Considering we invented some of them, when it comes to modern sport Britain doesn't always cover itself in glory on the world stage, often quite the opposite.
So how did UK Cycling go from not winning much in nearly 100 years to suddenly winning most competitions including the Tour De France, numerous Olympic gold medals, and many international championships in ten years? And how did someone like me go from being severely overweight who did zero exercise and six months later transform my eating habits, drop more than 40 pounds and who now runs over 5K three times per week?
Was there one big thing that changed everything? In a world of life-hacks so many of us are always looking for that one thing that can make our mixes better or our songs winners. It's down to making lots of small changes, which in the case of UK Cycling was a plan where Head Coach Chris Brailsford used a system called Marginal Gains. He decided to make tiny changes, which in many cases was 1% across the board.
When Brailsford was asked how he transformed UK Cycling in an interview with the BBC he said;
"The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together."
You can read more about it in the fascinating book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
In my case, it was precisely the same, I didn't suddenly lose masses of weight or run a mile, but I made lots of tiny changes to my eating, drinking and exercise and over time they gave significant results.
In his book, Clear calls it The Aggregation of Marginal Gains, in many ways it works in the same way as compound interest does with savings. Lots of small and what seem trivial things over time make a big difference. In his book Clear says;
“It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth‐shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.
Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable— sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty‐seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.”
Furthermore, when I decided to change my life I didn't stop with food and exercise, I then decided to deal with sleep and also started to keep a journal to improve my mental health too. Again, there was no significant change overnight, but over time I felt sharper, less tired of course and better at doing my job. I’m now a person I could never have imagined being even a year ago.
A New You A New Studio
So imagine what you could do if you made a 1% improvement to everything you do in your studio? We discussed the Expert team this week about things like sample rate and speaker isolation devices, one school of thought suggested was perhaps they make a difference, but do they make enough of one to notice? That's the technology side, but what about technique too, what if we made a 1% improvement in all the ways we work? We wouldn't notice overnight, but over time the gains would accumulate into something significant and like UK Cycling or my story of health and wellbeing, could transform things beyond recognition.
Too often we want the quick fix, the magic plug-in, the studio hack or the incredible software, thinking if only we had that one thing my recording and mixing would be so much better.
Perhaps the answer isn't based on buying another product or watching another quick tip, but it's in us applying changes that combined make a huge difference.
I've been reflecting on the high sample rate question since it was asked on the blog. Out of sheer laziness I've settled on 44.1/48kHz and have never tried 96kHz with any real commitment but what have I got to lose? I have more drive space than NASA and never run out of tracks, so what's the harm in me trying it out? Or what if I spend a little longer on getting the sound right as it goes into the DAW? Or what would happen if I spent a bit more time understanding how to use a piece of software that I use daily but have barely scratched the surface? What if I committed to learning just one new keyboard shortcut a day, that would mean I know 365 new ones in a year... if it were 10 a day then I'd be a shortcut Ninja in a year... and what would happen if I did all of them and continued to have that attitude daily?
It worked when it came to me losing weight and improving my health. It worked when I wanted to sleep better and wanted to think better... why shouldn't it work in the studio?
This kind of thinking is not new; the Japanese have Kaizen, the process of continuous improvement for many years based around the cyclic approach of Plan, Do, Check, Act, and each time you go around the cycle you adjust to make the process better.
Quality Still Matters To Some
As I have already said, what have we got to lose by trying to improve the recording industry by doing this? There are too many conversations pervading our industry which perpetuate the idea that if consumers don't have decent gear, don't notice or don't care then why bother doing things better? And this is where Clear goes in his book Atomic Habits, instead of trying to reach a goal, what if the goal is to become a better you?
I'll be honest, as I reflect on the person I used to be before I made the life changes I wasn't very happy, and now I am. I'm sure plenty of you are not very happy about where you are with your recording and mixing, your studio business, or your creative agency... how would you want to be a better you?
I wonder if it's time to change thinking that is prevalent in many discussions I see and hear that are content with our creative work being 'good enough' and instead join with many of the engineers and producers who refuse to allow that bad thinking, it's that kind of thinking that reduces standards for good.
Instead, I'm committing to making lots of little changes in my studio and expecting that over time there will be a transformation. It worked in other parts of my life so it only stands to reasons it can transform the work I do too!
If you are interested in finding out more about the concepts of Atomic Habits, then check out the website.