Make Your Mix Tape

Have you ever wondered why artists get so upset about their work getting copied?

Looking at other professions, copywriters have a term for the clippings they keep from other good copywriters – it’s called a swipe file. They steal from each other constantly to improve their advertising and marketing. If they see something that works, they steal it, put it in their swipe file, then pull out all of the great material later when it’s time to write an ad.

And I do the same thing. I’m sure you do, too. For my writing, I just read and take notes. Hell, that’s what I’m doing for this video. I read about a swipe file, how to study, how to take notes, and I’m dropping it into my “external brain” so I have material to pull from later — like when it’s time to record.

Robert Greene does it. Ryan Holiday does it. Sonke Ahrens does it (and teaches you how to do it). Austin Kleon highly encourages it (and I suspect he does it, too…) So…why don’t artists be more transparent about it?

I think I’ll take the first step. I use Pinterest for visual swiping. When I see art that I want to steal from, I’ll pin it to a board.

If I see imagery that looks really cool, or a pose I’d really like to study, if I study some art history and find a period of art I’d never dove into before…I’ll steal it and use it later.

Especially with the art history – history is full of artists who did interesting stuff. Just go to Wikipedia, look up any period of art and you’ll be greeted with dozens of artists from that timeframe. Now Google their stuff, find interesting things, and steal ’em.

Remix it later. Everything is already a remix, so you might as well start collecting your own mix tape.

And if you’re starting to feel guilty about it — think about how you learned your alphabet, how to write, how to speak…you mimicked until you could start making your own.

That’s today’s advice — start remixing. And don’t be ashamed of copying, just don’t claim the copy as your own idea. You have to copy to learn.

Yeah, rant done. Happy creating, everyone. I’ll see you next time!

Josh Johnson

I'm a husband and a father to three beautiful kiddos. I'm obsessed with philosophy, creativity, learning, and teaching. I want to make the world a more beautiful place by teaching others to embrace creativity.

1 comment

  1. I remember learning this in college. At first, it feels like steeling but you quickly realize we are all part of the same stream just adding our little creative bit.

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