Day 76: Write out your worries/looking back

I landed back in on Friday from a pretty full three weeks or so of travel (and I’m still not finished) and my body promptly decided to fall over and not get up for days. It was a needed couple of days indoors without the sense of immediate packing. I can pack tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just temporarily wrecked. I love travel, and I’m delighted to have got to see the things I’ve seen, talk to people, even play in a new country. Longer post on that later. There’s a backlog!

One thing about travel is that it compacts a lot of your activities. While I continued the challenge during the trips (including falling asleep over my laptop in an airport) I wasn’t able to do a lot overall. That lego-brick feeling of working on something every day can be effective provided there is a defined plan in place. In my case, there wasn’t. I was just sort of flinging bricks around.

The reason for that is I didn’t especially plan anything I did. I had vague goals I set out at the start and didn’t really know how it would shake out – in terms of what I would work on, I hadn’t planned it. I just began projects as I felt like it after the initial one.

I began to realise that in this challenge I lumped a lot of things into one, unlike last year. Last year was just “play the violin every day.” Done. Horrible at times, but done. And improved. This year, it was “open Ableton every day and use it” but also “have material ready by the end of it.” You may notice that both statements don’t exactly get along.

Working in Ableton for me requires multiple elements, of which I am ignorant of the majority. Writing, recording and mastering a track includes, but is not limited to:

  • Mixing
  • Composing
  • Arranging
  • Recording
  • Performing vocals/violin
  • Recording analog instruments
  • MIDI effects
  • Creating beats
  • Mastering

This sums it up:


Cripes, before today I couldn’t even split a damn track. TODAY.

So some of my goals were unrealistic. BUT I have still been learning a lot. Video of the day – I love this. It’s a professional talking about what they love (production) and the ways they make it better. It reminds me of some of the workshops I attended at RAC, where you get into the levels of a track, or a home studio, in much greater depth.

Point to all of this is I’m realising that this challenge won’t be over in 100 days. A lot of my approach to this needs to change because I am in new territory. As well, that my original conception of “done” might not match my current one. I am still recording and working, don’t get me wrong, but I’m trying to grasp more of this.

Before I started looking at this challenge, I was a classically trained and not terribly dedicated musician. I could improvise enough and play by ear that I was able to perform live music in different genres without a serious change in trajectory. I played orchestras, but never performed more than cursory analysis, more focusing on my own part. Which, for violins, is usually a LOT of notes that you have to play the same as everybody around you, without rushing or dragging the group, but also providing that subtle calm tension to hold it together. (Ever seen a violin section start rushing a fast part of a symphony? That’s the herd panicking.)

Since I started trying to write music, I went from Cubase to a hiatus to GarageBand to Ableton 9. Back in the day I worked with Cubase for my Master’s and actually found it easier at the time, but to be fair all I was really doing was dragging and dropping sections around and recording some stuff. I thought I could tack on “mastering” to describing my project role, and a fellow student, who had actually done sound engineering, rightfully laughed at me.

The thing is that I’ve been trying to learn multiple disciplines at the same time. Which means that the actual tally of learning in each discipline is going to be low overall, shallow knowledge over a broad surface area. A puddle of achievement, if you will.

(why does that sound wrong)

I came to some of these conclusions early on, but they became extremely apparent when I decided to write out my worries about this. I’ve been feeling a bit cruddy mentally as well as physically, and I wanted to find out why. So I started to write out the things I don’t think are good enough or that I’m stressing about, to see firstly what I can and cannot control. Because if I can’t control it, then worrying about it is just a waste of energy I could spend worrying on something else. Or anything else.

I started writing out “not good at Ableton” and then went hang on, no. What exactly about it? It’s just another program and programs can be learned pretty simply, provided you have patience and some discipline. They don’t really involve talent in the same sense. So I started to map out all the areas in which I consider myself to be weak. All of those could even roll up to good ol’ fear of failure, and most of those fears were reasonably controllable.

I picked up a book in New York, at the Whitney, called Grit in the Oyster. It’s pretty useful because it’s helpfully colour-coded on failure, discipline, and so on. It sounds fluffier than it is, because usually the people who have the worst things to say about art, are in fact artists. It is useful to flip to random pages and read. But you do need that reinforcement. I did need to do this challenge and find out where I can improve.

Point being is I’m not stopping, but I will be stopping to think and plan better in future. Similarly, I am not going to beat myself up for not having intimate knowledge of every aspect of the enormous discipline I am trying to learn about.


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