Choosing a Mentor

An article by David Brooks. Last updated: July 30, 2018

When I was in college I had a person that I considered my musical mentor. He was a brilliant man, a classically trained musician that specialized in musical scores and concert performances. I was an electronic musician, writing and hacking drum beats, maddening synthesizer parts and the occasional bass riff.

I remember the first time I asked him to listen to one of my pieces. I was nervous, terrified really, because our styles were so incredibly different. Not only that, but because of how I chose to write music at the time my parts weren’t entirely playable by humans.

He sat in his office, listening to the song as if he had just received music from Beethoven himself. Beethoven I was not, nor Mozart, but his enthusiasm for it was encouraging. The song, not so good. In fact, I don’t even remember what song it was that I had given him, it was that forgettable.

What I remember was the honesty that he gave with his critique. It wasn’t a matter of “this is garbage”, though if I think long and hard about it, it probably wasn’t very good. It was a matter of realizing where I was in the music writing process, and what I could be with some guidance.

He never critiqued the style, that seemed irrelevant to him. What he spoke about was the musicality of the piece, and how I might improve the rhythms and composition. He cut to the heart of the song, rather than dwelling on the more superficial elements of it.

Less after a single critique, and more from our continual conversations, I was a better writer by far. In retrospective, I think the best mentors are those that focus on fact, on the objective instead of the subjective. On the other hand, I think a great mentor will unintentionally increase your subjective standards.

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