It’s much easier to fire up Logic, or whatever your DAW of choice is, and play around with some new plug-ins than thinking about the larger questions that are constantly there in the background. Nagging away at us, even if we are not really consciously aware of them. The more time we spend denying these realities, the more time we waste not being our best creative selves and getting the most out of the time we put in in front of our workstations.
Time, not gear is our most valuable asset. Hopefully, this list will help you face these facts, and free you to make the most of your creative mojo when doing what you love. Here are 17 brutal truths we all need to hear, think about, accept, and acclimate into our creative psyches.
1. One day you will need to upgrade your DAW.
No matter how happy you are with things as they are now, nothing is forever. The day will eventually arrive. Maybe it is because your computer died and the replacement is incompatible with older operating systems, and therefore the current version of your DAW. Maybe it will be necessary in order to work with important collaborators. Perhaps you will want to upgrade your operating systems for other reasons, and your current DAW version will be orphaned. Perhaps a future DAW version will have features you feel you either can’t live without, or want to incorporate into your productions in order to stay current.
2. Your computer will either die or need to be replaced.
Face it, they just don’t last forever. And even if they did, maybe your newest sample library will demand more ram or faster drive speeds. Maybe new operating systems or other software you use will require newer CPUs. Maybe the new version of your DAW will require a more modern CPU.
3. Every single one of your plug-ins will either be orphaned, or need to be upgraded, or replaced.
Plug-in developers come and go. Many great plug-ins and developers are either bought out or close up shop for one reason or another. And plug-in formats change over time. Even AU will not be forever. Plug-ins either need to be upgraded to remain compatible or else they die a slow lingering death as they fade from the collective consciousnesses. Anyone remember Phatmatik Pro It was THE killer beat slicing plug-in eighteen years ago. So, if your developer is no longer around to, well, develop; they will need to be replaced or will become orphaned. Even with subscription plans, plug-ins evolve over time. Newer versions become incompatible with older versions or older operating systems or older DAWs. And the older versions become incompatible with newer DAWs and/or operating systems.
4. Your collection of plug-ins and instruments won’t make you a better mixer/composer/producer/editor, or a happier person.
It’s true. What we have isn’t going to bring us the fulfillment we crave by acquiring. It’s an illusion of the consumerist mindset perpetrated on mass consumers. The newest super duper greatest synth isn’t going to all of a sudden turn you into a great synth programmer or performer. The newest noise reduction software isn’t going to make you the envy of the post-production world. Knowing how to handle noise in recordings when mixing will. How many different variations of Kraft Dinner are there on the supermarket shelves? It’s still Kraft Dinner, and it’s still not a home-cooked meal. Getting the newer tastier version doesn’t make you a better cook.
5. Your obsession with finding the best compressors or EQs or reverbs is what prevents you from learning how to use compression and EQ and reverb in your mixes.
EQs, compressors, and reverbs always have been and always will be available to you. And you can probably do whatever you need to either with the stock effects already in your DAW, or whatever you already own or subscribe to. Obsessively chasing the newest and best is a waste of the valuable time you can better spend learning how to EQ, compress and apply reverb better.
6. You need to get experience, so this may mean either working for free or for very little money at the beginning of your career.
Let me state up front; I AM NOT an advocate of working for free or giving away valuable services for next to nothing. However, choosing to give your time away to work with a promising, stimulating, or creative artist, may change your perception of how you use and interact with the tools you have. You may learn to create workflows for yourself that will last forever. And this is extremely valuable in the long run. Provided of course you still have enough money to eat and pay the bills.
7. You Can’t Make Everyone Happy.
We all need to accept this. Maybe it’s your parents who aren’t happy with your career choice, or your spouse who feels you aren’t spending enough time with your family. Or maybe it’s a client who isn’t happy with how long the editing is taking, or with the last mix you did. You need to develop and respect your own priorities, values, and principles; and do what is right for you. It might mean turning down some work to make more time for family, or it might mean getting a divorce, moving to a different city where there is more work, disappointing your parents, or cutting down on time with your drinking buddies. In the long run, nothing is more important than doing what is right for you.
8. You can’t be Perfect.
We all try to be and none of us are. Learning to accept this and being gentle with yourself is the important thing. Give your inner critic the day off. You don’t need him. He/she makes things worse, not better.
9. Your DAW chops are less important than your creative ideas.
We all like to learn the ins and outs of our software. But this isn’t necessarily what is going to lead to great productions. I have seen some of the most talented people I know reach for their mouse to go to the Edit menu to click Copy or Paste. So what if they don’t know the key commands. Knowing what to do with these functions is the important thing. I knew one Logic user who had a key command assigned for rewind but not forward. The music they created was beautiful.
10. Be Accountable.
Sometimes we screw up in life. Own it. Take responsibility. Correct the situation if you can. Sometimes we don’t make the best choices. Particularly when it comes to impulse plug-in purchases! It’s okay. Try and learn from the experience, and then move forward.
11. Your talent means nothing without a consistent work ethic.
We all know starving geniuses. They’re usually starving for good reason. Be reliable. Be on time. Be courteous in your dealings with the people around you. Be disciplined. Work hard. Finish the song/mix/edit/production you’re working on.
12. Now is the only time that really matters.
Quit ruminating over past failures, or basking in the memories of past successes. Quit worrying about what you will do tomorrow. Now is the only time that matters, so make the most of it. Don’t worry about installing that new plug-in update if you have an idea you want to get down. The update can wait. The idea can’t. It may be gone in five minutes. Don’t worry about finding the perfect snare sound if you have a great idea for the bass line. The snare sound can wait, you might not remember the bass part after spending ten minutes auditioning snares.
13. Spend less time doing things you don’t want to do and more time doing the things you want to be doing.
If you want to compose a symphony, it may mean turning down the karaoke singer offering you money to record her. Of course, you may be able to make time for both. But you need to ask yourself, what do you really want to be doing. Be specific. Saying “working with my DAW for a living” isn’t specific enough. What do you want to be doing with your DAW? Developing sample libraries? Composing pop tunes? Recording bands? Scoring film music? You get the idea…..
14. What you create is more important than what you say.
At some point, we all need to stop talking about what we are going to do and do it. This goes for forums and discussions with endless rants and complaints about software limitations or bugs. Yes, these are a drag. Accept it, and go make music. Remember my colleagues I mentioned earlier who didn’t know shortcuts for copy and paste and didn’t have a key command assigned for moving the play head forward? I never once heard them complain about limitations in the software they were using!
15. Invest in yourself.
It’s important. But it’s also difficult to draw the line between wanting and needing. This is a tough one. I believe though that if you are sacrificing (be it money, or time) so that you may invest in something that is sincerely going to better yourself, you will always come out ahead.
16. It’s not what happens, it’s how we react that matters.
This is similar to number 10. The important thing is to train yourself to respond in ways that lead to better outcomes. If your DAW is constantly crashing, quit cursing and getting mad, and learn better troubleshooting skills.
17. Ambition without execution means nothing. Put in the work.
We are all ambitious, but the path to realizing our ambitions is not always clear. You want to be a film composer, so you study a video series on scoring to picture and take a college course in film scoring. These are not bad things to do. But they may not lead you to realize your ambition. Recognize this and try something else to get you to the goal post. Maybe you need to go to that film scoring teacher and ask about getting in touch with the film production students who need music for their projects. Too many people give up after the first roadblock or two. Persevere.
Of course, these are also general life lessons, and great guiding principles to follow. They are not restricted to our DAW universes.
Learn, grow, have fun along the way; and make great music! Let us know what some of your brutal truths are, and what you do to face them.