists who can’t get a job but stubbornly keep blogging and calling themselves ‘music journalists’ *ahem*).
If Nile Rodgers can say: ‘I don’t practice enough’, then you have absolutely no excuse!
‘Doing the work teaches you how to do the job.’
6. Have role models
Looking for inspiration in music and artists that you admire shouldn’t be something to be afraid of, according to Nile Rodgers.
‘Have a role model, have people that you like, have people that you want to emulate.’
‘Everything is derivative,’ he said, adding that you may not think that you got your idea from something else but you probably did anyway.
Nile’s idea for ‘Good Times’, for example, came from his admiration for Kool & The Gang’s ‘Hollywood Swinging’ and specifically its bass line.
‘Have a role model,’ said Nile. ‘Have people that you like, have people that you want to emulate.’
Surely, Nile Rodgers has been that person for quite a few musicians in the last several decades.
7. Keep having fun and let the love of music guide you
There was one particular lesson that kept popping up all the time throughout the three magnificent hours of Nile’s talk and that lesson was as straightforward as they come – whatever you do, always have fun!
In fact, that was the lesson attached to every one of the previous lessons so far.
Don’t be a snob – have fun!
Learn from everyone you work with and have fun with it!
Don’t get stuck on being stuck because it becomes work, you stop having fun and it doesn’t groove!
Don’t have expectations about hits and flops – be focused with your work but don’t eliminate the fun out of it!
And while Nile himself pointed out several times that we shouldn’t take anything he says as the gospel, I’m confident saying that if there was one piece of advice that we should maybe, kinda, sorta do take more seriously, it was to have fun.
Nile, I had a lot of fun at your talk. You’re an inspiration and a genuinely cool person and three hours with you are not nearly enough. LEAF 2016 – Nile Rodgers: ‘Unmoderated, Uncensored and Unlimited All-dayer’? Please make it happen!
Check out the LEAF London tag for more posts on the festival’s amazing day of conversations!
P.S. The love of my life insists on me saying that when we arrived to the Tobacco Docks on Friday and went to check out the pirate ship before LEAF starts, Nile Rodgers was already there taking photos so 1) We saw him before everybody else, and 2) She waved at him and he waived back. Clearly, we’re best friends with Nile Rodgers now.
Fatal error: Uncaught Exception: 12: REST API is deprecated for versions v2.1 and higher (12) thrown in /home/cecolevs/public_html/wp-content/plugins/seo-facebook-comments/facebook/base_facebook.php on line 1273