PICTURED: Rain Perry. Photo by Patricia Clarke
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
“Being an amateur at something . . . it’s encouraged up through your first year of college,” says Ojai-based singer-songwriter and filmmaker Rain Perry.
But afterward? It seems like it’s a lot less acceptable to be an imperfect, fumbling beginner. Between internal and external criticism, impatience and the unceasing demands of everyday life, it can be hard to take up something new — particularly a creative pursuit — and really give it (and yourself) a chance.
It’s a notion that Perry is adamant to change. One way she’s giving people permission to start something new, and get comfortable with being imperfect, is through her workshops, currently offered in partnership with storytelling organization The Townies, Inc. (for which Perry serves as board president).
At the moment, she’s teaching three classes — Finish the Damn Song, Mixtape Mondays and How Songs Work — through Zoom. They aren’t all geared toward amateurs, but that idea of allowing oneself to be an unpolished beginner runs through all of them.
Take Finish the Damn Song, for example, designed specifically for musicians and songwriters. During weekly two-hour classes (the latest session started on Aug. 3), students play pieces they are working on, and listen to feedback provided by Perry and, with some strict guidelines, other students. It’s meant to help them gain the focus needed to finish songwriting and also “say what they’re trying to say in the strongest way possible,” Perry explains.
She describes it as a freewheeling class full of songwriters of all levels, and as far as musical styles — anything goes.
“I’ve had earnest folk songs, cabaret-style pieces, French opera and a trilogy about venereal disease,” Perry says. “There is *everything.*”
At the end of the eight-week course, students put on a show — which is a hard deadline that holds them accountable to, well, finish the damn song. Perry has found that not having a deadline — to someone other than yourself (“It’s too easy to let yourself off the hook”) — often prevents people from completing a project. She freely admits that she falls into this same trap herself. For example, when she decided to start work on a new album, she booked the recording studio in advance.
“That’s the only thing that works for me,” she says.
But more insidious, perhaps, is the tendency many songwriters have of tearing up their work “before it becomes what it wants to be.”
“People’s internal editor and critic is super-well formed,” Perry explains. “But their creative part is not so much. You put your editor hat on way too early in the process.”
This rush to criticize and improve, in her opinion, gets in the way of the creative flow — for artists of all kinds, and people in all walks of life.
“I have found that so many people have not found permission from themselves to be creative,” she says.
This tendency is something she explores and tries to short circuit in all of her classes, including the music appreciation-oriented How Songs Work and the creative journaling exercises of Mixtape Mondays — both of which are for anyone and everyone.
“People are really intimidated by being a beginner as an adult,” she explains. “[My students] really appreciate not being expected to know music. You think you have to be cool and like cool music [to be a musician], but you don’t.”
Mixtape Mondays is a simple, 30-minute guided journaling class. Perry selects a theme, plays two songs on that theme, and then gives students a prompt that they write upon for three minutes. The exercise is meant to provide encouragement and start the week off with a little inspiration. She’s had musicians in the class, but also painters, choreographers and people just looking for a creative outlet.
How Songs Work teaches students about the songwriting process — how compositions are built, rhythm and rhyme, what a bridge is, etc. — in a fun, no-stress, nonjudgmental setting. The perfect environment in which to be a beginner.
Perry says that she’s taught all of these classes, in one form or another, often with different names, for about 12 years.
“Part of the reason I keep changing the names of them is to convince people that they don’t have to be professional musicians to take the class,” she admits. “My classes are designed for you.”
Why not sign up for a class, and give yourself permission to begin?
Rain Perry’s workshops are ongoing and have new sessions starting in September. For more information and to sign up, visit thetowniesinc.org/rains-workshops.