“The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself”
-Tony Robbins, Awaken The Giant Within
I’m amazed at how often having the right question in a situation can literally change an outcome. The right question can save you time, money, energy and stress, and can put you on an entirely different trajectory in life.
I have found many examples of this throughout my own travels, so lets explore one
An Important Question I Asked An A&R On My Last Trip To Atlanta
I was in Atlanta this past October and met with an A&R from Warner Chappell Publishing. I played him some of my music and videos and, impressed after taking in my content, he asked me what I was doing later that evening. I told him that I had already committed to an artist session at Patchwerk Studios (which was the truth- I did). But – because I knew the power of questions, I followed up with one: “Why do you ask?”
“T.I. is having a listening party tonight. I was going to tell you to come.”
And just like that, my entire evening changed. It went from going to Patchwerk Studios for a session, to stopping by the Trap Museum to private party with T.I. and the Grand Hustle family and then hitting the studio.
I didn’t see that one coming. What really impressed me was that if I had not asked that question, I wouldn’t have ended up at T.I’s Dime Trap listening party at all. One question changed a whole series of events that followed.
5PiECE jokingly making use of the jail facilities
located in the Trap Museum during T.I’s Dime Trap listening party
How We Talk To Ourselves
I’ve come to realize that us humans are constantly having conversations with ourselves. During these moments, we are subconsciously asking ourselves questions, gathering information to answer them and ultimately making decisions.
For example, usually when you are hungry, you eat or find a way to eat. This is just natural behaviour in the first world. However, on a subconscious level, what we’re actually doing is asking and answering the following questions to ourselves:
“Am I hungry?” (YES/NO)
“Do I want to eat right now?” (YES/NO)
After answering these questions – we’ll determine pretty quickly what happens next. If we’re hungry, and we feel like eating, then we’ll proceed to another set of questions – this time branching out from a simple yes or no into a more intricate answer such as the type of food we want, where we will get the food from, etc. Some questions might be:
“What should I eat?”
“What can I eat?”
(for those with dietary restrictions or limited options)
“What can I eat at home?”
(for the cost conscious person or person that doesn’t want to travel to eat)
“Where can I go out to get food?”
(for the person who has nothing to eat at home, wants convenience, etc.)
These questions then get answered (subconsciously again) and then another set of questions come up until we’ve gathered enough information to make a decision, or move onto the next immediate concern – all within the blink of an eye.
What’s really interesting is that these conversations and questions don’t really happen consciously or out-loud. Our brain has automated this behaviour so most of our decision-making is on auto-pilot in the background. That is, until its challenged or presented with a unique scenario where there is no “protocol” to handle it subconsciously.
How To Use This To Your Advantage
What I’ve learned to do is control the narrative by consciously asking myself specific questions that will move me in a direction of my choosing. The key is to understand how to formulate the right questions that will serve you.
For example, lets say you joined a gym and wanted to get in shape, you may ask yourself in the morning, “Do I want to go to the gym today?” The answer could be yes, but it could also be no. This question leaves room for you to be lazy, find an excuse, and get out of it if you feel compelled enough. It is flawed from the beginning.
So lets try it again. What happens if you ask yourself “What am I training at the gym today?” This is no longer a yes or no question – the yes is now implied. You’ve now committed to going to the gym subconsciously, so the next choice you make will be what to train when you get there.
Questions That Translate into Creative Productivity
5PiECE making music at his private recording studio in Toronto, Canada
Questions can be powerful when it comes to creating and being productive. I find most of my production and writing sessions begin with one of two questions:
“What am I trying to make?”
(stylistically – for example a love song, a trap banger, a song for a specific artist, etc.)
“What if I did X?”
Substitute X for whatever you feel like and you have a really potent recipe. What if I started this beat with bass? What if I sampled this record? What if I took this loop, pitched it down and added a filter, then cranked the reverb? “What if” inevitably becomes “let’s find out”.
The process of creating music is basically making a series of decisions and committing to them. The key to arriving at decisions is using questions to get you there.
Some questions I like to ask myself when trying to finish a beat:
“Is this just a loop or is it arranged?” (LOOP or ARRANGED) > “Can I arrange this into a full song right now?”
“Is something missing?” (YES/NO) > “What does it feel like it’s missing?”
“Is there too much going on?” (YES/NO) > “What elements can I remove to make this less busy?”
“What will this ideally sound like when the an artist is on it?” or “What would I sing/rap on this if I were the artist?”
“What does this record feel like?” (referencing genre/style)
Here’s a more in-depth look at the thought process behind the questions you may ask when dealing with a production that is too repetitive:
“Does it feel like the same loop over an over?” (YES/NO)
“How do I add more variation?” (BRAINSTORM IDEAS)
“Can I create a B section for the lead sound?” (SPECIFIC IDEA PROPOSED)
“Lets create a B Section” (DECISION MADE)
There are many other questions – or prompts as I see them – that can be used when it comes to creating music, but these are a few that I rely on regularly on my own and during collaborations with other creatives.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
What’s great about questions is you can also use them to steer other people in a certain direction. This can be for better or for worse, depending on the person asking the question and the intent behind it.
For example, when recording with an artist, they may record a vocal take that I do not particularly like. Instead of expressing my negative opinion right away, I will play them what they just recorded and simply ask, “What do you think of this?”
If they like the take, I may ask a series of follow-up questions to make sure that they are making the best and most calculated choice. For example, I may point out a specific flaw in the delivery – “Do you think the way you said this word isn’t clear?” or I may point out a tuning issue “Do you like the way you sang this word despite it being out of key?” These are also usually reasons why I do not like the take.
More often than not, an artist will consider what I am asking and choose to do it over. All of this takes place without me ever actually stating my opinion, but rather asking carefully curated questions that help them arrive at an answer within my interest.
This can be used for better or for worse. In the above, it’s for the better. Artists tend to have a bias to the first thing they record and need a third-party to help push them in order to capture their best performance. Someone who is asking questions to challenge you in order to help you grow as a person is generally doing you a favor.
However, questions can also be manipulative. Slimy salespeople and door-to-door annoyances love to ask dumb questions that they know the answer to in order to advance their personal sales agenda:
“Would you like to save $X on your hydro bill?”
Of course you would– who doesn’t want to spend less money on bills? The problem is that they know the answer is an obvious one. By committing and saying yes, they are putting you in a tough spot to say no to their offer later.
“What do you mean you’re not interested? Didn’t you just tell me you want to save money on your hydro bill?”
These high-pressure questions centred on commitment and consistency are steering you into a position to feel obligated to purchase something you may not want, need or even consider had you not been approached on it. Robert Cialdini does a great job of breaking the psychology of this down in the “Commitment and Consistency” chapter of his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (highly recommend).
It’s obvious – I love questions. I unlocked the secret that questions help you in every way possible when used correctly – from creating opportunity, to helping you learn more, to making you more productive. The possibilities are endless once you embrace questions. The next step is to “collect” good ones and use them to empower yourself.