Friday, May 04, 2018

Creating songs like a carpenter.

I was having an email conversation with my friend Joe about how I am approaching some of my current recordings. As I fell asleep a few hours later, the ideas I was trying to express came into a sharper focus and an analogy presented itself.

I've always had a very good work ethic when someone is paying me to do a job but less so when it's the thing I do for love, like music. I have done plenty of work for the bands I've played in but when it comes to working in the studio, the part I find the most rewarding, I've always struggled to reach a finish line on time or at all.

I think I have found a strange solution that mainly involves looking at art from a different kind of perspective.

When I've worked on music in the past the amount of options available have caused some level of decision paralysis and eventually decision fatigue will happen even if you make forward progress. This is because I haven't had a clear idea of what my goal (outcome) is when making a song alone. (Having musical partners can help, but sometimes it can also increase the problems.)

The solution I've hit on is to limit my tools, limit my time and limit the order in which I can do things.

If I was building a table out of wood I would need to use the materials that are currently in the shop. If I had a band saw but no circular saw that would change how I would design the table. If I only have two stains to pick from the choice is a simple one. If I had no lathe I couldn't make rounded legs so they would stay square. If the table was meant to fold into the wall of a small dinning room I would have to think small vs one designed for a family of eight in a large dinning room.

Now imagine I built dozens of tables at the same time.  I'd want to reuse my design and have some form of mass production. I might only have two weeks to finish the next run before taking a vacation. What decisions could I make at the beginning that make shave hours off by the end? How many employees do I need to get the work done? How many specialists will be needed and how can I help them do their jobs best? Where can I save time and where can't I? How will I deliver the finished product to my buyers and do I need to spend time advertising or going to trade shows? Are my tools in good working order? What is the order that things need to happen in?

When I apply that thinking to working on music alone here is where I landed:

  • I should write and record music like I was different members of the band in a sequence that will make sense in a studio that I would be paying to be at. (Maybe at a friends and family price to allow me to spend extra time when needed.)
  • These different members have certain equipment and motivations and I should keep that as consistent between songs as I can. (Bass player owns two basses but heavily favors one and has a few FX pedals.) 
  • While I won't pretend I only have a fixed number of tracks I will treat adding more guitars as if I did. (The guitar player would have to fight to get a second track for an entire song because it means no piano overdub for the keyboard player or renting a second tape machine!)
  • By grouping tasks I can use playing one instrument a lot as a form of compressed/enforced practice on that instrument. (Which will hopefully lead to better performances.)
  • Try to play the parts a few more times even if I feel like I’ve already got “the good take”. (Again, more practice time.)
More on this later maybe.