Saturday, 30 January 2016

Removing tiny barriers

Every person who sets out to create something in the world sets out with the best intention. The problem is that soon after, for most people, those creative tasks become increasingly difficult to find the motivation to work on. For me this has always boiled down to an issue involving what I call "tiny barriers". You can think of these as the barriers to entry, the gatekeepers of your ability to work on something.

A prime example for me involves my computer in my 'man cave'. If I have my computer on, I will be tempted to sit down and work on a track, maybe pick up a guitar and record some parts or even start a new track. If my computer is off, I simply walk past it. The act of having to turn the computer on to actually do anything with it is enough to put me off. This might sound lazy but consider another scenario.

You are lying in bed. Its cold outside the bed, you are comfortable, but you know you have to get up. You don't have work to go to and there is nothing particularly important to get done but you know you really should get up today as you will need to eat at some point and getting dressed is normally a good thing. This builds and you want to get up but still you don't get up. At some point you break through this mental fog and make the decision to actually get up. Something in your brain made you get up, but only because it was an eventuality that you weren't going to avoid. The barrier that you overcame was the lethargic feeling of not wanting to get out of bed. Now imagine if you had woken up outside of the bed, having already had the discomfort of leaving the warm bed and getting out into the cold air. That tiny barrier is no longer there and the decision to start your day is much easier to make.

With this in mind, I have my studio machine on most of the time now, but just left in sleep mode. I have a project open so I can work on that if I want. The mental difference is quite pronounced. Instead of avoiding working on tracks, I actually want to. That tiny barrier being removed makes the whole task seem less daunting.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Finished part of my album !

So recently I've been working on my album "Flawless Victory". Its a concept album about an astronaut, space travel, and aliens. I'm doing the album in 4 part segments known as Acts. Act 1 is up now at 

and is free to listen and download. I'm pretty pleased that I got it out there, and I really hope some of you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The power of doing

I'll admit it, I have a tendency to overthink the things i'm working on. It starts as valid critical thinking and ends with paralysis and fear of messing it up. The progression is often quite subtle and creeps on me. The problem is that more often than not i'm ignoring one of the golden rules of creativity - The power of doing. Put simply, the more we do the better we get at whatever it is we are doing. Its also one of the easiest ways to improve because it involves nothing more than simply keeping at it, no matter how bad your results are right now. For me its summed up in the following quote:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit"

Want to get better at something? Do it more. Then do it some more.

Now this is not to say you shouldn't be reading or thinking about doing things. For me its about balance. A healthy balance of practical practice and study is the key to any craft. The take home here is more about not always striving for total perfection. Sometimes simply doing more and more will lead you to the same point of perfection, but in a more natural and less stressful way. Your brain can really only handle so much information at once when it is just an idea. If that idea is backed up by repetition and practical implementation, it becomes much more difficult to forget. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Transients versus bass, a common misconception

If you've ever had any form of audio engineering training, you will have almost certainly have come across the perceived wisdom that bass sounds take up the largest room in the mix. You will have been told to cut any sounds with presence below a certain point, unless they are bass instruments. You will likely then have gone home and tried this and wondered why your mix suddenly sounds like it has no life and no body to it and isn't really that much easier to master or mix. The truth is that bass is not always the culprit for db headroom. The largest eater of headroom is often transients.

Loud sounds often have a very pronounced spike in their soundwave, usually right at the start of the sound. This is called a transient. This can often be very loud in comparison to the nature of the rest of the sound, leading to it spiking out meters and limiters, while the rest of the mix is nowhere near that volume. So why aren't these just picked off by the limiter? The problem lies in the fact that all the parts of a mix intermingle at the same time and within the same frequency space. Limiting that snare drum's transient might end up taking down that hi hat with it if you just slap a limiter across the mix. Some win can be had from using a multiband limiter and isolating the frequency of the transient in question but i've found this to be a mixed results endeavour. Personally I find it more effective to limit or compress the part in question, prior to the final mixdown.

So how does this relate to bass? Well the nature of transients is that they are usually quite fast, hence the name transient, and as such are less likely to be made up of bass content. Bass takes time to develop (in the context of millisecond measurements) and is therefore not normally the cause of the problem. Bass instruments turned up abnormally loud can also cause issues with headroom, as the whole sound then becomes louder than other peaks, but generally speaking they are just more likely to muddy the mix and make the low end less defined.

The way I often go about detecting this transient issue is to slowly build up my mix, hitting it off a limiter with a readout of the gain reduction, and see what instruments lead to audible and visible dips in the meter. The most common culprit for me is the snare drum. That initial 'whack' of the snare can generate a transient that is so obnoxiously high above the rest of the music, it makes it impossible to master without ducking everything else at that point. The trick is not to even attempt to hit the whole mix with a compressor/limiter until we'v dealt with that snare separately, as discussed above.

So in conclusion i'm all for cutting bass in instruments if they are causing a build up or an unfocussed, muddy, low end. If, however, you just want to give yourself more headroom and more volume in mastering, i'd look to transients on individual instruments.

If you would like to see a worked example, I've done a video on it which you can see below

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Discontinuity of Life

So recently I've been thinking about the world and how most people seem to portion it out into little chunks and think of them as discrete units. This is in contrast to my understanding of the world as an interacting system. In my opinion this leads to issues which are largely systemic problems being treated as isolated incidents. Don't get me wrong I'm all for mental compartmentalisation but when it comes to external factors, understanding the system-wide implications of actions can go a long way to helping deal with life. For me one of the biggest examples of this is money.

Most people tend to view money as a thing, an object, something having intrinsic value in of itself. The truth, in my opinion, is that money is actually just a piece of a larger system. Money is a method of transferring goods and services, so in some sense it is actually more of a social contract than an object. It doesn't have an intrinsic value without the system that it operates within. By thinking of money as a discrete, we allow ourselves to become caught up in the pursuit of it. It becomes the end goal, rather than the facilitator. It leads to money becoming a status symbol, because of our possession of it. Me personally, I like to think of money as part of a system. If the money is flowing correctly through the system, I don't require to think about it or have it burden me. When I check my bank account to see if I have enough money to pay for something, I'm not thinking about how much money I have, I'm looking at the state of a system in flux. I understand that the aquiscion of money is only determined by my circumstances surrounding it. For instance, if I work so much that I cannot spend the money, then I have no real benefit from it. All the status or possessions in the world won't change the fact that I'm not better off for my inflated bank balance. What that bank balance actually represents in that state is a blockage in the system, a bottleneck. I think many things can be understood in this way.

So how do you deal with this mentally. How can you compartmentalise without trying to understood the world around you through a discrete lens. Well take for example the following:

I pick up a JIRA ticket at work and write some code. While I'm writing that code I'm focused and blocking some things out, I'm allowing myself to be in the pocket of the moment. When I'm finished I check that code in for code review. At this point I don't sit monitoring what has happened to that piece of code, I let it sit for a period while the reviewer goes over it. During this time I look into some other work, I research what I'm going to do next. My understanding is that my work isn't a discrete unit of work, its part of a larger system. That system is now handling the next step of the process. Most things we do have an effect, some influence on the system around them. Allowing the system to work and not focusing on the possession can go a long way to helping us act more effectively within the wider system.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Work passion balance : What does it mean?

People often talk about work life balance. I think this is a great thing and very important but I often also like to consider work passion balance. This is the balance between things that you do for employment and things that you are passionate about, but are not necessarily the same as your day job. I find that this balance is equally as important to keeping yourself comfortable as your creativity is often fed more strongly by passions. I believe there is also a valid balance to be sought between work, passion, family and recreation/relaxation. This gives a sort of 5 way balancing act that the original "work life balance" doesn't really adequately address. Its also the reason that I think so many people end up in a mess. They think that because they can get a basic 50/50 work to "everything else" ratio they will be okay. Personally this doesn't work for me. I have a lot more things going on that I need to address on a daily basis.

The difference between work and passion for me boils down to money, but in a subtly different way to what I guess most people see money as in relation themselves. I work hard in both pursuits and to the naked eye it would look like both are really just work. The difference is that work is something that someone pays me for but my passions are things i'd pay to do. This is significant because in this way money affects my motivations. If I wasn't being paid, I wouldn't go to work. The lack of any monetary incentive in my passion, however, is not discouraging. This isn't to say you can't have both but I don't think its as simple as monetising your passions and expecting it all to fall into place.

I think that people who manage to create a situation where their passion becomes their employment have to be very careful to keep the money side of things away from the general creative process. Its also one of the reasons that I don't believe you can buy truly creative people into an organisation and have it work. You have to provide people something else or it just won't work for them.

As an aside I also believe this is one of the reasons that having vastly different salaries between people who work in the same organisation, with relatively similar jobs, doesn't work. The minute you start defining success and progression as £ signs you remove focus from what's important. You also start artificially creating hierarchies and reinforcing rules that might not be appropriate. If you pay everyone roughly the same and find other, more effective, ways to incentivise your staff you stand a better chance of having a successful organisation.