Chances are, you know at least one artistic type who is a virtual idea factory. New and fresh works seem to materialize out of nowhere, day in and day out.
Now, picture that person’s creative mind times a million, and you have the level of genius that makes a two-time Grammy-nominee, electronic musician, DJ, filmmaker, music executive, and founder of a record label, events company, and clothing line.
Yes, I’m still talking about one person — Steve Aoki is one of today’s most successful and prolific American artists. He has 1.5 billion music streams on Spotify, and he has helped put some of the world’s most beloved entertainers on the map, like The Chainsmokers and The Kills, among others.
I had the pleasure of talking with Steve on an episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast to talk about how he supercharges his creativity, especially after so many years, so many beats, so many melodies. I think everyone wants just a sliver of his endless source of imaginative power, and he shared with me some of the tactics he uses to get in the zone and stay there for the long haul.
Keep reading to understand where Steve Aoki’s innovation and inspiration comes from, and take steps to unlock your own creativity.
Create, then create more
Quantity creates quality. Aoki believes that his career became what it is today because he produced so much over the early stages. And, he hasn’t slowed down.
“The way my career has grown is from doing a lot and then sharpening. It’s like sharpening your sword. The more you use it, the more you just get better at it. And then one of those strikes is going to really shake the world up,” says Aoki. “Some artists can get it on that one try. For me, it takes about maybe 10.”
If you want to find your stroke of genius, keep producing. It will come.
Use old creations in a new way
The old adage says, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Artists build upon each others’ works all the time. Aoki describes this in the context of melodies, for example.
“Music is an interesting thing because everyone’s done the same melodies. The same melodies have been rehashed a million times. It’s like wearing the same pair of pants, everyone’s worn those pants. You just have to acid wash them differently or paint them differently,” explains Aoki. “It’s just how you wear, how you present it out to the world that makes it a little different.”
There’s a difference between inspiration and plagiarism, so don’t go stealing things you like and claiming they’re yours. The key is to breathe new life into your art and make it your own.
Ignore the opinions of others
The best way to paralyze yourself is to worry too much about what others will think. Worrying about what others will think is the root of imposter syndrome, and there’s no place for that in creative work.
“I can’t think about what other people’s opinions are. That fucks up your whole flow,” says Aoki.
To keep your creative flow going, you have to produce works that tug at your own heart. Make your own emotional connections with your creations, and trust that your audience gets you.
Trust that you will connect with others
Because Aoki has played for so many different audiences around the globe for 15 years, he has developed an innate sense of what will resonate with different audiences.
“I have trust in that gut process of not only what it means to me emotionally, but how I feel it’ll connect with people outside the room. From my informed experience from traveling around the world, I get the best litmus test of playing in front of so many people, so many countries, so many different backgrounds — cultural backgrounds, and languages, country, whatever it might be — and that ultimately, helps my decisions without me even thinking about that,” says Aoki.
If you’re just starting out and you haven’t connected with a broad range of audiences yet, keep in mind that there are 7.5 billion people in the world. Without a doubt, your work will reach someone.
Self-awareness leads to self-development
“When you are self-aware and self-critical, then you know that you have areas that have inadequacies and you need help with, or you need that support,” says Aoki. “Even if I’m still in the studio for so many hours, I still try to bring myself down to that student level. And always listen first, hear a different experience, a different approach.”
He goes on to explain that collaboration provides new opportunities to learn. If you’re working with someone new and you listen first and open yourself to learning, you’ll get better and better at your craft every day.
Rigidity and hard-headedness are the quickest ways to make your creativity go stale. When you’re diving into creative work, being adaptable and flexible makes you more open and receptive to new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things.
“Like what Bruce Lee says, ‘Be like water.’ Just be kind of flowing,” says Aoki.
He also prioritizes hospitality and a homelike vibe in his studio to make others feel comfortable. That way, everyone can feel open and creativity can flow. “I care more about you being here and your feelings and I want to make you feel special. So, if I can give that to you first, then you’re going to be more willing to open up.”
Rituals to feel at home, no matter where you are
Aoki likes rituals so that he feels at home and centered while he’s on the road. Since he does 250 shows a year, it’s important to feel at home wherever you are. “That’s a really important just mindset that I need to have. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to be home, three more days and I’ll be home.’ When I’m on the road, I change my whole way of living. This is my home now. I am comfortable, and I am at peace,” he says.
As much as possible, he keeps his workouts, meditation, health regimen, and other crucial aspects of his home life on the road with him. That way, he can feel centered and ready to create, ready to perform when the time is right.
Make art a habit, and get uncomfortable with it
As a prolific producer, Aoki makes music every day. He started making it a daily priority, and after a short time, it became as basic as brushing his teeth. “It just gets ingrained in you and it’s not this drudgery or this chore,” he says.
He would then challenge himself to dig into his creative works in less-than-ideal environments, so that he could train his brain to access the imaginative and innovative parts of his brain when he was distracted by discomfort. Then, when you do have ideal conditions, ideas will flow more freely than ever.