Starting and Finishing


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If you are like me, and a thousand more of us, we tend to be great at starting but not so great at finishing. And even if you aren’t great at starting, then I still think you may be able to relate. But if you’re a starter, you know what I’m talking about. You have a great idea—it could be a song, a record concept, consistently connecting with fans—anything, and you start it and you are stoked about it! Then, you get past all of the low-hanging fruit of your idea, and you get stuck, or your SOS (shiny object syndrome) kicks in, and you drop the ball and start chasing that squirrel. Before you know it, you have a bunch of unfinished, half started projects. Discouragement sets in and the excitement you had at the beginning of each of them is lost.

This is a vicious cycle and can (and does) rob you of all desire to keep doing what you actually love doing! I have experienced this most of my life, but there are things that you can do to get past this and actually start finishing what you started. I would be lying if I said it is easy, but it’s not. I have found that the first step is realizing that I need to be in it for the long haul and that I have to focus on what I was excited about in the first place. It also means learning to embrace failure as part of the process. Finishing at a slow and steady pace is better than blowing all your energy at the beginning and stalling half way.

I also realized that time is an excuse which is self sabotage in disguise. There are plenty of activities that take time to ramp up before getting into “the zone”, but I have found that music writing and recording, for the most part, doesn’t require a lot of prep time if you have a system, and more importantly, a process in place. 15-30 minutes is enough time to at least chip away at what you are working on, and do this over the course of a month, or even a week, you will see progress. I have applied this mindset myself to get past the point of me talking myself out of even starting, and it works.

Start by listing out all of the tasks that need to happen to finish whatever it is that you are working on. If any of the items on your list will take more than 30 mins, break that item down into tasks that will fit into 15 mins –  half and hour. Once you have your list, start by taking one item each day and getting it done. If you have tasks that you find difficult to break down, just work on that task for 15-30 mins each day until you do get it done. The idea here is to make small, manageable steps toward completing your objective. It can be mentally challenging because we tend to want to get things done quickly. This is especially true when we can see in our minds exactly what we expect to end up with, but our impatience causes frustration. But, stick to this process, and you will end up completing your project.

One aspect to this approach is that by taking smaller steps over time, you are able to reflect more on what you have accomplished each step of the way, allowing tweaks and improvements to be made along the way instead of having to hack things apart after you are too far along. This type of evolution can bring a whole new quality to what you are creating while reducing, if not eliminating frustration that comes with the pressure of trying to jam it all into 1, 2 or even a small handful of sessions. You may even find a mediocre idea turning into a gem you never thought possibly originally all because you gave your creativity time and space to breathe. Perspective always changes, at least a little, when you leave the project for a short period of time and come back to it a bit later.

This is just one of many different techniques and tools I have discovered over time that has had a serious impact on my productivity, and even more importantly on my satisfaction with my end results. I have been able to create more and better music in part by applying this approach. Nothing can replace honest effort, focus and persistence, but there are countless ways to reduce the friction, stress and anxiety that can come with serious creative work. I hope this has given you something to help move you closer to finishing your next song or record project.

If this has helped and you would like more ways to help get you closer toward building your musical empire, or just finishing that song you started a while back, subscribe below and I will send you more tools, tips and techniques you can use to get there.


TSM Podcast ReLaunch


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Hey all you Smart Musicians!!

So, here’s the deal. The all new TSM Podcast will be re-launching the week of January 1st, 2018. I am working on all kinds of new things, and the topic landscape is changing a bit—more like broadening. We will be highlighting technology, but not just gear, but how technology can be used in creative ways to make your life easier.

Being a Smart Musician is all about making more time for making music and building your own personal music empire, whatever that may look like. This year has been a reboot for me and my musical activities and projects, and I am more excited about creating and performing music than I have been in many years. The Smart Musician Podcast is my way of sharing my experiences with you all and I am seriously looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I would love to hear about what you are interested in, particularly challenges you are facing in your musical life, as well as successes so we can all help and benefit from them. Please leave your feedback in the comments below—I am stroked to see what lies ahead!

Process


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I know I may be writing about things we all know already, but in my experience this is just as important as new ideas. I don’t know about you, but there is so much information to the point of overload an a daily basis that if it’s not repeated or somehow kept in the front of my mind, it will just drop out of sight, forgotten. So, I may be repeating myself or stating the obvious, but that’s because I think it’s important enough. 

When creating music, I have created a process which works extremely well for me. There are several reasons having some sort of process is not only beneficial, but required in any complex project, and music is one of them. Process allows you to free up mental bandwidth in order to focus on the task at hand, knowing what your next step is. This will give you confidence in how you are working your project and, I argue, will even allow creativity to increase and flow more freely. But, for a process to truly add value, it must be repeatable. I find it helpful to write it down in a bulleted list format so I can stay on track with a visual status of where I am at along the way.

Process, like a routine, allows you to do without having to spend tons of mental energy on how to do it. Once you have a process down it becomes like second nature  if you keep doing it on a consistent basis. Process, whether we realize it or not, is at the core of just about every human activity to some degree, and is a mechanism by which, along with consistent effort, we are able to improve what we do. In future posts, I will go into

More specific details describing my processes and how they work for me. What processes do you have that you find useful in your music creation process? 

A Little GAS To Get Things Going


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OK, Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) really describes a condition where one is all geeked out all the time, focusing on the next shiny new tool and spending virtually no time learning and using the ones they already have. This is especially true with those of us who are into music. This isn’t just about hardware, but software too—plugins are like musical opioids. I have been guilty of this in the past, looking for the next cool plugin that can provide another dose of inspiration. What I realized, though, in the past several years is that I went in the opposite direction, trying to use my quarter-century old gear, jimmying it into places it wasn’t meant to be used, trying to stretch its analog existence into the digital box world. I got so cheap that I scavenged any cable I could find just to make the connection, ignoring the fact that cables can be the weakest link in the chain.

I have started an overhaul of my studio and the major component just got delivered. It is the new PreSonus StudioLive Series III 32 console. I will save the details of this beauty for a later post, but my point is that there has to be a balance between GAS and not having the tools to get the job done. Now, you don’t have to go out and drop thousands of dollars to get what you need—the key is to be honest about what that is and know when that new piece of gear is more of a want. This can be very though for those of us gear geeks, but it is critical that we use what we’ve got, learning it and knowing its limits, using it until it won’t do what we need it to do any longer. But in my situation, I reached a point where the setup I have just wouldn’t do what I needed it to do. So, I researched the heck out of my options, narrowed in on what I wanted down to its physical dimensions and how it would fit into my existing room. Here’s what that looks like, just after I pulled it out of the box and turned the lights on:

Studio

In my case, I needed a little GAS to get things rolling. I am not going crazy with buying new gear, but I do need to get the basics set up. The next targets are a pair of studio monitors to compliment my Yamaha NS-10m’s, acoustic treatment for the room and update the cabling. These are things that have been lacking for years and that will improve the efficiency and the quality of the music being made. I am really looking forward to sharing the progress of the studio and the new ways to leverage technology to create better music. The studio will also be used to resume the production of the TSM podcast which I am planning on rebooting in the next few months. A healthy balance between GAS and maximum utilization of what you have will give you a sweet spot that enables you to focus on making music while, hopefully, making the process even more enjoyable!

What’s in your practice or recording studio? Please share a description in the comments below!

Start In the Studio


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The title of this post is both metaphor and literal. For me, just about all things musical start in the studio. As I stated in my previous post, my studio is made up primarily of gear that is north of 25 years in age. There is only so far I can go with it when trying to integrate it into a digital workflow where the weakest link is the AD/DA link. I have cobbled things together so it “works”, but I can’t scale with it nor can I take full advantage of the features available in my digital tooling.

I was told by a great interior designer (a.k.a Mom) that when figuring out how to fill and decorate a new space, start with one piece of furniture that will act as the starting point–like a couch or table–and build out around that. For my studio, that piece of furniture is the mix console. What I am looking for is a best-of-both-worlds scenario, incorporating the physical knobs and faders of the old analog world with the digital tools. In doing my research, I have settled on the board that I want to start with: the new PreSonus StudioLive 32. This will give me the Core and foundation of my new studio setup, linking the analog to the digital. This will also give me the same starting point for building out a live rig, which will come later.

From here I will then start focusing on research around reference monitors and acoustic treatments for my room. We bought a house last summer and Once again I have a dedicated space for my studio. I have plenty of reflective surfaces, including hardwood flooring to contend with, so I will be researching this heavily in the weeks and months to come. 

So, as my music creation starts in the studio, so does my re-entry back into the music thing, rebuilding my workspace and redesigning my workflow taking advantage of current technologies and possibilities. As I move forward on this project, I will share my progress. I would also love to hear your thoughts and welcome any input or questions you may have–just comment below!

Rebuild


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TSM has been on and off for the past 6-7 years, with a handful of false starts. Life is what it is and often times does not leave as much time for working on those “side projects” as we would like. One of my objectives this year is to jump start this project once again, but with a slightly different approach. Looking at where I came from, my experiences and what I have now–both in terms of gear and knowledge, I see a lot of value to offer and also a lot of room for change and growth.

My initial objective was to share what I know and my experiences, but I realized that I was focusing on the past. I value my past experiences, which have given me the foundation on which I stand now. But so much has changed, even in what I see as the short time that I have been away from the scene. This is where I have been reflecting, trying to sort out where to go next, not just with TSM, but with what drives it in the first place: my own music production and performance.

In the coming months, I will be working on transforming my working environment, primarily my studio, and also my workflows and how I manage collaboration with my band mates who are now spread out across the country. We have recently come back together, but with a songwriting and production focus. I am also in the planning stages of creating a house concert series which will be live streamed, featuring different artists seasonally, every 3 months.

I have realized that music spans both studio and live, even if you are not recording. Your practice setup is your studio, with different requirements than your live rig/environment. Technology has also developed with these lines of distinction being blurred more and more.

As I ease back into my own music projects, whether it is writing with my band mates, producing/recording a project for someone else, or working live sets–all of which are happening, I will be applying my experience along with re-creating my working environments, rebuilding my rigs, from studio to stage. This will be an evolutionary process that will not happen overnight, and I want to capture and share this as I work through it.

There is one common thread that runs through just about everything that I do that means anything to me, and that is a desire to help others get over hurdles and meet challenges, however big or small, so that their experiences with whatever task or project will be as enjoyable as possible by learning from my experiences and mistakes.

That is where I am heading, that is what TSM is about. I am here to help where I can, share what I have and to continue learning through the process. That also means learning from you. If you have any experiences–light bulbs, ah-ha moments that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below.

Now, let’s go make some music!

Reboot (Let’s Try This Again)


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Hey there, everyone!

Just wanted to drop a line and let you all know that TSM is getting ready to breathe in some new life in the coming weeks. Life throws many challenges in our paths, but making music is a sure way to deal with those challenges. It has been my objective to help musicians in whatever way I can using my experiences and knowledge, particularly at the intersection of music and technology, so that we all can spend more time making music vs the sheer amount of grunt work that tends to get in the way.

As I start moving into the next phase of my music “career”, along with my life-long bandmates, the landscape of music creation, production and performance continues to change, and at an increasing pace. As I am jumping back in, there is even more opportunity–and things to learn. That’s where TSM comes in, to start the conversations, share ideas and build a community of musicians and anyone involved in the process.

I will be sharing where I have been, my experiences, and also what I will be learning as I get my head around current technology and what I see as performance distribution channels which give us the opportunity to create more music, more often and to carve out our own musical empires in the process!

Please send any questions or topics that are of interest to you and we will get the conversation started. If I don’t know the answer, we will go find it. I am looking forward to the next chapter and to sharing it with you all!

Home Studio Setup


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Every musician has a place where they work on their craft alone. This can be as simple as a bedroom, a garage, basement or even a dedicated rehearsal space outside of the home. Over time, I have utilized all of the above, from a dedicated recording studio over 20 years ago to the multi-purpose dining room in our apartment that we converted into an office used by both my wife and myself, which doubled as my studio.

We moved a couple of weeks ago into a house, which has a room that will be used to set up my studio gear, including a bunch of things that have been sitting in storage because there was simply no place for it all to fit. Last night, I started getting things set up and my new studio is starting to take shape. This move marks a new chapter for my wife and I, in more ways than one, the relevant one here being a new music creation and production environment.

As thing settle down and the studio takes shape, The Smart Musician, too, is coming back to life. I will be sharing the process as I get things set up, including what I am doing, how I am doing it and why I am doing it the way I am. This new environment will also make it much easier to resume production of the Smart Musician Podcast, as well as additional audio and video content to share, and ultimately, help you to get more out of your music making experience.

We all do this out of passion, or at the very least for the pure enjoyment of making music, however as with any skill, practice is required–both in the development of the core skill of musicianship as well as the use of the tools used in the process. For the modern musician, the options, and therefore the amount that we need to learn can be overwhelming. This is what drives the core philosophy of The Smart Musician, and the reason we are here–to help answer the questions and to share our experiences so that you can spend the majority of your time making and improving your music.

Please leave any questions you may have in the comments below–we will do our best to answer them and help you find the answers that you are looking for, and ultimately to get the most out of your music making experience.

Opportunities And Online Services For Musicians


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It has been another dry spell here at [the] Smart Musician. A good 2 months with a single podcast, and that with me flying solo, and a couple more months on top of that since the last post. I am attempting to change that.

That said, I wanted to throw a couple of thoughts out there around how technology is more than just about the gear and tools to deliver music, but also about providing connectivity to services that support your endeavors. There are a couple of services that have stood out for me recently that I want to talk about.

Coursera

In recent years, the open courseware movement has been taking off. One of the more recent entrants into this space is Coursera. If you are not familiar with them, or the general concept, open courseware is essentially the open source movement for university level education. Colleges and univerities from all over the world are making courses available to the masses, free of charge, via video online.

I have “attended” a course on songwriting offered by Berkely Online, the online wing of Berkley College of Music. I am starting a second one this week on audio production. While you don’t get credit for these courses, there are options to get a course completion certification for a fee, and of course, you can also go full on and enroll directly through Berkley Online as opposed to going through Coursera.

This type of offering is huge in that you get valuable instruction from a top school for nothing but your own time and effort. This type of education can definitely give you an edge in your musical endeavors and I well worth looking into. Coursera is just one of several out there. Hit up iTunesU, check out some of the Roku channels offering courses, or better yet, just Google open courseware.

Studio Pros

I have been working on my first recording project in almost 20 years. Most of that time was spent performing live, and the past few years have been pretty dry in that area as well. But as I have been writing and piecing theings together on my own, I am seeing where my limitations are and am not willing to sacrafice the quality of the project by trying to force parts in that are not up to the same standard as the rest.

So, I hit Google again and found one place out there that offers studio musician and production services, called Studio Pros. For $150, you can get a studio vocalist to record your tune, and you even get one edit of that recording free. They have other packages available that go all the way up to taking a simple idea and producing the finished product. With services ranging from a single instrument part on a song, to full songwriting, scoring, arranging and production services, this type of service gives you the ability to materialize that tune that has been locked up in your head, and make it sound incredible.

Now, I have not used these guys, so I can’t say either way how they rate. But, I am impressed not only with the sample recordings of their vocalists, for example, but even more so with the concept, which from what I have been able to find, they pretty much have a corner on that market at this point.

Conclusion

The availability of different services out there is only growing, changing the landscape and providing more and more opportunity for the average DIY musician to improve and succeed more easily than in the past. Granted, it all still takes work, time and some $$, but today’s musicians get much more mileage out of those scarce resources.

What other services have you heard about or used? Leave a comment and tell us more about your experiences with them.

Innovation In Old and New Concepts


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Continuing on the theme of innovative applications of technology and the business of making music, I am actually pounding out this article on my iPad today. But innovation is not limited to new technology, but is always the result of applied creativity. New ideas, variations on an old concept or thing plan be just as exciting and, well, innovative as the latest technological discovery. I have come across a few things that I want to share with you today that caught my eye. Summer NAMM show kicked off this past week and as always, there are tons of new products, and along with those a few new innovations.

Digital tools for music creation have been around for a while now, with an abundance of choices for the recording musician. The digital audio workstation is at the center of music creation these days, however the available tools are really geared toward the recording process itself, using terminology and workflows familiar to recording engineers in particular. Avid, the makers Pro Tools, has introduced a new product called Ignite, which is aimed specifically toward the songwriting musician. Incorporating a workflow that is more familiar to the musician, Ignite simplifies the process of capturing song ideas in a flexible component-like manner.

From what I could tell from this video posted by Sound On Sound (SOS), Ignite looks lie a really cool and fresh new approach to capturing song ideas and concepts, allowing you to focus on building the individual pieces, and snap them together–kind of like Legos. I’m not sure about you, but I tend to think like that and my songs typically come to me in pieces, so this is one app that I am really looking forward to trying out.

Ignite has note yet been released, but will be included with all m-audio keyboard controller products and as a free download from the Avid website. What is not clear at this point is if you can use Ignite as a stand alone product or if it requires m-audio hardware. The release date is estimated to be sometime late 2012.

As I mentioned earlier, innovation is not exclusive to new creations, but is also seen in making something new out of something that exists, even common. Ear Trumpet Labs has done just this with their line of live performance condenser mics that sport a custom design and are tuned specifically for the stage. These guys have taken the microphone and applied an innovative design that really stands out from your typical standard issue stage mic. While there are several reissues of vintage microphones with modern components, Ear Trumpet Labs have not only come up with an innovative look and feel, but also in the design of the components themselves. Utilizing a condenser microphone vs. a cardioid capsule, they have created a mic that they say his the clarity of a condenser but h also been tuned for love performance.

These units come in 2 different configurations–their standard designs and then custom designs. I was surprised at their price tags which range from $499-699, but the verdict is left up to the ears. (note: check their website out for sample recordings…)

The final item for this week is kind of a combination of the old and the new. Slate Digital’s new Digital Analogue-Modeling Tape Machine plugins roll classic recording decks into VST plugins. While the concept of modeling and VST plugins is nothing new, the idea of modeling old decks seems to round out the end-to-end signal path and the selection of vintage and boutique gear models that give the average musician access to just about any piece of gear that you could only dream of getting your hands on even a decade ago.

There’s sure to be more coming out of Summer NAMM 2012, and there will be plenty more to share as the evolution of technology drives innovation, which in turn inspires more musicians to continually hone their craft while reducing drag in their workflow. Ultimately, this is what being a smart musician is all about.

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