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...)
Reiterating the theme of my previous post, I've come to think that the activity of music making, particularly when you're doing it all on your own, is particularly prone to depths in which it is easy to get lost; if you want, you can polish anything to infinitum. There it is for example "Chinese Democracy", a record started with one foot still on the CD era and other in the Internet times... or all those terrifying forum posts where a guy reports that he's presenting the song he's been working on for 15 years... (What do you do next after completing a cycle like that? Maybe they implode like that guy in the movie Scanners...)
The solution to these lingerings (unless you like to linger that much) has been mentioned often and is one of those things that are at the same time both simple and hard to do: before stepping in, make sure you put a stake on the ground; define what you want to reach today. This far from earth-shattering revelation is particularly important in music making. Set the point, and give your best shot to reach it.
This connects with my aforementioned experiences in the latest recording sessions. The other day, for example, I set as the goal for the day to finish a full "live demo", a musical piece that could be listened to from beginning to end. It's the song I'm composing right now, which will very probably be called "Born to ruin", and I needed to patch up the scattered fragments I had into some kind of "whole" to determine what is in excess and what is still lacking.
I reached the end of the session having recorded that "something". I got to the end, but, I felt, at what price. How many times I thought I was lame, I had "cheated", etc...
And yet, returning to the recording the next day, once you take away all the wood chips, cover the microscope, and just press play and let it flow, I found that the result wasn't bad, wasn't bad at all. In fact, some of the "errors" turned out to be very cool and will help me complete the song in ways I would have never expected. The session, the self-imposed mission of "reaching to the other side" was about generating "material", in the same way a silk worm generates silk, leaving the judgmental machine on standby and just having fun. And I'm so glad that I ignored laziness and self-doubt and did it... As usual, my intuition knew much better than me.
The other day, as I advanced through my daily ordeal with mixing and mastering (the song in the works is "Empty roads", also referred to, if you read my last year's activity logs, as "the power ballad"), the other day like I say, something that happened made me remember a joke I once heard in a movie: "All the women I slept with were beautiful... but some I woke up with were quite ugly..."
In fact, the situation that brought the witty observation back to mind worked in the reverse order in my case; I closed a session that sounded like a train wreck to me, and yet the next day, when I reopened it and did the first listening with fresh ears, I found everything way nicer than I expected. I slept with the ugly one and woke up with the beautiful...
Perhaps due to things like that, my mix+master fuse for this song blew short after and I've had to let it cool down and wait for two days doing different stuff. I'll resume the works tomorrow, hopefully for a final oomph that takes it to the desired results or at least to a certain state I've defined called FTS, which stands for "fuck this shit", any of which outcomes will tell me the song is ready...
What you try to do with any productivity system is creating a way of balancing factors that produces the biggest advance and profit. An economy of forces (if I remember correctly, "economy" comes from ancient Greek oikos-nomos:care of the household). You place strategically openings and restrictions, so that the result of the whole propels you forward in the best way. An opportune metaphor here could be the steam machine: you have to manage fire and water. Not enough fire and you won't generate steam, the machine won't move. Too much fire and you'll run out of water too soon; you have to balance the factors.
In my discreet home recording adventures, I've tried drawing the line at many places, labeling in a lot of creative ways, always looking for the most cost effective way of keeping the machine rolling. My latest discovery, which I've mentioned before because it seems to stick nicely, is the fun/non-fun division.
This tension between fun and non-fun factors seems to be working as a great fuel for my machine. As I've also mentioned before, this is a dynamic kind of tension, as tasks can be born fun and then become non-fun, and viceversa, and so on in a perpetual dance, so it's important to stay open and flexible.
Here are the standard definitions I use as of today:
* Fun: things that I feel pulled to do, they don't require willpower. I go into them out of curiosity or wish of gratification, not thinking how long they are going to take, and not expecting necessarily a result out of them (if such result comes, for example, if out of the fun of playing guitar comes a riff and then a song, that's a nice bonus, but the moment you go into the thing with "I have to come out of today's session with a finished song", it stops being fun).
* Non-fun: in the realm of music making, things that I don't feel compelled to do, but I do feel compelled to get the outcomes they provide. My most notorious example: mixing and mastering. It drags me and tires me in many ways having to go through my own song over and over, but at the end of the process you have a presentable song that you can show to the world, and I do want that result.
Some other of my findings after a few months of following this division are:
* Non-fun tasks, surprise surprise, are overwhelmingly more in number than the fun ones (at any given time, because like I say they shift their category non stop). The best way of facing this is staying calm and applying the eat the elephant principle, and doing something non-fun every day (using a timer or other trick if you need to), so that those tasks do not become in your mind more dreadful than they really are. Also, there is a principle used in budgeting that I think is also relevant here: "embrace your real expenses". Don't just turn your back on things like distribution, promotion, etc, until the day you are "ready", "more liberated", etc, because if you turn your back on them you'll feel them staring at you every second from behind. Add them to the non-fun pile, do a bit of them when you can, and get the benefits of the synergies.
* Typical fun tasks: in my case, playing and recording just-for-me stuff, is something I could do forever. Also, those tasks that have a novelty halo: trying a new program for the first time... But once the novelty is gone, the moment you face a serious hurdle, the task will bump into a non-fun item; "wow, this program is so cool, but how the hell do you install the midi drums..."
On the contrary, sometimes tasks that started being boring for me (e.g. certain sessions of EQ or gorilla artwork) have turned into fun once I've got into the "zone" (and even though those tasks will never qualify among my favorite things to do).
* The discipline of doing something fun every day is just as important as with the non-fun stuff (and sometimes, just as challenging!)
* Two filters for non-fun tasks: out of a pile of non-fun tasks, there are two additional filters that help me choose more easily what to tackle.
First: the non-fun task that is closest to the "finish line" (=song published), gets done first.
Second: the "fuse" safety principle. This principle overrides the first. Sometimes I get saturated and have to stay away for a few days from certain tasks. The prototypical example is working so long in a song that you've lost all reference of how good or bad it sounds. Ignoring the fuse is looking for trouble, as the chances are you won't make a good job when you're so burnt out and just trying to advance out of obsession or stubbornness.
Until here a portrait of my inner dynamics for making music as of today. The latest song took me 5 months to complete (considering that it underwent special circumstances like a change of computer, being an intricate song, etc...) The song I'm currently finishing to mix has been in the works for 2 months now, and my guess is at the current pace it will be finished in 15 days (I was going to say a week so I multiplied it by 2, ha...) I see this as an advance, and I think the next ones will take less and less time, as my processes consolidate...
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it