It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I happen to have a free moment. It’s been a few months since I’ve posted here. My time has been taken over with college applications, school, and preparing for auditions in January and February. Below is a list of lessons I’ve learned in the past three months.
I’m looking forward to traveling and auditioning for colleges at the beginning of the year. Until then, I’ll be in my room practicing.
Over the summer I worked at a summer camp recording young bands. They would rehearse anywhere between 10-15 cover songs each week from Monday to Thursday, and on Friday we’d use a mobile recording rig and record the entire band on location. Vocals and some solos are all recorded later. It’s a fun project, but it’s loads of work.
The biggest hurdle in the whole project is time constraints. Scheduling vocal sessions during the summer is a nightmare when families go on vacation and people aren’t necessarily on a regular schedule. In addition, there is a live concert at the end of September, and our goal is to have a CD in the hand of each student before the concert.
What this boils down to is that from the middle of June through the beginning of September, we record, edit, mix, and quickly master something like 65 songs. That’s no small feat.
One of the ways in which I’ve dealt with these time constraints is to work quickly and efficiently. I’ve devised a simple routine to commit to mixes and move on.
I generally set a timer for 20 minutes, mix, and do the best I can in that 20 minutes. I’ll leave it for a day, come back, make some adjustments, and put it in the pile of finished mixes. The quality of the performance and recordings isn’t awful, but if I spent any more than about 20 minutes on an initial quick mix, I’d simply be delaying myself and eating up precious time.
In the end, it’s really a matter of becoming better at what I do. The best way to get better at something is simply to do more of it. If I can finish more mixes, I can learn from my mistakes and apply what I’ve learned to my next mix. Scrutinizing over one mix for hours is pointless when I have 30 more mixes waiting to be finished. I’ve decided to mix more and worry less about each mix as long as they improve over time.
This idea of committing and moving on is applicable to other things. I’ve learned to commit when writing, practicing, and just getting things done in general. Set a deadline, work hard, and be productive.
I’ve recently been encouraged by two things to write more music. I’d like to become a better writer. In the end, more music leads to better music. Allow me to explain.
I was reading an article entitled “Why Quantity Should be Your Priority” which proposed that “quantity should be a higher priority than quality, because it leads to higher quality.” During the process of mastering a skill, it is far more important to output large quantities of work. I completely agree. The lessons learned from this body of work will inevitably lead to higher quality work.
The article led me to think about my own music and why I can’t seem to put together a collection of compositions to record on an album or an EP. This idea that quantity trumps quality shed some light on the subject.
A few days later, I shared some material I’ve written with a teacher. He reacted positively, and strongly encouraged me to write more. So I will.
I’ve decided to write more and judge that writing less. I’m going to make time to write, even if it sucks. The best way to improve is to observe and learn from one’s mistakes. While there are not necessarily mistakes in composition and in art, one can discern what works and what doesn’t. One can refine one’s tastes and determine what he or she likes and what he or she dislikes.
It is this process of refinement which I’m after. And the best way to achieve that is to write more and judge less.
Is there something holding you back from a skill or creative endeavor that you are pursuing? It may very well be a matter of simply doing and finishing more of it.
I am recording biweekly projects of anywhere from six to fifteen cover songs for a summer camp. These are students who might not have a lot of experience playing in a band, and the performances are often not that great. But that’s okay. I enjoy doing the work, here’s why.
These students want to succeed. They put hard work into learning and recording these songs, and I want to make sure that their efforts are rewarded. I want to make them sound great. I want them to be able to share it with their family and friends and be proud of the work they’ve done. And that takes a lot of work on my part.
It is my job to make the recordings sound as good as they possibly can. I have to do whatever it takes. If that means replacing drums, I’ll replace drums. I’ll tediously tune a vocal track, record a guitar solo one bar at a time, or even add parts myself. I have to make these recordings shine as much as they can.
Throughout the recording process, the students learn what it feels like to be in front of a microphone. It’s hard enough for them to play with great musicianship. Adding the pressure of a microphone and a new situation often leads to timid or lifeless performances. It feels great to be able to coach and encourage these students to get the best performance possible.
The process has been long and tedious, and it’s a lot of work. However, the rewards are worth my time, and I’m happy to put in the effort. What have you done to turn a seemingly dull project into a worthwhile experience?
Today I’m beginning to release recordings of music I’ve written. The compositions are presented in a very raw form. I’ll release them on my SoundCloud as they’re recorded.
The first installment is a tune called Believe. I used a picture of the Baltimore skyline and put a grid over it. The x-axis was time, and the y-axis was pitch. Add a meter and some harmony and this is the result. It’s in 3 with an 11 bar form. "Believe" is somewhat of a motto of Baltimore. I think the title fits the composition nicely.