The Creative Value of Limited Choices

I write songs and I do most of the work with a pen and paper and a guitar or piano. I’ll have an idea for a lyric or a riff and will develop the skeleton of the song with just an instrument and my voice. Once I have the song in a place where I can sing and play it well, I then open up my recording studio and begin building the arrangement.

 

This is where things can get crazy. Let’s say I have opened up my workstation and I am choosing a virtual drum set. I have close to 70 possible “preloaded” kits that I can choose from. Most bands have 1 drum set, so you don’t waste time trying to “decide” which kit you are going to use when you are recording. You set up the kit, you mic it, and you record. Done. What if I treated my workstation like that and I reduced my choices so I could get right to work? This mindset has lead to a really important development in my writing and production. I thought I would share it with you.

 

About two years ago I spent an entire day creating a template for my music in Studio One 3 (my workstation). I went through all of the drum set samples and created “Josh’s kit”. I mixed and matched my favorite bass drums, snare drums, toms, hi-hats, cymbals, congas, and shakers until I had the set I wish was preloaded. I did the same thing for “bass guitar” and “piano”. I have a really nice nylon string classical guitar, a Parker guitar, and a really nice Marshall Amp, so I didn’t have to “create” a virtual guitar or mess with virtual amps. I created and labeled tracks, set colors, added busses (groups of faders) and FX sends that I knew I was going to add, and set up several minutes of a stock drum beat as a click track. (I could probably write an entire blog post on the value of having 5 minutes of a stock drum beat already in place the moment I open a new song.) Basically, I did work that any recording engineer would do before the band walked through the door.

 

 

Now when I have a new song to produce, I open my template and I can get right to work. It made it easier to create by limiting my options because the sounds I generally want are already there. The flow of creativity isn’t stopped by the mundane construction of tracks or trying to decide if the bass sound was the one I wanted. It is easier to go from song to song because my tracks are always the same color (rhythm guitar is yellow for example) and in the same location left to right on mixer and up and down on the screen (drum set, bass, piano, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, lead vocal, harmony vocal). And as a bonus, my final tracks are more consistent song to song to song. This is an important outcome when creating an album.

 

I am sure there are many applications for this kind of thinking. I imagine people who write novels for a living, do not sit around trying to decide what “font” they are going to write in. Instead, I bet they have a favorite and stick with it like an old friend who helps them release the ideas that are in their hearts. The same may be true for wedding photographers. Dealing with hundreds of photos that happened under similar circumstances must get redundant. Or like a fine woodworker having specific jigs for certain situations. Having consistency and reliability helps creativity and allows expression to flow unhindered by mundane technical aspects.

 

I hope you found this useful. It’s time to get back in my studio.

 

Josh

 

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