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There are times in life to play it safe. I'm sure you can think of several.

Music is not one of them.

So many groups singing so many arrangements that mimic the original: same key, same tempo, same feel, same inversions... yawn. Yeah, sure, sometimes is fine... but always?

Take a risk. A big risk. This means sometimes you''ll win big, and sometimes you'll fail.

That's right, I want you to fail.

Let me start by saying I want my children to fail. Over and over again. In countless big and small ways. If they're running out the door and I see their homework sitting on the table, not only won't I drive it to school later, I'll be glad they forgot it. Because next time they'll remember. Or not, but eventually they will. Failure is an excellent teacher.

What will you learn? You'll learn how to push your limits as an arranger/director, your singer's limits, and perhaps even your audience's limits. You'll learn what works and what doesn't. You'll learn how to take something and improve on it. You'll learn how to arrange, not just transcribe. You'll learn how to perform, not just replicate. And what will happen? Your worst nightmare: some people will hate it.

My daughter wrote a Christmas song in December and boldly announced to her class she was performing it at recess the next day. When she approached me nervously wondering what to do if some kids make fun of her, I told her bluntly: "That's what happens when you perform. Someone will always hate it. That's how it works. Don't worry about it."

I offer the same time-tested advice to you. Put yourself out there. And if you start going far enough, you'll start hearing negative feedback.

The critical response only means you're actually doing something. Now, I'm not suggesting that every bit of negative feedback is useless or petty. Some of it is great advice. Take it, learn from it, and use the rest to thicken your skin. Because you're going to hear a whole lot more hatred if you're doing it right.

Why? Because the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference.

Think about that for a second, because it's not what you usually hear, but it's true. Great art elicits a great reaction one way or another. People love it or hate it. It grabs you and won't let you go. Some people are shocked by this and don't like it, but it means the art is working. It's working on the mind, on the heart, on the soul. Great music makes you care. Mediocre music... click.

I'll go one step further: I like bad art much more than mediocre art. Bad art makes me cringe, makes me smile, makes me think. In fact, my high school buddies used to make mixed tapes for each other in High School and College lovingly entitled "Tape from Hell." Mr. T rapping, the Air Canada Steel Drum orchestra (brrrrrr!), the Shaggs. Our belief was and is that horrible music is actually great, and the worst music is what we deem "low mediocre."

Low mediocre is your worst enemy. It lulls you into a sense of complacency when in fact you should be shocked into action. That meager applause you hear after a song? That's the audience's way of saying "that's nice." The way your grandmother says "that's nice."

Nice is third grade holiday concerts. Nice is the prize you get when you lose the game show. Nice should never be enough for you. Dammit, you want to touch people's hearts, grab their souls, and take them on a wild roller coaster ride through truth and beauty. Or at least you did, when you started.

Dig down deep, speak truth to power, face your fears and write about the journey. Tell me something I've never heard before, show me you care.

And to do this, you must fail. Miserably sometimes.

Do you fear failure? You shouldn't. You should fear mediocrity and complacency. That's what's holding you back.

Failure is your friend.

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Deke Sharon founded CASA (and other stuff), makes TV shows ("The Sing-Off"), movies ("Pitch Perfect"), sings (The House Jacks), produces albums (Straight No Chaser, Street Corner Symphony, Committed, Nota, Bubs), wrote a book (A Cappella Arranging), publishes sheet music (Hal Leonard),and custom arranges music (over 2,000 songs). You can find him at www.dekesharon.com

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