"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Sounds
December 12, 2012

The Reality of Catching Up

When I got back into music in 2004, I thought it would take me a few months to get my head around working with digital audio. In fact, it took me a few years and I still feel like I’m playing catch up. The same holds true with many areas of my photography, which has […]

When I got back into music in 2004, I thought it would take me a few months to get my head around working with digital audio. In fact, it took me a few years and I still feel like I’m playing catch up. The same holds true with many areas of my photography, which has been an even shorter and more focussed journey. Heck, even when it comes to writing, I still feel like I’m perpetually dragging my heels when it comes to understanding the software I use, or getting my head around new publishing options like e-Books.

Learn From The Best

That’s why I keep trying to learn from the best, the people who’ve mastered their craft and whose approach is so solid, it drives me back to the nuts and bolts of my own work to find better ways to craft and create. Earlier this week I reviewed an excellent new e-Book from photographer Gavin Gough and today I was watching the latest podcast from music producer Dave Pensado.

In the latest episode of Pensado’s Place, Dave Pensado shows some brilliant drills to help musicians and music producers better understand how to manage frequencies and EQ in their mixes. Even though this was familiar stuff to me, I was soon diving into my own software, having been reminded of a few things that could help some songs I’m currently working on and having seen a very cool feature I was unaware of in one of the plugins I use.

The Reality

At the 11.30 mark Dave Pensado shares some wisdom for everyone who is trying to improve on the creative ability and hoping to catch up with their idols. This is a truth that doesn’t just apply to music production, I believe it holds for every artistic field.

“We all want to be as good as JJP (Jack Joseph Puig), as Chris (Lord Alge), as Jason (Schweitzer), Manny (Marroquin), Dylan (Dresdow). These guys work 12-14 hours a day, every day, I talked to Jason this Sunday and he was working. Now you’re trying to catch their skill level by working 2 hours a week, 3 hours a week, 5 hours a week. They’re working 80-90 hours a week and they’re already good, so they just keep getting better. A lot of this is not just being exposed to techniques it’s practicing them over and over and over again.”

What’s the old saying? The truth hurts?

Find The Time To Practice

We are bombarded these days with tips and tutorials for creatives. Having grown up in a world where knowledge was scarce (and expensive) I don’t want to go back to the old ways. But, so many of the teaching resources available to creatives are really just paint-by-numbers, copy and follow approaches.

When I look back on my journey with the guitar, there are two things I’m thankful for. The time to practice and the opportunity to experiment. Although you would think practice and experimentation are central to artistic pursuits, they are actually seldom talked about in the popular creative media.

What Practice Gives You

Let me ask you a question. What does practicing something give you? Most people answer that question by saying, it gives you the ability to do something, or perhaps, to do something without making mistakes. Actually, that’s only half the answer.

What practice gives you, is speed; the ability to do something well and at tempo, maybe at a faster tempo than others can manage. Football forwards don’t just practice so they can control the ball, they practice so they can control it at pace and be able to change direction so fast, the defender won’t have a chance to react. Equally, Jazz musicians don’t just practice so they can play they notes, the drill over and over so they can play fast and still have enough mental energy available to improvise, to mix and match patterns and feels depending on what the music needs, in the moment.

Speed is all about being able to make the creative decisions in the moment, and doing them fast enough to not fall out of the flow, to not lose your artistic groove. What a good photographer at work and you’ll see them makes scores of creative decisions in the moment, without having to pull the camera away from their face, or dive through menus.

And Why You Should Experiment

When I say experiment, what I mean is asking the question, what if? I’m thankful for all those step-by-step Photoshop tutorials, but I always found myself using tools (like layers) that I didn’t really understand. It was only when by playing with the layers, asking what if I use this instead, that I started to understand how they work.

What if I play this slower, faster, harder, softer, higher up or, lower down? These are the most basic building blocks of musical creativity and also the path to more profound creative discoveries.

Our Challenge

Of course, our challenge is to find the time for this, in the midst of all life’s commitments. I believe once we understand how important practice and experimentation are to our creative development, finding the time to do them for ourselves becomes even more crucial.

I hope that whatever plans you might have for the coming year, or whatever commitments you are making with yourself, you can find the time to add a little practice and experimentation to the equation.

Toni 11 years ago

There’s an interesting point that arises in the quote from Dave Pensado, which may pass some people by: are you willing to sell yourself, body and soul, to the craft? He names various people, all apparently luminaries in their area (I’d never have heard of any of them if not for this blog) who have all sold themselves for what they do.

What would make me work 80 or 90 hours a week – 7 days a week – week after week. What could be worth that kind of sacrifice?

It’s great to be good at what you do, in tune and in touch with the latest techniques and methods, to be fluid in the way you work, seamlessly adapting and correcting as you move forward. But is being the best at making disposable music for people to consume and forget as soon as they’ve moved on to the next song something that’s worth giving yourself to? Is a photograph significant if it makes a picture editor or gallery viewer pause half a second more before flicking on to the next image? Better than vegging at home in front of the TV or internet, sure, but worthwhile?

This is not intended to be criticism, but to me, the challenge would be to ask “what is of real value” and try to give myself to that.

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Toni – those are all excellent questions. I really mean that!

I believe there is always a bigger question behind all these discussions, the vocation or what-am-I-on-earth-to-do issue. That really determines the worth of what we do.

Right now, I seldom work those really long hours and that’s a big decision based on the kind of parent I want to be. I firmly believe, way down in the belly of my soul, that I have a charge on my life for this season, to be the anchor for my daughter. Everything canterlevers out of that.

I guess that’s why the idea of “catching up” often plays on my mind.

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