He who will define the future must investigate the past, so I like/have made a bit of a mission for myself to go through those VH1 Behind the music videos now and then. The overwhelming repetition that I've found has obliged me to reduce the dosage:
BUILD YOUR OWN BEHIND THE MUSIC KIT
1: "Nobody had ever listened something like them before"
(Declarations of friends and relatives saying how blown away everybody was)
Option A: However, fame soon started to pay its toll
Option B (minority): Unlike many other famous musicians, fame did not affect their way of living
Tragedy will soon strike in the form of:
A: Drug overdose of a member
Repeat (go back to A)?
Relapse? Y (go back to A)/ N
B: Tragic accident
So they decided to quit
A: for a while
B: for good
Until the reunion came
"We have all matured, etc..."
There's something dark about music. Mix it with lots of money, and you have an explossive cocktail. In the pre-supercomputer days, bands went on tour to promote an album (funny fact about Queen I read in a bio: their spectacular shows costed so much that they lost money in each gig, but it didn't matter because it all paid off generously in record sales - a different world, really).
Now the records, if anything, are a presentation card that you give away for nothing or almost nothing, to spread the name and hopefully get people interested in your shows.
An obvious consequence of that change in the model is that the cash ceiling that a musician can make has dropped, because jobs that oblige you to be there pay less than those on which you set a money making machine (the physical record as it was on its physical shelve) and then go to Malibu or whatever.
In any case, the good part is that, now that there's less money on the table for musicians, hopefully their life expectancies will rise. :)
As another funny fact, trying to get some rest from VH1's sameness, I found this documentary about Kaz Morimoto, the composer of the first Nintendo's games music (yeah, I was also attracted by the "Japanese connection", looking for some clues on Lean, too... I'm sure if Toyota decided to make videogames they would be awesome). Well guess what he used to cope with the pressure at one point... alcohol and drugs! (The documentary is a bit crappy but I found it very entertaining and informative).
It's been said that one tragic thing that repeats enough ends up becoming comic. But like I always say, I see a pattern here. Music is something we only partially understand, and there is a dark side to it. Enter at your own risk.
In wait of (and working towards) that glorious day when I will gladly hand the recording chores to someone more akin to them (I've heard there are even nutjobs who like this stuff), I'm obliged to split my personality in different "hats" or personas in search of expressing my musical creativity into the objective world.
I've found making such division clearcut and well defined, "playing well" the game of roles, brings great benefits. In the end it is all about allowing the musician to be on his own with his music, without detours or distractions.
The first persona that appeared out of my workflow was the producer. But short after, I've found the need of taking part of the producer part out and creating the role of the engineer, too.
The engineer is in service of both the producer and musician, and its role is providing them with the shortest, most Sesame Street instructions to speed up the tech stuff and allow them to go back to their craft. The engineer sweats that stuff so that the producer and the musician don't have to; so that they can each focus their whole energy on creativity.
The first job for my inner ingeneer has been to create a quick system for the musician to record vocal tracks. I've just noticed that, for a long time, I've been dragged by a certain resistance to record new takes, simply because the process to record was not documented enough. That's where an engineer role becomes handy.
The engineer defined the "process loop" of what goes into recording a vocal track. It will look simple here, with that simplicity that takes time to achieve, because you have had to take away everything non-essential.
Basically, the musician is the next client in the chain. The engineer must guarantee that his client can:
1) Record voice sounds + listening to them at the same time (together with the rest of instruments)
2) Listen to the resulting whole at comfortable volumes
The outcome of 2) will be an OK take, which can be kept, or wrong take, to be discarded. From there, the musician can decide to go back to 1) for another process loop, or decide he has enough stuff.
Once defined those 2 states, the engineer went down one level of granularity and defined for each one the tasks to be executed by the musician. It all went in one single page, like I say with the focus on speed and "technical transparency". Imagining how it works when there are really 2 different persons is handy: if the musician says "could you add more reverb to my track", and the engineer takes say 20 seconds, the process gets interrupted.
This "loop page" has worked very well for the vocals. It took like 2 hours to successfully close the first loop, but it's a job that is done forever. Now I'm working on doing the same with guitar tracks; again, defining the states, then going down on the actions to take. I'll end up having several of these loop pages for guitar, because sometimes I use a distortion pedal, others amp simulation... and other factors...
The big aha thing here, perhaps, is taking this 2-layered perspective on the recording process. If I only had a list that defined the 1) and 2) states, it would be clear but not actionable; I would have to think each step time after time.
If I only had the actions list, on the contrary, I would have a brainless script that would liberate my broadband for creativity, but as the purpose that those tasks aim for is not exactly described, that creates a dangerous indetermination factor there.
Kanban is chaotic and you sometimes feel like not using it, but a lot of realizations and aha moments come from submitting yourself to its discipline.
In my case, here's a funny pattern I found about my musical work: the creation of value coincides with the things I enjoy to do.
That doesn't always have to be the case. In any art or industry, a task can be boring for the maker, and yet be the one that is creating the value that we want to provide. For example: spreading the mayonnaise that makes the sandwich extra delicious, is not an amusing task per se, but the result is cool.
That's why I found curious that in my case both things coincide. For a musician, the value is created when you produce new sounds. And those are the moments that I enjoy. As I mention here perhaps too often, I don't get any kick out of finding the frequency that causes a hissing in the right snare. I think the people who enjoy that kind of thing are a bit of a nutcase, tbh.
A new realization joined a few days ago: in addition to "enjoying/not enjoying", there is another important variable to be considered: push/pull.
Pull is the kind of tasks that drag me to the guitar or computer with excitement: "wouldn't it be cool if..."
Push, on the contrary, are those tasks that I have to "adultly" oblige myself to do, and which can use all the productivity tech and tricks I can get a hold of: countdown timers, Parkinson's law, kanban boards, vision boards, pointing to myself with a gun...
The tricky part, and it has been a great lesson in flexibility, is that some tasks that start as pull can become inadvertedly push. Unless you notice and accept this rule, procrastination lies that way.
Maybe it's because the initial enthusiasm wears off ("honeymoon effect").
My battery runs a bit low these days, so I've created a time window for Push tasks. Knowing when a Pull task becomes push, and therefore waits its turn for that window, has been liberating.
(Another connected thought is that the tasks that are enjoyable can also be tiring... we're so used to work in bullshit, that we almost feel bad for being tiresome in something we enjoy doing...)
My previous resolution of keeping stuff coming out quickly through the pipeline has very soon turned from a plan to a vision. Obstacles hinder the ship, life has a way of doing that to your plans.
I don't see that as a failure, but as an aha moment, a powerful realization. Now I keep that 'keep it simple, keep moving' mentality in mind all the time, even if the circumstances oblige me to take a detour (gosh, here I would need X, so half an hour trip to the Internet to see if X is possible, and if it is, how to actually do it).
For the song I'm working on, for example, I guesstimated a very simple workplan: programming drums and print them in the session, 1 day. Recording bass, 1 day. Recording guitar tracks, 1 day. Recording vocals, 1 day. Audio production, 2 days.
That's an ideal blueprint to keep in mind, but reality soon conspired against such a beautiful arrangement of things. I intend to make a full reflection about the song when I'm done with it, so I won't go into details now, but the thing that protruded like a sore thumb was that audio production is going to take waaay longer.
I don't like audio production. I'd rather not do it. But, as everything you focus on, you get better on it as you go. And with knowledge, comes responsibility; there are more and more things you cannot ignore. Things that, if you just let go, will mock you whenever you listen to the final result.
I'm still adhering to the punk spirit of the thing, it's not that I'm going to become one of those guys who spend an evening testing cables for fun or something like that... It's very obvious things that didn't use to be there.
Example; when I was finally done with my production, arrived to the "'tis what it is" stage with only a couple of polishing things here and there, I saw this can of worms I've sometime found in the past. Let me describe the scene:
"So what do you do in real life?" "I'm a musician". "Great, let me open my laptop here, let's play some of your stuff".
The can of worms is served: should I listen to the mix in my laptop speakers?
I opened it and didn't like what I found. The guitar, which in the headphones mix sounded the way I wanted, in the unflattering laptop speakers sounded like some kind of electric discharge, with all kind of dynamic variation, smudging absolutely the rest of the instruments and making the song impossible to come through.
I had just been served some 5, 6 more hours of production. Production that like I say I don't like and I have a short fuse for; after 30-60 mins of that both myself and my ears are exhausted and have to quit for some prudential time.
The good part is, after going through that gross exercise of making the mix sound acceptable in the laptop speakers, the headphone mix sounds much better!
Such are our fights these days.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it