Saturday, November 15, 2008

onedotzero_adventures in motion

onedotzero_adventures in motion
14-16 November 2008
BFI Southbank + BFI IMAX

during three exhilarating days, onedotzero_adventures in motion, in partnership with BFI Southbank, will present a diverse and radiant showcase of visionary new work and pioneering talent in audiovisual, music, moving image and digital and interactive arts

the festival showcases the brightest up-and-coming talents alongside world-leading creative luminaries; bringing together the most innovative short films, animation, motion graphics, music videos, groundbreaking feature film previews with director Q+As, alongside interactive installations, explosive live audiovisual and music performances, artist discussions, hands-on toy-hacking workshops and parties.

watch the festival preview online

live audiovisual performances

highlights of this year's event include two one-night only live audiovisual events at the BFI IMAX. an exclusive collaboration between nitin sawhney, one of the uk's most innovative musicians, and es devlin, renowned stage designer who has worked with carmen to kanye west, and an av triple-bill, featuring the light surgeons, d-fuse and hexstatic. boasting the largest screen in the uk, and unique 6.0 surround sound system, the performances will immerse the audience in spectacular sonic and visual adventure.

nitin sawhney + es devlin live: exclusive unplugged performance
friday 14 november 08

More info on this event>>

audio-visual triple-bill: light surgeons, d-fuse + hexstatic
saturday 15 november 08

More info on this event>>

0870 787 2525


features the most exciting and innovative moving image work curated from around the world. two programmes specifically showcasing audio/music and visuals include:

wavelength 08
exploring innovative, visually progressive music videos with rarely screened promos and director specials.

More info on this event>>

advanced beauty
18 digital works born and influenced by audio and code. inspired by synaethesia, these abstract manifestations are sculpted by the soundtrack.

More info on this event>>

information + bookings
box office:
BFI Southbank 020 7928 3232
BFI IMAX 0870 787 2525

See onedotzero on vimeo

Friday, October 31, 2008

How to Be Lucky In Your Music Career

The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect: 8th...Image via Wikipedia

There is a basic idea in the music industry that a lot of your success relies on luck. Sometimes when you look at the career at some of the superstars out there, it may seem that they had a lot of luck to get where they are. This is true in some respects; success in this industry does have a lot to do with luck. But, it may not have as much influence as you may think. I looked at some of the careers of some successful musicians and found something very interesting. A lot of what I had dismissed as luck actually was as a direct result of what the musician was doing. It was a direct result of effort more than anything sort of help from some outside force.

Bad Luck

Since we're on the topic of luck, let's talk a bit about bad luck. We've all had those days where nothing seemed to go right. If something could go wrong, it would. There is no doubt that sometimes things just aren't working in your favor. Bad luck, like good luck, has a lot to do with what you do and don't do. It also has a lot to do with cause and effect. For example, if you've bought a used car and that car breaks down on you, it's not so much a situation of bad luck as it is probability. Most often when you buy something that's used, odds are that it has some defects. In fact, if you get something used and it doesn't have any major defects, you may consider yourself lucky.

An Ounce of Prevention

We've all heard the saying: 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'? Well this is true of bad luck too. How much is something bad happening as a result of prevention as it is just an accident. A lot of times, without prevention, an accident is just waiting to happen. If you have a vehicle that you don't upkeep, then it's just a matter of time before something breaks down. It has nothing to do with bad luck. Have you ever noticed some people's lives seem to be in perpetual turmoil? Things seem to break down and go wrong on a regular basis. On closer inspection you find that a lot of times they're just unorganized or simply failed to take care of something when the time was right. For example, I don't know how many times something went wrong in my life and I immediately chalked it up to bad luck. More often than not though, looking back over the sequence of events I usually find something that I could have done to have prevented the problem in the first place. There are also examples where the odds may be stacked against you and you deny the fact that they are there. If buy a house in the Midwest and you have your house destroyed from a tornado, it's not as much bad luck as it is bad planning.

The basic point of this is that a lot of bad luck may be the simple result of not taking the necessary actions to prevent the problem in the first place. And, in the same way, you may experience 'good luck' as a result of taking positive action. If you extend this type of thinking to other area of your life, you start to see some patterns.

The Plan

Then there are the conclusions people draw when things don't go their way or not according to plans. Sometimes when things go slightly off, people make it worse by abandoning their efforts or rebelling against the process. For example, you may miss your bus on your way to a really important meeting, dismiss it as bad luck and abandon the opportunity all together. I know that I've done this. I attempt to achieve something only to give up at the last moment because of some unforeseen circumstances or unplanned interruptions. I'll get frustrated at my 'bad luck' and drop the whole affair. Things getting in the way and not going according to plan are simply a part of life. The army, who is famous for taking on monumental tasks has a saying that says 'a plan is simply a guideline to getting started'. Meaning once you get started on a project or toward an objective, things will go 'wrong' and not according to plan. Having the plan there is simply a guideline to make sure that everybody keeps the objective in mind. Things are always going to go wrong. It's not bad luck; it's simply the way of the universe.

So when things go wrong you're simply going to have to fix the error or find another way. In keeping with the ounce of prevention theme, there are things that will go wrong no matter what precautions you've taken. This can be back luck or it can be something that was going to happen and you just didn't see the signs. Sometimes things will happen as a result of things that are beyond your control. If you've worked in the forest industry and then the bottom falls out of the industry is this bad luck? Or is it just a natural part of our changing economy?

People People

Have you ever met somebody who has no problem meeting people? They seem to attract people wherever they go and always seem to know somebody. I've known a few people like this and not only are they popular; they also seem to be very lucky. I knew a guy who seemed to be really lucky at getting things done, getting jobs and getting help from other people. I always chalked this up to good luck until I noticed how good he was with people. He was outgoing, genuine and people never had any misgivings about going out of their way for him. The funny thing is that most of the time, the people helping never asked for anything in return. In short, he had charisma. Is this guy really lucky or is it as result of a developed skill? Some people are born with great people skills but this also one area that can be improved with practice. Nowhere is this skill more important than the music industry. You'll be surprised at how many opportunities arise simply from knowing somebody. Actually it goes beyond knowing somebody; it's a result of good relationships. These like most things, need to be cultivated.

Having the ability to get to know people and develop good relationships is one of the most important skills to have as a musician. For some well known musicians, this is the secret to their success; they were simply great at meeting the right people and getting those people to help them out with their career. It's amazing how much luck you draw when you are surrounded with great people.

Hard Workers

Then there are the 'lucky' people who just seem to get a lot done. You know the type, they don't seem to do a lot yet seem to get a lot done. They seem to be lucky and have success even though they seem to have limited skills. Here the luck comes from simply playing the odds and focusing on the one thing that matters. Some people in the music industry seem to be really lucky at their career while they seem to be a mess in other areas of their life. The fact of the matter is that they make sure that they get the essentials done. There is the 80/20 rule in business where 80% of your success comes from 20% of your effort. In other words, there a couple of things that you do that accounts for 80% of your success. These people seem to have found that 80% and get that done. It's amazing how much success you can have by doing this. It may seem to other people that you don't work hard or that it comes easy for you. The fact of the matter is that once you take care of the essentials, most of the other 80% will either take care of itself or won't matter half as much as you may think.

The Right Attitude

Sometimes having good luck is simply a matter of having the right attitude. If you do consider yourself lucky, you may be more willing to do things that other people won't. You may be open to new ideas or just try things without preconceived notions. Or you may simply try again where most people would give up. Some people in the music industry got lucky simply because they 'got out there'. You may try things that others would consider too risky or daring. You may walk into situations and ask for what you want where most people would consider it too pushy. In short, you are expecting the best from situations. If you have a good attitude and are willing to try things, not take things too seriously and just get out there, you may end up with more luck than other people.

Being Open

There is an element of simply being open to being lucky. If you're open to trying things, to meeting new people and learning new skills, you may find yourself getting more opportunities than most people. There is the attitude of simply trying things and getting it out there. According to Derek Sivers, some of the most successful artists on CDBaby were the ones that simply tried many things. They got things done and tried many avenues of promotion without worrying about making 'the right moves'. If you're out there, getting things done and making things happen, you may end up getting really lucky.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Call For Works - MuVi2

MuVi 2

International exhibition of video and moving image on synesthesia and visual music.

MuVi2 invites artists, musicians, designers and performers, also professors and university students, to submit proposals of kinetic works to be part of a public exhibition, with performances and discussions. Visual Music exhibition is part of the Third International Congress "Synaesthesia: Science & Art", to be held from the 26th to the 29th of April 2009, Parque de las Ciencias, and "Sala de la Delegación de Cultura de la Diputación de Granada", Spain.

Deadline for submissions
Latest date for submissions is 30 November 2008 (date of postage).

Detailed Information

26-29TH APRIL 2009

MuVi2 invites artists, musicians, designers and performers, also professors
and university students, to submit proposals of kinetic works to be part of
a public exhibition, with performances and discussions. Visual Music
exhibition is part of the Third International Congress "Synaesthesia:
Science & Art", to be held from the 26th to the 29th of April 2009, Parque
de las Ciencias, in Granada, Spain.

Latest date for submissions is 30 November 2008 (date of postage).

The topic of the exhibition is visual music and synesthesia. For "visual
music", we intend every representation to be only visual or audiovisual,
suggested by the music.
The correspondences between the visual and music can be the results of
synesthetic perceptions (the visuals are the mental images suggested by the
music); or the correspondences can be the result of studies on the
analogies between the visual and musical languages (rhythms, tonality,
texture, colours, etc.). The support of a narrative thread is not required.

The call is for two categories of participants:
. Participant A: professionals (artists, musicians, designers and performers)
. Participant B: university (B1: professors; B2: students, or graduated
within the last 12 months).

Any Moving Image (video, animations, etc.) - only visual kinetic work,
audiovisual, or interactive
- is eligible for submission. University professors can submit a collection
of didactic works. Students, one or more works, produced in an university
The work does not have to be published and must be free from copyrights.

Digital work can be submitted on Cd-Rom or Dvd. The files with the works
can be in the following
formats: .MOV, .AVI, .MPEG, .SWF. For other formats, send your questions
to:, or Each work, or collection of
works, must be accompanied with the appropriate "Entry Form" completed.
Please do not send videotapes.
We cannot return CDs and Dvd.

The fee is kept to an absolute minimum, and is used only to finance the
organisation of the project.
All works selected for exhibition will be published on a Dvd free of any
further charges.
Entry fee for each work (or collection):
- Participant A: 100 € (before 1th Oct. 2008); 150 € (after 1th Oct.
- Participant A (affiliate FIAC): 70 € (before 1th Oct. 2008); 100 €
(after 1th Oct. 2008)
- Partecipant B1: 70 € (before 1th Oct. 2008); 100 € (after 1th Oct.
- Partecipant B2: 40 € (before 1th Oct. 2008); 50 € (after 1th Oct.
(Account: n. 2031 0161 27 01158 17408, Titular: Fun. Int. Arte Città. "Fond
MuVi 2009, YOUR NAME [Partecipant A or B1 or B2]". Bank Caja Granada. IBAN:
ES19 2031 0161 2701 1581 7408)

The best work of the MuVi2 receives a prize of 1.000 euros. The prize is
offered by the Diputación de Granada that will promote the best works in
the artistic circuits.
The 10 best works received will be admitted to the exhibition (10 for the
Participant A category and 10 for Participant B).
The best 20 works (with their descriptions), will be published on a book
and Dvd. For this, the works do not have to be published and free from
The selection of the works will be edited by the Exposition committee.
All participants will be informed about the Exposition Committee decision
by e-mail by 31st January 2009.

Giovanni Baule and Dina Riccò (Indaco Department, Faculty of Design,
Politecnico di Milano, Italy)
Mª María José de Córdoba (Fundación Internacional Artecittà, Granada)
Juan Carlos Sanz (Professor of Diseño y Comunicación Visual, Madrid)
Carlos Villalobos, Ana García, Carmen Hidalgo, Asunción Jódar, Jesús
Pertíñez López (Dibujo y animación Department, Faculty of Bellas Artes de
Tremedad Gnecco Suarez (Faculty of Ciencias de la Educación, University of
José López Montes (Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Granada)
Mª Pilar García Calero (Conservatorio Superior de Música de Sevilla)
José Antonio Fernández Fernandez (, A Coruña)
Comisión valoración artística Palacio de los Condes de Gabia (Diputación de

1. One "Entry form" for each work (send by email to: and
2. A package with Cd-Rom/Dvd (with the file of the work), one Entry form
for each work printed
and signed, and the payment form (send to: Artecittà, at the address below).
Send two copies (printed and signed) with the Cd or Dvd.

1. A copy to (you attach the payment form to this copy):
International Foundation Artecittà
C/Alhamar n. 30, 1° - 18004, Granada, Spain

2. A copy to:
Prof. Dina Riccò, Politecnico di Milano University, Faculty of Design
Via Durando 38/a, 20158 Milano, Italy

ANY QUESTIONS ARE TO BE DIRECTED TO: or; also, see the web site:

Direction and coordination: Dina Riccò (Politecnico di Milano, Italy)
Organization: María José de Córdoba (Fundación Internacional Artecittà)
With the support of: Comisión valoración artística (Palacio de los Condes
de Gabia, Granada).
Patrons: Universidad de Granada (Faculty of Farmacia, Psicología,
Filosofía y Letras, Ciencias de la Educación, Bellas Artes), Politecnico di
Milano (Faculty of Design), Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de
Granada, Conservatorio Superior de Música de Sevilla, ESCO (Escuela
Superior de Comunicación), Diputación de Granada, Ministerio de Cultura of
the Spain.
With the contribution of: Parque de las Ciencias in Granada.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

You, the Editor

More and more it's becoming a one (woman) man show. We now have the technology and ability to do so many things in not only creating music but also publicity and marketing. It all becomes much too easy to start thinking that you can do it all. I've written about this in the past and will comment again in later posts mostly because I think it's an important topic. One of the things that we have to do when we're creating music and recording tracks is discern between the stuff that is good and the stuff that has to be thrown out: enter the editor. When it comes to creating music and content, the role of the editor is vital. In this post we're going to talk about the role of the editor in making music and its vital importance in the music making process.

The Professional Editor

When it comes to editing I always think about newspaper editors that are portrayed on television and in film. You know the one I'm talking about: the guy with the short temper and the non-existent personality. He's the guy who rejects everything, feels the need to put people down, and will do anything to get the paper 'out on schedule'. Of course this is one of Hollywood's typical stereotypes but there is a hint of truth here. The fact is that the editor is crucial in the process of creating content. Not only does the editor make sure that the material is of a high quality but also that the material stays on track and on topic. In one aspect, you have to be ruthless sometimes about what is acceptable and making sure that things do get done.

Your Internal Editor

As mentioned above, the editor is responsible for quality control and staying on course with the program among other things. There are other things that the editor may be responsible for but we are going to focus on these two because they relate to what we're trying to accomplish the most. When you sit down to write a song, there is an editor present. It's your internal editor. It's the part of you that discerns what's good and what's bad, what's right and what's wrong. There are two definitive kinds of editors; ones that are way too lenient, and ones that are too strict. Of course there shades of grey here but most of the time, your editor will be much too hard, or not there at all. A lot of this is dependent on your personality and your self perception. In fact, it has little to do with actual reality. It's like your view of the world in general; it has to do with your perception of the world and little to do with the actual world itself. Some people are much too hard on themselves and think that their work is terrible and some people are way too generous with their opinion and think that everything that they create is a masterpiece. There are fatal flaws in both of these perspectives.

The Non-existent Editor

If you've ever see some of the reality shows like 'American Idol' you've probably seen some singers who are terrible and yet when they are told how bad they are, they react with complete disbelief. It's always good to believe in yourself and believe that you have the ability to make it in the music business. The problem occurs when you believe this so much that you shut out any sort of criticism and bad reviews and believe that these people are just jealous and are out to get you. The problem here is that these people don't have an internal editor and believe in themselves so much that they're unable to take any sort of constructive criticism or advice. If you believe that everything that you do is genius, not only do you not improve as an artist, but you lose credibility as well. There is always room for improvement at every level of being an artist. Having the ability to step back and listen to your work with a discerning ear is a crucial skill to have. Some well known producers have developed this skill to an amazing level and it shows in their work and the artists that they work with. With your own material, it's critical that you can step back and figure out what works and what doesn't.

The Critical Editor

The other side of this is the over critical editor. This is the one that decides that everything that you have done is terrible or flawed. Many well known artists and writers over the years have been overly critical of their own work even to the point where they are doing rewrites even when the work is done and has seen some success. This is a problem for a great number of artists that never seems to leave them. The fact that they are critical about their work may be the reason why their work is such a high quality in the first. This though, can be taken way too far. Some people allow that editor in too quickly in the work thereby effectively destroying the creative process. In the beginning of creation, there needs to be some level of experimentation and play. Bringing the editor in too quickly can destroy this step or bring it to a halt. There needs to be some level of trust and having an open mind to allow ideas to flow freely. Then, some people bring the over critical editor in later when reviewing their work. This is the best time for your editor to do his stuff. If fact it's essential that your internal editor is brought in. This is what assures quality control. This is when you start asking questions and making sure that you've accomplished what you've set out to do. Here again though, we don't what to be so critical that we entirely dismiss everything that we've done. Some people are so critical of their own work that it never sees the light of day, or even worse, never gets done it the first place. They get so caught up in rewrites and working on 'newer and better' material that they never release what they've created before. This can be just as worse as the non-existent editor mentioned above.

Stimulating the Editor

One of the best ways to stimulate the internal editor is to start asking yourself some questions. It's usually good to not let the tough minded editor in too early in the creation process and generally it's a good idea to let the ideas flow initially without too much resistance. Once you've gotten somewhere along in the song, it's time to let the hard ass editor in and start asking yourself some questions. Depending on what you're working on and what stage in the process you're in, these questions are going to be a bit different. If you're at the song writing stage you will want to focus on the lyrics, the harmony and rhythm. Are the lyrics working? Is there an easier more effective way to put the message across? Is it memorable? Is the melody memorable? Do you need to make it more elaborate or less? Is it heading in the right direction? If you're writing for someone else is it developing into a good song for them? You get the idea. There are a ton of things that you may want to go over. The hardest part is being honest with yourself. Can you write something better?

The Rewrite

Sometimes songs get stuck simply because the writer is having a hard time with the rewrite and nothing good is coming. The problem with rewriting is that the further along you are into a piece of music, the fewer choices you have. When you first start writing a song, the palette is virtually clean. The further along a song is, you may have fewer options for things to fit into the framework on the song. You no longer have a million choices but you are looking for that one idea that will fit. Many artists have a problem with rewrites because of this. The other problem you may run across is that fact that you may have fallen in love with your original idea even though it may not have been the best idea. Sometimes the more times you hear a song, the harder it becomes to do the rewrite because you've become accustomed to the old choice and nothing else will 'fit'. In this case you may want to try a bunch of ideas and just 'stick them in there' for now. Once you stuck some ideas in something that you've heard a million times, your ears will once again become accustomed to the new sound. If you've tried a couple of different ideas and then listened to them a couple of times at a later date, your ears may become used to the new sound or at least you may be open to new ideas.


One of the problems that some people come across is when they get criticism from other people about their work and don't know how to use that criticism. Either they completely dismiss the criticism, take it too hard and see it as a personal attack, or just try to ignore it like it never happened. Whenever you create a piece of art, there is going to a reaction to that art; good and bad. If you are in the business of making music, there is going to be a situation where you going to have to accept some criticism from somebody in the business. The problem occurs when you don't make the best use of the criticism. It's important that you take advantage of this situation when it occurs.

Taking Advantage

If you've gone out of your way to get your music to a professional in the business and got some criticism about your work, it's an opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes your music will get rejected because it's not right for the artist or it's not what they may be looking for at the time. But, if you've submitted something and there's a remark about it being too simple, bad production (or worst…outdated production!), then you should really take advantage of the situation. Thank them for their opinion and see if you can more info. Can they suggest things to do or to make the track better? Would they accept it if changes were made? Keep in mind I'm talking about a professional and somebody that knows what they're talking about. Sometimes people can be less than helpful (even though they don't mean to be) when they really don't know what they're talking about. I've played some material for 'other musicians' before and got less than great responses. Some people aren't happy when they see that you've created something great. Then there's the opposite side of the spectrum where it's family and friends who are really supportive and have nothing but great things to say about your work. Even though this may be a great boost for your ego, it doesn't help your craft that much. Effective criticism helps you grow as and artist and allows you to think and see things in a new way. Most of all it gets you out of the misconception that makes you think that everything you do is great and that sometimes you do need to do a rewrite.

Working on Your Editor

Being subjective about your own work is a critical skill to have. You have to have the ability to let the ideas flow initially without getting in the way. Once you've got something going, you're going to have to step back and assess what you've done. This is where the editor comes in. Did you accomplish what you set out to do? Is your message getting across? It's the ability to look at all of these things and know what you have to change. You have to discern what's working and what's not and know what to do about it. This part of the process may be the hardest for some writers out there because it's the time when you may not be too inspired and may have to work at it a bit until you have something you like. Your editor is like all of the other processes in music though; the more you work at it, the better you will get. Above all, there is no art without flaws. Sometimes it's these little flaws that make it great in the first place.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Restless Brilliance

"Restless Brilliance", an evening exploring new trajectories in music and video.

"VOLUME and the Hammer Museum present Restless Brilliance, an evening exploring new trajectories in music and video. Showcasing new work in the emergent field of experimental electronic and audiovisual performance, Restless Brilliance presented artists that are blurring the lines between music, cinema, performance, and art.

This installment of our ongoing series with the Hammer Musuem presents a live performance by Shuttle358, and a screeningof Colorfield Variations organized by artists Richard Chartier."
Source: and

Check out one of the artists beautiful works.

Tina Frank - Chronomops, 2006

chronomops from Tina Frank on Vimeo.

Tina Frank Website

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Visual Music Village

Visual Music Village - for Visual Music Artists, Writers, and Venues. Join today.

Find more videos like this on The Visual Music Village

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Outline Your Music Career

Diagram of a brainstorming sessionImage via Wikipedia

It seems like a lot of musicians out there, I've gotten into the habit of doing a lot of writing. These days it seems writing is becoming more and more useful and used in everyday living and especially online. This includes not only of the emails and correspondence that I have on a daily basis but also all of my online activities that includes blogs, commenting on other sites and reviews. Whenever I had something to write I would generally just start and see where it would lead. This would be fine for most activities but whenever I had to write something that was more than a couple of lines long, or had a specific point to make, I found I would spend a lot of time rewriting and trying to get the article to have some sort of consistency and cohesion. After struggling with this for a while I learned about the value of starting with an outline.

The Outline in Writing

An outline can do a couple of things that can help your writing immensely. First of all, it's a great way to get all of your ideas down in a hurry, just making points on all of the different things that you want to cover. It's basically brainstorming. You think of all of the topics that you want to cover in your article and make some points on each of the ideas. It also helps you to organize those ideas. You start just writing out ideas and soon enough you start to see some connections between some of your ideas. You may also come up with new ideas based on the ones you've already put down. It helps in organizing your thoughts. It may help streamline the article too by seeing which ideas don't fit the topic and may be useful in another article. You may find that after brainstorming, you have enough for a couple of articles. Lastly, it helps you keep your focus by looking at all of the points available and making sure that you stick to the topic and don't veer off course half way through the article.

Writing out an outline really helps your writing. It helps you effectively communicate with your fans and create interesting content for your sites. Second, it helps with your correspondence with others. Email is still the reigning king of communication and being able to articulate your ideas and thoughts well is a great skill to have. Lastly, and this is the point of this article, it can help in deciding what you're going to do with your music career and can help in making decisions and sticking with a desired plan.


We're going to use the same process to outline how you want your music career to go as the process in creating a great piece of writing. It involves 3 basic steps: brainstorming, planning and action. The first two steps are the same processes that I talked about earlier in preparing to write. Basically it's just sitting down and writing down all of the ideas that come to you on a particular subject. I've mentioned it as part of the outline process because I generally will do both in one sitting: brainstorm and then create my outline on the same piece of paper. You may want to do this in a couple of steps but I find that it's better to complete as much as you can in one sitting. The reason for this is that sometimes when you sit and think about something for a period of time you may have a hard time starting but once you're in the middle of it, the ideas may start flying and it's usually a good idea to just let them fly and worry about limits or problems at a later date. We're not concerned with details yet, we're just focusing on ideas and at this point; none are bad.


Once you've got all of your ideas written down. It's time to set about figuring out which ones you are going to pursue and make a reality, which ones you'll be tackling at a later date, and ones which will be have to be put on the back burner or completely eliminate. If you're worried about missing something, don't: all of your ideas are written down and if you come up with something at a later date, you can simply add it in.

For this reason I always carry a notepad with me and jot down any ideas that come to me. You never know when you're going get inspiration and come up with a great idea. If you think that you'll remember it later, think again. It's always better to write it down when you think of it, that way you know that it'll be there and you can free your mind to come up with more ideas!


Once you've written down a bunch of ideas, it's exciting to see all of your ideas and dreams. It usually becomes a little easier to decide what you're going to do once you can see all of your options right there. Sometimes though, when you see all of the things that you want to do, it could become overwhelming trying to decide on what to do first/next. This happens sometimes when bands see all of things that must be taken care of when releasing a CD. Here again, our outline comes to the rescue. If you have all of the things outlined in front of you and you're a bit overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to just pick something on the list and get started. If it's the wrong thing to do, it'll become apparent pretty soon. Either way you've started and you have some momentum going. Once you've started on something, you can sit back and see if it brings any results. If it does then you know you're heading in the right direction. You'll still have to make some adjustments to your plan but you're moving ahead and things are getting done. Having the outline in front of you can help you decipher if what you are doing is bringing you closer to your goal or if you're heading in the wrong direction. It's having that outline there that allows you to stay on track. It's like having a roadmap and it case there's any trouble or questions, you just have to refer back to the roadmap.

Work in Progress

The difference between this and a real roadmap is this outline is a work in progress. It's going to have to be continually adjusted and updated. Once you've set out and done a couple of items on the list, you'll have to take time out and see if your actions brought any results and check if you're heading in the right direction. We'll talk in a future post about some of the decisions and questions you may want to ask yourself when going through your brainstorming sessions. This outline will have to be updated and new ones will have to be created on a regular basis. Once you get into the habit, it becomes easier to do and you'll be more effective in planning your future and seeing those plans to fruition. Writing out an outline is an effective way to organize thoughts and streamline the creative process. It helps in brainstorming, writing, organizing, and in this case, is very effective in planning your music career. Take time at least once a month to outline what you have achieved and what you plan on doing next and you may find yourself getting more done and getting further than you ever imagined.

Zemanta Pixie

Friday, July 4, 2008

Intro to DAW’s

The Set Up

Last month we talked about setting up your workspace and some alternatives that may help with the creative juices and getting more done. This month we're going to take a better look at some of the software that's available for writing and recording on your computer. There are different variations of a couple of definitive themes and once your get to know the basic layout of one program you will be able to use another (albeit with a bit of a learning curve depending on the program). DAW is acronym for 'digital audio workstation' and not only is it used to describe the computer you're using but the software as well.

The Playing Field

The biggest names in audio software are Digidesign (Pro Tools), Steinberg (Nuendo, Cubase), Apple (Logic), Cakewalk (Sonar) and MOTU (Digital Performer). There are also other companies like Propellerheads and Ableton that produce audio software but there is a difference that we'll get into in a future post. There are also separate audio editors that are available such as Sony Sound Forge and Steinberg Wavelab. These programs are used mostly for editing and not multi-track recording. The big names all produce multi-track audio recording software and the basic layout and method of operation are pretty close. You're given two screens to work with. First there's the multi-track view (or edit page) that allows you to see all of your recorded tracks on a horizontal grid. There's usually a timeline along the top indicating time in SMPTE or bars and beats (or both). The tracks are arranged in lanes and each lane contains the audio files for that particular track. Second, there's a mixer view that contains all of your tracks in a mixer view with faders, inputs, eq's and so on. It's important to note that both views represent the same tracks, just different views. For example if you change the volume on the edit page, that volume change will also be reflected on the mixer.


There are a few problems that you might encounter that are inherent in every audio software program. One is setting up an external hardware unit to get your audio in and out of your computer. Some computers come with inputs and outputs but for serious recording you will want to go out and get hardware that is specifically designed for the purpose. Some programs like Pro Tools won't work without their proprietary hardware although all of the other audio programs will work with most of the major hardware manufacturers. Most manufacturers provide drivers with their products that are specifically designed to work with specific programs. For example Steinberg programs use ASIO drivers with their programs and most hardware manufacturers will provide drivers to use their product with that program. If you purchase an external unit make sure that the manufacturer provides drivers for the program that you are using. You are also going to need a MIDI controller if you intend on recording using the instruments included with a lot of these programs.

The Technique of Recording

Another prerequisite is all of the knowledge inherent in recording and getting a good signal. That includes getting the right level to the computer, setting up microphones and instruments properly etc. The topic of audio engineering is too vast to cover here and will be covered in a future posts. Suffice to say that audio recording is all about 'garbage in, garbage out. A badly recorded track is going to sound bad no matter what software you're using.

Basic Connections

Something that people new to audio recording (and recording software) have a problem with is the fact that there are connections going on that aren't reflected on screen. For example you should know the basic signal flow of a mixer to know what's going on with the software. You should know the difference between an insert and a send effect. You should know what groups and auxiliary sends are. This is just basic knowledge that is ingrained in all of the software that you should know before tackling any major recording projects. Most major DAW's now come with a good selection of plug-ins and instruments. Knowing your signal flow is the first thing you should know before going in a tweaking any of these.

Effects and the Like

Another thing that you will need to know about is the different plug-ins available in recording. These include reverbs, delays, chorus, equalizers, and compressors to name a few. It's good to have a basic knowledge of what each of these plug-ins do and how to use them in a mix. Not only is it good to know what the effect does but where it's useful and how to make basic settings. A lot of the programs now come with instruments too. Using one of the available instruments not only includes some knowledge of synthesizers but MIDI as well since the programs use MIDI to translate your performance from you MIDI controller to the program. You may also want to go in tweak some of the settings in your MIDI performances.

The Journey

There are a ton of things that you need to know when staring out into the world of DAWs. There is a learning curve in getting familiar with the layout and tasks within each program. Beyond that there is the inherent knowledge that you are expected to know before you even begin. Within each discipline there is a world of knowledge. Recording, engineering and mixing are all disciplines in their own right that can take a lifetime to learn. While this may seem like a lot to absorb at once it all becomes worthwhile in the end. We now have the ability to record, edit and master a complete album all without leaving your computer. Software programs with this level of depth usually take a while to learn. Make sure that if you're just starting out, just learn the basics that I've mentioned here as it can be a lot to absorb all at once. A basic knowledge is really all you need to start and then you can take your time learning new things while creating your masterpieces. Everyday will bring a new understanding or a new piece of valuable info. You may find that you always have something new to learn: the journey really never ends.

Zemanta Pixie

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monitoring Your Mixes

In the perfect world we would all have the ultimate studio set up. This would include a proper space to record and produce your music. The room would have the right dimensions and would be tuned and treated for sound properly. Of course this world is far from perfect and for most of us out there, the space we use to do our thing musically is usually a spare room or basement where sound was the last consideration. A lot of musicians simply do with what they have and hope for the best. The problem is that your monitoring system is one of the most important parts of the recording chain. With a less than optimum system you can never be sure of exactly what it is you’re tweaking or listening to. Problems not only include the room that we’re mixing in but also the gear we’re using to monitor the sounds. So if you’re like most people out there and have a less than optimum monitoring situation what do you do? Obviously the best situation would be to get the best monitors you can buy and acoustically treat the room. If you’re not able to do that, or it’s something that you plan on doing in the future but would like to get some work done in the meantime, what are some things that you can do to optimize your monitoring situation?

The Importance of Monitoring

Aside from the front end of your recording system (pre-amps, mics, etc), the monitoring system is one of the most important parts of your recording studio. This is the system that you’re using to gauge everything that you are listening to and recording. If it isn’t set up properly, then it isn’t representing the audio accurately and you can never be sure of what you’re listening to. It’s the equivalent of doing graphics on a crappy computer monitor with improper color settings. You may spend a ton of time getting the colors just right only to find that on different computers the colors look way different. Likewise, you may spend a ton of time getting the mix tweaked perfectly only to listen to it at your friend’s house and have it sound like crap. One of the things I hear musicians say all the time is that the tune sounded amazing in the studio but sounded horrible when they played it on their car stereo. There are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, not all studios, even some ‘commercial ones’ are treated properly. I use the word ‘commercial’ because these days the lines between pro and amateur can sometimes get skewed. Some places look great from a visual perspective; unfortunately, acoustics don’t care how great it looks. The other reason why your mix sounds so different is because you lose your sense of reference. What happens when you spend enough time in any space, your ears become accustomed to the space and it becomes harder to discern between was sounds good and what doesn’t. In essence, your ears start to play tricks on you.

Your Space

So you don’t have an acoustically treated or space or the best monitoring system but you want to get some tracks done anyway. The best way to start out is to get used to your room and see if you can make the room sound better without spending any money. There are systems out there that you can use to test your space and see if there are any problems. These can get pricey and there is a bit of a learning curve involved, but can be useful for all the DIYers out there. There are also some basic things that you can do such as making sure that you cover big open walls with some sound dampening material. If your room is perfectly square it’s also a good idea to put up some furniture or move some things around so it’s an irregular shape. Keep speakers away from corners and walls if you can. There are a ton of articles out there about treating your room with some basic acoustic treatments too. Familiarize yourself with basic acoustic theory just so you know what’s happening. Thanks to the internet there’s a ton of info out there about this stuff that’s readily available and most of it doesn’t cost a thing.

The Ubiquitous Reference Track

The best way to start off is to listen to some tracks that you’re familiar with and have heard many times. By playing CD’s that you’re familiar with, you may hear some problems immediately or at least know what sort of problems you may be dealing with. For example you know that the mix sounds great but in your space the bass is a bit boomy. Sometimes it may sound better in your studio than in other rooms but you have to be careful with this too. Some frequencies may be boosted artificially and even though it sounds good with extra bass (for example), it’s not giving you’re an accurate representation of what’s going on in the mix. In this example you may think that there’s more bass there than there actually is only to find that on other systems your mix sounds thin.

Take your time with this step and try to see if there are some small things that you can do that will make a big difference. Where you put your speakers and sub may have a huge effect on the sound: not to mention where you sit. Don’t worry as much about the aesthetics for now and just try to get a good sound. There’s a lot of grey area here since we’re simply using our ears and not being very scientific about it. The thing is that you may notice a lot of difference if you take the time to really pay attention to the room you’re in. Sometimes in our eagerness to make music, we may skip some small steps or simply not take the time to really get things set up properly. Listen to different tracks in different genres. Listen at different levels. Try listening from different parts of the room. I’m often surprised at how different a mix can sound in different places within the same room. Although it may make sense as far as space and design goes, try not to box yourself in a corner or up against a wall. Look at pictures at high end studios and see how things are arranged. Notice how the small monitors are positioned. Notice how the mixer is usually sitting in the middle of the room. Notice how the room and the ceiling are irregularly shaped. Notice the position of the mixer relative to the position of the speakers. There are always exceptions but you will find a lot of similarities between studios.

Multiple Monitors

Once you’ve tested your space and made the necessary adjustments, you’ll have a basic idea of what you’re dealing with in your studio. If you’re not sure about your space and/or don’t have the resources to fix it all just yet, what can you do about making music in the meantime? The best solution for getting something that you know will translate on many other systems is to simply check it on other systems. This involves a couple of things. First of all you need to have a couple of different sets of monitors in the studio. You will obviously want to get the best nearfield monitors that you can get. Beyond that you need a couple of other monitors. Besides my main monitors, I have a set of cheap computer speakers set up on the desk in front of me; just like you would with your own computer monitors. The important thing here is they’re cheap. I have better computer speakers that I use on my multimedia machine but the ones in my studio are old and cheap. This helps me in two ways. First of all it gives me a good idea of what the track will sound like on cheap music systems and TV. Keep in mind that even though we have HD TV and all of that, a huge portion of the population still watches TV through the cheap mono speaker on the set.

Make sure you always check your tracks in mono. Some of those great huge mixes end up sounding not so great when listened to in mono. If you don’t think that mono is that important, think again. Not only do a lot of people listen to TV and watch videos in mono, a lot of other places (like restaurants and pubs) pipe their music through their space in mono speakers. A lot of the time when music is piped through PA systems, it comes through in mono.

Other Systems

I also have a couple of sets of headphones that I use to check the mix too. Headphones are great for checking the stereo separation and making sure things aren’t out of kilter with your panning or balance. Beyond that I’ve found that as many different types of headphones there are, each as a personality of its own. I have three sets that I use on a regular basis. One set is really bright, one has huge bass (accentuated) and one set are just really good (expensive). Here again is another example where the most expensive aren’t always the best. Yes, I like the most expensive ones the best and they are the ones that I use for vocalists, but the others are just as useful to me.

If you have a regular stereo in another room in the house check your mixes on that too. The most important part of this system is that it’s in another room. It’s always good to check your mix in another room before making any final decisions. To take this principle a step further, sometimes when I’m working on a mix, I’ll go and listen to the mix from another room. I’ll turn it up a bit, leave the studio door open and listen to it from the next room. You’ll be amazed sometimes how different the mix can sound from a different perspective. Some professional mixers will also move around the studio when mixing to get the same effect.

Another system I check my mixes on are my mp3 player. It’s a fact of life now that this is the way your music is probably going to be heard. I convert the mix to a 128kps mp3 file, put on my not so great ear buds and go for a walk and listen to the mixes. I listen to a couple of my favorite tracks before and then I’ll stick my mix in the middle of the playlist. This is usually the best indicator of how my mix translates. Any problems with the mix usually jump right out at me after listening to a couple of commercial tracks in a row. Its great having a sub cranked when listening to your music but if I can hear the bass and kick clearly on my little mp3 player, I know that I got it right. This also lets me know if I got those troubling mids right too.

Once I had gotten the mix to where I liked it, I had one more system to check it on; a professional system at a club that I DJ’d at. This was my last check and it was something that I did only after I was absolutely sure that it was ready to go. This was usually the best test of all. If it sounded great on a loud, professional system I knew that it was ready. If you produce dance or hip hop I would suggest that you do this if at all possible. If you aren’t a DJ, go down to your local club and see if you can get it played there. Chat the DJ up and let him/her know who you are. Offer a drink or something if it helps. This is one of the best ways to see how well your mixes translate because it allows you to see not only how your mixes sound on a professional system but also if the energy and feel of the song translates to the people at the club.

I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time in their car and have a good system in there. For these people, how the mix sounds in their car stereo is usually the best check for them. You may have your own place or system that you use to listen to most of your music. The most important thing is to have a couple of different systems in different spaces so you can make sure that your mix translates well.

A lot of Work

You may be reading this post and thinking ‘wow, that’s a lot of work’. Well, yes and no. Yes, it would be great if I could just sit in front of my monitors in my studio and know that what I was listening to was an accurate representation of what was actually going on but we’re talking about working in less than optimal conditions; a problem that a lot of musicians face. But, by checking your mixes on multiple systems in multiple environments you’re assured that it will translate well on most systems out there. You will have to make that extra effort to ensure that it sounds great. In the meantime, your mixing skills will most likely improve and you may find yourself getting better at identifying problems before even leaving the studio. After all, even with all of the great gear that’s out there, it still comes down to your ears and imagination!
Zemanta Pixie

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Tale of Two Computers

Photo of a recording studio control room during recording, viewing a trumpet part performance in the the studio room, for Witches' Heart of Stone album - http://www.witchesband.Image via WikipediaThe Set Up

When I was growing up in the 80's the thought of having your own recording studio was something that was beyond all but the people with the biggest pockets. This was back in the day when the project studio was just starting out and the most you could ask for was a simple set up and 8 tracks, if you were lucky. I remember getting my first four track recorder in the early 90's and having marveled at the fact that I could overdub more than one guitar track. Times have changed and it's not uncommon today for a musician to have a studio set up on their computer that exceeds the horsepower of a million dollar facility in the 80's. For a relatively small sum of money you can have almost unlimited tracks of audio and MIDI, not to mention a good assortment of effects processors and instruments, all living within your computer. Today the commercial studios now employ the best of the newest technology along with choice vintage gear to give modern recordings that old world warmth and depth. Every musician seems to have pieces of gear that they've picked up along the way that they cherish. Yet with all of the different pieces of gear and tastes there are a couple of studio set ups that most musicians seem to favor. Of course the tried and true is the cockpit version where the musicians position themselves behind a mixer or desk and have their computer monitors sitting a few feet in front of themselves. On either side of the computer monitors are their studio monitors and either on the desk or close to the right or left is their MIDI keyboard of instrument of choice. Usually any and all effects and outboard gear is kept close at hand usually on the desk or in a rack close to it.

This is usually a great solution for mixing but I found that for all of the things that I wanted to do in my studio, there were other alternatives that proved to be better in promoting creativity and getting things done.

Some Alternatives

When I first set up my studio this is the way that I had it set up and would pretty much do all of my music from the same general spot. Whether it was mixing, recording, or writing, the position was the same. Since I had my computer set up this way, it was pretty much my only choice if I wanted to get anything done on the computer. While this set up was great for mixing and mastering, it wasn't the best for other activities and I found myself spending more and more time away from the studio because it started to become tiresome sitting in the same spot day in, day out. If you do spend most of your time mixing, the set up is generally the same but you still may want to move around and get a different perspective on the mix. I find that most musicians use their studio for more than one thing and having different set ups for different situations may provide you with the best results. It may help you be more creative or at the very least it'll give you a different view once in a while. For a lot of musicians, most of the time you may be working on your own stuff and be involved in every thing from the initial writing to the final master. To help separate some of the processes and to help get the creative juices flowing, I would try doing some of the different things in different areas of the studio. For example, when I'm writing a song I usually find that I like to keep it relatively simple to begin with. I like to focus on the melody and lyrics and by eliminating all of the other distractions in the studio it's easier for me to keep focused on the task at hand. I used to sit in front of the small mixing deck I had and write songs on the computer. While this worked sometimes, once in a while I would find that either I would get stuck or end up tinkering with other things in the studio and not end up getting much writing done. Sometimes when writing with all of the toys right in front of you, it becomes too easy to end up doing too much editing and tweaking and not enough writing. I also found that staring at the computer screen for too long, I would start to go into 'edit' mode and get out of 'writing' mode. I wanted to focus on getting a great lyric or a great chord progression or a great melody and instead I would spend the time adjusting the drum sounds or eqing things.

So I decided that I wanted to try a different set up for writing. I also wanted to have a different set up for doing the business side of things and I wanted to have a different set up for other business activities.

My Set Up

What I ended up doing might not be the perfect situation for most but it may give you some ideas about how you may want to try different set ups when it comes to your studio. I really wanted to have a couple of different set ups; one for mixing and recording, one for writing and one for business and internet. I really didn't relish the thought of doing all of my surfing on the same computer that I was doing all of my intensive and very important studio work. I actually wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Generally, the less you install on your computer, the more stable it'll be. I've had a lot of computer troubles and crashes over the years and I find that the more I keep the one computer focused on audio only, the better and more reliable it is. So I ended up getting a laptop and designated the laptop as my writing and business tools and kept the desktop as my main studio computer. This kept the things on my studio computer down to the minimum because I didn't have anything on there that wasn't directly related to recording and/or mixing. I use the laptop for all of my business and internet needs and use it as a portable studio for writing and recording. It also allows me to take my studio 'on the road' in case I need to do some writing in another area or with another writer. I try to keep the stuff on the laptop to the minimum also, using a few choice tools to do all of my work. Not only does this keep down on the maintenance of the computer, it makes it easy to backup and keep updated. I have a whole system of things that I use for business that keeps things organized and running smoothly. I also have a basic recording set up on the same computer. It's nothing major since it's used mostly for writing and anything over the top would take away from its main purpose anyway.

The basic set up is this: I bought a small but well built external firewire audio unit for my laptop recording. Not only is it very small but it sounds great and is rock solid. It has 4 inputs, 6 outputs and MIDI in and out. I installed the basic software that came with the unit that covers all of my needs and more. It also integrates well with my studio set up since it comes from the same company. It's missing some features since it's the 'LE' version but nothing that I really miss. It also comes with a ton of plug-ins and instruments so I'm covered there as well. I didn't want to install too many extras as far as instruments and plug-ins because I wanted to keep the system streamlined so I could focus on writing and basic recording. I also use the hard drive on the laptop since I'm only recording one or two tracks at a time and rarely have many tracks to deal with. The software also came with a simple serial number so there are no dongles or anything hanging off of my laptop to worry about. Best of all, it really makes me focus on the most important parts of the songwriting process, right when I need to be focusing on that. It allows me to stay in 'writing' mode and keeps me out of 'editing' or 'mixing' mode. Generally I find that I do a lot of mixing along the way when I'm working on my own stuff but this keeps that to a minimum while I finish the writing. I do find too that when I'm staring at the computer screen I tend to 'hear with my eyes' and when working on a smaller laptop, I focus more on the sound and less on the computer screen.

The other things that I have on the laptop all have to do with business and keeping organized and in touch. Since I have a minimal recording set up and this is a secondary computer, I don't mind using it for all of my online activities. This frees up my main computer to do audio only and it also allows me to keep all of my business and networking separate and portable. I can do my surfing, emailing and correspondence from anywhere and I don't have to be nailed to the same spot in the studio all day. It allows me to leave the studio every once in a while and get a different perspective. I don't get tired of being in the same place all day and it keeps the studio a creative space. If I'm waiting for an important email and I have to do some studio work, I can have the laptop sitting beside me while I safely work on the studio computer.

If You Can...

For most people, having an expensive computer devoted to one task might be a bit beyond their budget but if you're serious about keeping your music safe and on a reliable system, the two computer system is the way to go. If you can't afford to get a laptop, you might want to look into getting a cheap desktop to use for your internet and business needs. There is an absolute need to be online and have a big online presence. It's simply part of the program for anyone who's serious about getting their music out there. Most computers today can handle all of your business and internet needs short of doing any intensive video editing so there's no need to go out and spend a ton of money on this. If you don't want to spend any money see if there are any people that you know who have an old computer that they don't use anymore and take it off their hands. One note of caution here though. Don't get an old computer and then start putting a lot of money into upgrades and extra computer parts. Unless you know what you're really doing, most of the time this is a costly and unproductive way to go.

One more note: I know some guys who have gone in the opposite direction and are happy with the results. That is, they use their laptop for their music and their desktop for their online stuff. Some musicians like the portability of the laptop and use it for gigs and DJing. Sometimes you may have no choice to connect the audio computer to the internet. I'm just suggesting that you keep it to a minimum to keep the viruses away. Without being constantly online, there is no reason to be running a lot of programs on your computer like firewalls, virus scanners and all things internet related.

Some musicians have successfully integrated both on the same computer but this always comes at a price and can result in crashes and a lot of lost work. It also makes it a lot harder to keep everything backed up and running smoothly. Most of all, if you're like me you'll find yourself getting more done and being more productive overall. I don't know about you but I think that the extra investment in time and money is well worth it.

Zemanta Pixie

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sonic Pixels - An Essay on Music and Motion in Three Parts

Essay Part Three by Mark Webster

Excellent Essay, also worth checking out are his two other essays
Part 1 - Colour is the keyboard and
Part 2 - Rhythm in Motion

Noisefold - Ring Matrix

Live 3D animation from Performance by NoiseFold an interactive visual music and noise group.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Wisdom of a Music Education

A teacher writing on a blackboard.Image from WikipediaMore and more I hear students telling me that they don’t have music at their school or that it’s been delegated as an extra-curricular activity. It’s a shame because in my opinion a musical education can teach us much more than we ever thought about learning and succeeding. It’s much like sports where the lessons we learn have far reaching effects over all areas of our life. Sometimes the effects aren’t as tangible as say learning how to add or write a proper paragraph but it teaches us how to learn, work on our own and overcome difficulties on a weekly basis.

The Lesson
A music lesson usually consists of a weekly visit to a teacher who hopefully has a lot of real world experience in the craft. The teacher will review what was covered last week and make sure that the student practiced the necessary exercises. If the student didn’t practice, or didn’t improve enough in that particular exercise, then it’s left again for the next week. If the exercise is too difficult, it’s broken down or simplified and practiced until the student can complete the exercise to the teacher’s approval. While the student has a number of exercises in a couple of different areas, they all point to a common goal. Hopefully, the basic techniques will be covered and ingrained before moving on. Week by week the student goes through this, slowly building skills while the teacher ensures that the student improves and keeps focused on the material at hand. While this system may seem simple at first glance, it’s brilliant in its simplicity and very effective in getting the desired results. It’s the same method that is used in sports with the coach/athlete relationship and is now used in mainstream teaching on everything from math to social skills. Basically its learning one thing at a time, in incremental steps, while keeping focused on the big picture.

Big Dreams…What Are We Doing Here?

Whenever I start working with people and/or students, we usually begin with discussing all of the things that they want to accomplish and/or learn in the coming months. Somebody may just be there to get the basics and learn something about their instrument and how music works. Others have visions of mastering the instrument and playing in front of thousands of people. It doesn’t matter, it’s a personal thing: there is no right answer for this initial stage. I know that when I sit down and figure out my goals for the upcoming months I usually go over the top to begin with. While it’s easy to go over the top with what you’d like to do, I usually don’t put any limitations on this…initially. Whenever I discuss the same things with fellow musicians, it’s the same thing and I try not to put any damper on what they want to do. Initially, I’m just trying to decipher what their most important goals are and what we need to do/learn to get them to their goals. It’s not until I have a grasp of who they are and what they want that I start to make some decisions about what to do next and make some definite plans about what we may be able to accomplish and what we may have to put off until later. What students don’t know is that as soon as I figure out what they want and where they are now, I immediately start putting together a plan. What the plan is and what the next couple of steps are depends on the student and the situation.

For Example

If I get a student who really wants to learn how to improvise, I try to figure out what their musical knowledge is and what level they are at right now. If they are a beginner and have no knowledge of music theory, and they tell me that they want to learn how to improvise over jazz standards, I know exactly what has to be done and a basic estimate of how long that will take. It’s only experience of many years of teaching and playing that gives me this knowledge. If the student is a beginner, I know that we’re going to have to go through the basics before we get into any heavy improvising. I want to make sure that they have a certain amount of technique and knowledge of some basic music theory such as time and form before we even start memorizing any scales. The point here is that as soon as they start, whether they know it or not, there is a plan in place. Now, every student/musician is different and although there is a plan, the exact plan isn’t concrete because it isn’t clear immediately where the student’s strengths and weaknesses lie and that every student is at a different place as far as knowledge and ability. What most students don’t realize is that when learning a new skill, the skill is broken down into small, manageable steps. The harder the skill, the more steps are involved. For example, if a student wants to be able to sing a major scale, I have to make sure that they initially can sing any given note. That means just singing one note when I play it to them. If they can’t do this, then I give them exercises to master this. Once that’s done, we work on two notes and so on. Every student has his/her challenges and what may be difficult for one, will be easy for another.

One at a Time…a Little at a Time
The point of all of this is to learn a musical instrument but it can be applied to any skill. If you look at it, it’s really how we learn in the first place. We almost always learn from a teacher, be it your parents, a formal teaching situation or ad hock from multiple sources, a small piece at a time. We then acquire one small skill at a time until we master the thing that we set out to do. There may be times that we seem to learn on our own and master things quickly but they’re usually based on already acquired skills. We may find that we are gifted in some areas where others are difficult. A lot of the time these exist within that same skill set. For example you may be gifted musically but can’t dance to save your life. Or, you’re a great singer but have a hard time writing a song. The point I want to make here is not about what you’re good or bad at, but how we go about learning new skills and how we can use that knowledge to acquire new skills faster and easier.

A good teacher will a) be able to fully assess where you are and where you want to go b) figure out your strengths and weaknesses and figure out ways to work on these areas c) be able to devise a plan that allows you to complete your goals and d) be able to regularly review your progress and change the plan of attack according to your individual needs. This is the true value of a music education but we can apply this methodology to all other areas of your life.

Let’s look at these one at a time:

a) Assess where you are and where you want to go. Two of the biggest problems I’ve had in becoming a success are failure to plan and trying to do too many things at once. So it was either failure to plan, or failure to plan effectively. I know that this is a problem for most people and I think that in this day and age, it’s all too easy to multitask our way into ineffectiveness. When I look at how I teach and how I learned to master my instrument, I realize that the answer was there all along: one thing at a time. The great thing about having a teacher is that they have the wisdom to see where you are and your weaknesses. They have experience and know what steps are need to accomplish your goals, and they will focus on one area at a time until all of the needed skills are acquired. Like I mentioned before, most of the time, the student isn’t even aware of this.

b) Identify your strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to work with them and around them. We all have strengths and weaknesses. To succeed these days in the music industry you’re going to have to be able to do a number of different skills at any given time. This may include being a songwriter, an engineer, a producer, a computer specialist. Or you may have to some public relations, marketing, finances, and tour promotion if you’re releasing your own stuff etc. This is just a small list but you get the idea. There are a lot of different skills involved in each of these activities and I don’t know of anybody who can do it all. I wrote a post in here before about trying to do it all, and it’s not only hard but very counterproductive. The point is that whenever you take on any plan, it’s a good idea to figure out what you can do, what you can’t, and what you may be able to delegate to somebody else.

c) Devise a plan. It’s only after we’ve figure out what we want to do and what we can do that we can set down some possible plans. By knowing what it is we can be certain about where it is that we want to go. By knowing our strengths and weakness, we can assign certain objectives to ourselves and set out to get help on the ones that we can’t. When we get a basic plan together, we need a plan of action and deadlines to make those actions a reality. In a music education, the deadlines aren’t always written in stone since one objective usually relies on the completion of the one before it. But so it goes in life; especially a career in the music industry. Keep in mind that a plan is always a work in progress and that changes will have to be made. It’s simply a general road map, the exact directions have to be written en-route.

d) Review and revise. This is especially important and is never given enough thought. As soon as you get going with your plans, it’s essential that you sit down on a regular basis and figure out what worked, what didn’t and if you are still on course. This is where the wisdom of the music education approach really kicks in. The student and teacher get together once a week to review. Anytime you have a lesson, the first thing you do is review what you did last week and assess to see if you can move on to the next step. There are two important points here. First of all there is the weekly review. It tells the teacher if the student has worked on the material, if there any problems with the material or the student and if they are still on course. If the material was too tough, there may have be a change in plans. The second lesson is that whether the student knows it or not, the teacher has made the student focus on one single lesson and didn’t allow the student to go one without completion of that lesson. This is where the one pointed focus comes in. In a music education there are just too many things for a student to learn. They all must be taken one step at a time. When the student becomes proficient in one area, s/he can then move on into more advanced techniques. If the student was to take it all on at once, it would just be overwhelming and the chances of success would be greatly reduced.

One More Time...From the Top
The lesson here is that within getting a musical education, we learn certain things that we can apply to all other areas of our life. I’ve focused mostly on music and the music industry but these lessons can apply to almost anything. When we learn to play a music instrument, it’s imperative that we learn in incremental steps and use what we’ve learned to build upon. It’s also important to note that when learning an instrument, most of the work is done on your own. Most of the development happens when you take the time to work on the task at hand, on a regular basis. There are no shortcuts. It’s this regular, incremental work ethic that allows us to achieve things that in themselves seem impossible. If you’re unsure, just check out a great artist who has really learned their craft. It almost seems magical when seen live yet realize that that magic was the result of the ongoing daily work and learning ethic that we learned about here.
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