Deadlines Are Your Best Friend

Hey Everyone!

I have a new post coming up next week about benchmarks and perfection, but as a starting point I wanted to bring out this chestnut (originally posted on guitarchitecture.org).

One of the things that attracts me to improvisation is the immediacy of it.  You perform and then it’s done.  While I like documenting these improvisations I fully recognize the danger of doing so.  (The danger being that when you record something there is a tendency to say, “Oh that sounds pretty good. I should just tweak a couple of things and then it will be perfect.”)

A Variation on the “I used to Walk a mile in the snow to get to school” rant

The way records used to be made back in the day,  involved a bunch of musicians who rehearsed and/or toured some material to death getting together in a room.  Mics would be set up and levels were typically set by putting loud instruments in the back of the room and softer ones up front (soloists would literally step up to the mike to solo and then step back) and after the end of the performance, the record was recorded.

Multitracking came along and studio time was still prohibitively expensive enough that you wanted to get tracks done as quickly as possible.  I played in several bands that did weekend cd’s tracking and overdubs on day one and mixing on day two.  There were always things that you wanted to tweak – but two days later you had a CD and it was done.

You kids and your new fangled “machines”

Now everyone has a multitrack recorder called a computer that can edit audio to the millisecond and the temptation to play god and make the perfect aural universe is a dangerous one to productivity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my computer and I love Logic but I also know that if a take is 95% of the way there in terms of recording – it may take all day at best to get that extra 5%.  In a worst case scenario it might take forever.

Perfection is over rated.

Midi can be “perfect”.  It can be quantized and performed uniformly ever single time.  From a performance perspective, it can play things faster and cleaner than you will ever be able to with millisecond accurate timing.

Midi is also typically boring.  No one wants to watch a sequencer play things on a stage.  Audiences might listen, but they’re not going to give it their full attention.

In pop music (i.e. “rock” music) – ProTools and midi as a performance standard have increasingly become the goal.  Once I was sitting with a world class engineer and in discussing talking about how out of control the pursuit of “perfection” in commercially released recordings is,  He said, “let me give you an example” and proceeded to bring up a track he was working on on his desk top.  The track was going really slow.

“Is that an old computer?” I asked.  It turned out that it was the newest version.  Top of the line with memory and drives at the highest level the system would support.

When the track finally loaded I saw why it took so long.  There were eighteen thousand edits on the drum track alone.  18,000 edits!  On a 4 minute song.  Every single drum hit was cross faded.  Every single hit was moved and jostled to fit a midi track.

From a perspective of timing – it was perfect but from a performance perspective it was boring and it sounded like every other programmed drum track you ever heard.

I am not advising you to give up on bettering yourself (quite the contrary) – but my general advice to any artist is not to get seduced by “perfection”.  Perfection can be a great motivator or it can be the siren song that sinks your productivity.

To paraphrase a quote that I should be able to cite, “A true artist never completes a work but merely abandons it.”

Deadlines are your best friend.

Deadlines allow you to get things done.

Real (i.e. no-moving and non-negotiable) deadlines force you to realize that 95% of something is more than 100% of nothing.

Work at the highest level that you possibly can – but realize when it’s time to move on to the next thing.

As Steve Jobs famously stated,

“Real artists ship.”

Thanks for reading!

-SC

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