Thursday, May 26, 2016

Minimalism in Production

On May 3rd of 2016, I had the opportunity to go to a special screening of a documentary called "Minimalism" which was based on the blogs, essays, and books of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus.

They catalog personal accounts of becoming a minimalist by discussing their high paying corporate jobs and subsequent jarring life event which forced them to rethink their initial path; which inevitably led them to a more intentional lifestyle. Their story is compelling and life altering. It has forced me to rethink how much "stuff" I have and how to downsize in order to focus on more important things. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend starting with their blog and podcast at the same time. This combination paints the best picture of their lifestyle.

This got me thinking about minimalism in music production, specifically, those of us with home studios. How much "STUFF" do you have? Here was my simple list

13 guitars
4 keyboards
5 computers
30 XLR cables
50 misc cables
30 TRS/TS cables (various lengths)
400 CD's
100 books
30 Stomp Boxes
100 random assorted cables

If you are an audiophile like me, then you might have something very similar, including microphones and outboard gear. But in reality, how much of it do we need? The problem is, we hold value to things that might not have value at all. For example, out of my 13 guitars, only 1 held a value over $350. What was I holding on to?

I realized that my work space and my home space were stifling my creativity. Here was literally my thought on May 2nd, 2016: "I really should do some work on that intro song on my album, but my desk is a mess and I really don't feel like cleaning it. I just want to write. Oh well, I will just play some Fallout 4 instead".

On May 10th, I did something radical; I packed up most of my accessories and gear. I then only took out 2 of each thing, or as many as I would possibly

Q: Each guitar/mic/didgeridoo has their own timbre.

A: I did an experiment with this. I chose one guitar, an Ibanez RG series. As I plugged it in and recorded some pure tones from it, I challenged myself to try to mimic the pure tones out of my other 12 guitars using just this one guitar. The result: I was able to. What did this teach me?

That my ears were the most important commodity I had, not the guitar. If I was able to replicate most of the sounds using a combination of EQ, multi-band compression, and different distortion plug-ins, then, in reality, I didn't need 12 other cheap guitars.

Q: But I paid $500 for that thing!

A: If you have ever tried to sell something on eBay, you know that the actual market value vs the retail is very skewed. I paid $550 for an Epiphone Les Paul Thru Body Sun Burst guitar back in 2001. The guitar was immaculate and sounded just like a Les Paul. However, on the market, used, this was only worth about $150-200. I attached a value to it that was not reasonable. When we buy something from Guitar Center or any retail shop, it is steeply marked up. Once you walk out the store with it or let the money back guarantee expire, the item automatically loses most of its value. I really had to look at my stuff as sunk money costs.

Q: But I might need that for a future album!

A: Minimalism teaches the 90/90 rule. If you have used the item in the past 90 days, or will use it in the next 90 days, then keep it. If not, donate it or sell it. I was holding about 110 cables I havn't used since recording a full drum kit in my old studio almost 10 years ago now. The most cabling I use is to my guitar amp and my Korg Kronos now. I did hold onto enought to connect everything at once, and then 1 spare. I only have 20 cables total now.

Q: Who would want this specialized equipment?

A: Schools. Most schools teach production, but don't have the budget to buy new equipment. If you donate the equipment to a school, then they can give you a receipt for a tax deduction. That tax dedution can be worth as much as reselling your equipment retail.
If you want cash in hand, eBay or Pawn Shop. Or donate the equipment to a donation center or thrift store. JUST GET A RECEIPT OF DONATION!

The Results

After about a month of cleaning up, I have noticed a significant amount of clutter gone. I have done this to other parts of the apartment and my girfriend is loving the change. The best way to describe the feeling is "freedom". Without the clutter and the extra stuff, we have been both creative with our free time. It is amazing to think that random objects could take away from creativity, but the truth is, visual clutter dosn't alow for creative flow because it takes your attention away from your creative idea. Now, don't get me wrong, I still have shorts, shoes, and t-shirts. I still have mic cables, microphones and a few guitars still, but I got rid of the excess and the things that didn't bring value into my life. The results were more creativity and produtivity... and more time to build better friendships relationships.