I don't know if this is a universal feature of creative people, but I get very cranky when I'm not working in new stuff of some kind (music above all, but also writing, DIY gadgets, computer scripts, lately some video...)
The way I've come to see it is that my intellect, mind, ego, give it the name most suitable to your preferences, I mean that "inner voice" with a tendency to ramble that some of us have, needs something to chew on. I've read in several places the analogy that compares intellect to a dog, always in need of some "bone" to get busy on.
If you give the dog a few snippets of melody and words, it will chew and chew and at the end it may happen that you end up with a song. In the worst case scenario, at least you got the dog entertained, and leaving you alone, for a few hours. The same with a plot for a short story. The same with an idea for a videogame. For a mural on a wall for those who paint... Etc.
If you don't offer the dog some of those tasty morsels, however... Then guess what, it will chew on whatever it can find inside your head. And that's where paranoia, hypocondria, storymakings of all kind start to flourish, depending on each head's bearer particular characteristics. Not much to show at the end of such chewing, only a human being ruining one more day of his/her life in solitude and obsession.
I guess this is what the saying "an idle mind is the devil's workshop" points to. I also remember an entry in Charles Baudelaire's journals that said something like "The only piece too big to tackle is the one you don't start. That one torments you endlessly".
I have a feeling that there is some of this "devil at work" in those news you hear about some A list musician involved in legal quarrels for silly things, absurd feuds with band members, coming to and fro of accusations and versions of some worn out story... Huge reserves of talent and creativity, perverted in an extensive "soap opera", that would have found a better use in launching 3 or 4 whopping albums in one year... (even things like reunion tours are only remedial in my view, for sure those must be an incredible adrenaline kick, but there's no new stuff, no growth, no release for the creative energy.)
Like I said at the beginning, I don't think this tendency is universal; I'm sure some very damn good and successful musicians out there don't feel this kind of periodic "itch", and just see creativity as something they can "milk" on demand, when the time and the right offer arrive. But for sure there are a lot of unnoticed "dogs" on the loose out there, and if you're in that kennel it's a good way to give yourself a kick in the pants: whenever you think you're obsessing too much about something you shouldn't, perhaps that is the sign that you're not creating enough. The moral: don't starve your dog, he might stop being your best friend :)
A few videos of Nick Menza playing with what would be his final band, Ohm, have given me the occasion to remember how rare of a talent he was (and mourn the tragedy of his loss at such a young age). Here are a few observations of mine as I listened to this material.
One thing I've always loved about Menza's style is that it is filled with "air", that his cymbals "breathe", especially in the slow parts. This "breathe" is part, in my view, of what gives its peculiar flavor to the whole "Countdown to Extinction" album, and is also present in these pieces. It's perhaps Menza's most recognizable style feature, if I had to pick one (that, and standing up to do the tom rolls :) ). I don't know how to express it, it's like he "plays in 3D", his cymbals paint a picture for you, something that is alive and organic and evolves, like a forest. I've never seem anything nowhere near by other drummer.
Another thing I enjoy about his playing is that it is "tectonic"; it feels always very grounded, steady on the floor, like a house's main column. Even though the music can get very frantic, the hits going in all directions, he always feel "rooted", steady, like a mountain surrounded by a storm keeps being a mountain. Here's a homemade theory of mine: perhaps it has to do with the fact that he was a short guy, i.e., closer to the floor, i.e. the toms closer to the floor and providing more "rumble", and this added to his superb playing style? This is not enough to prove anything, but there is a point of contact there with Faith No More's drummer, "Puffy" Bordin, also a short guy with a tremendous power to summon elephant stampedes when the moment demands it (and at the same time, both are very nuisanced and rich drummers too).
Another thing that astounds me about Nick's style is his rolls. To me he is perhaps one of the clearest cases of a drummer who is also a musician; this sounds like a play on words, but sadly, a lot of drummers feel really "binary", like human rhythm boxes. In Nick's rolls, on the contrary, you feel, besides the punch and the impeccable execution, there is also gusto on every note. And yes, I say note, not hit. Perhaps that's the thing a lot of drummers forget: each piece of the drum kit "sings" a note. I don't know if Menza got traditional formation, but I do know that he came from a musical family; an advantage I've always regretted not having. Those who have been raised in musical families have like a different familiarity and ease with their instruments, you just can tell. And you can tell he really plays seriously, in the present moment, he's not just "going through the movements". Other drummers, even some that I really admire, feel like they were driving a high precision car or dodging bullets, rather than enjoying themselves.
I have to say one more thing, however, I noticed in these videos. Nick's style and playing was great, unique and enjoyable. But I thought it was exactly as great, as unique and as enjoyable as it was 20 years ago, when I saw him live.
This is a problem a lot of musicians have, I think, and perhaps it happens in other professions as well. Every human being needs "stretch goals" to keep them motivated. Otherwise you stagnate, and that is bad for the psyche. We need a challenge, the next sucker we're gonna get. Who knows, perhaps by playing the kind of fusion jazz Ohm does, he was looking, consciously or unconsciously, for some opening of this kind. Sadly we will never know how it would have evolved beyond these first steps...
(Note: potential spoiler alert -of a movie that I think pretty much everybody has seen, but who knows...)
The whole plot of the first "Back to the future" movie revolves around the heroes' attempt to generate the energy blast required for the time traveling car to work, so that Marty McFly can go back to his time. To generate the tremendous discharge required, Marty and Doc Brown come up with the idea of conveying a lightning into the car at the designated moment; they can do that because they know when a lightning is going to strike, due to Marty's knowledge of the future.
I think it is by now notoriously well known that Marty McFly succeeds (he also invents rock and roll along the way). Then, in the movie's final scene, opening way to the sequel, Doc Brown appears out of nowhere in a modernized version of the car, and tells Marty to come with him in a new time travel, this time to the future. But this time, to create the energetic discharge for the travel, Doc just goes to a trash can, picks some items (a banana peel, if I remember correctly), inserts them in the car mechanism, and they are good to go. No lightning is required anymore.
I have a feeling that the script writers of that movie were in some way familiar with the scientific method. Or maybe it was just something embedded in their culture in the moment of writing. US, after all, was the father of the Training Within Industry programs, which after WWII evolved into Lean, so there's evidence to show that that kind of thought (scientific method, continuous improvement) is strongly rooted in that country, or at least in some of their individuals.
I remember that banana peel often, mostly when I discover one of my processes turning a bit obsolete. It's a funny and bittersweet sensation, how many times I've thought some way of doing this or that was the be-all-end-all of speed and effectiveness (a list, a layout, a job breakdown, some sort of kanban board...), only to find it a bit later, giving it enough time, well, not very impressive anymore, in fact movingly rookie, cumbersome, Rube Goldberg-ish...
The cause is that iteration after iteration of the process have improved my skills and my training to a new normal, which again, now seems top notch but, giving it enough time it will seem outdated, rookie, etc... All the knowledge, all the errors, all the experiences, are added to the new process, where now I get the same results without requiring the lighting, all it takes is a banana peel (and even that, the banana, is only the basis for the next improvement!). However, of course, the lightning stage was required before the banana was possible...
Dear readers, wake up from your asleep because I want you to experience Big Bang... Here is Zlad! (shortname for Zladimir? Or maybe in the future we don't use long names anymore), who has seen the future and it is electronic-supersonic...
One of these days I'm going to get me a stage persona, and this guy is going to be in the very epicenter of my influences...
Lately I've been watching a lot of what we could call "alternative" stuff. Everything works for me as long as it is not the usual hogwash of a guy trying to look as similar as possible to the 30,000 guys that preceded him. Maybe I'm taking courage to make my own videos at some point?
My material situation, last time I checked, was not very good. (I have my residence in the clouds and hardly go down there, but sometimes you just cannot avoid it.) Making music, in a world of noise, has become a pure endeavor of stubbornness. I cannot not do it, I think if a laser ray fell on me and there were only one cell left of my being, that cell would still try to make some percussion noises with a ribosome or something. But the scope has to change.
The headphones I used for (retained laughter) "mixing", the (retained laughter) "good ones", have blown and I'm in the middle of nowhere, with no possibility to get others. All I have is shitty 3€ earbuds. As if I didn't have a huge bottleneck already with mixing and mastering without the technical difficulties. The possibility of publishing this year the two albums I've been carrying around for a long time, is (again) seriously endangered. Not that it matters to me too much at the moment, life seems to be taking a serious dump on me lately (but I don't want to take it personally, maybe it's a collective thing, I don't see a lot happening on the good side of the spectrum for anyone), so most of my energy goes to, you know, that survival thing. Yet, I still feel happy and grateful that I can keep on making music at any level, something that wasn't possible at all at other shitty moments of my biography (I've had the worst decade ever).
The solution this time has come to me in the shape of renewing my relationship with those great folks at Wikiloops. If you don't know the site, it is great, you just browse among different tracks from people, and when you find something that tells you something, download it, add your instrument of preference, and upload the new track. And it is not difficult to find tight tracks and good musicians, given that you have the whole gamut of the planet to choose from.
It's funny working in this way; having to fit yourself to tracks other people have made shows you portions of your talent that you wouldn't normally have access to. Songs you wouldn't have written, but which ask you to sing or play in a different manner, to look at yourself in a different mirror. There are things I've made there of which I'm quite proud, and this reminds me of Jimmy Hendrix, how the guy, it seems, always tried to jam with EVERYBODY in sight. Perhaps he did it for something like that. Self discovery.
Technically, it is also a relief, as you feel you are among friends -the gamut also goes from very harsh equipment, e.g. "sandpaper guitars" like mine, to more polished stuff, but I have a feeling most of people there, like me, give a secondary importance to sound crafting, second to the songs content and the fun. From a practical point of view, what this represents for me is that I'm no longer producing songs, but single tracks, which is easier and gives me a great feeling of advance as stuff comes out of the pipeline. Plus it gives me that pinch of recognition that we all need not to die of cold (what a feeling when someone gives a "horns up" to your solo!), and allows me to improve my basic production systems until I have them nailed to "wax on wax off" levels.
Personally, I'm happy of how I've tried to make the best of this situation, to adapt and look for new horizons instead of grouch. It seems to be in the nature of things that bad news come on their own but the good ones it is up to you to manufacture them. Anyways, the only thing permanent is change, so this state of things is not going to last either. On my way through adversity, I've met a community of peers; so there's a lot to like about this. Maybe it's all you can expect in the 21st century if you're a sentient being who does music.
The fun/non-fun engine of two times keeps working fine for me in regard to music production. In fact I've found that any deviation from its paradigm is fictitious, it catches with you later.
The line between fun and non-fun is not only subjective but also highly fluctuating (like: day to day fluctuating), so sometimes you yield to pressures of the moment and say: "OK, this task is not really fun, but it's almost fun, or will quickly lead to fun..." This stretch is part of the production strategy, one more tool in your arsenal, but in the latest times I've overused it; becoming more and more obsessed with set deadlines and results (or to put the emphasis somewhere else, too sad for the sluggishness of the whole thing), little by little I've been slipping without noticing it into full time non-fun.
This excess has finally caught up with me. Luckily, the counterbalance in this case is a happy one, because it has lead me to internal and external research and I've come across a new "vein" of fun that I'm now exploring, and now I'm going to be making music only for my pure personal gratification for some time. In other occasions, however, the results of a strain of this kind can be not so happy, they can lead to demoralization and even lead you to store the instruments and "forget about the whole damn thing"...
I guess the analogy of application here is the kid who is learning to walk. He takes two steps, falls down. Takes one more step, he's sure now he's got it, he falls again. Of course he never stops standing up whenever he falls down. There's too much to learn up there, and besides he's had enough of crawling already.
I will surely forget again about the importance of having fun, and I also for sure will keep trying every time. When I come to think of it, having fun is very connatural to making good music, it's a deal maker or breaker, it blatantly shows in the results. A guy will never go to a chair manufacturer and say "hey dude, I want to complain, you had no fun the day you were making my chair, you just followed the procedure, went through the movements..." No mood signs can be inferred from the finished product. However, when a musician is not having fun, when he just "goes through the movements", you bet it shows, and it's not precisely a pretty sight...
I just don't know where else to put them! These jokes are a test of your degree of Lean obsession. If you don't get them, you're not a real Lean geek (and maybe that's a good thing...)
(By the way, I've noticed "Lean" is also a term used in bodybuilding, but this is about the Lean production methodology, so if you are the upcoming Ernie Scwartzebergson, sorry, this stuff is not for you...)
The most common paradigms of production in our time are Just in Time, Just in Case and Justin Bieber.
He had the knowledge, the skills and the passion, but no matter how hard he tried, no Lean company wanted to hire him. Was he cursed or what? Timothy Woods was starting to feel a bit concerned...
It is rumored that Jimi Hendrix was going to record a special version of "Hey Joe" for Lean fanatics that started like this: "Hey... junka, how are you going to level that load...?"
"Dear Lean consultant, is it true that if you practice Lean for enough years you become fluent in Japanese?"
In one of those sarcastic moves that life sometimes plays on you, there was a time when I had to work as a proof reader in a car reviews magazine.
It was just a pay the bills kind of job. The car fetish that people out there often have has never been a thing for me. I've always preferred means of transportation where I'm carried, so I have my mind free to think, my senses free to observe, and both my hands available for writing stuff in notebooks, facing contingencies easily, etc...
At this job, I was surrounded all day by world of car geeks, so let's just say that we had a few awkward moments. However, I became a good friend of one particular guy there. He was as big of a car geek as the others, and I'm not sure what was different that created that bind between us, but I have a few ideas. Firstly, something that helped was that we both could talk about things outside our One Thing, and also about "anything stuff", and we both had a healthy, non-toxic sense of humor. Sometimes people try to create too much of an identity out of the things that they do, and that certainly wasn't our case at all, and we both had the healthy habit of not taking ourselves too seriously.
But I think I've remembered him today because of something else, something he told me one day before going to an appointment he had for a test drive: "man, the thing is... I would do this shit for free".
It was not a happy comment at the time; I think the conversation was about working conditions, someone taking advantage of us... (yeah, I know; shocking, right?) There was also a bit of an undertone -that I myself know very well- of "I really can't help myself, I couldn't do things other way even if I tried, it's like I have no say in this..."
Now I wonder if maybe that was the thing that connected us the most. We were both devoted persons. To very different purposes, for sure (I think I never mentioned to him my musical endeavors, among other things because at that moment I was on hiatus), but both of us shared that personal consistency that results of having one focal point in your life. He "lived for that stuff", and I "live for this stuff", too. When you have that kind of premise in your life, the rest gets ordered and prioritized accordingly. And that shows in some way, and creates links that are not always made of words.
In the case of music, like most of the people out there, I actually "do this shit for free". Money is a recognition of value, and according to that "scoreboard", it seems our society concedes little or no value to it.
Not that I'm going to let that stop me, let's just follow the line of reasoning: if you don't make money with something, you do it in your spare time. That period of time associated to recharging, the time considered "lazy time". Here's where the difficulty arrives. How can you call "lazy" to being stuck to a screen for 10 hours in a row trying to make a song sound better? Well, that's the way it works. Such activity can have all the personal value you want, but if it does not have societal value it does not make money, and it is leisure, it is "lazy".
So color me lazy then, because those 10 hours are the ones I enjoy the most of any day. Even if I'm tired like a dog when I'm finished, even then, it's that kind of fatigue that is somewhat enjoyable too, that kind of fatigue that makes you feel you've earned yourself a good movie and a pizza, or a fatigue similar to the one that follows the sweet labors of love :)
I think what we have here is 1) a disagreement on the definition of value, and 2) the slightly slippery definition of what being "professional" means. On one side, when we hear that someone is a "professional" in X, we automatically think in someone who gets paid for doing X.
But now that musicians are no longer paid, or hardly, how do you differentiate a professional musician from a non professional one?
I have no answer to offer, but while this state of affairs lasts, I think the only criteria of professionalism we have available is persistence, pursuit. Here I remember an interview with the creator of the Reaper DAW, where he said he liked to make songs now and then, but usually after half an hour or so he considers it "good enough". He is not trying to be "professional" (but, as an aside, what a good thing is that a developer keeps in touch in that way with his own product!) Inversely, I can sometimes sit at the computer and research something I want to code, "wouldn't it be great if I could...?" I give it a few tries, and if it works awesome, but if it doesn't at some point I'm going to let it go and don't spare one more think on it. I prefer to carry in my head melodies, chord progressions, you know, that kind of stuff.
In the case of a programmer, on the contrary, I'm sure a kind of problem like that will stick to him, he'll carry it to bed and wake up with it in the morning, find what seems to be a solution during the shower, discard it as he spreads jam on the toast... Who knows, we'll never find out for sure because of the high regard computers have in our time, but perhaps he would even do all that stuff anyway if there was no money involved. I guess not all kinds of laziness are born equal...
(Note: when I speak about "musicians" here, I guess I'm thinking real musicians, musicians who make real music, today music, here-and-now music. Saying that a bunch of guys who play Abba covers are professional musicians is like saying that a guy who works at a morgue is in the hotel business... Ehm... well... Ok... Kindasorta...)
A recent trick that has helped me was creating deliberate "chaos" or "mess" areas in certain rooms. By doing so, you tacitly admit that 1) You are not (and you are not intended to be) perfect. 2) There is mess and chaos in your life. 3) Now you know where to find it.
Doing this has brought me great relief. Anything I don't know where it goes, anything I don't have the bandwidth to deal with right now, I know where to put it. Giving it a spacial location is something that connects with your "old brain", thousands of years of training of going to the tree that had nuts, getting your tools from under the correct rock... So it feels very natural and I think it gets some dopamine going.
With all the amorphous blobs corralled into one single spot, you can start to tackle "it" progressively, and what was once daunting becomes often a very nice and stimulating routine. By a few daily minutes of chipping away a couple of random papers, very often you liberate inventory (you become "richer", as you liberate resources that were tied up and producing nothing), and also, the test of time gives you great surprises and even insights about yourself.
An additional advantage of this trick is that, by putting all of it in one place, you get an instant visual control of your chaos levels. As it attracts its dark anti-tidiness matter, one day the initial folder may not suffice anymore and you may have to turn it into a "chaos box". The box perhaps into a "chaos area" in the room. Who knows, maybe you could get at some point to a whole room full of chaos. Still, it's just one room, you know the dimensions of your chaos, and you know where to venture when you have to maybe "rescue" something that suddenly has become important or urgent again.
The journey is also possible in the other direction; at the current pace, one of my chaos boxes will turn into a folder next week, I'm confident that the process of getting there keeps great surprises for me, and also, it feels great...
I suspect I'm "an enthusiast". Not necessarily of this or that. I'm an enthusiast as in I frequently get into enthusiasm. Etymologically, the word means "in God". To me, the state of enthusiasm is that state where things move on their own, where time and effort no longer exist.
Some of my objects of enthusiasm seem to remain stable, here to stay or at least part of a slower cycle; nothing makes me flow better than music. Making, listening and dancing to it. Maybe I'm biased because of how much I love it, but I consider it one of the highest things a human can do with his limited time. If a curious alien race would ask me, that's what I would present to them: "we are a shitty species in most of the areas right now but, here, this is what we call music"...
Other objects of enthusiasm do change. I guess another way of describing my enthusiasm is that I am a "deep diver": I fall in love with a subject and I submerge myself in it with passion, until I think I "get it". Generally the process works like this: I have a few introductory sessions where I think "um... Interesting... Peculiar...", but don't go beyond that. Then one morning, just because, I move to "Wait a minute! This is dynamite! Have to learn it! I want it! No time to lose!". Examples of this "revelation" in different moments of my life have been: Marvel comics, gore & terror films (the good ones, please, don't get me started), computer programming and videogames, literature, meditation techniques, certain psychology schools...
It seems I'm just wired this way. And another one that seems to be a keeper for me is what Womack and friends in the 90's named, with eternal hesitation forever and ever it seems, "Lean". Deming. TWI. Etc. The whole family. A set of techniques and work philosophies that turn whatever it is you want to do into sort of a dance. Sluggish into flowing. A tiny improvement into a time investment with great return. An "error" into something that makes you reach out for a fork and knife.
If these things float your boat, you are already suspecting analogies, trying applications that can benefit your music making. In this case, the particular application problems I encounter will not be of interest to you, you're too busy solving your own issues in your own processes.
And if these things say nothing to you, there's no way you find something useful in all my rambling about the virtues of these techniques. Nothing of this is new, and the information has been out there for a long long time.
I guess if I still write about this stuff sometimes is because I feel lonely, and putting it in words helps me see it in a different way. The sensible, suit wearing world of manufacturers and office workers who usually "do Lean" would see me as a loonie ("he does not do Facebook? Outrageous!"). Those who call themselves musicians probably think I'm just some sort of control freak. I'd rather share my words with someone who is into this stuff like me but... at least writing about it gives it some degree of expression. It's like I almost feel guilty of keeping this stuff all to myself. I don't know, it's strange...
(Incidentally, and although nobody cares, I'm currently very pumped up with an adaptation of TWI's Job Breakdown lists that could help me standardize my processes for good, plus a new look at visual workplace and 5S, where I think I've taken my understanding to +1. The good thing about this stuff is that -I think I've used the analogy before- you move on a spiral rather than a circle; each time you go back over an element you have a different "altitude", you always find something new, it's endless...)
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it