Every art form has a learning curve. When you see these clichés, you don’t have to look any further to know someone is an amateur.
Film & Photography
The 180 Rule – Imagine an invisible line drawn between two actors who are speaking. This is the line of action. Don’t cross it. Keep the camera on only one side of that line.
Rule of Thirds – Divide the image into 3rds, vertically and horizontally. Place your subject along those intersections.
Focus – To draw attention to the subject, keep it in focus, let everything else be out of focus.
Cropping – Crop to the action. Unless it’s for a special effect, get rid of useless space.
Action – Non-moving, directional objects (guitars, swords) should face the center of the page. To convey motion, face it towards the outside of the page.
Speaking – Don’t lick your lips, clear your throat, adjust your hair & clothing, or say “um.”
Hide – Don’t go out on stage until you’re ready to start performing. It ruins the mystique.
Surprise – Don’t noodle the first few notes of the song before you play it. Don’t say the song name, either. Let the audience react in the moment. Unless you make a gag out of it like Ween: “This song is called Fat Lenny. By Ween.”
Tuning & Testing – Don’t tune and test your gear in front of the audience, while everyone waits. Don’t tap the mic and say, “Check. 1, 2. Testes. Can you hear me?” Have someone else do it before you go out there.
Mind Your Own Business – Avoid looking at your bandmates while playing, especially when a mistake is made. Nothing screams amateur like, “Everyone ready for the change? Here it comes… and…” If you’re a drummer, don’t do that “leaning back and getting ready to sneeze the chorus on everyone” face.
Typography & Layout
Scaling – Don’t stretch your type horizontally or vertically.
Drop Shadow – Never use it, unless it’s necessary to separate the element from its background or to add depth against something. Black type on white background = please, just leave it alone.
Unity – Use fonts in the same family. Never mix more than two typefaces, unless you need to “break the reality” of the page. It’s acceptable when you need to quote an external work, such as a screenplay.
Contrast – Vary the sizes, weights, and tints & shades of your elements. On the art board, size is relative. Big is only big when it’s next to something smaller.
Never, ever, ever use Comic Sans, Papyrus, or Hobo. When you can help it, avoid Helvetica, Times, Impact, or any font that is installed by default.
Use sentences of different lengths, so people don’t get bored. Like this. See?
Don’t repeat yourself.
Avoid adverbs. Choose a verb that doesn’t need decoration. “Tony ran really, really fast all in one single, quick, instant burst, like a hungry, starving, desperate cheetah after prey in the brutal wilderness” becomes “Tony sprinted.” If the action isn’t inherently interesting within context, tell a different story.
Don’t bold, italicize, underline, and colorize every sentence. If your writing is concise, you won’t need to make the important sentences stand out from all that crap you wrote.
Don’t try to sound smarter and more professional than you are, especially if you don’t know what the words mean.
Music / Audio Recording
Trimming – Unless it’s intentional to add charm, attitude, or humor, trim the beginnings and ends of your sound files to get rid of pops, swallowing noises, your fingers rubbing against the strings, and extra breaths.
Posture – Don’t cock your head down and sideways to look at your hands when playing guitar.
Effects – Only use them on purpose to create… an effect!
Melodic Contour – Melody should have peaks and valleys, and only hit the highest note ONCE. It’s called The Focal Point. Ever notice that a vocalist sounds like a pro when singing a cover song, but their originals hit the same 3 notes? (It’s usually the tonic, b3 and b7 over a major chord. Ugh.)
Scrubbing – Don’t strum the guitar strings up and down for the duration of the song. Vary your rhythm. Hold some notes. Leave some space. Drummers also commit this sin, and it’s called Double-Dribbling. Don’t alternate between the Snare and Kick on every 8th note as if they’re of equal value.
Of course, these can all be broken, but only on purpose. (And at the risk of looking like you made a mistake.)
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