In fact, 90% of what matters happens before you step foot in the studio.
I’m not just talking about preproduction.
Preproduction is important, of course. You need to refine and rehearse and prepare before you hit the big red button. But the 90% of what matters is more than just preproduction. It’s creative direction. It’s the concept.
When you do your planning, you probably don’t allocate 90% of your resources for creative direction and concept. That’s ok, that’s normal. Because by the time you get to the stage of detailed planning, you’re already 10% away from the finish line.
That 10% is execution. Execution is difficult, and when you’re at a beginner or intermediate level it can sometimes feel like execution is everything. You can’t get your head out of ‘getting it done’ if you still don’t grasp a compressor’s soft knee control or a reverb’s density control. Getting it done is engrossing. And it’s fun. And, eventually, it’s easy.
And that’s when you pull your head out and realise that execution is just 10% of what matters.
Great! You’ve mastered execution. You can make a song with a high quality and with reliable cost and time estimates. Well done. You’ve built a machine. But what do you do with the machine?
That’s the 90%.
You’ll already find this familiar. Awesome mastering is pretty useless if your mix sucks. Awesome mixing is pretty useless if your recording sucks. Awesome recording is pretty useless if your performance sucks. And an awesome performance is pretty useless if the song sucks.
And the entire production process is pretty useless if the concept sucks.
Developing an amazing concept – that’s the hard part. Developing an idea that stretches your own creativity is hard. Developing an idea that simultaneously resonates with your audience and extends and challenges them is extra hard. Developing an idea that matters is super hard. And unless you can do that, you’re just adding to the rest of the derivative uninspired debris that takes up space on the internet.
Notice I wrote ‘developing an idea’, not ‘coming up with an idea’? Just like any other part of the process, developing a concept takes planning, drafting, iteration and feedback. It doesn’t just magically appear while meditating or having a shower. Maybe the germ of the concept does, but concepts don’t just spontaneously appear fully-formed. You must form them. They grow and blossom with careful care and cultivation.