Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Crash Time

I recently had a crash on my laptop and thought I'd like to talk about computer crashes and back ups and how they're important to the working musician.

Two Systems

Now I'm sure by this point you're aware of how important it is to back up all of your important projects on a regular basis. It's a good idea to have two separate back up systems going. For example you could have an external hard drive for one and a DVD back up for the 2nd. You need both. They need to be different systems and preferably in different places. There are a lot of online back up systems available now and they're free. Most of them have lots of space (some up to 5Gb) and are easy to use. They are the perfect thing for musicians who need to back up crucial files on a daily basis. Once you get a recording done, you can back up the entire thing online with a touch of a button. If you're like me and don't have your main recording computer hooked up to the internet, it's a good way to make sure that you use that external drive or DVD. You can then use those to make the transfer on a connected computer.

Ghosts in the Attic

Since we're on the subject of crashes I'd like to mention Ghost. Ghost is a program by Norton that makes an image file of your hard drive. That way, in the case of a crash, you simply run Ghost and it returns your hard drive to the exact way it was before the crash. This is unlike system restore which simply makes adjustments to your existing system. The great thing about this is that you can setup your computer to where it has all of the necessary drivers and programs and in case of a crash, you can set it back to that exact point. I do this whenever I get a new computer because if I want to set it back to it's original settings, I can. This is also way less work for your computer since system restore running can take a lot out of your system performance. Some manufacturers (like Dell), ship some of their systems with a restore button (actually, a series of buttons that you press on start up) that restores the computer to its factory settings.


The last point I'd like to make about computer crashes is about keeping things simple. The crash in this case wasn't my main computer but my laptop. I use my laptop as my 'office' so it's just as critical to my business as my main computer. This is where I keep all of my important documents as well as all correspondence and internet related stuff. With all of this on a single computer, it's easy to get disorganized and lose track of things. The biggest problem with this aside from it being a time waster, is the fact that it makes it hard to back up. Here, more than anywhere is why it's important to keep organized and efficient. Herein lies the title for this section: Keep It Simple.

There are a couple of ways to do this: First of all try and get all of your emails from one place online. Most of the email programs now have systems where you can have all of your mail going to the one place. This makes it easy to keep track of, keep organized and most of all no need to back up. You can also use this space to save some of your important documents and even create the documents online. This saves you money and the need for extra programs to be installed on your computer. You can also use the planners online and send emails to yourself to remind yourself of important appointments.

Remember, if the files are really important, you still need two systems.

As long as we're talking about crashes and keeping things simple, we should try and apply that to the computers themselves. It's all too easy to overload your computer with a ton of extras that you don't really need that slow down your system and may cause a crash. This includes themes, animations, plug ins and widgets (browser and desktop), utilities, and programs. Try to find the best application for what you want to accomplish and stick with that. It's easy to get out of control. I once had a half dozen media players installed on my computer at one time. These things slow your system down and are time wasters in more ways than one. It also makes backing things up much tougher because you've got all of those extra files and file types to deal with.

Finally, since we seem to have so much drive space these days, there seems to be the need to fill up every inch of that space. If you come across some items that you feel you really need, then save them and archive them as soon as you can. Or, if it's an article that you really love, make a hard copy and delete the file. I have a binder that I keep as a reference for important articles and material. Get all of that stuff off of your hard drive. If you have a laptop or just the one computer, that's hard drive space that could be used for more productive things (like your projects and business files). Having your hard drive free of clutter is not only good for the drive, but it stops you from wasting time accumulating all of this clutter, then feeling the need to organize it, thereby wasting more time.

Not If...But When

Always remember that if you rely on computers, the case of a crash ever happening is not if, but when. Not only do you want to be prepared when it does happen but you also don't want to have all of your critical files, projects, songs and pictures on something so unreliable as a hard drive. Have two systems going constantly and do it on a regular basis. Keep your computer uncluttered and use it efficiently. When you have a crash, or transfer to another computer, the move won't be such a big deal. Most of all you'll have piece of mind knowing that in this area of your life at least, you're covered.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting It Done...Regardless

Every once in a while I find it really hard to keep motivated. Even when it comes to music, something that I really love, I sometimes find it hard to get to work. Why is this? Let's take a look.

We’re Not Machines

There may be a lot of factors involved. There may be a lot of other things going on in your life, both good and bad that may be weighing on your mind. Even if you don’t think that these things are affecting you, they may be and you don’t know it. You also may have been working on music a bit too much lately and haven’t taken time out to take a break. Or, it may be a special time (like the holidays) and you really just want to be out having fun but still feel that you should be working. We may feel sometimes that we can go on everyday, working hard and getting things done but our minds and bodies don’t work that way.

The mind and body demands things from us even when we don’t want to accept it.

Like the athletic community knows all too well, our bodies operate in cycles and it’s in our best interest to acknowledge these cycles so we can take advantage of our peak periods. This is something musicians have yet to learn. Most musicians I know go at it everyday, without any consideration for their bodies or natural cycles; expecting peak performance day in, day out. There are times when you’re going to have more energy, greater creativity and be able to perform better; then there are the times when you’re not. Since we usually don’t have the privilege of working only at our peak times, we have to find some way to work with these cycles so we can get things done without burn out or injury. That means paying attention to what’s going on and making necessary adjustments.

Stop…and Go

When you’re finding it hard to get some work done, instead of fighting it or beating yourself up about it, you may want to take a moment and figure out if your body is trying to tell you something. If you’ve been working in the studio and doing a lot of writing and playing, your mind may need some rejuvenation time to ‘refill’ so to speak. There have been volumes written on all of the things that you can do to get the creative juices going by taking time out to recharge and get a fresh perspective. If you’re having a hard time getting to work, and it’s not just a one time thing but goes on for a couple of weeks, you may want to take a break and try working on something different. For example, if you’ve been doing a lot of writing and things just aren’t coming to you, take a break from writing and work in another area. Slow down the writing for a little while and use that time to work on your website, go to some industry events, work on some PR, or even try playing with some other people or somebody’s else’s stuff for a while. You may come back with renewed energy and a ton of new ideas. Keep in mind that new ideas need time to incubate so you may need some time to work through the ideas and it may seem like you’re getting worse for a while.

Sometimes it’s a matter of energy, sometimes it’s a matter of creativity. A lot of the time, since these seem to go hand in hand, it’s feels like it’s both.


If it’s creativity, a good thing to do is to try something new that makes your mind work in new ways. In music this might be learning a new instrument, learning a song in a genre that you’re not familiar with, or joining a group. Joining a group will force you to work with other people and you become part of a creative force where ideas are exchanged. Sometimes you get stuck in a certain way of thinking and being part of another creative group makes you start thinking in new ways. The other thing you may want to do when stuck is get the opinion of somebody you respect. This is just another version of the group idea above where you’re getting a fresh perspective. You can also try separating the various processes or doing the process in a new way. For example if you’re a songwriter, try writing the lyrics only or the melody only. Try writing on a different instrument even if (especially if) you can’t play the other instrument. Try writing with no instrument at all (an especially effective exercise because it makes you really focus on the melody). A great though, if you’re having trouble writing, is to set aside a time and just write without any judgment. Set a timer for about 10 or 15 minutes, pick up your instrument and your tools of choice and just start writing. The most important part of this is to dismiss any judgment. You’re just going to write for the time allotted and just let it flow. No idea is bad and no idea is thrown out. Just let it go. Once the time is up, stop. Let it sit for a while and come back to it later. See what comes up. You’ll be surprised how many great ideas come up when that judgmental part of our brain is completely shut off.


If it’s a lack of energy, and you just have to get the work done, try some of these ideas: Take a quick walk before starting. Walking seems to clear the mind and it gets the heart and blood flowing without going into a full on workout. A light stretch will have the same results. One thing that works really well for me is the half hour appointment. If I’m having a hard time getting to work, I just tell myself that I’ll just work for half and hour and ‘see how it goes’. Sometimes, the half hour passes and it becomes obvious that it just isn’t working today and I try working on something else. Most of the time though, the simple act of starting and keeping with it for a short time is enough to get a flow going and a couple of hours pass before I realize it. One other thing to keep in mind when it comes to energy is to take breaks. Get up once an hour and walk around, or leave the room. Five minutes is usually long enough to get refreshed and not lose your flow. This gets the mind and blood flowing and it may save you some injury from sitting in the same position for an extended period of time. Sometimes we get so involved in what we're doing, we forget about things like posture, stiff muscles or even how we’re feeling. Getting up once an hour for a stretch is a good way to keep the body loose and keep us from sitting in the same position for an extended period. Moving also has an effect on our minds because sometimes just getting up from where we’re sitting, gives us a ‘different perspective’. For example, listening to a mix from a different position or even another room is valuable in giving us an overall view of the song. Sometimes you get so involved in tweaking a certain sound that you lose perspective of the big picture. The last important aspect is to know when to stop. Since we’re involved in a creative art, we can't really 'cram' like in certain other activities. There comes a time when you’ve been working too long and you either start to make some bad decisions, you lose perspective of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place, or your mind starts to wonder and you lose that creative space and the work suffers. I know that sometimes when I’m working on a mix for too long, my ears get tired without me realizing it and I start tweaking sounds to some horrible results. In the arts, there is the point of diminishing returns and you simply have to stop for the day.

We’re not machines; we’re artists. Whether we like it or not, we can’t keep the wheels grinding day after day without taking time out to take a break or switch gears. It’s important to take note of the times when our mind and bodies are telling us that they just don’t want to do it today. It’s best to acknowledge these times and take a break or work on something else. If that’s not an option, we have to find some way of getting the work done while respecting what our bodies are trying to tell ourselves so we’re healthy enough to work and create another day.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Experimental Music Film - Note Bank

"Many people were filmed in St Michael's church in Byker Newcastle, indidivudally, over the course of a day, playing single notes on various insruments to create a note bank that andy jackson the composer used to create the score that you see and hear. Most of the participants had no previous musical expereince. Antnhec, Anton hecht bought it all together, with Richard Lawson on camera. The work was produced by Mathew Lennon for Newcastle City Council as part of the Off-Centre project. The main body of people came from the community group Aspire"