Technology + Creativity

I know it’s been super hip to record with analog technology for some time now – but I can’t help but wonder if it’s more than just the vintage vibes and warm sounds.  It’s a regular topic of discussion with fellow musicians, and I’m starting to wonder if there’s some loose science behind it.

Personally, I’ve struggled with documenting music ever since my recording moved to a computer.  I can sit down and write stuff, come up with decently mapped out song ideas, seemingly as easily as I’ve always been able to1.  But as soon as I go to record those ideas and prevent forgetting them the next day, everything falls apart.

It would be easy if it were able to be explained away by me just being a terrible player.  That as soon as the click track comes in, I can’t keep up.  And while that’s true, it’s never held me back before.

Here’s a couple guesses at what’s happening here.

  • While it’s pretty easy to start recording basic ideas on a computer, there are still things that come up that take you out of the creative mode.  Like, if I have to go screw around with settings to pick the right audio interface, or change some buffering crap or who knows what.  Either way, you’re suddenly thinking about computer setup and not about creating art.  Those short bursts of changing your thought process seem to destroy things.
  • It’s way too easy to go down the rabbit hole with software, even before you record your first track.  You’ve got endless options for effects and editing, and tend to use them.  Seasoned studio musicians/engineers can get away with this.  Recording-at-home hacks like me can’t.  I start thinking of adding some crazy reverse echo synth track that only comes in every 1:53 for a moment and then quickly fades out.  Having too many options leads to not picking any of them.
  • I just don’t understand how it all works.  I’m fairly savvy with technology… I manage to keep a website and server online the majority of the time.  But I don’t have the desire to really understand every single feature of Logic2 or Pro Tools or Cakewalk or whatever.  And I especially don’t have the desire to undertstand how and when to use all those features.  That’s stupid and it’s only my own laziness that I have to blame.  But I know so many others that feel the same way.  So as soon as you don’t know how to do something (or forget), you’re frustrated and not accomplishing anything.

Should we all just take advantage of the various workshops and webinars that Avid holds?  Probably.

Or should we stop fighting with technology and stick with simpler ideas?  There are still a lot of very nice standalone multitrack units out there.  Many of them (if not all) have very detailed editing/mixing capabilities.  But most importantly, they all have a big red “record” button.  And I feel like that’s what’s missing in my life.  When you have an idea, being able to instantly document it without friction goes such a long way in moving on to the next idea.

And let’s face it, I’m talking about home recording for your own use, not distribution; so the quality isn’t the number one concern 3.  But even if you want to turn your ideas into something you share, all of these units have either the ability to connect a monitor for detailed edits – or the ability to transfer to a computer for the same thing.

That seems to be the key to a successful workflow.  Getting your creative moments documented as quickly and easily as possible and then worrying about the details later.  Even if you just record a rough idea and then sort out a more elaborate session later, you’re still staying focused on that creative mindset first and foremost.

Am I the only one who is this mentally broken when it comes to recording?  Do you have an easier time just getting quick ideas down on a computer?  I’d love to know, because I obviously need help.

  1. which, for me, is about as easy as getting a straight answer out of a politician.  Zing!
  2. Not my program of choice, but the one I use
  3. But of course, the quality of any modern unit isn’t an issue – they’re all superb