The Craft

I have long viewed computer programming, which pays my bills, as a creative exercise. Those not in the field may not understand this but among my colleagues, this idea seems to resonate. Large programs are not made overnight, but rather built from many smaller pieces or ideas over a long period of time.

One of the things that initially (re)drew me into making music was the speed with which I could produce something.

That initial honeymoon period appears to be ending and I find myself wanting for higher quality output. I'll leave aside the discussion of what higher quality means but there is a general recognition that higher quality requires more time.

To date, most of my musical output is something that has been created in mere hours. Even if I recognize problems, I rarely go back and revisit these creations. The few times I've tried, I've found it quite difficult. And that difficulty kind of leaches all motivation and ... you know.

This morning, I had a brain flash and I asked myself, why is it that I can write software over many days or weeks but not create music over the same period.

Some immediate thoughts come to mind. One is simply skill. My career in technology is simply longer than my hobbying with music. If you accept, like Gladwell suggests, that time invested leads to results, skill, etc then the math is simple.

Making music, like making anything else, requires a collection of skills that are often called "the craft". With software, I am reasonably versed in the craft. With music, much much less so. My musical skill (knowing notes, scales, chords, etc) is akin to a young programmer that is simply fluent in a programming language (learn Java in 20 days) but otherwise unskilled in the art.

This got me thinking about what aspects of software craft might be transferable to music (as a way to avoid going to a Songwriting for Dummies seminar).

One thing I realize is that in programming (at least using textual languages, as opposed to a visual language like Max) the form seems to lead the programmer to be somewhat organized. We need to organize things into functional blocks that interface with other functional blocks. And if one piece doesn't fit, modifications are made.

There are similarities in music. Each block (verse, chorus, intro, bridge, etc) needs to connect with the others. Now while many of us work with these musical blocks to varying degrees... but when you get stuck, how willing are you to re-record an idea that you've already committed to "tape"? Speaking for myself, almost never. Hmmm. Difficult to improve the whole product if the components are not up to par.

Inability to re-record a block speaks to a bunch of problems. One is just "the sound, man". How many times have you dialed in a sound, wanted to do a little overdub later and not been able to match it? Or simply not remembering how to play a part because you never wrote anything down?

Seems to me that these and other problems and strategies for dealing are all part of the craft. And I have much to learn.

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