Let's cut through the pre-amble:
What is Devil May Cry? Devil May Cry
is an action series developed and published by Japanese company Capcom, beginning with Devil May Cry 1 in 2001 for the Playstation 2 (Here's an advert showing it as part of Sony's holiday lineup
that included landmark gaming titles such as Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 and... Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance). The game series began as a prototype build for Resident Evil 4 that had more of an overt action focus than the acclaimed horror franchise was known for. Rather than scrap the build, Capcom saw potential in the idea of a stylish action game, and gave director Hideki Kamiya
permission to make it a full title.
Kamiya would involuntarily leave the series after DMC 1 as Capcom didn't ask him to work on DMC 2. Instead, a still-to-this-day unknown phantom director was put in charge of the game and he ran it into the ground. With less than half a year before DMC 2's 2003 release, Capcom brought in a new director to course-correct and get the game out for release: Hideaki Itsuno. In less than six months, Itsuno would rally the team, basically make the entire game, and create several features that would go on to become series staples, and while DMC 2 sold well, it was critically panned for being a very boring game. Itsuno, not wanting his reputation to be sullied, came back in 2005 with Devil May Cry 3, generally considered one of the greatest action games of all time. From here several core traits are instilled: chief among which being style meters that track the player's skill with combos and Dante having a style system that lets him use different movesets.
And it's in 2008 with the release of Devil May Cry 4, marking the series going multiplatform for the first time as it came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360, that this story really begins:
The build up to 2010
With DMC 4's release in 2008, Capcom set the sales expectation
that the game would sell 1.8 million units by the end of the fiscal year. DMC 4 would sell two million units in under a month
, but Capcom were a bit unimpressed. They were hoping that now that DMC was on a wider range of platforms that the sales would correspondingly go up, but instead the game just saw a modest increase over DMC 3. The cost of game development had also shot up in the new console generation, making Capcom more concerned about DMC4's sales just being fine,
especially coming off of huge sales juggarnauts from 2007 such as Halo 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Bioshock. (It doesn't help that DMC 4 had a very rushed development leading to the now infamous case of Dante's playable chapters just being Nero's but backwards)
Japan at the time was also in a weird place when it came to gaming. The mobile phone gaming market was about to take off, and the playerbase in Japan was already smaller than the worldwide market for obvious reasons. In the home regions, it was safer to look into handheld gaming, and while Capcom had dallied
with the idea of a DMC game on the Playstation Portable (at one point considering a remake of the first game that reached in-game screenshots and box art that was quietly shelved for unknown reasons, alongside a prequel focusing on Dante's father Sparda), these ideas never left the ground. Seeing how Western markets were more traditionally concerned with console gaming at this time (and the success of the God of War franchise proved Action was a genre people wanted), Capcom's idea was simple:
Give their IPs to Western studios and let them take a crack at it, with the idea being their knowledge of what the West wants
would let the games sell better. The results were mixed. The Bionic Commando reboot is nowadays more known for the twist of YOUR WIFE IS THE ROBOT ARM and only sold 27,000 units in a month,
but Dead Rising did fairly well under a Capcom Vancouver branch until Dead Rising 4 happened
and uh... kinda killed the series because it was awful.
Capcom eventually set their sights on giving the West a crack at DMC, leading to them eyeballing several studios. This worked out well for them in that Itsuno was also burnt out. After having spent five straight years on DMC and having redeemed its image after DMC 2, Itsuno was ready to take a break and make his dream game: Dragon's Dogma,
a dark fantasy game that is very fun. It got a Netflix anime adaptation recently that is... not as fun. But while Itsuno was making Dragon's Dogma, Capcom had some time to spitball handing the series off. They eventually settled on Ninja Theory, an up and coming British team best known for Heavenly Sword (a very pretty game with mediocre action combat and a priority on storytelling), and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (a modernisation of Journey to the West that was very pretty but priotizied story over gameplay). Rumors began to circulate in early 2010
that Ninja Theory had acquired the license and would be making a prequel focusing on Dante's early days, but it would only become clear at Tokyo Games Show that year when DmC: Devil May Cry* was formally announced.
And the fanbase collectively hated it.
(* Yes that does technically mean this reboot's name is Devil may Cry: Devil May Cry. I'm going to call it DmC from here to differentiate it from the core series)
The TGS Trailer
For those unaware of DMC, I should stress that by 2010, it had a reputation for a certain flair and theatics. Dante was known to be a goofball in cutscenes, taunting enemy demons and making a mockery of them. He has an entire cutscene in DMC 4
where he acts like he's on the stage of a theatre with how grandious he is. People liked Dante for this reason, he was a breath of fresh air in a time when most protagonists were stotic, gritty jerks who only talked in curse words and gravelly shouts. And his flowing white hair was also certainly iconic. So here comes the new take on Dante, the West giving him a go and oh... hoo boy.
There's no charisma, there's no panache. The trailer has no gameplay. Dante doesn't look like a trash talker, he looks like a meth addict. He's smoking, something the DMC 1 design documents said Dante would never do as (per Kamiya) smoking is uncool. His hair isn't even white!
Now let me be clear: I am not opposed to a new take on Dante. Certainly, the idea presented in the reveal trailer that Dante is imaging the demons he fights as an acute case of psychosis is an interesting idea, as it raises the question of whether or not the demons are real or if he's senselessly killing random people. But the execution would have had to be perfect, and opening with just a fancy trailer that had no signs of gameplay for an action
franchise was not the right foot to start on.
What doesn't help was that the entire Western Capcom initiative was one pushed by a very controversial figure in gaming called Keiji Inafune,
who would leave Capcom right after DmC's announcement in 2010. Inafune was the one most strongly advocating for the western development approach (Something Capcom were quick to stress in 2010 after his departure)
, but with his departure the movement had less steam. Inafune would go on to make Mighty Number 9, a Kickstarter that went miserably wrong on every turn and is usually seen as one of the most disappointing games of the 2010s.
I should also point out here: Dante's radically different design
from the norm of the series was a mandate imposed by Capcom. Ninja Theory's original concept art for Dante was much more closer to his traditional design-
white hair, red coat and all. But Capcom, and Itsuno especially, were adament that if Ninja Theory were going to be doing something new with the franchise, that they needed to go off the cuff- in Capcom's own words, "Go crazy."
So Dante got a new color palette, a darker jacket and black hair. But at the time (this news only came out two years after the redesign was revealed), people didn't know about Capcom explicitly telling NT to go off the rails, and what they saw... was Ninja Theory going off the rails in the wrong
So from the word go, fans aren't happy. Fans are usually never happy but I mean they were unhappy.
Chief Creative director for Ninja Theory Tameen Antionades said after the reveal: “The vitriol was immediate, aggressive and relentless for the next two years. Without a second of gameplay being shown, it had been written off as a disaster in the making.”
Tameen would become the ball and chain around DmC's marketing, which is quite apparent in how Ninja Theory would dial back on his appearances as we get closer to the game's release. The backlash to the launch clearly surprised Ninja Theory and caught them off guard, with Tameen publically lashing out at the original fanbase for writing the game off or being unhappy at Dante's visual redesign. This would go on to dominiate the discussions about DmC for its pre-release cycle, as it became less about the game and more about the community and whether or not the response was justified (alongside in typical internet fashion, a few death threats being tossed around which apparently included a full metal song)
. No matter which side of it you lean on though, Tameen had habit of putting his foot in his mouth in regards to PR:
- When asked by Venturebeat how he felt about the fan reaction to the TGS trailer, Tameen (and I am quoting them word for word here) “took a drag of his cigarette and without blinking or pausing to exhale the smoke from his mouth, said: ‘I don’t care.’”
- Tameen went on to insult Dante's original costume in a later interview when saying that what was and wasn’t cool had changed in the years since DMC1: “If Dante, dressed as he was, walked into any bar outside of Tokyo, he’d get laughed out.”
- Finally, he disparaged the original series for its depiction of women, particularly the demon hunters Trish and Lady, saying: "I've nothing against big tits - I'd rather have my head resting on a pair right now - but if you're going to try and stimulate someone on different levels, there's better ways to do it... We did that in Enslaved with Trip. People loved her, not because she had big breasts and high heels, but because she felt like someone who could be your girlfriend. That to me is more attractive than a prostitute walking around with a big gun." The idea that Tameen was dismissing Lady and Trish (Lady especially has basically the largest character arc in DMC3 and it's as much her story as Dante's) irked the fanbase.
Capcom likely stepped in behind the scenes and encourged a few changes. Notably, Dante's design underwent a few shifts, including making him more muscular and rewriting portions of the game to give him a few more of Old!Dante's trademark quips. A few voice actor was also cast, named Tim Phillips... though NT wouldn't budge on the haircut as it was part of the story. The Dante psychosis/prisoner angle from the TGS trailer was also completely scrapped from the final product, having Dante instead be confirmed to be sane and fighting demons, not people. Even though Capcom had encouraged NT to go off the rails... money still reigns supreme and Capcom wanted to turn a profit. So closer to release, Capcom made a point of stressing that Itsuno and several other DMC veteran staff were supervising the combat system and offering guidance. Combat designer Rahni Tucker spoke positively of the exchanges she had with Itsuno:
While Capcom Japan kept a close eye on Ninja Theory’s work on DmC’s characters, story and world, its greatest focus was, naturally, on the game’s combat. Itsuno and other key personnel would visit the studio in Cambridge every few months to check in on its progress, Ninja Theory staff would often make the trip out to Japan, and in between those times there would be regular video conferences and daily email updates. All that communication helped to unify the two companies, despite a fundamental split between their approaches to game development: Ninja Theory liked to start with the visual design, and Capcom with the mechanics. Modestly, Itsuno admits he learned a lot from the collaboration; Tucker believes she picked up an awful lot more. “I learnt so much,” she says. “Itsuno would speak philosophically about how he approaches combat and enemy design. They build most of the player’s set of actions first, and then think about the things they can build to allow players to exploit particular elements of the system they’ve designed. They really put the emphasis of the baddie design back onto the player’s actions. It’s kind of obvious, but just the way that he spoke about it was inspiring, and it made a lot of sense to me.”
The damage however, was long done. Even with the post-TGS revisions, DmC was facing an uphill battle from the community, with a minority waiting to give it a try themselves before casting judgement, but the majority either being apathetic or downright hostile to the game, not helped by Tameen's attitude creating the idea that Ninja Theory inherently hated what made Devil May Cry good (again, keep in mind most players wouldn't learn that Capcom were pushing for the radical Dante changes until years post-release). Ultimately though, Capcom themselves are to blame for the choices that impacted DmC: Ninja Theory were only doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and for the most part many of the staff clearly loved getting to work on such a popular franchise and boosting their studio's name. It came down an unfortunate blend of Capcom misreading what people wanted from future projects, an attempt to appeal to a Western market that fell on its face, and a director unprepared for the mass backlash his product got.
Either way, the game finally came out in early 2013.
The game itself
Eh, it was OK.
DmC launched in March 2013 and got decent reviews on all platforms, getting a consistent 8/10 on all platforms on Metacritic. The PC port was especially praised for its sheer variety of features including an uncapped framerate. Critics quite liked it, praising the story and art direction, feeling it was a necessary step for the series to make the games somewhat easier to let newcomers in without facing as daunting a challenge as the games could be (I'm pretty sure learning how to fly a plane is easier than mastering Dante in Devil May Cry 4). Old Dante's most famous voice actor, Reuben Langdon, spoke on a podcast about the game and admitted that while he wasn't fond of the new Dante's characterisation, he applauded Ninja Theory's craftsmenship.
The fanbase were colder, even with the pre-release biases set aside (this wasn't helped by Platinum, helmed by several ex-DMC 1 developers including Kamiya, releasing Metal Gear Rising Revengeance also in 2013. Metal Gear Rising is a very good game that involves flipping giant robots
and fighting a very actractive Brazillian man with a gun-sheath sword
). The game's framerate on consoles was capped at 30FPS for technical reasons when all prior games ran at 60FPS. Dante had lost a lot of his mechanical complexity (including DMC 3 and 4's style system which offered Dante special abilities he could switch between such as more sword and gun combos, blocking and dodging) in favour of a more universal moveset. The Devil Trigger super mode was pretty lame and automatically knocked all enemies into the air, which people didn't like as it made most encounters too easy. Building up style was too easy and the game had no systems to stop you spamming the same combos over and over. The game's weapon system of angel/demon themed weapons included color-coded enemies that forced you to use the right gear or you'd be punished. There was no Turbo Mode, a feature in most games that automatically boosted the game's speed by 20% on average.
Ninja Theory still made a good action game, albeit one that needed a bit more refinement to reach its true potential. But the lack of several core features (or worse, poorly implemented iterations of said features) led to the fanbase adopting a term:
"It's a good game, but it's not a good Devil May Cry."
The fanbase were willing to concede to the good aspects of the game- especially in audiovisual aspects. Enemies now got a subtitle during their first appearance, weapons getting a slight glint when the player pauses to let them know they can launch a pause combo attack, the soundtrack was now dynamic and evolved up the higher your style rank got, alongside the killing blow at the end of a fight getting a cinematic camera angle. Ninja Theory's sense of style itself was something that impressed the Capcom team, as all of these aspects were modified and adopted into the mainline games come 2019. The game was also very beautiful in places, leaving the Gothic archetecture of the main games for a more European feel in Limbo City. Madrid in Spain and Genoa in Italy are clear influences on the archetecture, and the design team adapt them well in making Limbo a city that is itself a weapon trying to kill Dante through compressing alleyways, closing off paths or mocking him through writing on the walls, Splinter Cell Conviction style. Combichrist and Noisia's collaberations for the soundtrack were also praised between their licensed work and new music composed just for the game, especially the songs Never Surrender
and Throat Full of Glass.
But for all the praise, reluctant or otherwise, that game got mechanically, the story that the critics had acclaimed as mature and a right step forward had few supporters among the playerbase. There's been a lot written and said about DmC's story so I'll cap off the highlights here:
- Dante, even after the TGS revisions, was still far too crass and unlikeable. A scene early on in the game was also seen as a potshot at fans of the old games as a response to the TGS backlash where a mop falls on Dante's head, making him look like his older self, before he snarks "Not in a million years" and throws the mop aside. Fans quickly took to several creative nicknames to refer to this new iteration of the character, with the most popular being DINO (Dante In Name Only) or Donte. Fans hated Donte's personality so much that they began unironically championing the Spanish dub of the game due to his dub actor having more fun in the role, leading to people making mods to highlight the misadventures of Donté, el exterminador de demonios. Dante being changed from a half-human half-demon to half-angel half-demon also led to mocking jokes comparing Dante to the Adam Sandler film Little Nicky.
- The game relied far too heavily on swearing, with the exchange between Dante and Succubus becoming infamous for the lines "Fuck you!" "Fuck you!" "FUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUU." A scene with Dante and Vergil where the two engage in brotherly banter only for Vergil to end the argument with "And I've got a bigger dick" also went viral for all the wrong reasons.
- Dante's brother Vergil in the core series is a man of MOTIVATION who would sooner cut his throat than admit to anything being stronger than him, alongside someone who hates firearms. Entire essays have been written about how amazing Vergil is in Devil May Cry 3 and in some communities, his name has become synonymous with the rival archetype. Here, he's presented as a thinly veiled analogue to the Anonymous movement (you can carbon date this game to early 2010s in general with the Anonymous analouges and WAKE UP SHEEPLE energy), openly admits to Dante that "I'm powerless to stop you" from just leaving his goal to stop the demons, and in the most infamous scene of the game, uses a sniper rifle to shoot a pregnant woman in the chest, blowing out her entire stomach, before headshotting her. To make things even worse for the reputation of this version of Vergil (who had been mockingly named Vergin), the launch version of DmC had him wearing a fedora. In 2013. I don't think I need to add anything to that if you remember what became of the fedora around 2013.
- Despite Tameen's comments about women in video games and "prostitutes with guns," DmC was reviled for how deeply mysoginistic the game truly was. Kat (the one heroic female character in the game and the only female character to survive the game), had several far more revealing costumes planned in concept art (Alongside the idea that Kat fought with a violin weapon pre-Lindsay Sterling which was pretty cool). Here's one of the better pieces of art where Kat was planned to be a biker chick with platinum blonde hair. Kat is ultimately a vehicle for Dante's character development as he softens up around her, only for her to be kidnapped and brutalized by the police. Dante and Vergil then kidnap the mistress of Mundus (the main antagonist) who is pregnant with his child, and trade the two women off like Pokemon cards (the camera in the trade scene, linked above in the Vergin section includes several disturbing shots that linger on Kat trying to get up after being shoved to the ground), leading back to the Sniper Rifle Abortion. The fanbase got very creative with memes relating to that part of the game. Kat's main involvement in the final act of the game is just to give Dante a map of the building she was tortured in, then hide behind a dumpster when Dante and Vergil come to blows over whether or not they should rule humanity. And in the re-release of the game, the final cutscene is modfied so the last shot of the game is Dante copping a feel of Kat's ass.
The end was an OK game let down by a bad story. The tale of many a game. And unfortunately, partly thanks to the game just not being good enough for the DMC pedigree, DmC underperformed. Capcom initally hoped for 2 million units to be sold like DMC 4, but later quietly lowered their projections down to 1.2 million. Some rumors speculate
that Capcom had to artifically boost the game's sale numbers by counting anyone who downloaded the game when it was for free as part of Playstation Plus in January 2014 (games that go on PS+ or Microsofft's Xbox Live Games with Gold service are usually games that are either selling so well they can take the hit, are past their lifespan and looking to reignite the playerbase, or did very badly and this is a last ditch effort to get interest into the game). While not speaking directly about DmC, Capcom spoke frankly in a financial report regarding their Western outsourcing, attributing the lack of success to a "delayed response to the expanding digital contents market," "insufficient coordination between the marketing and the game development divisions in overseas markets," and a "decline in quality due to excessive outsourcing"
. The long and the short of it was: DmC flopped commerically, failing to meet the sales of DMC 4 in the West (which remember was Capcom's entire reason for the reboot)
when it was released on the exact same platforms, and the consoles had a larger install base due to five years having passed. For what it's worth, Itsuno himself support the game and approved of Ninja Theory's efforts, even saying he'd have been honored to work on a DmC Devil May Cry 2 had Capcom gone with that project.
Some post-launch support would follow, including DLC costumes based on concept art for Dante and several alt skins based on his DMC 1 and 3 appearances, Bloody Palace (basically a time trial gauntlet run) and a campaign focusing on Vergil that sets up a sequel hook which never gets followed up on.
Some Ninja Theory staffers didn't take the news well, especially as they knew that their reputation was going to take a large hit after DmC. Art director Alessandro Taini gave a GDC talk
where he went on a weird rant involving editing DMC 4 Dante into stills from... Brokeback Mountain and Batman and Robin, while also saying reboot Dante was based on... Tyler Durden from Fight Club (for those who don't know Fight Club, you're not meant to agree with Tyler or find him a role model)
. Keep in mind that this is Taini basically shit-talking character designs he had no hand in making. In a hilaripus twist of irony, Dante would later in the series get a cowboy hat
as a weapon. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Capcom up to this point had been going back and forth on what DmC even was- was it a prequel, a reboot, an alternate universe? They seemed to change the answer every month. But after the game's failure to meet expectations commercially, they quietly settled on it being based on an alternate universe, as was confirmed in of all things, Donte appearing as a DLC alt skin for Dante in Marvel vs Capcom Infinite.
(While I'm on the topic of weird fighting game trivia, Donte actually also got a full fighting game appearance in the "classic," Playstation All Stars Battle Royale as an attempt to market DmC ahead of its release. Yes, Donte technically didn't even debut in his own game. This story is so weird to me! In the trailer he even fights the protagonist of previous Ninja Theory game Heavenly Sword)
In 2015, Capcom re-released the game for the new consoles as DmC: Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition.
This was largely helmed by the Capcom team in Japan who modified the game to make it more in line with DMC's series standards of gameplay. And you know what? It's really good! Genuinely, it actually makes the game and takes it from "A good attempt" to "one of the best Western attempts at action games period." 60FPS on consoles, all DLC included, Turbo Mode was back, a new mode called Must Style where you have to get an S Rank in combos before your attacks do damage, all alongside an insanely detailed changelog penned by Rahni Tucker.
The one downside? It never got released on PC for unsaid reasons, presumably that most of the new gameplay additions... were based on mods made by the PC fanbase. Mods you can no longer find as the site storing them has gone down.
However even with this, DmC would get sand in its eye one more time. In the same year, Capcom released a similar re-release of DMC 4 called Special Edition. It was far more bare bones than DmC: DE, only adding three new playable characters in Lady, Trish and MOTIVATION Man himself, Vergil. Despite the game only getting a physical release in Japan and being digital only here in the West (whereas DmC: DE got a full release), Capcom eventually said that DMC 4 SE obliterated
the DE in sales, with Capcom specifically saying that 4SE's digital sales led to a better quarter in 2015 than they were anticipating.
As of 2020 (due to Capcom counting their re-releases of games separately than the original release when it comes to sales), we know that DMC4SE has sold 1.5 million units,
while DmC: DE sold 1.1 million.
However, ultimately, I'm very joyful to admit that everyone got a happy ending!
No, literally, everyone came out of this for the better. Ninja Theory in 2017 would release Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice,
a critical and commerical darling made on a self-styled "AA" budget that was praised for its handling of mental health through the lens of its MC Senua. It made its budget back easily, they're now owned by Microsoft and they're currently working on a sequel called Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Capcom would bounce back from their slump in the Early 2010s, beginning in 2017 with the releases of Resident Evil 7, Monster Hunter World and a certain title I'll mention in a minute. They've been releasing hit after hit for the last four years and they have more on the horizon. And Itsuno, now having made Dragon's Dogma, came back raring to go with more Devil May Cry. Though there are some rumors by Dante's voice actor that he had to threaten to leave Capcom to get it, at E3 2018 as part of the Microsoft panel, Itsuno took to the stage and announced: "DMC IS BACK!!!"
(Watching people react to this trailer and freaking out when they see it's DMC gives me so much serotonin)
Thanks for reading this... long disaster of a post. Have a good one, and remember to keep this party crazy. Let's rock. :)
Additional reading if you'd like more words on this reboot:
TL;DR: Perfectionism is limiting your creative potential. It creates anxiety which leads to burnout. We introduce an elite sports peak performance tip so you can avoid burnout and become a better music maker
The SAS is an elite army unit. They are the British equivalent of the Navy Seals.
Like the Navy Seals, they have a hell week where they weed out the weaker candidates with a series of extreme mental and physical challenges designed to get candidates to quit.
On one such exercise, recruits are standing on a ledge 50 feet above a river. The recruits have to fall backwards blindfolded into the freezing cold water.
As their bodies hit the water they go into shock. They involuntarily gasp and swallow water. If they panic, thrash about and fight they will be pulled deeper into the water and they will drown.
Whereas if they remain calm and relaxed their natural buoyancy will see them float safely to the top. The natural reaction is to panic and fight. Burnout is a lot like this. The more you thrash about and fight the stronger it becomes, the more you will be overwhelmed by the depth of the darkness and the greater the chance of drowning in the emptiness.
Whereas if you relax and surrender to the path you will return to your natural state much quicker and less painfully.
I have experienced burnout several times. Managing artists and producers is a high pressure game. Helping artists to the top was very difficult, keeping them there was extremely stressful.
My last burnout, which was by far my worst, took me nearly a full year to recover from.
Burnout is a bitch
- Burnout stole my joy. Be careful, it may steal yours too.
- It destroyed my passion for the music industry and replaced it with feelings of disillusionment so strong that my soul ached.
- Burnout destroys your creative spirit. It steals passion. It kills hope. And without hope, there is no light. And without light….
- Creativity is hope. It is the belief that deep inside of us we have the ability to create something, anything, that can inspire change.
Creativity: the highs and the lows Being creative can be stressful.
On one hand, we have the ability to create something that has never existed outside of our imagination. That’s a beautiful thing.
On the other, there is the fear it will get rejected and fail. That is the real kicker but an essential part of your growth as an artist or a producer. Creativity is both a blessing and a curse.
It will push you to extremes. It impacts on your happiness and well being. Our identities are often welded to our creativity. Our output and how our creative projects are received often dictate our self-worth.
When our creativity is flowing we bounce down the street with joy dancing in our eyes, when we’re stuck in a rut we cut a forlorn and frustrated figure.
A productive creative is a happy one. Taking action is the key. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, creative burnout is an equal opportunity destroyer. You will recognise creative burnout when your head is fried and your spirit is empty.
All that passion and drive for creating music has gone and you’re left feeling, well, nothing, but a hollow emptiness that is alarming as the futility of everything washes over your creative soul. Burnout is a real bitch.
Control freak perfectionism
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference The serenity prayer
Most creatives are perfectionists. Most perfectionists are control freaks. We have a vision and we fiercely protect it. Creative control is essential to protect the integrity of the vision.
No matter what anyone makes, they should have control over it. David Lynch
Perfectionism is fear. We fear we’re not quite
good enough so we work harder and harder to perfect it. Refining and refining until we go round in circles and lose perspective.
If that wasn’t burnout inducing enough, the problems really begin when we try to control our environment.
Control freakery is fear avoidance. We are trying to control the environment in order to protect ourselves and our work.
Trouble is, the environment is uncontrollable. We can’t control what people think of us or how they react to our creative projects. We can’t control success or protect ourselves from failure. We control very little, it’s all an illusion.
This creates fear and anxiety of the high functioning variety. The more we feel fear the more we try and control the environment and the more anxious we become.
We thought we were protecting ourselves. In fact, we were imprisoning ourselves.
We can only control our effort, our attitude and our reactions.
That is it. It’s pointless getting anxious and stressed about things you can not control. It’s a waste of your creative energy.
But that’s what most of us do. For decades, I assumed I was an anxious person. I had lots of nervous creative energy. It never occurred to me that as a perfectionist trying to control my environment, that I was actually creating my own anxiety.
When I stopped trying to control everything my anxiety levels dropped significantly. I still have my moments but I know the signs and my anxiety quickly dissipates.
Art is never finished, only abandoned Leonardo da Vinci Perfectionism is an unachievable goal. Perfectionism creates anxiety. Anxiety is chronic stress. Trying to control your environment only creates more anxiety. This leads to creative burnout. You can’t control what people think about you or your material. You can only control your attitude, the effort you put into creating your art and how you deal with the reactions.
Ironically, we inadvertently create our anxiety in a way to protect ourselves from anxiety.
Control the controllables
This is one of the most common and effective peak performance techniques used in elite sports and big business. It is used by Olympians, Super Bowl winning teams and fortune 500 CEOs. It also solved my anxiety issues.
The dichotomy of control was created by the Greek philosopher, Epictetus.
It is one of the key principles of Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is the philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome.
We all have a limited amount of energy.
The principle is to focus all your talent and energy exclusively in the key areas that you can control. You only control your effort, your attitude and your reactions.
Whether you’re a hobbyist, a professional or a superstar. There’s one thing philosophy can teach you. It’s all about focus in the critical areas you control.
As a music maker, there’s only one thing you control:
- You control how you create.
- You can’t control if your tracks get playlisted.
- You control how you create.
- You can’t control what people say about your material
- You control how you create.
- You can’t control whether people connect with your music or not
- You control how you create
- Comparing yourself to others is a waste of energy
- You control how you create
Peak Creative Performance
Artists and producers often assume peak creative performance comes from a secret hack. That’s not true. Peak creative performance isn’t about learning new tricks, it’s about unlearning negative habits. It’s about removing the blocks that limit your creative potential. It’s about focusing all your energies on your art. We get in our own way. It’s human nature. We hamstring our art by focusing our creative energy in all the wrong areas.
Stop wasting your creative energy getting stressed or worrying about things you cannot control. If you learn this and live it every day, not only will you be a better music maker but you will feel much less stressed and anxious.
- Focus all your energy on your effort, attitude and reactions. Disregard the rest
- Any decision is better than no decision
- Set boundaries
- Self discipline: set release dates and release your material regardless of how happy you are with it
- Take breaks from creating
- Accept you are burnt out. Surrender to the path, denial only prolongs the experience
- Perfectionism in art is a myth
- Done is better than perfect
- Decouple your identity from your creativity. You are defined by who you are and not what you create.
That’s all for this week. I hope you got some value out of this.