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...