It's been some months since my last blog post. I've missed you guys. I got married. I did some traveling. I moved from one apartment to another, which is always an ordeal with my studio setup. And I've been working.
One of my jobs is writing for a magazine covering the hardware and software of pro audio and high-end consumer audio. And it's been a learning experience writing under an editor; discovering what it means to adapt my writing style to another's publication.
This past month, I've been putting together a review of a music streaming service entering the US market. It plans to be the best, outdoing Spotify and all the others, but that's a bold claim for a small company, and it's a crowded marketplace to be in. My editor told me to aim for 1800-2400 words, and said that a music streaming service review should always include a, b, and c; our readers would appreciate exploring d, e, and f; and also please follow up on x, y, and z. I did all that, and I ended up with 9200 words. It's insightful, educational, has some unreleased news, and some killer quotes from the streaming company's employees opening up about topics you really don't see covered in the tech media. It's a beautiful review. But there's no way it can be published at that length, and I know it.
I asked my writer friend what to do, and he called it the "newbie curse" in that beginner writers don't know how to edit themselves. I have the newbie curse. And the worst part is that I knew I was being too detailed when I wrote. A quiet voice in the back of my mind kept reminding me that I was wasting time as I delved into tiny details irrelevant to the final review.
Aiming to not be a newbie, I spent days chopping away sentences and whole paragraphs that I feel are valuable and insightful, and it makes me sad. These are the things that I feel I would really want to know as a reader. But the result is that I have a leaner, meaner review that seems to flow better. It's not as ground-breaking as it was, but it feels "pro" somehow.
This reminds me of how I make music. I try to include everything in my productions: to use super complex percussion patterns, detailed sound design, and work intricacy into my chord progressions. But I still miss the main goal of keeping it simple and approachable. It doesn't matter that it's full of ear-candy for production nerds like me if I can't strip it down to the essentials, and I never put enough focus on the melody to actually make it a good song.
I know in the back of my mind that I haven't been using the best approach to make great songs. But the lazy approach is fun and easy. So I ignore that inner voice. And doing so helps me create a thousand lame tracks not worth publishing.
I'm not going to call the inner voice a conscience because this isn't about right and wrong. But I need to listen to my inner voice warning me that my song is too complex or that I haven't put enough time into the hook of a song. It can be really hard to start muting tracks that you like the sound of, or digging into an area of weakness. But when I listen to my inner voice and mute tracks and dig into my areas of weakness, I do my best work: I create the music I'm proudest of months and even years later.
Learning to Work Smarter
You have that inner voice too. The voice that says to be lazy and only work on the aspects of production and engineering you like, ignoring the rest. For some of you, I bet you love starting songs but hate finishing. For others, you love vocals but always put off writing and recording your own. And for others, you build songs up to be a mountain of instruments that can't all co-exist. Like me, you've got the "newbie curse" in that you can't edit out the tracks that, while interesting and creative, don't make the song sound truer. Choose to take on the aspects you're afraid of and you'll advance faster than by any other method. And learn to edit yourself, and your songs will start to feel more "pro" and more "right".
I'm amazed by how my blog's readership has grown, even in the months I wasn't active. Truly, I'm so thankful for you guys. And I can't wait to see what 2019 brings for this community.
I'm considering introducing a new Q/A portion to my blog and YouTube channel. So if you have any questions you'd like answered, or topics you'd like me to focus on, write me a message or reach out with the Contact form on my website.
And may each of you listen to your inner voice and learn to write and produce leaner, meaner songs that sound more "pro" and more "right".