Formula Is For Babies

Paul Cantor
Nov 8, 2018 · 2 min read

In all things there are formulas, little codes you can crack to bake the cake or make the donuts — in short, recipes. And in those formulas are structures one follows. Take music, for example. Since at least the 60’s we have been hearing pop songs with three verses and a chorus, maybe with a b-section sprinkled in.

Now, when a person begins making music — popular music, that is — there is something about having heard fifty million songs with that formula. The beginning musician has it down pat: this is how songs are, and thus this is how songs should be. And so they make more songs like that.

That is a very simple example, but the more you drill down, the more you see patterns repeating. Keeping with music, things like harmony and melody, rhythm, all of that — there is, or at least there once was, an approved set of standards. This is how things are supposed to be done.

And yet it would seem that what happens then — over time— is that a great deal of apathy settles in. People become accustomed to the standard, their mind locks onto the formula, and though they may find it nominally interesting, comforting even, there has to be enough variation sprinkled in that it offers the perception of being new again. Movies have been the same for a hundred years. But they change just slightly enough to keep people coming back. The formula is tweaked, the art endures.

But then there are more radical departures, where formulas are altogether abandoned. For the consumer, the end user, whoever engages with the thing that is being created, there is confusion, perhaps even fear. Think of movies in the 90’s, your Quentin Tarantinos, Spike Lees, all the new auteurs. Here is a cinema that strips away conventions; yes it is confusing and strange but that also makes it exciting.

You can also see this with more practical, everyday things. Imagine, it was once radical ordering products over the internet. Is it safe? Of course it is. You have been ordering from catalogs for years. This is a catalog that exists in cyberspace. But it was a new thing. People just didn’t understand.

There is no logical reason why just because things are done one way that they must continue in that manner. Traditions often get passed on from one generation to the next, but with each subsequent generation the world changes and people change, and the way in which things are consumed, produced, understood — all of it — changes too.

The rules, in the end, are always made to be broken.


Disclaimer: in the text above there are links to products which can be purchased on Amazon.com. In the event that you click a link and purchase a product, I — the author of this post, for which I have received no prior compensation — may receive a small referral fee.

Paul Cantor

Written by

Writer, Editor and Music Producer. Creative work for: Apple, Instagram, VICE, Warner Brothers, Verizon, Universal, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Hennessy, others.