I've discussed several times in this blog the need of a certain periodic "cooling down" that seems to go with the territory when you're writing, producing and everything else your own music.
I've found this kind of "cooling down" is necessary in, at least, two areas:
1) "Cooling down" of a particular song: as in "no, I cannot work on Song A right now". You've listened to it too many times in a row, and you simply cannot tell right from wrong in it at this moment (and by the way, what a delicate torment for the DIY musician this is: you get your biggest kick out of blasting your way through a song, always different, rejoicing in the uniqueness of what happens... and immediately after comes your biggest torment: having to relisten to the same thing time after time after time after time...)
2) "Cooling down" of the process you're currently in: maybe you still can listen to a certain song with a modicum of objectivity, but you feel a strong resistance towards the process you're in: "Oh no, not again, not another hour of those silly, tiny movements called comping". This one is perhaps not exclussive of music makers; in all human activities, you need a bit of change and variety now and then to spice up things. You don't want to be like that guy whose job was tightening one particular screw for 8 hours a day. It's good to rotate tasks; good for your creativity and also for your sanity (and this is meant to be fun).
My current production system kind of addresses both obstacles; I'm happy of having built a "little machine" of sorts that balances things and reduces the friction, helping me work more without doing anything "heroic", and providing a nice, steady feeling of daily advance.
It is by no means a revolutionary method, just my personal application of the kanban technique, after a lot of calibration, trial and error. Here are a few images to show how it works (just a warning: I reached this system by experimentation; all the explanations I've given and am going to give are "a posteriori" aha moments; after having something that works, I give some thought to why is it that it works. I didn't come up with all the theory, which then led to the system, but the other way round).
This first image represents the basic "engine":
Each of the songs is in a different stage of development ("processes" in the image). I move from song to song, starting from the closest to the finish line (right side) and working my way backwards ("direction"). After working on the least advanced, I go back to the most advanced one. The black arrow tells me which song I'm going to work on now, and that's the first pointer I look to whenever I start a music session.
Now then, after making clear which song's turn is it, there are two possible things I can choose to work on (see Image 2):
In the case portrayed in the image, I could start editing Song B (lower arrow), or... I could work on improving the "editing" process (upper arrow).
What makes this way of working possible is the so-called "standardized work"; for each of the processes (the rectangles at the top) there is a list of instructions (standardized work). It takes a while to make one of those lists (because you write down every step with careful wordsmithing, sticking to 7-years kid vocabulary, and stopping to solve every problem you encounter along the way), but once you have it done, they are like a "conveyor belt" that takes you from Y to Z; and your resistance to work becomes then greatly reduced.
So in the case of the picture, my first idea would be starting to edit Song B (in other words, running the "Editing" instructions into Song B). But then let's say I find that my editing process list is not very mature yet. I'll feel resistance, because it is not clear how to do things, so my brain, in the conventional model, would start to ache because it is trying to do two tasks at the same time: 1) figuring out where all the levers and options you need for editing are, and 2) doing the actual editing of the song.
That was the old way of working. Now both things receive separate treatment, so it's a simple datum: "Oh, editing... do I have a process for that yet? Let me see... Yes, there are a few notes, but they are old and not very structured... I'll better develop them before running them on the song".
So in this case, I leave the song be for the moment, and enter a modality of work called "process mode". I'll rehearse and debug in slow motion how to do the editing, and put everything I come up with in written. A slow (although sometimes fascinating) work, but that you only have to do once. (The format I use for the lists is an adaptation of the almighty TWI's Job Breakdown system; after trying several methods, I figured: "why reinventing the wheel when you can have a system that won a war?")
And here's the kicker: once I think I have created a satisfactory list for editing, the decent "vehicle" to take me from X to Y... At that point I've spent maybe a couple of hours immersed in the editing process, and the last thing in the world I want to do is spending two or three more actually editing Song B. Remember what I said about "cooling down" of processes? I need a change of activity, "the fresh side of the pillow", like Stravinski once put it...
SO I MOVE RIGHT AWAY TO THE NEXT SONG, where, again, I will ponder the two corresponding options (see image 3).
An advantage of this method is that from this point on, I'm creating desire to go back to Song B during the whole rotation ("how will the new editing process work out? I can't wait to give it a try...")
Another advantage of the "process mode" is that it allows things like: drinking coffee, finishing with calm the album you were listening to before the session... Activities that are impossible to do, for obvious reasons, in many areas of the process, when you just "get down to it". Working the process is a bit like a chess game, with slow thoughts and movements... A different mindset, something that provides you a new option, a new "flavor" of valuable work.
So following the image, now I've moved to song=C, process=tracking (a sub-list will tell me which instrument I'm currently tracking; these images are stylized to simplify the explanation). Again I ask myself: do I have a nice process for tracking? Yes I do! Pull that list out and it's tracking time...
Additional benefits I'm discovering in this system are:
1) It takes out of the equation the "feel like" factor. I never realized before how much time I used to waste deciding which of the songs I "felt like" working today, what to do next... In each of those doubt moments there was not only a waste of time and mental energy, but a danger of being overthrown by resistance and deciding to call it a day. Now the black arrow tells me what to tackle right away, and what comes next when I'm done with that. If the song in progress is not something I find very appealing, I'll just do some minor "check the box" kind of task and move on to the next one, but in any case there is no more of that continuous start-and-stop, "what should I do next"...
2) It avoids earworms: My number of songs in process is currently 6. A rotation through all of them takes me (as I write) about 2 days. In the heroic times, when I worked longer and more intensively on each song, the song often stayed with me more than what's desirable after the session, due to the extreme repetition. This continuous variation, on the contrary, keeps things fresh and dynamic, so I feel I "travel lighter", and I forget completely about the songs once I'm done, as if the songs in a way "cancelled each other".
Like I said, the must for a system like this is the standardized work, which requires an investment of time in your processes; in my case a very worthwhile investment that I'm happy to make, but I understand it is not for everybody. In any case, I invite you to have some kind of system in place, to reduce mental effort and help you work more steadily through good and bad days...
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it