Creative work and a creative hobby – a contradiction?

Creative hobby – is it doable with a creative job?

Posted on Posted in About Janne Saaristo, news, Recording, Technique


Is it really possible to be creative all day at work and then come home and make your own personal creative hobby masterpiece during the few hours between dinner and sleeping time? Yes of course, but as doing anything creative, you need structure, discipline and a room waiting for you to create – and a steady flow of external creative energy from your family and friends.

If you have followed my blog, you already know that I have produced a full length music album since April this year. I have done most of it myself – song writing, playing, recording and mixing – all while I have written this blog about the process. This blog post is actually number 37 since I started, and right now my album is at my record company waiting to be launched in February next year (a brief summary can be found here).

All in all it’s been a fantastic journey, even though very tough some of the days.

Meanwhile I have also gone to work most of these days. I have during office hours, and sometimes even after, been highly engaged in my role as art director at Spoon agency, making customer’s communication look attractive. I have arranged photoshoots on all continents of the world, I have designed magazines, websites, newsletters and storyboards for web-TV productions, made concept developments, run pitches and even performed as a troubadour on our office’s late summer afterwork with customers and suppliers, Not to mention the lyrics I wrote for a song, me and some colleagues rehearsed and performed at our internal spring festivity at work.

Yes, I am a general creative freak, but that alone doesn’t make you creatively productive. And to be all clear from the beginning: Everything I do, doesn’t end up as some kind of sensational creative expression catching everyone’s attention – actually most of it doesn’t. At work I have been in projects where sometimes the creativity level has been on finding the right logistic solution for a photographer somewhere on the other side of the world, while giving the photographer a “do something out of this” -brief hoping it will be great, or at least something you can save in the layout.

And meanwhile, most of my projects don’t ever leave my head, and most of those that does end long before I have got anywhere on the way that it’s worth showing the result of it to anyone else. This recording project that now actually have ran this far, is pretty much a result of many good older ideas that I haven’t managed to fulfill for one reason or another. And since I happened to manage to sell my idea to my friend Peter at Deadfrog records, and had some songs to record, I just felt the timing was perfect to combine these ideas with my experience, and gather everything in the same project.

All that gave me a lot of creative energy to start from, and I got even more from all feedback from people reading my blog. But that alone wasn’t still good enough to really make it as good as I had told everyone my album would be. To make a record takes it’s time – period. The announcement wasn’t difficult to make, the harder part was to actually make it – to continue making it even when you come home feeling all creatively drained after one full day of work, checking in for the “night shift” in the wardrobe under the stairs at home, where I recorded.

I mean, it’s one thing to be at work where you are a part of a creative team, and hopefully proper tools and an environment optimized for creating great ideas and making them come to life. I also know that if I don’t come up with something at work I’ll be in trouble. In my everyday work, I’m really spoiled being surrounded by extremely creative minds and the kind of project I’m running in my spare time, is really nothing unique. For instance, my colleague Dan Nilsson has released his debut novel this autumn, and an ex colleague Stefan Nilsson, released his second. Both novelists have done this beside their daytime job. And two of my favorite freelance photographers have highly creative projects going on in their spare-time. Pontus Johansson, has worked several years together with friends making a stop motion animated music video and Christer Ehrling has pictured hotrod enthusiasts and their passion. I also almost daily hear about creative projects my colleagues are engaged in beside their work. Not to mention all the unfinished projects they never get credit for, or all the unwritten novels being carried around in peoples heads, waiting for the right creative mood.

But after a hard days work when you’re alone and you have to make parts of your home into a temporary recording studio before even tuning the guitar, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have an hour to do your magic, or at least find a glimpse of feeling to create something you’d be happy to hear the next time you’ve got yourself into the right mood. It’s not likely that you could keep up the energy to make this, at least a hundred times, which was what I needed to complete my album (I have approximately ten instrument and vocal takes on each song multiplied with eleven songs).

And to be honest, I didn’t realize that when I started. And if I had, I probably even wouldn’t have started. But I did. And I finished too, so what happened?

Below I have listed five strategies I learned to use during my project – both to save time, and to maintain a high level of creative energy. I think this is not only useful when you have a limited amount of spare time, but maybe it could also prevent you from becoming all drained on creative energy during work – no matter if you have a creative hobby or not.

1. Make other contribute with their creativity

Having the honor of knowing a lot of creative people I have really got a lot creative feedback during my work days. But as well as working with a recording project as making a magazine I have learned that the more you involve and trust your co-workers – freelance photographer or a fellow musician f.i. – the more likely they will come up with great ideas, especially if you know each other well and share a common bank of references built up through years of creative work. Trust that they are experts on something you aren’t. You’re head of the project and will be the one who decides wether an idea works or not, but I would say it’s easier to take away a bad idea afterward than it is to add a good one. For me it was a blessing when I recorded the drums with my drummer friend from way back, Andreas Purvén, played the drums. I got so much feedback and engagement, that I would say, the whole project got to a whole new level (read more about the drum sessions here). Just embrace other people’s points of view and their creative experience and realize you don’t need to be an expert on everything.

2. Don’t get stuck on wrong creative issues

I am an art director by profession, but in an early stage of my recording project, I decided to not make it a design project. My blog should be a writing project and the design of it should require a minimum amount of creative energy. I have also a mental guideline to make my blog texts in a rapid creative mode, without getting stuck in adjusting details. Hopefully my thoughts are interesting enough to read even though the grammar might not be waterproof. All this is simple I guess, when talking about it, but it is easy to fall into adjusting minor details just because you can.

3. Make your own creative room

As I have already told, I used the wardrobe under the stairs at home as my recording studio in the beginning. Mainly all of the acoustic guitar was recorded there. Along the way I found out that the speaker recording booth at my work was perfect for recording vocals. That required minimal preparation since it was a room already made for sound-recording. Having learned from unpacking and packing my equipment far too many times, I made myself an own temporary creative room at home, using parts of the living room during the period I made the mixing of my album. That way I could start by turning the electricity on, and just start work with the mixing right away. Another finding was that if you have your instruments and mixing console visible in a room you’re in frequently, you tend to have an easier way to get into a creative mood when finally having the time to work with your project. In order to set up a mixing studio in your living room, I guess you need a supportive family, and more time than you think from the beginning.

4. Just do the un-creative parts

Being a creative person is about being creative of course and some parts of making a record is of course less creative, such as timeline editing, planning and driving (I have driven a lot of equipment from one place to the other over and over again). But in the end, leaving those things undone, you would have no record. At my level of performing the art of music you can’t lose yourself that much into creativity that you forget to do the mechanical un-creative work between the inspirational creative highlights – just like you do your own everyday tasks. And if you just like me are a parent, and have an average income, you will have to do more un-inspirational work than just keeping yourself representable – you have to buy grocery, cock, do the dishes, support when your daughter makes her homework and so on. That’s nothing to actually discuss – you just do that. When making something creative, wether it’s at work or exercising your creative hobby, I have learned that these un-creative moments are part of inhaling your project. And by embracing them you’ll hopefully get another point of view to it, just like you get to know your kids through your everyday challenges together and not only when you’re on your dream vacation trip or at the amusement park.

One more aspect on this issue is that the better you manage to organize your overall project, the more you’ll have time to solve the creative problems. So even if structure and mechanic work might not be the strongest discipline for a creative person, try your best to keep your structure at least on a hygiene level, so that you don’t have to spend most of your time looking for back-up versions or trying to figure out what vocal take you actually thought had that little something two moths ago when you recorded it.

5. Choose your battles – dare to be creative by experience

As a drilled agency co-worker I’ve learned that being creative by experience is bad. But still we are that quite often, and if we wouldn’t so ashamed of being it I think we could use the benefit of it more often, and save our true creative energy to where it is needed. You don’t have to invent every detail from scratch in order to make the overall impression to feel fresh. After all, there are only three chords (aren’t there?) and you might be able to cope with the fact that most of your songs are in 4/4 beat (ten out of 11 on my album actually). And sometimes the ideas you have from you brainstorming past, might be as good as new in combination with something completely different from the purpose they were made up for (the picture used for this article is for instance an illustration I started making a couple of years ago for a web design project. For some reason I don’t even remember, It was never finalized, but I had it stored in my mental idea bank, and I thought it would be a great illustration for this article).