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Endless tweaking, neverending project...
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spaceman
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1st July 2013
Old 1st July 2013
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Endless tweaking, neverending project...

I'm going slowly mad. I've now been spending almost a year and a half on this album project, and at this rate I think I will be finished by the year 2175 ( most optimistic projection date)...

What started as a small, intimate sounding thing, quickly became a complex, epic sounding "concept" album, with some songs having over 50 tracks.

I fell in some bizarre obsessive-compulsive mode, been endlessly tweaking individual sounds to the point of madness, trying hundreds of different FX on each track ( I fully spent the last three days comparing the impact of three different delay plugins on a synth line that lasts 6 seconds overall), then trying hundreds of synth sounds for each track , hundreds of melody variations, zillions of variations on playing a chord ( arpeggiating it, rythmically gating it, etc..) etc... Multiply that by over 16 songs in the album, ...

I've always been pretty good at setting artificial deadlines to tame down my natural tendency to endless tweaking of variations, and I've recommended this technique to other people here , but this time, I seem to be completely failing to apply it to myself.

In the past , composing for other people's projects ( video, commercials) was liberating. I was given X amount of days/weeks, I plan accordingly, and I deliver pretty much always on deadline.

But on this personal project ? Epic fail. I'm almost terrified of stopping the tweaking, as if this was my last work ever, and I was going to die after it, so it better be REAL good.
I've subconsciously convinced myslef it has to be absolute perfection or nothing at all ( insert triple facepalm here )
I have almost stopped having any social life since I started this project, and I feel like in a trap and can't get out of it..

Anyone here been through this madness ? How did you get yourself out of this loop and STOP ?
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You just have to learn when 'enough is enough' and when its "good enough". If your OCD that can be hard I guess. We all struggle with it to degrees. You need to learn to commit, maybe start bouncing down to audio more of your tracks and not leaving them in midi to endlessly tweak...

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spaceman
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1st July 2013
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How the hell did you get hold of that private picture of me ?

Well, I feel exactly like that. I've always struggled with some obsessive aspect , but I usually overcome it with various tricks ( deadlines being one of them ). Not this time.
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maybe bring another person into the mix to help move forward or have them mix and finish parts with you? It would give you another perspective and also help you with committing to audio and moving forward.
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Just get it down, quick, bounce it.

I know where you're coming from, but if you're not finishing tracks you will just end up get frustrated though, as is the case here.

You can't force 'perfection', think of all of the other great musical ideas you're missing out on by fixating on a handful.
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A bit late for you probably, but there are some good tips in the vid below (the focus is entirely on the problem of never finishing tracks).



For something really different, you can sign up to donating $$$ to anti/
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The aim is to help you stick to your deadlines.

Also, i find I do miraculous amounts of work when i plug from my wireless transmitter, and put it in a drawer in another room... to be fair that's a tip from the guy in the first vid

Good luck and yes, it feels insane because it is insane - deadlines, accepting imperfection because you already blew your chances at perfection... and move on.
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can u imagine if there was a randomization button on synlenhhthg
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Are you happy with the music?
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Sounds like exactly why I dropped ITB and went to a small hardware setup with limits.

(assuming you're ITB anyway :P)
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Thanks guys for all the opinions/advice. Keep them coming. I'm doing lots of thinking , and been compiling a whole bag of ideas/thought/tricks to get out of this loop.

@StephenWiley : I thought about that before, but it's not that easy. I guess , like many people doing electronic music, the mix is an integral and intimate part of the process of how things should globally sound, and at this time, I can't see someone else doing the mix. Mastering , yes. But not mixing+help produce. Or maybe I just haven't met the right person, yet ( or there are a few people I can think of, but they are financially out of my reach anyway..). I guess it's one of the pitfalls of being too self-contained , self-sufficient. It's often the case in electronic music.

@offki : you're right, you can end up "hating" some tracks when you're spending too much time on them. It's starting to happen, it's one of the reasons I'm freaking out. And thinking of all the other great projects i'm missing out by spending too much time on the present one is true also, I've used that thought to "stress" myself in finishing faster, but for some reason, this one is becoming like a vampire, taking all over my life. But I will work on that thought again.

@GJ999X : You know, I started watching that video some time ago, didn't finish it and completely forgot about it. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention. Yeah , there are some useful ideas in there ( I'll probably start using a timer to constantly have that 20 hours limit per track in mind, although it would be more like 40 hours in my case for the kind of music I'm making )
"accepting imperfection because you already blew your chances at perfection... and move on." hahaha ! I love that one. I think I'm gonna print it and hang it on the wall while working !

@login : actually I am ( mostly ). Wich why I'm also endlessly trying to take it one step higher ( "it sounds nice, but it could be SO much better..mmm.. let's try this and that.."). Until I break it completely..As they say, if it ain't broken, don't try to fix it. But music is essentialy always broken.

@nijuro : Yes, it's mostly ITB ( after being OTB for many years when I started... a loooong time ago). But even in this case, I actually started by limiting my sound palette before starting on the music writing, and writing down characteristics of how it should sound like, so that I would have boundaries. But it seems that even inside the limits i tried to set-up, I can still lose myself forever with the possibilities and permutations. I'm flooded with ideas , to the point of paralysis.
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Maybe Try posting it here and maybe take some opinions...

Also, consider this: why keep working on it, it's highly probable that if you make something else after it it could be even better?
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You're in good company, mate...
same thing happened to Brian Ferry... had to call in Mr. Eno to finish off Mamouna and it took him 5 years. I'd love to find the article where he described hs obsession with nailing down everything with a NASA like precision...
Then there's the famous story of The Police's endless mix of Every Breath You Take (IIRC?)...

Anyway... I'll take a page from one of the past century's BW photographers, Ansel Adams. His pictures were fruit of a great deal of "pre visualization" even though many of his great pics were shot in the wilderness, with 8x10 cameras (i.e. sheet film). He "saw" the finished product in the eye of the mind and from there strove to lay down each step in the process, from the lens and film choice to the size of the print and to the paper he would print on (and the chemicals, and the contrast, etc, etc).

So probably the best answer to your question is: what is it you *really* want to say and hear? Step away from the mixer and the keyboards and your pc, go somewhere where you are alone and write it down. Concentrate on the "ear of your mind". Sing the melody in your smartphone (or in a dictaphone).
Go back to the studio and start from the first tracks again... if anything you can reuse the extra arrangements to generate other tracks (hats off to Frank Zappa)....

Cheers and good luck

Paul
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50 tracks??!!! OMG!!

Have you talked to your therapist about being OCD?




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Creative works are never completed, only abandoned.

Maybe incorporate your perception of the incomplete imperfection of this album into it's "concept" and start planning a follow-up now to address those aspects. Lack of an idea about the future can readily grow into progress paralysis in the present.
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Thanks bud, i was pretty much talking to myself anyway if that wasnt clear...

One or two mixes i've absolutely perfected over time.... but that the rest that i've spent ages on, i've lost all perspective, evidence being that horrible feeling when you listen back to the original and think damn it that's actually better.

That plus how fun proper creative sessions are....

I take it you're getting this stuff mastered as well, is that extra assurance?

And yeah "20 hours max" is probably genre-specific.. i think his principles are good though.

Plus trust me, give it a go unplugging the internet... also buying a posh notebook that you then feel obliged to write deadlines in.... that's good.
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2nd July 2013
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Lots of food for thought in this thread..

I've completely stopped working on the album these last days, until i get things "fixed" in my head. The ratio Time-spent/Progress has been getting increasingly small, and frustrating, during these last months. It's a non-linear curve that's almost vertical now, with Time-spent being the Y axis.

The mind works in peculiar ways. Reading about cognitive processes is one my side-interests , and the funny thing about cognitive biases ( and illusions ) is that even when you're consciously aware of them, you still can't avoid them sometimes. Your brain will still be tricked.

Somewhere during the course of this project, my brain got derailed and got stuck in a neverending mode of compulsive tweaking and search for near ( and unattainable ) perfection. So I guess what I'm trying to do is to "trick" my brain to get it in the right workflow that will allow me to finish this project, in the coming months hopefully.

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Originally Posted by login View Post
Also, consider this: why keep working on it, it's highly probable that if you make something else after it it could be even better?
Yes, to consider the present project as a transitory state towards an even better future project. Repeat with every new project ...
It's an interesting brain "trick" that could keep a certain fluidity and prevent the present project from becoming considered as the-end-of-it-all , a mountain that you build yourself, so high that you can't climb it !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle_GroOve View Post
.
same thing happened to Brian Ferry... had to call in Mr. Eno to finish off Mamouna and it took him 5 years.
....
So probably the best answer to your question is: what is it you *really* want to say and hear? Step away from the mixer and the keyboards and your pc, go somewhere where you are alone and write it down. Concentrate on the "ear of your mind". Sing the melody in your smartphone (or in a dictaphone).
When I was much younger ( hmmm....) I often wondered why some great musicians that seemed perfectly capable to build a whole musical world by themselves needed a producer. It took me sometime to understand the psychological usefulness of it. It's the mind that steps back, keeps an eye on the big picture and hopefully sets you back on track when you get lost in the minute details. Brian Eno is known for that aspect when wearing his producing hat.

As I can't afford Brian Eno , I did start by writing down what I wanted this album to be, very early on. I use an outliner ( OmniOutliner on mac, and sometimes Curio ) and create sections where I describe the overall concept, references in terms of sound, what I want this to be, what I DON'T WANT this to be ( equally important ), more technical notes ( wich plugins/synths I should use for the palette), ect..
I also gather various images that inspire me for the mood I'm looking for.

Then everytime I fire up Logic and start working, I always keep the Omnioutliner document open, and constantly refer to it when I feel lost, or being derailed from trajectory..
And yet, things start to shift in a very subtle way, almost imperceptibly. You make a small change here and there to the original concept, and before long you're in another country, the same way as when you fixate the clouds/moon and they look perfectly static , then you look again a couple minutes later and they have moved far away.Wich I guess happened to me in a way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by damondarkwalker View Post
50 tracks??!!! OMG!!
51 to be precise. But many of them are just carrying a one-shot sound fx, that's already panned and effected, it's like a sort of static pre-mixing while working on the music, before getting to the real mix.
And ironically, while this is among the most complex songs in the project, it was also one of the easiest to make, with different elements coming in and placing themselves painlessly, like a self playing Tetris game where everything magically falls in its right place.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ynohtna View Post
Maybe incorporate your perception of the incomplete imperfection of this album into it's "concept" and start planning a follow-up now to address those aspects. Lack of an idea about the future can readily grow into progress paralysis in the present.
mmm.. recursiveness, interesting. I think the original "concept" lays itself quite well to incorporate this. I will ponder on this....

Quote:
Originally Posted by GJ999x View Post
I take it you're getting this stuff mastered as well, is that extra assurance?

And yeah "20 hours max" is probably genre-specific.. i think his principles are good though.

Plus trust me, give it a go unplugging the internet... also buying a posh notebook that you then feel obliged to write deadlines in.... that's good.
Yes, i'll be getting it mastered externally.
I've been quite able to avoid the internet/phone distraction while working. Once I start , I can go for 8/9 hours straight , with just a 5/10 minutes break here and there every couple hours , on wich I will be.. checking the internet indeed.

The notebook thing is intriguing, not because of the process, wich I've already been doing on the computer, but because of the manual aspect of it. I almost don't write anymore with a pen and paper, everything goes into my Mac with various software. But I did read some time ago a study by some neuroscientists ( can't remember where) about the fact that writing the same thing with a pen VS on a computer does trigger different parts of the brain, with a different outcome on memorization ( and possibly other cognitive processes ). So there might be something in there to explore.

Sorry about the long post, but this thread has been triggering lots of thoughts in my head.

Last edited by spaceman; 2nd July 2013 at 12:16 AM.. Reason: I forgot half the post ...
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2nd July 2013
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amazing thread, probably was destined to find it. i'm in the same position as mr. spaceman, except i've been trying to make an album for 1,5 of years and have tunes with only half/intro which are saved in 65 different files with small different decisions, which leads to nowhere.
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When you're done with the mix I guarantee you that you'll think "damn, wish I fixed this bit, wish I changed the compression on that" etc, but just leave it, get it done and move on. I don't think it's possible to be satisfied, unless you're the perfect sound engineer... so far none have been that.

So get it done and leave it. Isn't the music more important than the polishing? You'll just lose your perspective on things and it might end up sounding worse when you have polished its character away.

Deadline, work, get it done, leave it. That's how simple it really is.
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This deserves to be fixed so that people can view it. Highly relevant to this neverending predicament (I'm getting nothing done very quickly either):-

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Originally Posted by damondarkwalker View Post
50 tracks??!!! OMG!!

Have you talked to your therapist about being OCD?




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Originally Posted by msl View Post
You just have to learn when 'enough is enough' and when its "good enough". If your OCD that can be hard I guess. We all struggle with it to degrees. You need to learn to commit, maybe start bouncing down to audio more of your tracks and not leaving them in midi to endlessly tweak...

What really worries me; why was this man naked?
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#21
2nd July 2013
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what if your not a pro? what if the track sounds weak all because of one filter tweak? your looking at the negatives and trying to portrey negatismic values to other producers.pls dont
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robosapien View Post
This deserves to be fixed so that people can view it. Highly relevant to this neverending predicament (I'm getting nothing done very quickly either):-
Thanks! I couldn't get it to work.
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2nd July 2013
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Spaceman, you've certainly piqued my interest! Share a little bit with us eh? I'd love to hear it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spaceman View Post

...
When I was much younger ( hmmm....) I often wondered why some great musicians that seemed perfectly capable to build a whole musical world by themselves needed a producer. It took me sometime to understand the psychological usefulness of it. It's the mind that steps back, keeps an eye on the big picture and hopefully sets you back on track when you get lost in the minute details. Brian Eno is known for that aspect when wearing his producing hat.

As I can't afford Brian Eno , I did start by writing down what I wanted this album to be, very early on. I use an outliner ( OmniOutliner on mac, and sometimes Curio ) and create sections where I describe the overall concept, references in terms of sound, what I want this to be, what I DON'T WANT this to be ( equally important ), more technical notes ( wich plugins/synths I should use for the palette), ect..
I also gather various images that inspire me for the mood I'm looking for.

Then everytime I fire up Logic and start working, I always keep the Omnioutliner document open, and constantly refer to it when I feel lost, or being derailed from trajectory..
And yet, things start to shift in a very subtle way, almost imperceptibly. You make a small change here and there to the original concept, and before long you're in another country, the same way as when you fixate the clouds/moon and they look perfectly static , then you look again a couple minutes later and they have moved far away.Wich I guess happened to me in a way.

....
You do know that Mr. Eno re-released his set of Oblique Strategies cards, right?
;-)

Mind mapping is a great tool (excellent idea).
Having done that I suppose you need to understand *why* you stray from the path. Is it the need to be "free" to twiddle and wander? Is there something that is not quite clear to your "inner ear"? Is it an expectation that somehow fails to materialise?

Maybe the issue is that *you* do not want to do what your rational ego wants (i.e. the part of you that mind-mapped the whole process).
So just try and jam over one of the tracks you like most. See where it takes you.... it could actually take you far enough to see everything in a better perspective
;-)

Ciao

Paul
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2nd July 2013
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Something clicked for me when I read a recent interview with Modeselektor stating that their recent release, Monkey Town, was recorded and ready to be sent for mastering in 6 weeks. The result of their haste, IMO, is a fun album.

I have taken this to heart and finally started to set parameters for my workflow.

1st, chose a current chart topping track and mimic the aesthetic. When I say aesthetic I mean arrangement and dynamics, do not steal peoples melody's, grooves or progressions!

2nd, I do not put effects on a single thing until all Tracking, panning, volume, eq and compression are done.

If I can sit back and enjoy my song at this point, dry and with no effects, I move on to a new track. That's right, I leave it alone!

I am starting to realize that for me, because I too am OCD about music, combining the writing, tracking and mixing stage is a receipt for a catalog of unfinished tracks.

This is also about learning to identify ones own strengths and weaknesses as a musician. I am a strong writer, I am getting a lot better at sound selection and learning to arrange in a manner that needs minimal mixing to begin with. I am good at tracking through my out board to achieve the sound I have in my head. I SUCK AT USING EFFECTS SPARINGLY AND IN AN INTERESTING WAY!

I will likely hire a studio to mix my current songs when I finish tracking 10. Perhaps after that I can go back through the 50 or so songs I did not finish over the last 5 years and I can try to sort the crap out from those worth saving.
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2nd July 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chordb View Post
amazing thread, probably was destined to find it. i'm in the same position as mr. spaceman, except i've been trying to make an album for 1,5 of years and have tunes with only half/intro which are saved in 65 different files with small different decisions, which leads to nowhere.

That would literally drive me insane mate... you need to be stricter than that and discover the delete button...


.
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Hey.... what about a gearslutz mix-off / remix, for one of your tracks, the one you can least be bothered with / that you consider likley lost?... Just a thought.
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