Permissions

Permission To Pursue The Enchanting. You want to be honest about recognizing the music that you find attractive, thoughtful, or compelling. Sometimes—oftentimes?—this music may not be what is widely popular, widely acclaimed, or widely known. Sometimes a magical music has a deceptively simple structure, or conjures vast emotional resonances from understated materials. (How does that work?) Permission to pursue the enchanting means waiting for that music whose way of proceeding makes sense to you, even if that means passing over a lot of other material. 

Permission To Go Easy. You want to not push too hard: going easy means allocating your energy so that whatever you do today doesn’t wipe you out to continue doing it tomorrow. I often think about this balancing act in the context of running, where the upside of the going-easy-80-percent-of-the-time approach is that you build capability without needlessly breaking yourself down. Permission to go easy means doing just enough to improve the music (or the running) today, incrementally.

Permission To Intensify. For the remaining 20 percent of the time though, you want to push and only you know what an intensified level of pushing feels like. By intensity I mean depth, and depth entails being free of distraction, and having a sense of urgency that what you do in the next ten or sixty minutes is absolutely crucial to bringing a work to life. Intensity isn’t necessarily unpleasant, but neither is it a stroll in the park. Permission to intensify means working at the limits of your current level of capability so you feel like, for the moment, you’re doing all you can do. 

Permission To Suspend Disbelief Or Find It Uninteresting. As you work at different levels of ease and intensity you’ll find that sometimes the work is speaking to you, and sometimes it isn’t. Much of the music I make turns out to be uninteresting and so I name it, date it, and put it aside so I can move on. Permission to suspend disbelief or find it uninteresting means either refraining from prematurely judging the work or else declaring it meh and leaving it for now. Neither approach is better than the other, yet both are empowering stances whereby you get to decide the timescale on which to evaluate the fruits of your processes. 

Permission To Improve. Every project teaches you something about how you make music. In the midst of working, I try to take a moment to write a note about what I’m learning. This might be a new workflow I used that produced interesting results, or a series of presets I made to use down the road. Spectacular failures are particularly insightful. For example, I’ve tried making music using the QWERTY keypad as an ad hoc keyboard, but I never like the process or its results. I seem to need an actual keyboard—small or large—to play parts and help me think musically. Another example: I have never met a two bar drum loop that I liked enough to work with. In short loops I tend to hear the failure of my own imagination more than a repeating groove. Permission to improve means allowing yourself time to reflect on what’s been working and what hasn’t, gently steering yourself towards ever more unique workflows that resonate with you. 

Permission To Declare It Done. Whether it has taken a few hours, days, weeks, or months, there’s a point in the production process where further work encounters diminishing returns. At this point, it’s helpful to declare a project done by rendering the music into a mix and sharing it. Sometimes what you thought was unfinished is simply music you haven’t yet let go.

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