Start From Scratch (Again)

If you’re new to this blog or haven’t noticed its themes, I often write to distill ideas relating to music production workflows. I generalize based on my own experiences and share concepts that guide the work of other musicians. I think there are insights here and there, or at least an accumulation of analytical weft that points a way forward. 

But even as I look to others for ideas, there is one idea I practice most often: start from scratch (again). Sure, I keep track of what I’ve done, return to older pieces to polish them, and put tracks in progress into color-coded folders (the promising ones are green, the polished promising ones purple). But this is more busywork than essential work. The essential work has a different feel to it, and always a similar trajectory that builds from the ground up. For example, it might begin with new sounds, a new structure, a new way of relating these sounds and structures, fewer or more chords this time, a significant timbral difference, or a bigger or smaller ambiance. Such things can suggest a new idea. Essential work begins with a sense of freedom from what we’ve already done–a freedom to proceed as if naive and a freedom to ask, How about this? as a starting point.

Most of all, essential work is defined by its forward flow. In contrast to busywork that ticks off tasks once accomplished, essential work navigates a series of decision intersections. Picture being lost in an unfamiliar city (pre GPS), where you can’t see beyond where you currently are and don’t have a mental map of the place. Since you’re lost, you flow through your wayfaring decisions made in the moment: I’ll turn here to see what’s around the corner, or I’ll stay on this road until it ends. So it is with committing to sounds in the production moment as you use what you improvised as a structuring device, or build a piece around the first sound that really grabbed you. In the wayfaring of being lost and the wayfaring of doing essential work to create something new, your flow is always forward and there’s no going back, no do overs. It’s a performance! What makes both experiences essential and generative is your trust that they’ll lead you somewhere interesting. 

3 thoughts on “Start From Scratch (Again)

  1. wisdom.  pure wisdom.  “…..I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants.  We hobbits have against them no magic weapons.  Yet, my gentle hobbits, I give you this toast:  To the Hobbits!  May they out last the Sarumans and see Spring again in the trees”. (J.R.R. Tolkien, Holland, 1958) “Books! The best weapons in the  world! Arm yourselves!” ~ Dr. Who

  2. I liked what you said here… “essential work is defined by its forward flow. In contrast to busywork that ticks off tasks once accomplished, essential work navigates a series of decision intersections.”

    Great post 🙏

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