I'm usually very unusual in everything I do. Some people think that I do it on purpose, but I think more of some kind of astrological thing. For example, one thing that happens to me often is that I find very easy to do certain things that other people can't even think of, but the opposite is also true.
Taking this to the realm of music, I find that the problem I set out to solve and I was writing about in this blog, is only a problem for myself.
In a way, our current world is "dying of success"; technological success. Lots of eyes and neurons focused on the same field create excellency on that field, and that's what we've seen in the field of information management technology.
I wish we had a tenth of the same achievement in the moral field (and moral, from the latin mores, habits, includes artistic creation). In that realm we are in the most absolute of miseries. It's like a person with one leg of 10,000 tons and the other weighting 8 grams. No wonder we're in trouble. And the big leg, technology, keeps growing, while the other stays unattended. That's why all movies are superhero movies, and we have childish clunky moral codes of yore, a rotten boy-scout ethos for everyday life, and so on, in a world than more than ever could use some sensitivity and quality thought to tackle the tremendous problems is facing.
The "thing I do incredibly easily" is composing music. The thing that I find difficult and toilsome is the technology part. The world, like I say, operates inversely. My problem is to manage the incredible gifts of creativity; most of the musicians out there struggle to piece together something coherent enough so that they can fire up their ultramodern and fast equiment.
(There's more to all of this, but this is the "part of the elefant" that I wanted to tackle in this post).
So there's no use in having a public platform discussing matters that are only troublesome to me.
Culture, human sensitivity, nuance, are gifts I've cultivated for decades and preserved for believing in their value, sometimes paying a very high price in the personal sphere. As the world became more and more out of control, I felt like a guy who protects a baby in the middle of a flood.
It is that culture what makes me feel alive as an actual human being, with feelings and imagination and yearnings to become better every day and learn and do good deeds (actually good, not boy-scout like good). It is other humans, whom I feel as friends in many cases, who wove that treasure of culture that now I profit on, and that I try to contribute to.
All highly impopular concepts, but the good thing is if you asked me 20 years ago you would have got similar declarations from me, and it will probably be even more grounded in me in 20 years' time, if I'm still around. I'm a person with a purpose, something that most of the high-tech-gurus+moral-imbeciles out there are horribly lacking and suffering the consequences of.
Funny and probably not casual that all these transformations coincide with the "technical revolution" I've been experiencing in my musical equipment, section sofware. It's been like a marathon of programs and tests, with the final result, to my amazement, that I've solved for the first time certain roadblocks that I've been suffering as "givens" since I resumed my musical activity in 2009. Maybe that's why I can see more clearly the role of technique and my relation to it in the whole puzzle.
The final consequence of all of this is: I love Lean, I want it to thrive, I wish I had a time machine to go to my past self and tell me hey stop wasting your time and check this shit... But you can't "do Lean" to others; so my teaching must be my results; just in the same way as in the 80s a group of US researchers went to Japan to study how come a clunky company nobody cared about a few years ago was now snatching market and outsmarting all the competitors.
So from now on, my Lean teaching becomes "teaching by example". Which will also take a lot of learning from my part. God I love this stuff. PDSA forever!!!
What becomes the role of this blog then? 2 modest premises at the moment. Firstly, the habit of writing a sporadic post will probably continue for a while, as the inertia of the weekly habit wears off. But I'll do it without space or theme constraints, only for my personal gratification. I like listening to myself thinking aloud.
Secondly, until I have a different platform or modify this one, the blog will also be updated when the occassion comes with the more traditional promotional content of the kind album finished, song available, etc... I yield to the "commercial" meaning of .com.
It goes without saying, but, as always, these premises are only steady until they become substitued by the better ones that will come with future experiences. That's how this works :)
I've just finished doing some mixing, for the first time in ~10 days. I hope this system stays stable, in fact I hope this is the last time I have to do reinstallings in this machine (to which I wish a long and prosperous life, btw).
Anyways, so far so good.
Each day I feel less certain about the point of this blog. At first it seemed like a good idea because it was something nobody was doing; trying to apply Lean thinking to the realm of musical creation. But the thing is, even in realms where Lean is a more common term, those Lean sites and articles are more often than not preaching to the choir. Their role (and very good at that) is keeping the morale high, creating a supportive community of practice, and also point you to the right tool or the right sensei when you are learning. But in all of them you will find often mentioned that: 1) You learn Lean by doing, not by reading about it, and 2) You cannot "do Lean" to someone. Its about practicing until one day it changes you.
In this realm of music, with Lean being such a weird occurence, there isn't even an actual choir to preach to. Most of the musicians who potentially read this will just think that I'm just micromanaging, or embarked in some kind of "heroic artist" fantasy; it saddens me that they won't get anything else out of this, but also it saddens me because effort is a valuable resource and I'm at a point where I have to be strategic about where to put it.
The value that this blog still keeps for me is the other issue that got me started in the first place; putting my thoughts out there sometimes helps me clearing them; the translation process has a value too.
But at the same time, as I've seen happening with many Lean transformations, as my processes become more stable, I'm becoming more self-centered, more "happily obsessed" about my current problems, my challenges, the next experiment, the next target state... Willing to share my discoveries at any moment, sure, like most of good Lean practitioners are. There is something intrinsically good, intrinsically human to this method of working, and it's hard to disagree that the more we could spread it around the better. But it has to be a pull, not a push from the guy with the "brilliant idea"; in other words, putting my stuff out there in a random manner is probably not a worthwhile pursuit in the way I've been doing it so far, so I'm going to do some hansei and out of the reflection I'm pretty sure some changes in the standards will arise. I just want to be useful, I cannot afford the luxury of not being useful anymore. Soulsearching is in the horizon.
Creating music is an organic process, part of which is uncontrollable and mysterious (as a good mental practice, I take good care of reminding myself very often that here I'm the lightning rod, not the lightning, and I pity those musicians who see it otherwise).
I had an example of such uncontrollability this very morning, when in the first mists of awakening I overheard distinctly an instrumental tune. I wasn't feeling particularly musical this morning, in fact I was like "What? Now? Couldn't you come back on Thursday?"
Anyways, at this point I've gone through the process lots of times already, so I knew the drill; I can moan all I want about it, and it's true that it's cold outside the blankets, and that I have to pee, and I'm hungry, but that chunk of music in my head at that moment is like a beautiful figure of ice that is melting quickly as I stroll, and in the crucial period before it leaves, all that matters is if I will get to make a sketch of it accurate enough so that it makes more sense for me later, when I have actual neurons to work with.
My startegy for today, when this happened, was running in my head quickly the beginning of a small PDCA cycle, the Plan part, listing:
1) Tools I will need this time: unplugged guitar + the tablet. Recording software in the tablet: this piece absolutely absolutely required recording 2 tracks (sometimes 1 will do), so the "2 Track Recorder" Android app
2) How to go about rehearsing; this one is always a balancing act depending on the technical difficulty of the music given. On one hand, any time you spend rehearsing before pressing Record is ice melting time, and mistakes and forget creep in (in this particular song, I lost a crucial bass arrangement; I'll never know how it was, so I had to replace it with an alternative that I also like, but which I'm sure is not as good the original).
The other option is start to record from the get go and record all the mistakes in, like "rehearsing live" until you finally get the parts right. The risk here is that in such a long track, when you have to relisten to it after some time has passed, the actual real riffs and structures you wanted to play appear diluted among a lot of "almost there" fragments, and it's sometimes hard to differentiate. Also, when you have two tracks you want to record like in this case, it's not practical to record such long fragments.
I'd estimate this time I got away with a 12% loss of initial material (pretty much my average rate I think, of course a metric like this is going to be obligatorily subjective). The remaining, nevertheless, works, is alive, is something that I "get" when I listen to and want to work on. This time the song was saved.
Under such a regime of providers (but don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful problem to have, in fact I've worked my butt off for years in order to have it :) ), it's not strange that I the True North goal I've set for myself, that goal so over the top that might take several reincarnations to achieve or even never happen, is producing one song a day, from conception to publication, with studio quality.
Let alone my current goal of one song a month meeting my current technical limits, which are still modest. In this goal I'm quite off track right now, in contention mode. March didn't have its song, the song is almost there, it's going to sound great, but I'm flooded right now with "technical difficulties"; it turns out at a certain point my audio distro gets more and more laggy as you add new tracks and effects, and the song has become unstable to the point that it's an agony to work with it. So everything is recorded and half produced right there, trapped in the works of a shaky cage, a system that beeps and farts with everything I attempt, so I've been forced into a technical detour (non value added activity) to study which will be the best replacement.
I'm probing the waters, attending the "hosts" (bandits?) that my process meets along the way, and "one song a month" is perhaps becoming gradually a measurement stick rather than a goal. I really don't know right now; I haven't given it up completely, I'll still stick to trying to deliver this one in April, but it all depends on what happens in the upcoming days or weeks; I'm not going to try to ship at any cost, only to pretend I'm ready when I'm not, just to fulfil a stupid metric that was arbitrary to begin with. Let's hope the technical gods are on my side this time, and that I pick the right battles. Better lucky than good any day.
The good news with this method as I often mention is that whenever I solve a problem, it gets solved for good. Going slow to go fast. I read that whenever Toyota opens a new plant, at first the flow stops every little minutes due to the calls to solve some problem; this can last for months, but the final result is that when the flow smoothens at last, so much problems have been solved that they have the same high standards as the other more experienced plants; they took the time to think deeply and look at the root causes, didn't yield to the temptation of skipping of "fake solving" any problem.
It dawned upon me some time ago, and I've had abundant opportunities to test it in this home recording stuff of mine.
The unexpected guest in my plans to record stuff was, guess what, inventory! The black beast of Lean. And for good reason. What a source of headache having 25 half baked songs in a folder! You get different formats from different versions of a program, files that get lost (or take forever to be found because they were filed under different systems...)
I'm a good finisher in other creative areas (writing, for example). So I don't think it's a case of "quitting when the going gets touth". Rather, the matter with music is that you need to cool off things longer to recover perspective, so easily you start fooling around with a new song while you wait to erase the impression of having listened to the previous 5,000 times in a row in search of pops and cracks. Add to that the whimsical nature of musical inspiration, and you're blown. Wowsers. 25. When I think of it...
But I'm better now because the light has been finally focused upon the problem.
This comes to mind because my current song in process is something that I started 6 months ago, and then abandoned... in this case for physical reasons, so pretty justified, but the effects of the cooling off have been as ugly as usual; I'm finding that it's much easier to start a new song from scratch than to resume one that was left in the works, so, as was expected, the nature of the problem has changed as I look into it, so now I have to study what happened and steer accordingly.
I used to be pissed every step of the way; "if only this stupid track didn't have that problem at the end, I would make my schedule". But that's the realization: those obstacles are not unexpected foes conspiring against your otherwise neat work. Those obstacles (borrowing the name from a recent book that I haven't read) ARE the work. You have to face them and only when you do that your work becomes real. Otherwise you live in "how things should be" land, a projection of your ideal process, that does not exist, so you cannot learn anything, and you live depressed. I'm glad I've made this realization more conscious lately, and I'm sure it will add to the personality of my future works, in some subtle way.