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?
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.
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.