Losing Objectivity

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I had worked on the track for a year, which was far longer than I had ever worked on a ten-minute piece of music. In my defense, things take time: it had taken time to decide on sounds, time to get going and wonder where I was going, time to record chord progressions, beats, and harmonies, time to edit, time to add more sounds and modify existing ones, time to rearrange the arrangement, time to resample sounds, and time to edit more and mix. Also, I like slowness because it gives me the time to think about what I’m trying to do. Cue quote from Lao Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Around and around I went, beginning each day with what I had so far and trying to build on that, either by adding to it or by subtracting from it, playing along to it or playing with it. I tried out what seemed like never-ending effects-driven alterations to my material, sometimes out of curiosity, other times out of a hope that I might hear something breathtakingly new so I could throw out most of what I had and keep only what made the music more interesting. That was always the goal: to make the music more compelling to listen to.  

For the most part, the time I devoted to the track over the year was time well spent, because it allowed me to move it from an almost random series of chords to a finished piece. But there are also downsides to spending a lot of time on a single track. First, since I was the one making all the changes to the music, I now can’t help but hear traces everywhere of my earlier production moves, hearing both the sounds and the layers out of which those sound were created:

Why did I over-crunch the drums?
Why is the marimba recording so noisy?
Why that bass sound? 

At each moment in the music I know what’s coming up next sound-wise, so it’s hard to be surprised. One side effect of this situation is that I tried amping up my editing moves to make them more extreme, as if to get more of a reaction out of myself. For example, volume fades that seemed smooth a few months ago now seem tame and I want them ever more exaggerated. It’s as if I’ve become immune to what I once thought were the music’s subtle charms. A second downside then, is that it became increasingly difficult to hear the music with fresh ears. This is a by-product of working on fairly micro levels of attention and musical detail. For example, I might spend a session finessing the levels and panning for a single part, because today that part seems downright wrong in its mix placement, and by the way, what was I thinking last week that made me unable to notice this problem? Working on micro-details is essential editing, but it turns your attention away from the music’s big picture. As I re-listened to the piece, the details were sounding good, but a big picture question I had never asked of the track was now gnawing at me: Why does it need so many parts? I don’t know why it needs so many parts. Maybe it needed so many parts because at some point in the process I had hoped that many would translate into more interesting. 

I bounced down the mix and listened. I tried imagining how a friend or my mastering engineer would hear the music for the first time, but it was impossible. For reasons both real and imaginary, I can’t get out of my own perspective on the music. Some parts I like, but there are still problems and surely I can somehow fix those and finally make everything better?     

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