For the record, being “perfect” is boring and unhealthy.
As a young artist, I spent many years of my life romanticizing artistic “perfection”. This is a familiar story I’m sure other young musicians, painters, film-makers can relate to; “practice makes perfect…” and other sayings meant to instill discipline in kids when they’re first learning their craft. While I agree it’s super important to build a foundation, I argue it can be a dangerous mindset for a maturing artist. In those first few years as an artist, it is so important to explore and find your voice. Making mistakes is part of that process, and that’s really the only way to grow and find your way. Some may have a different story, but I found the way I developed into a skilled musician (still got a long journey ahead to be where I want to be) was to just play over and over and over, figure out what was difficult for me and not shy away from working on that. My personal journey as a young guitar player let me know that being “perfect” is not that important in the grand scheme of learning a craft.
The first time I picked up the guitar and tried to play a barre chord? My hand hurt like crazy. Did I feel discouraged and overwhelmed? For sure. But, I knew the only way to learn was to keep trying as best as I could, learn from my mistake and hold my hand a bit differently until it felt comfortable. I’m a self-taught guitarist (after about two years of playing on my own, at 16 I took six months of lessons, and have been figuring it out solo ever since) and at the time didn’t have the luxury of studying with a teacher. Some artists have the benefit of a teacher or mentor when they first begin learning their craft, and this is probably the best-case scenario in the beginning because you learn which mistakes are okay to make that teach you how to grow and which mistakes build bad habits. I didn’t have this starting out and needed to find my own voice and style that fit how I wanted to express myself. The more healthy mistakes I made and discovered new things about the guitar, the more I started to figure out how I wanted to sound as a musician.
The point is, I wasn’t scared to just go for it and hit a wrong note every now and then. I idolized master guitarists, but I wasn’t trying to literally be Santana, or Eric Clapton, or Jimi Hendrix, or whoever else. Sure, I learned how to play “Purple Haze” and that was a challenge that taught me a new style to play in, but I didn’t beat myself over the head for not sounding like the second coming of Hendrix. “Perfect” would’ve been playing “Purple Haze” exactly like Hendrix. That’s honestly impossible, because only Hendrix can play like Hendrix. When I thought of it that way, I realized I could still be a good guitarist even if I didn’t sound “perfect.” The more I played, perfection still sat in the back of my mind, but it was less consuming. I found out I actually liked the way I played and falling short a little helped me develop my own style. The minute I let that go and focused on my inner voice, I realized I became happier with my art and noticed others resonated with it more. I had an experience that proved this to me.
When I was 16, I had a few shows with the school “jazz lab band” (which in retrospect is hilarious, because we didn’t play Jazz at all, only Blues and Rock) and I played guitar on stage. For the first time, I felt like a musician really expressing himself when I took a solo. Nobody expected me to be anybody other than who I was. I remember one or two classmates came up to me after the show and told me they had no idea that I played guitar well.
As a self-taught 16-year old guitarist that really meant a lot to me, and let me know those risks I took and mistakes I made practicing the previous two years were worth it. The mistakes didn’t show up on stage, but the product of my hard work did. Nobody came up to me after that show and asked why I missed the G in measure 32 on beat 4, because honestly nobody cares about that and that wasn’t important. The audience wouldn’t have had any idea I missed a note anyway. I didn’t go to bed that night mad that I wasn’t “perfect,” I was satisfied with how I played and how others enjoyed it.
My guitar-success story isn’t the big point here.
The point is this:
“Perfect” art does not resonate with people (in my opinion at least), because it’s not a real representation of the world. Character lies in what you worked towards, and in the amazing result of passion and expression. Imagine if every artist was capable of being “perfect” after a certain amount of hard work and this was the universal standard all artists followed? It’s possible there wouldn’t have been a Pablo Picasso, Stanley Kubrick, or Jimi Hendrix. Those are three unique artists that changed the course of their artistic fields because they found their unique character and perspective and focused on expressing themselves. Hendrix unlocked a brand new perspective for the world to view guitar-playing, as did Kubrick with film, and Picasso with visual art. There were limitations they had that some may say would’ve prevented them from being “perfect.” Hendrix was left-handed. Kubrick was a mediocre student and an unsuccessful Jazz drummer. Picasso denied formal training as a teenager. Looking now, it’s easy to say “these things wouldn’t have affected their career as artists”, and you’re right, because they didn’t allow them to. These “limitations” framed their unique perspectives. None of them were “perfect” by any convention, but set a new standard that we all create by. And that’s the crazy part, imagine what you can do if you embrace those limitations.
You may have noticed I’ve been writing “perfect” in quotations; that’s because that phrase in itself is vague and subjective. One person’s definition of “perfect” may be different from another person’s. And this is why I stopped harping on it. It clouds your ability to find your unique inner voice and embrace it for what it truly is. Perfection works against inspiration.
Being inspired is hard. Inspiration is elusive. Despite what we do, (or what anyone says) inspiration is completely out of our control. It’s not like talking, where at any given moment we choose to start or stop talking. It can literally strike at any moment, anywhere, and I think that’s part of what makes it so powerful. Artists have to harness that and express themselves through the inspiration, and there’s only but so much time in the day and opportunities to channel that. Perfection takes too much time, and inspiration doesn’t wait around for us. Sometimes you have to follow your inspiration and trust in the skills you’ve built to express what is inspiring you. Why focus on being “perfect” when we can spend our energy on being inspired and creating to the best of our abilities? We have a whole life ahead of us to express ourselves. Sure we need to create like our next piece could be our last, but also need to trust that we can grow and create more art that tops the piece before it. Perfection is one result, and doesn’t lead to additional growth.
That’s my take on it. I’ll always have “perfection” stuck in the back of my mind because it’s a life-long journey for artists to let go of, but when I realized it’s really a distraction I started to see myself become the artist I’ve always wanted to be.
I believe that same idea can apply to any creative person.
Over the past two years, singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, McClenney, has celebrated a number of landmark career achievements. To date, he has earned a Grammy certificate win for his production on H.E.R's "Gone Away," a Grammy nomination for production on Khalid's smash hit "Location," and production on projects for Smino, Marco McKinnis, Shady Records artist Boogie's LP Everything For Sale, and more. Today, McClenney is branching off on his own and establishing his identity as a solo artist with a brand new EP titled 'I'm Not Here.'
Our first glimpse into the project came via single "SOS," a slow-burning R&B cut that has already clocked in over 100K streams on Spotify alone since its release in February. The project also bears a first for McClenney on new single "Love In The Sky" that demonstrates the first ever guest feature on one of his tracks as he tapped critically acclaimed duo April + Vista to add their vocals and production. For the remainder of the EP, McClenney has contributed three additional cuts titled "the Fear," "Art Of The Loner," and "quiet/us." With the exception of "SOS," 'I'm Not Here' was written, produced, and performed solely by McClenney- a now common theme of all his solo projects.
"Lyrically and thematically, the project has many layers, but at its core, it's about disassociation and creation outside of seeking approval or fame from others. Anti-clout essentially. Everybody wants clout these days, I want the opposite, privacy.
My message is about sincerity and encouraging people to what they like because they want do, not because they want attention. Silent leadership."
Much of the influence of "I'm Not Here" stems from legendary act Earth, Wind, & Fire. Written and recorded at Earth, Wind, & Fire's little known private studio from the 70’s & 80’s in LA, a place where modern artists such as Frank Ocean, Rhye, Boogie and legendary artists Prince, Quincy Jones, Fleetwood Mac, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg, have also recorded, 'I'm Not Here' finds a special home preserving the legacy of the group while solidifying a new one for McClenney. "To me, creating there is much more than myself," explains McClenney. "My purpose was to craft a message and work with traditional tools to make modern music.”
Currently based in Los Angeles, McClenney remains deeply connected to his roots in the DMV (DC, Maryland, VA area). Having birthed artists that are now at the forefront of modern R&B such as Dijon, Gallant, Brent Faiyaz, JPEG Mafia, and April + Vista, McClenney joins the ranks as one of the most impactful contemporary artists from the DMV area. You also may be familiar with McClenney thanks to his Alternative R&B playlist placements on Spotify, as well as his feature as the cover image for this playlist. He's rounded it all out with time on the road with Red Bull Sound Select & Bibi Bourelly, and upcoming will be the face of Amazon Music's "Introducing: R&B" playlist. With a debut LP currently in the works, McClenney's voice is one that will soon become inescapable.