(This time I'm going to pass on music related world news. All I want to say is: some world we're living in. And fuck those guys.)
As I get to know my process better, the latest epiphany I've had is that, with my current workflow and equipment, it pays off to split the "rehearsal" concept into at least two different kinds:
1) Rehearsal for arrangements: once reached the demo stage (which I described in an earlier post, "demo" defined as song-can-be-heard-from-beginning-to-end), in this rehearsal I play each of the instruments time after time figuring out ways to flesh out things, adding variations, inviting serendipity to add findings...
2) Rehearsal for recording: once the arrangements have been fully decided, this rehearsal is about building the muscle memory necessary so that you can record the part in the least numbers of takes possible (because I hate editing; in an ideal world no creative person should be punished with this task)
This division helps you being more efficient because in each of those stages the focus is different, so they benefit from a different approach. When you are rehearsing for arrangements, goofing off is not only not a problem, it is almost a requirement. You try everything you can think of, test sonorities, do things just because... Accuracy at this point is not an issue, you're just exploring posibilities. A good analogy for me is seeing it as the rehearsals I used to have with my band; we played and played the songs and they got polished and "grew" by practice. Of course we didn't aspire to make them sound perfect at that point. We were open to discovery, and we had a blast with the process, too.
Here's a wonderful example of serendipity that I've experienced at this stage with one song: while recording a mockup guitar, just to test sonorities, I didn't make it to the second verse in time, and couldn't start strumming until a few bars later than where it was supposed. Well, guess what? That sonority, guitar muted and only voice singing over the rythm section during the second verse, turned out to give the song a change of vibe that works great; so the arrangmenet stays. I don't think I would come with that idea by myself. This is that 5% that always comes of "happy accidents" that I always love of making music.
For that same reason (you don't need accuracy), in this arrangements stage you can test all the effects and plugins that you want even if the latency makes the performance more "slimey"; doesn't matter at this point, you are testing the sonorities.
And then, once the arrangements are mostly decided and written down, then you move to rehearse for recording. There you aim for precision. In my case, it will imply recording the guitar via DI -so you get hardware monitoring through the soundcard, and therefore no latency-, and reamping the recording later. A bit unnatural, but the result is going to be tight as hell, so it's well worth it.
I'm in this stage right now, rehearsing a lot so that I don't generate a lot of "almost good" takes; like I say, I prefer this kind of repetition to the endless effort over soundwave forms, zooming, cutting and pasting, dragging... your mileage may vary.
I never was a big fan, but I respected Chris Cornell and I feel shocked by the news and compelled to say a few words in the light of this tragedy.
The circumstances surrounding this cannot be sadder: a musician in his 50s-killing himself no matter how you put it-with some dark medication stuff involved-when nothing seemed to show problems and there was even a new album from his seminal band in the wings.
Another factor that adds to the shock for me is that I always considered Cornell one of those members of the rock community who "played it safe", in a Foo Fighters kind of way. And this is not said as a criticism, I think the forest needs all kinds of birds and trees, and it's a good thing for the whole if there are a few bands out there that go mainstream and fill stadiums and are listened to and considered acceptable by the "stiffer ones". Different human views create different kinds of music and flavors, and to me both the stances "hey people, this world fucking sucks let's change it", and the one that goes "I'm going to have a professional musician career, let's try this rock field, it looks like fun", are perfectly valid, as long as the songs are there. The results, in the end, are that new music is being made.
I valued Cornell mostly as a performer, his very recognizable vocal style (the way he phrases at the end of "Like a stone" gives me instant chills every time). As a composer, I liked "Black Hole Sun", "Spoonman" and "Break my Rusty Cage". The titles may be approximate because like I say I never was a giant fan, although many of my friends swore by Soundgarden.
I never knew he was having such a difficult time, with anxiety medication, or that he had been into heavy addiction. In any case, all I can say is this is total shit. This is the XXIst century, being in your 50s is still being young; he had a lot to contribute and the world really needs distinct voices, models like his. No matter if he really meant to kill himself or it was some kind of drug-induced hypnosis as the family seems to think, the motto "was found dead in his house/hotel room" is getting disgustingly common among musicians, I think enough is enough.
A key factor of Lean is that it places a big importance on handouts.
(Or: if calling "Lean" to this way of doing things inspired by Ono & Co is pretentious, let's call it "systemic thinking", instead - Seeing everything there is to do like a process, a box or tube where you put something in at one extreme and get something out at the other.)
Only as long as each process is well defined you can be sure what the "out-put" will be, and therefore what "in" is the next process going to receive. This principle works exactly the same way when you're working in a factory, with the guy putting rubber frames on the car window that you just fixed with screws, and when you're just working with yourself, receiving a drum track you just recorded, on top of which you're going to add a bass track; if such drum track is handed to you under a certain fixed, predefined parameters, if you know what to expect beforehand, it will make your work easier. And that is what we call standards.
I love standards. There's nothing "robotic" about setting standards. They are like lines in the sand, useful to divide infinity, which drives human crazy and makes them feel helpless, into chunks upon which you can exert your intelligence. Standards create the space where freedom happens. And the moment they no longer are useful, you just erase the line on the sand and put it somewhere else. No big deal.
A big problem I've been facing as prolific composer is enormous amounts of inventory; half baked songs, recordings everywhere, loose notes, what have you. And inventory is the black beast of a Lean production, a continuous source of problems. For me as a musician, it is like a grey storm cloud always on top of my head. How to tackle all that stuff?
Another big problem with inventory, of course, has always been the losses; I experienced a very painful one yesterday. But I'd like to think it's been the straw on the camel's back; I was going to check a couple of songs I demoed about 2 years ago, with that particular kind of joy that you get with that stuff that at the moment you needed to walk away from for a while, but now you want to revisit with enormous curiosity. The horror! I found that the "Born to Ruin" folder was empty, surely victim of a hard drive failure that happened a year and half ago, while the only thing left of "Tough Luck" is some lyrics (which I like).
Out of this frustration, like I say, I've found the inspirational oompf I needed to concretize my system for good. I didn't want to rush it, I've written here before about the dangers of "false standardization", of standardizing too soon... And I've had many failed attempts before. How to divide all my musical production, which happens in so many media, at so diverse speeds, and which I don't want to give up but overwhelms me?
I've defined 3 buckets, and, here's what I've done different from other times, I've written definitions for each of them. Then I've checked, with trembling hand at first, my collection of materials. And the definitions have been changed, influenced by what I've found. In other words, I've planned, then done, then studied and adjust. The definition was mobile, a line in the sand.
The final definitions I've come up with are very simple, and open ended, nothing revolutionary, but boy do they orient my production now:
1) Fragments: "Jams, melodies, small promises..."; minuscle, isolated fragments that have "something"
2) Pre-demos: Still can't be listened as a song from begining to end, but they contain differentiated motifs already. E.g. "that mockery samba of which I only have 2 verses", "that song that is going to be called X and I know for sure what will be about". They are entities on their own, I can refer to them already, they provide guidelines about in which direction to grow when the moment comes.
3) Demos: protosongs. Already can be listened from beginning to end as songs; these are the material to HAND OUT to the next stage, which I currently call "studio" (the more appropriate term would be "production", in the sense of "generation of a product", but production in audio is used in a different sense, so it would be confusing).
I like the definition of demo because it is at the same time clear and flexible; "going from beginning to end" will be done in many cases using planks where we intend to build stone bridges later, there is a certain percent of composition that will still happen during the recording stage, different for every song. What the standards do here is, as usual, taking a lot of decisions out of the way, leaving my brain and my heart available for far more interesting and valuable work.
After having this division figured out, it has been simply impossible not to organize all my stuff under these criteria. The "Fragments" folder is huge, but now I know where to find everything, and getting there and creating (or rather: finding) new subdivisions in the future, is no longer something I dread, but something I look forward to.
I've even taken a pre-demo song and "activated" it, knowing that what I was doing was initiating the effort to take it to demo state. With these considerations in place, the task was no longer an unfatomable thing; I've gone on until that state in which I know I have to let it cool down.
And later, just because, I've rehearsed and recorded a part of some song that travels with me for some years, under the happy notion that I knew perfectly where that recorded material was going to go, and where to find it later when I want to move to demo.
I'm so happy with this realization that I wanted to share it... Of course, each step builds the next one so when I read this post in say 6 month's time, I'll find all of this inexact and movingly obvious and rookie, but boy what a change, what a high when artistic creativity and creativity in process design support each other...