Blog

Workspace, Time Management, and the Absence of Social Media

The hardest part about practicing is opening your instrument case.

 

Having an actively creative life requires a certain amount of discipline. You have to schedule time in your life for your art, especially if art is not your full-time gig (ie. What pays the mortgage). You also have to create a physical workspace for you to create your art. Over the years I have created workspaces that have ranged from a bedroom closet to my current space that is the size of a studio apartment complete with a bathroom. No matter what your situation there are important factors to keep in mind so you can get the most out of your time and space.

 

 

The first rule in setting up a workspace is it has to work for you. There is little point in having a space that “looks” great but is completely impossible to work efficiently in. Everything needs to be within easy reach so you do not have to move things to get what you need at any particular moment. Having everything immediately available reduces frustration and keeps the inertia of creativity flowing. Over the years I have learned to preset equipment to make the most of what my time and space have offered me.

 

My second rule is no email or social media interactions until my creative work is done. One difficult email or one negative Facebook interaction can ruin the creative flow and make it harder to be productive. Even having my phone out in the open can be distracting. “I’ll just pop on Instagram” or “let’s see what is happening on Twitter”. Those sites are time and creativity destroyers. So social media and email take a backseat until my session is done.

 

That is easy to say but let me show you what that actually looks like.

 

This was my schedule this past Sunday Morning: (any morning really until 6:20am….)

Work before play – get the chores done so you can focus on being creative.

Wake Up @ 4:45am.

Feed the cat,

Wake up the computer and start the recording software.

Meditate for 10 minutes.

Make the bed and shower

Feed and walk the dog, start the woodstove, scoop and take out the cat litter.

 

6:00am.

Make oatmeal. Eat without distraction – no computer, no books, no phone, just focus on eating. I do this as a spiritual practice. Try it for a few weeks you wont regret it.

 

 

By 6:20 or 6:30am.

Kiss my daughters good morning.

Throw a log on the fire

 

(Time to play)

(During the workweek I am driving to school at this point and up until  3pm my day doesn’t look like this at all. I am teaching music at the middle  school)

Go up into my studio.

Practice what I plan to record. Record it. (The microphones are already set up, the program is already loaded, and waiting for me to set the preamp to record)

 

7:30am.

Check the fire and talk to my daughters. I might go back upstairs into the studio to listen or tweak for a few more minutes before Angie comes up to make Chai.

 

8:00am.

Angie is probably making Chai at this point. I go downstairs and we have Chai together.

 

8:30am.

Listen to what I recorded. If it is problem free then I lay down the bass and piano parts. I probably do not finish them.

 

9:00 am.

Pick food from our CSA, go to the grocery store for more Soy Milk (for the Chai), or do some other household errand. This is a break. It resets my mind and my ears and allows me to come back to the studio fresh.

 

10:00 am.

Listen to the recorded parts. Dwell on them while I make dinner – chili in the instapot and rice in the rice cooker.

 

11:00am.

Replay or fix any problems with the bass and piano parts. Record the cello.

 

11:45 am.

Load the recycling in the car. Take the dog with me and do the recycling.

 

12:30pm.

Eat lunch.

Take the dog for a walk.

 

1:30 pm. Listen to the recording. Fix any performance issues with the cello. Make a rough master mix down to compare with the other tracks on the album. Read a book while I play the album in the background. If anything stands out in a negative way, I get up and fix it. I keep a notebook by my desk to write down any problems I do not fix so they get priority during the next work session.

 

3:00pm.

Stop for the day and make a CD to play in the car for my morning drive.

Read email. Maybe check Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

3:30pm. Our band arrives and we have a kirtan from 4-5:30pm as part of the Yoga Teacher Training.

 

6:15pm dinner with the band. (This is late for us. Usually we eat around 4:30pm.)

 

7:30pm clean up after Yoga teacher training and dinner. (vacuum and mop the house, dishes put away) Walk the dog again.

 

8:30 – have a snack and type this blog post.

 

9:10 – get ready to sleep. Grab my book.

 

 

Saturdays and Sundays often look a lot like this but not always. Sometimes I have other kinds of household chores to do, and sometimes I spend much more time with my family. It depends, but having a basic schedule and a functional workspace makes my time more productive. And choosing not to read email or check social media first but instead last has untold benefits to my creativity.

I hope this useful.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

 

 

Advertisements

The Secret Glue

In my last post I wrote “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.”

So here goes…. (Once again this concept probably applies to many things outside of audio recording.)

I am in the process of recording a new album of original music. I am loosely basing the pieces on my daily morning practices. Pieces that are atmospheric representations of the stillness of the morning, the sun coming through the trees, my meditation and mantra practices, the rivers that join in a Sangama on our property, and the gratitude I feel for each day. Each piece has the same instrumentation – classical guitar, piano, bass guitar, cello, and occasionally voice and environmental sounds. There is no percussion in any of the finished tracks however I am recording them with a drumbeat as a click track.

 

I set up a special template after I recorded the album’s first track. I knew I wanted each successive piece to be sonically equivalent, to exist in the same space and to belong together. So all of the instruments, plug-ins, settings, and my “drumbeat click track” all load up with each new piece I am recording. Because I have a simple drumbeat, I can quickly dial up the right tempo for the piece and record my classical guitar knowing that everything will line up neatly for possible future editing. Once I am satisfied with my guitar performance, I record the bass and piano. I keep the drumbeat playing the whole time. I hear it but no one else ever will. Once everything is locked in and the cello and voice are recorded, I mute the drumbeat track. The drumbeat is the secret glue that holds the sonic collage together.

 

The results have been very satisfying to listen too, at least that is how I feel.

 

Why bother writing a stock drumbeat when you could just use the metronome click track included with the workstation? I hate the sound of a metronome. Maybe it was all those years of rigorous training in tiny practice rooms, but as soon as the metronome click comes on it is like an ice pick in the forehead. Maybe it was years of playing with “drum drops” records or keyboard drum beats as a teenager. Stock drumbeats have more “feeling” than a metronome even when they are locked right to the quantization grid. I set up 5 minutes of a stock drumbeat because it lets me get into the feel for how the music is going to go and keeps me honest as my tempo naturally fluctuates faster and slower over the span of time. Trying to play to or edit around those natural fluctuations is incredibly frustrating and can waste enormous amounts of precious studio time. (If you get the chance watch the “Sound City” documentary by Dave Grohl and listen to him describe recording Nirvana’s “Lithium” and the necessity of a click track to keep that song’s tempo reigned in.)

 

But it is not just editing, although that alone is worth the drumbeat. Opening up the workstation is like diving into a vast universe filled with choices. Many of those choices are completely unnecessary to even consider and will most likely keep me from finishing the project. So with this latest project everything is pre-loaded from my drumbeat click track right down to my FX plugins. Everything still takes hours and hours to create but the time is spent making the music not deciding which EQ plugin I should use. And I am not spending any time doing meticulous timing based edits because I refused to play to a drumbeat (even when the finished product does not contain one.)

It is like a contractor using large 4×4 post supports to hold up a porch roof while they redo the “real” supports. Once the weight is supported by the “finished” decorative column supports, then the ugly temporary ones are removed. Interesting how the word “tempo” is found in the word “temporary”. I guess I am not the only one who removes (mutes) the “drumbeat” once the structure is in place.

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh

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

 

Time Spent Well Spent?

You probably have something more important to do, but maybe you’ll find these paragraphs Valuable.

 

Angie and I have been having a lot of discussions lately about the Value of Social Media in our lives. It is quite likely that you haven’t noticed my dramatic reduction in Facebook posts/activity over the last 6 months, but I have made the conscious effort to go on Facebook for less than 10 minutes a week total. I do this mostly because the value of a Facebook discussion (I use that term loosely), for me, is pretty low. Mostly I just find myself getting frustrated, so I deliberately reduced the amount of time I spend engaging with posts on Facebook. Sometimes I would even write a response and instead of hitting the post button, I would delete it. I found that action usually makes me feel a lot better. But your opinion and voice is important!! You should engage. Well, in terms of outcomes, chances are really good that I wasn’t going to change any minds and only would have succeeded in making tempers rise. This was not how I wanted to spend my time.

 

I know I am not the only one who has felt this way about Facebook discussions and I wasn’t sure what to do about it, but I knew I had to do something.  So, I started viewing Social Media sites as “physical places” that I go to on the Internet. I wouldn’t regularly hang out somewhere if I knew I was going to get into nasty arguments in the “physical” world, so why should I regularly spend my time there in the “virtual” world? Example: If I walk into a bookstore or a library, I might have a conversation with someone about books, but I might not. Sometimes I just go, browse or skim things that interest me, and then leave without buying or checking anything out. So, that is how I have been treating my time on all Social Media sites.

 

Apparently people spend close to two hours a day on Social Media. (https://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic) .

 

This doesn’t surprise me and many of the kids I teach say they spend “A Lot” more than that. I know Social Media platforms are designed to be addictive and there are many reasons people use them. However, I asked myself  “What other activities am I not participating in that may give my life more enjoyment (meaning) in place of Social Media?” There is a direct correlation between Social Media, Smart Phones, and the Rise of Anxiety in Teens. I am certain there is a similar correlation in Adults as well. Maybe if I wasn’t on Social Media sites, then I might find I am happier with life.

 

Since significantly reducing my Facebook/Social Media time, I have spent more time working on my house, reading great stories, writing music, spending time with my family and meditating. Notice I didn’t say “write or read tons of Blog Posts.” Am I happier? Absolutely!

 

If you took the time to read this, Thank You, and I hope that you got something of Value from it. Because I will be the first to tell you that if you are not getting something of Value from your time spent, then in all seriousness stop and move on because you have more important things to spend your time on.

 

Josh

Vegan Family Moves into Cheese Factory

A month ago we moved into a cheese factory. At least that was the house’s first function. Over the years the first floor changed from being the place farmers dropped off their milk to the town garage, a horse stable, a cabinet maker’s workshop, a fitness studio and a custom bicycle shop and now it is the home of Angie’s Yoga and Art Studios. The second floor is the primary living space complete with a wood stove and beautiful woodwork. The third floor was a cabinet maker’s showroom with a gorgeous view of the back yard and is now my Recording Studio. After a month of moving all of our stuff, plumbing, scrubbing, painting, polying, cutting, installing, framing, and putting up molding, we are finally at a place where we can sit back a little and enjoy our new home.

Our third house. It is not the little solar home we envisioned maybe a year ago. It is like we landed in a space that was designed for us. It is like it said “I’ll be your walls if you’re willing finish me and keep me up.” We could never be truly happy in a tiny house, or even in a space that was “just a house”. We have too many space needs. Where would Angie run her teacher trainings and yoga classes?? – Right!! She’d have to rent a space, drive to it, and be restricted by the rules of owner. Where would Angie make her beautiful handmade paper and macrame Art?? Where would I record?? Oh sure I have set up in closets and basements, but that sucked – and where do I keep my gear?? What we wanted was a space that could comfortably hold all of these things and our family. That would be functional for all the elements of our lifestyle. The fact that it is on a main road, has a nice manageable yard that is perfect for gardening with two brooks on either side (a dream Angie has had for years), wood heat, a “basement” that is perfect for our root cellar, and an attached garage is all bonus. It is all the things we wished our previous houses could have been.

When we sold our home in April, we did not know where we were going to land. We had nowhere to move into. None of the houses we saw were right for us.  This house, the cheese factory, was not something we had even looked it. It was a leap of faith to put everything in storage and move in with our parents (thank you Dennis and Maria) while we looked for the right house. Those four months taught us a lot about what we value and the value of faith. That when you put your mind to something and you’re willing to work tirelessly for it and you have the support of your family around you, the right things will come along. For us it came in the form of an 1890’s cheese factory in Brownsville, VT. No, we didn’t downsize……..we upsized the dream and…..

A vegan family moved into a cheese factory……..

 

 

 

 

Minimal

We took Isabella and Ellessia to see the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, at the Wilbur theater in Boston this past weekend. Isabella has watched their documentary many times, often requesting it as the movie for our family movie nights. We have been reading their blog for a couple of years and much of what they talk about we have tried to adopt (especially their perspective on debt).

Minimalism, at least the way these guys talk about it, is not necessarily about getting rid of your stuff. It is not about deprivation. Instead it is about making room for the important aspects in your life by getting rid of the stuff that is taking up space. That “stuff” may or may not be physical “things”. What I love about their message is how intentional it is.

All too often when we begin something thinking “it” will make us happy, “it” doesn’t. That “it” is the “secret” to happiness and “it” isn’t. Maybe “it” is a certain salary, clothing style, a car, shedding a few pounds, adding a few pounds, a new phone, a new house, starting a meditation practice, finally going to yoga, taking a trip to a paradise location, becoming a minimalist. Too many times achieving these “things” does not make you happy. “I got rid of all my stuff, why am I still miserable?” How ironic is it that our Declaration of Independence states that our inalienable right to the Pursuit of Happiness may be exactly what makes us UNHAPPY. Looking inside of ourselves and figuring out what makes us truly unhappy, facing it, and making changes is at the heart of their message.

Josh and Ryan talk about making conscious decisions and living with intention and their message resonates with lots of people. There were over 1,000 people in the Wilbur Saturday night to see these two guys talk about how they arrived at this place and time and answer some questions. They recorded the whole show live like one of their podcasts (which are great!!) Hopefully, it will be available soon. The highlight for us was meeting them and giving them a big hug as a family. I am pretty sure Isabella and Ellessia were the youngest members of the audience.

The quote both girls took away as their favorite came from the lightning round where the Minimalist give tweet sized answers to audience questions. The question asked had to do with a family member, spouse, or partner who is unwilling to adopt a minimalist lifestyle.

 

“People don’t mind change, they mind being changed.” Joshua Fields Milburn

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh (Hall)

 

 

 

When it rains……

Faucet Aerator

This Summer was dry in New England. Many towns were under water use bans and restrictions as water tables got very low. Living in the country, we do not have town water, we have a private well. And like many well owners this Summer, we experienced the shock of turning the water faucet on and having the water trickle to a stop. There are a series of things you check when you are responsible for your own water. Did the well pump die? Is the pressure tank filling? Is there a toilet running? Is something leaking?

You take the well cap off and drop ice cubes down the well and time how long it takes before it goes “plunk”. This tells you how much water you have. God I love math! You make phone calls to the well company and ask important questions.

We shut the well off and waited a few hours to see if it would come back. It did, a little. I shut it off again and I bought many gallons of bottled water. We used our rain barrels for flushing toilets. We did our laundry at our parent’s house. We talked about fracking, we talked about digging a new well, and we talked about money.

We danced, sang, prayed, and made offerings to the well.

The problem was actually really simple. There was NO RAIN and little Winter snow last year. Think of it like a bank account. If you are constantly spending faster than the money is coming in, then eventually you will hit zero or worse. That was what was happening to the water tables, we were spending in a time when we should have been saving.

Water was refilling just not as fast as we were using it, so some changes needed to be made if we were going to continue to enjoy things like showers. Our shower heads were pumping out water at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). I did some quick calculations. 2 Teenage girls taking a ten minute shower each (yes that is too long but let’s be real) is 50 gallons of water in 20 minutes. Even Angie and I doing a quick 5 minute shower together is 12.5 gallons. Add our already low flush toilets that flush at 1.3 gpm and you have some serious water use. That isn’t taking into consideration doing dishes, which we do by hand (that’s another blog post….), and laundry!!!! 100 gallons a day easy. That’s typical for a family of four. (National Average is higher but here is fun calculator you can try for yourself)

I went online and found low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads. They weren’t fancy but they had adjustable flow rates from 0.5gpm to 1.0gpm to 1.5 gpm. For $11.00 I changed all of the faucets and shower heads in our house. Angie and I are ok with the 0.5 gpm shower and you can’t beat 2.5 gallons of water for a 5 minute shower. The girls like the 1.0 gpm or the 1.5 gpm and have learned to take significantly shorter showers. And with the faucet aerators, even something as unconscious as rinsing out a bowl or dish uses very little water.

We have had plenty of rain and snow this Winter, so local water tables should be refilling nicely. But just because you are flush with cash doesn’t mean you should go on a spending spree. I think that is why it is difficult to convince people to be more conservative with natural resources. If you look around it seems like there is plenty. But the pendulum always swings back the other way and the lean times will come. It is best to have something in the bank, or in the ground, when that happens.

Changing ingrained habits can be hard and take time, so investing in conservation tools seemed like the best immediate option. Our water use compared to a year ago is significantly less. Of course we have sold the house but you can bet where ever we end up next, we’ll be installing these simple devices to reduce our water use. And the new owner will hopefully benefit from our conservation efforts.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

Moving Trash

 

We are in the process of selling our house. A lovely time when everything you own is wrapped carefully and placed in boxes. It is a time of sorting and packing and for us moving most things into a storage facility. It is also a time of discovering all the things you forgot you had. It is a time to practice non-attachment.

If you know Angie and I at all outside of this blog, then you know we have been culling our stuff for years now. Last week, as boxes started to pile up all over the house, we realized we grossly underestimated the amount of storage space we might need. Luckily, because storage is hard to come by, we were able to find something that would allow us to put all of our stuff in one big room.

The trips have begun and a dear friend has been there to help with his truck. What a blessing this was as not everything can Fit in a Honda Fit. * However, I have managed to fit an incredible amount of stuff into our Fit!!!!

With all of this packing and moving there must be some trash. There always is with moving. So far we have thrown away 5 of those white kitchen bags filled with detritus. This is the broken stuff that can’t be donated or recycled that ends up at the bottom of drawers or forgotten in nooks and crannies. Mostly there is tons of recycling: primarily metals and paper.

The big trash/recycling items we had to deal with was our chicken coop, two old bed frames that have seen 3 generations of children sleep on them but had finally reached their end, a tire, and some basement rugs. We have some paint that we are storing in a garage until a hazardous waste day comes around.

This was the last weekend that I could get rid of any trash and recycling before we have to take it with us. We are taking enough with us, we don’t need to move any trash.

 

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Josh

How I Spent $99 (The Art of Not Buying v.1.5)

 

We always do our taxes during my school’s February Break. It is a complicated endeavor that can take hours and accountants are expensive, so we do it ourselves. If it was just my teaching income, then we could fill out the 1040ez. However, I am also a gigging musician and songwriter, and Angie is a fine artist who teaches yoga in two states and out of our home. Last year, I considered buying Turbo Tax to speed things up. Upon investigation it became clear I would need to buy the pricey $99 version of the program. Seems like a lot of money for forms I can print for free, I still have to enter all the data, and there is always a learning curve with new software.

I was looking at several hours worth of work now matter how I sliced it. My decision hinged on the fact that Turbo Tax is a one time use program. That $99 was only good for that year’s taxes. I ended up deciding that I would do the taxes myself and as a reward, spend the $99 to upgrade my recording software from Studio One 2 Professional to Studio One 3 Professional. Coincidentally, the upgrade costs $99.

The way I looked at it, I could spend $99 to possibly help me do something miserable once (taxes) or I could spend $99 on something that would definitely give me real joy for years. From my perspective, it was money well spent!

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh

The Art of Not Buying

It is 6 am. I am sitting down at the kitchen table with my green smoothie and I open my personal email. Along with potential gigs, updates from the various blogs, and notifications regarding my daughters’ school, I receive teaser emails from companies I have accounts with and interact with regarding my music and recording.

These emails usually read something like:

 

“Limited Time Only get 75% off select Plug-ins”

“Unlimited Album Submissions 50% off until April 1st

These offers are tempting and the countdown makes it a race against the clock to score a really amazing deal.

I have even noticed companies starting to send follow up emails asking things like “Are you forgetting something?” with a reminder that I looked at a particular product.

Days like Black Friday, coupon shopping, and websites like gilt.com work in much the same way. The feeling of “getting a really good deal” paired with “you have to act right now to get it” is hard to resist and businesses know it. Certainly, I have taken advantages of “special codes” and “today only deals” but Angie would agree that I am a horrible impulse shopper. It is like I practice “The Art of Not Buying” even when it is something I want.

Here’s an example – the audio company, Waves, makes a SSL plug-in for recording programs that accurately models the sonic characteristics of an SSL mixing board for $749. Many of the songs we hear on the radio were mixed using this plug-in. A few weeks ago they were selling this very plug-in for $249. That’s right $500 off but you gotta buy it before this day…there was even a clock counting down the hours remaining to snag the deal.

I looked at it. I dreamed about how it would make my recordings sound incredible, however I didn’t buy it. It is not because I don’t think the program is valuable, I believe it is. The reason I didn’t buy is simply because I knew that what I wanted was a dream and having this plug-in would not make that dream a reality. In the same way that owning pairs of sneakers worn by famous basketball players wont make me better at basketball. You can’t buy practice and dedication or persistence and drive and those traits certainly do not come with a “Buy Now For 50% Off” tag.

Being convinced of this truth, I close the email. I do a virtual walk away. This gives me time to consider the purchase and ask important questions like Can I Afford This? For something expensive like the SSL plug-in, I would discuss it with Angie before hitting the buy button. We have an agreement to discuss big purchases before committing to them. Sometimes sharing the WHY you want something with another person, especially someone who does not want the thing, is helpful to remove the shiny gotta have it quality from the deal. If after all of that I still choose to buy it, then it usually ends up being something I use frequently for a really long time. It is like trading up on the quick high of impulse buying for the long term satisfaction of purchasing something that gives you real joy.

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh