Studio Cleanup Day

Today is Studio Cleanup Day. Time to throw away all of the paper scraps, untangle the spaghetti, reconsider the routing matrix, track down that ground loop, rip the pile of CDs that’s starting to fall over, get rid of those eBay boxes and peanuts, and figure out what the hell I’m going to do with the extra crap from the World of Warcraft collectors edition I got.

I also need to start putting all of the software I’ve acquired over the years into piles: obsolete, not using anymore, must have. If you make great software with crappy DRM schemes (Waldorf and Native Instruments, I’m looking at you…), you’re likely to go in the “sadly acknowledge that I won’t be upgrading again” pile.

It’s also time to revisit the studio wiring diagram and decide if it still makes sense given the increasingly hardware-based approach I’m taking with the studio. Everything old is new again, and I’m heading back to the 90s – before I bought into the idea that plugins were the answer to my problems.

Or, I might write some music in a desperate attempt to avoid all of that.

Odd Connections

I crossed another synth off my “acquire” list this week, the Korg DW8000. If you read about it, you’re unlikely to be overly impressed. It came out in the late 80s and is a digital/analog hybrid with sampled waveforms and a nice analog filter. I played around with one in college and remember teaching myself “Coming Around Again” by Carly Simon with a stock electric piano patch. I couldn’t afford to get one when they were new and, like so many others, forgot about synths when I got my first sampler.

Ultimately, it was on my list (I really should write that list down…) more for sentimental reasons than anything else. I wasn’t quite sure if it would live up to my memories. Until I plugged it in.

I love this synth.

Ok, to be fair, there aren’t many synths that I don’t love, but there’s something about this period in synthesizers that I find satisfying and the DW8000 sits squarely in the “tweener” age group of synth history. It’s got digital grit, but that analog presence that you just don’t get anywhere else. As with so many things, it’s the unique constraints and features that make this keyboard special. Want more than eight note polyphony? Tough. Need that arpeggiator to use a custom pattern? Forget about it. Up and down, that’s it, buddy.

But there’s also a dedicated unison mode that stacks all eight voices at a touch. A cool auto bend parameter that makes notes just slide into place. A portamento pedal jack. And the sound is actually better than I remembered it. The bass is full and thick. It can be delicate and digital, but it can also bark and growl.

What struck me the instant I started playing, though, was how I immediately connected with the sound. It just made me happy, and that was both odd and surprising. I’m always “happy” when I get a new toy, but this was something more. This was Happy.

I’m relearning how fantastic it is to have an actual keyboard under my hands instead of a master board with soft synths. I also picked up a Roland D-110 module this week, but it’s going to have to wait. The DW has my full attention this weekend.


I’m sitting in my home studio, surrounded by gear that would make many musicians weep with joy, but I can’t seem to get a single thing done. I have several excuses at the moment.

  1. I either cracked or severely bruised the tip of my left pinky a few days ago while tearing up a bassline on a weighted keyboard. It still hurts and is interfering with my mojo.
  2. My studio is a wreck. The mess is bugging me.
  3. Distractions abound. There’s a stack of CDs I picked up in Korea that need ripping. I need to archive some stuff off my hard drive to clear up some space.
  4. Skyrim.
  5. The Internet. How many times can one human being check Facebook, Google+, Twitter, eBay,, and YouTube in an hour? I’m apparently trying to find out and Mr. Owl is nowhere to be found.
  6. I have some work (for the day job) that needs attention.

Of course, none of these (except for the last one) are valid excuses. There is one other thing that’s been working its way into my brain, though. I’ve “written” four or five things that I really liked over the last week or so while noodling around with sounds. But they’re improvisations and I’ve never figured out how to capture them effectively. I’m too self conscious to do the same thing if I know the DAW is recording, and by the time I’ve worked out the bugs in what I’m doing, the moment is gone.

I am, however, putting an action plan together to address at least some of these problems.

  1. After a learning experiment with various social media sites (partly to learn, partly to protect my online brand…), I’m about to contract my efforts and limit them almost exclusively to Google+ and this blog. I’ll try to check the others once or twice a month for private messages.
  2.  I sat down yesterday and wrote out a list of my gear and the gear that I want or think I need. I’m going to try and rectify this list with what I perceive to be the significant holes in my studio (e.g., outboard processing) which should help with my Gear Acquisition Syndrome problem.
  3. I sense a “to hell with all this crap” purge session coming on, so I’m trying to get things organized into piles that will help bring about a hasty exit of much of the junk from my life.

I’ve been doing a GTD action dump for the last couple of weeks, but that becomes another action in and of itself.

What do you do to give yourself a kick in the pants when there’s so much to do you can’t seem to pick a starting point?

Walking Long Enough

Today I turn to Cheap Writing Trick #78: Quoting a Classic. The following is a fairly oft-used passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

‘Cheshire Puss, . . . would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

The most common interpretation of this is that you need to know where you’re going if you’re going to get anywhere. It’s frequently used as a conversation starter for planning, goal setting, and efficiency discussions. But what most people never include are the next two lines in the passage:

‘–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Now we have something a little different. It’s not always easy to know what the destination is, especially when exploring, brainstorming, or doodling. If we always focus on the goal, the destination, we miss opportunities to discover, learn, or have “happy accidents.” But it’s not enough to wander. You have to wander long enough to find something.

My past creative efforts (at writing especially, but in many other areas as well) have nearly always fallen by the wayside because I stopped walking, as it were. When a destination wasn’t immediately obvious to me, I decided that the journey was probably pointless. Unless you work for a certain spacing guild, what’s the point of traveling without moving, after all?

Saint Salieri

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the progress I’ve made in various areas of my life, and it’s been somewhat… well… depressing or disappointing aren’t the right words, but they’re in the neighborhood. I haven’t written or recorded any music in a few years. Most of my design and video projects have become work instead of fun.

For many years now, I’ve held my own work in relatively low regard. I’ve long held myself to have “Salieri Syndrome.” Bear with me for a moment as I explain that for those of you who haven’t seen Amadeus. In the story, Salieri is a locally celebrated composer and a peer of Mozart’s. After hearing the perfection in Mozart’s music, he hears only mediocrity in his own, ultimately proclaiming, “I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you!”

When Trent Reznor released Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, I was simultaneously thrilled and crushed. He had released the album I had been working on, in both style and topic, for nearly a year. Worse, he had done it far better than I ever could have. It was one of the ultimate “I wish I’d said that” moments in my life. It was one more confirmation of my own internal assessment of mediocrity, despite praise from those around me. I’ve struggled with this internal critique for a long time now.

Working Through The Suck

Two days ago, however, in a fit of synchronicity, I came across a link to a YouTube video by Ira Glass titled “Working Through The Suck.” I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post and highly recommend that you watch it, especially if the previous paragraph struck a chord with you. The essential message of the video is that all creatives go through a period where they don’t like the quality of their own work, and that it takes tenacity to stick with it until you get really good. He further asserts that this period can take years to get through.

This was an “Ah HAH!” moment for me, because I thought I was the only one. And it’s not just music. I’ve discounted all of my creative abilities. I’m constantly waiting for someone to expose me as a hack, a fraud, because I see things from other people that strike me as genius. How can I possibly compare? How can these other people not see it?

So I have resolved to begin walking again. My entries here are part of a multi-pronged offensive against my throng of internal critics. I’m beginning to find new things that are interesting to write about and that, hopefully, will be interesting to read about as well.

Enjoy the video…