Kim Lajoie's blog

Muscle memory and why workflow matters

by Kim Lajoie on June 19, 2012

Dalton Caldwell:

What is fascinating to me is that Great creation stories all sound surprisingly similar. Something along the lines of “yeah we went in the studio and put down some tracks, and they sounded pretty good, and we had to redo a couple of things, and then when put out the album.” Disappointing, right?

[…]

It’s our fault for expecting a compelling narrative. Our expectation of divining some deep insight into their creative process is fundamentally flawed. They were just out there doing their thing, just like they always do, and it worked.

It’s true. There is no compelling narrative. John Lennon didn’t sit down to write ‘Imagine’ planning it to be his career-defining song. Beethoven didn’t start writing his fifth symphony with the intent that the four-note theme would resonate for over a century. Ark Music Factory weren’t thinking ‘ok, this one will make Ms Black an internet superhero’.

They were just doing what they do best. Showing up, putting the hours in, doing the best work they could at the time.

And they were Great because they weren’t worrying about the mechanics of making music. They’d hit their stride long ago and were focussing wholly on the art and craft. Would John Lennon have written ‘Imagine’ if he was still struggling to figure out how to write songs that resonated with a generation? Would Beethoven have written a brilliant fifth symphony if he hadn’t already written four other brilliant symphonies?

For composition, the mechanics might be themes, contour, musical development, etc. For mix engineering, the mechanics might be gain, EQ, compression and reverb. For production, the mechanics might be creative direction, project management and relationship skills. And for all of them, workflow is at the centre of it all.

How can you do great work if you’re still figuring out what production step comes next? How can you do great work if you haven’t settled on your toolset yet? How can you do great work when you don’t understand the basics of musical structure and listener perception?

The sooner you get this stuff sorted, the sooner you can go make something amazing.

-Kim.

4 thoughts on “Muscle memory and why workflow matters

  1. Totally agree Kim. It’s the same with my designs with acoustical treatments. It is application and developed knowledge that lets you find solutions for their is our art in our science too! And it’s you guys that drive me to do this because any time I hear a great recording in a studio I’ve worked on I know I’ve at least helped make that space the best it can be so the musicians can do their thing in comfort without worrying about certain frequencies. That’s the beauty of this industry. There’s so much that goes into it but if everyone plays their part right the reward is that moment you hear a recording that changes your world for the better.

    Cheers
    Mike

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    100% agreed Mike!

    -Kim.

  3. Navar says:

    Agreed. I think the method is often taken for granted. For people on creative time crunches, which describes most of the day-jobbing production enthusiasts who keep the industry alive, it is critical that we conform to some kind of process. I am not a mature producer by a long, but when I have gotten things done, it starts with: Idea. Writing/Arranging. Basic Instrumentation/Sound Design. Re-writing/Re-arranging. Instrumentation/Sound Design. Bounce. Mix. Unmixable. Re-instrumentation. Mix. Mix. Mix. Mix. Mix. I am always keen not to get too lost in endless revisionism, and try to stay sensitive to when a song is changing enough to be called a remix, at which point I go back a few steps. Forcing myself to finish this process, working an idea to the best of my ability until I feel I’ve done all I can to make it “work” has resulted in noticeable improvements in my ability to realize creativity in a timely and technically sound manner. It is the best I can do right now, yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and only if I keep at this reiterative process will I do the best that anyone can do at expressing a given idea, at that moment, and it will reach people, at that moment. It is hard to let go in that manner, especially given how discerning today’s underground listener is. But in the end:

    “Forget that, though. I am not concerned with genre. I don’t really give a [expletive deleted] about what anyone else is doing.” – Floating Points

    Perhaps a bit harsh, but you can’t argue with the end product.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    You’re right about the end product being the thing that matters. I think establishing a good workflow is essential, but I won’t’ tell you what your workflow should be. Everyone has their own style of working and need to develop a workflow that works for them.

    The point is to have the technical and the methodological aspects to production worked out so you can focus on the art.

    -Kim.

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