I recently finished a biography of Descartes and it was an incredibly fascinating read about a man who, when it comes down to it was probably one of the most important of the last 500 years. The dude who shaped all of modern thought and who seems to keep having a huge influence on how even the basic tenets of math work today. Of course, you may be wondering ‘What the hell does Descartes have to do with my independent band? Has Matt finally cracked?’ The answer to your first question is that it in fact has a lot to do with your band, and the answer to the second is I don’t think so or at least the voices in my head seem not to think so. I wanted to take the time to write an article about how we can use Cartesian thought, as outlined in Discourse On Method, specifically the four laws that he used to guide his life. These are laws that can have a huge impact on developing plans for your band and getting the most bang for your buck. So let’s dive in!

So of Descartes four laws, “The first was never to accept anything as true if I did not clearly know it to be so; that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions, and to include nothing more in my judgment than was presented clearly and distinctly to my mind, so that I had no reason to doubt it.” This is a big one because so often bands just assume things to be true without doing any research at all on the subject. It’s the bands who go out and constantly research and spend time gathering personal experience who are going to end up having success. The ones who come to advance conclusions without giving things the college try or looking into case studies of similar bands routinely are shooting themselves in the foot, no matter what they try and do. They apply traditional ideas to an industry that has never made sense and is routinely very tricky to have to sift through and find new paths in.

The second law Descartes presents to us is “to divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible, and as might necessary for a proper solution.” This is another big one, and perhaps the rule that has come to be the most important in modern business strategy. One of the huge issues bands run into is that they set their goals way too high. So it will be something like “We don’t have a way to book tours.” They might break that down one step further and realize “We don’t have a way to book tours because we don’t have an agent.” Rarely though do they go further than that and realize that there are so many other steps that you need to sit down and pick apart before you get to the point of having an agent and that once you have an agent you aren’t necessarily going to get on the tours that you want. This is sort of the next step that you need to sit back and figure out, once you start breaking things down into lots of small parts nothing in the industry seems hard, it just becomes a matter of doing the work.

Descartes continues, “The third, to conduct my thoughts in an orderly fashion, by starting with the simplest and most easily known objects, so that I could ascend, little by little, and step by step, to more complex knowledge; and by giving some order even to those objects which have appeared to have none.” This is another one that I think a lot of bands could learn from, simply because they are so scatterbrained. A lot of this happens due to main dude syndrome and one guy is trying to make everything happen and he simply doesn’t have the time, energy or drive. Beyond that is the simple fact that a lot of artsy people tend not to have the most orderly minds so it takes a little bit of handholding at times to be able to help them to get where they need to be. If you sit down and really focus on one thing at a time though it will rapidly become clear that most of this record business stuff is fairly straightforward if you’re willing to concentrate even just a little bit.

Finally Descartes opines that he will “always… make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that I could be sure of leaving nothing out.” This is a huge one and another one that musicians are traditionally bad at. A lot of musicians when setting up shows for example fail to inform the promoter of their needs or fail to double check about things like payment. This of course ends up very problematic because you need to make sure that your ass is covered otherwise you and your friends are all going to end up screwed, and that would just suck. So you need to sit down and try to make sure that your work is as thorough as possible, that there is no question of your professionalism and that people are going to respect you because of your ability to execute and show folks that you get what’s up and what needs to be done in order to have events and records that come together flawlessly and elegantly.

When it comes down to it the music industry is a tricky place and any sort of peace or sense of guidance that we can get out of it is an incredibly helpful thing. It’s a fucked up world that we need to deal with and it so often feels like no one has any clue what’s going on. I think that these four principles though act as a strong jumping off point for the music industry and act as a way for us to see that there is a sustainable path forward that is going to remain productive for us no matter what. I know this sounds crazy that I’m trying to bring a centuries old philosopher into the world of independent music, but who knows, it might just help.


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