One time I was asked in a creative context, “if you were holding an event and could play one song, what song would it be?” On the surface, this might seem like a trivial question, but upon giving it some thought it really helps shed light on how a creative person’s brain works and it’s a really thought-provoking question that reveals what their creative process looks like.
Some people will just answer what their favorite song is and not give it a second thought. Not very creative. Creative people have to be empathetic and will want to know more about what’s going to make for a great answer. Some will have a fully developed, thoughtful answer within milliseconds (somehow). These are the Don Drapers of the world. And some, like me, won’t be able to name a single song in that moment even if our life depends on it because we simply have to have a thoughtful answer and it absolutely kills us if our answer isn’t thoughtful. So what we will do is sit and ponder, or in my case in this example moment I talked through my process to arrive at an answer.
I started talking through what might be the right criteria:
- I’d want it to be an appropriate song that everyone at the event would enjoy.
- I’d probably want the song to be a classic that’s known to everyone or something that’s currently trending.
There might be some other things to consider, but I ran with that criteria since I needed to answer quickly, so I started brainstorming off of those two points. That week, I had read in entertainment news that the 1987 Fleetwood Mac song “Everywhere” had returned to the Billboard charts again, thanks to its use in a Chevy commercial which I had also seen repetitively during the NFL games I had watched the previous 2 weekends. They also trended in recent years because a guy used their song in a TikTok video. IF you don’t like Fleetwood Mac, they’ve been hard to get away from recently, but fortunately I’m a pretty big fan. So I said I might play a Fleetwood Mac song since they’re classic, known, and trending. But it’s hard to just give one option because I never want to leave my audience wondering what else can be…so I gave another option, a Prince song like “Let’s Go Crazy” since the setting is assumed to be Minnesota and everyone in Minnesota loves Prince. It’s simply a requirement or you’re picked up and kicked over the Wisconsin border! But I backtracked, because I was assuming it was in Minnesota, and assumptions are never good. So I’d only go that route if the location was up to me.
If this were a full creative meeting around that one question, I’d have tons of other questions to have the most appropriate, thoughtful solutions. I’d want to know where the party is, who the audience is, does the party have a theme (is it Halloween or Christmas, for example – which would lead to holiday music). What are the goals, are you looking to make the audience relaxed and focused, or do you want them up off their feet and dancing. And so on and so forth.
So, after some brainstorming, or if you’re that person the ad agencies are looking for who can answer within milliseconds, you might say “YMCA by The Village People” and then be able to support that with because “I’d have the goal of getting everyone off their feet and dancing and that’s something even people who hate to dance can do the arm gesturing dance to.” Similar options might be the chicken dance if total silliness is warranted, or perhaps songs everyone can clap to like “HandClap” by Fitz and the Tantrums. I hear that song played every time I go to a Twins game at Target Field. The song goes “Let Me Hear Your Hands Clap…” and then the entire crowd claps in unison. So it could be a good, more modern answer!
These are all great answers that take some time to arrive at for many of us and I think that’s OK. The question wasn’t about our music taste, it’s about finding out how our creative process works and how we process questions or challenges. In the creative field, I think the only answer that’s problematic is the one that’s really arbitrary, the person who just answers a song they like without considering the audience, the setting, the goals, etc. They just yell out “Who Let the Dogs Out” without considering that most people who lived through the time that came out really don’t enjoy that song at all. If you can answer that way and just move on without giving it any additional thought, I’d encourage you to reconsider your creative process.
A good creative process empathizes, defines/validates, researches, ideates/brainstorms, samples/prototypes, requests feedback and more. When you empathize, you’re looking to get a full understanding of the challenge, who’s involved, what their attitudes are, and whether your stakeholder wants to change or speak to those attitudes. Additionally, you look to understand the goals and key performance indicators, and set baselines for those KPIs. When you define, you write it all down in a creative brief and run that by your stakeholder to make sure you understood everything correctly. In the research stage, you seek out all the information to gain a full understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) to your solution. You might even survey some of the audience or simply the experts. Then when you ideate, you brainstorm different tones and possibilities that are informed by all the things you learned… you sketch it, wireframe it, concept it and test it with your stakeholders. You go through some rounds and once validated, you prototype, ask for feedback, and then polish your final solution.
This is the kind of process every high end agency goes through to come up with the campaigns that tell stories that resonate. They go through all that to answer a simple thought-provoking question with the most thoughtful answer/solution. Sometimes, first, they have to help their clients understand what the big thought-provoking question for their business even is. This is the kind of stuff that makes me love what I do. Welcome inside the brain of a creative person!
So what song would you play?