Thursday, March 31, 2016

DrScythe Recording Blog - Part III: Plans and projectmanagement

As the planned release of my latest song was heavily delayed I wanted to write something about plans. And as a “Bachelor of Science E-Government” I even can add some professional stuff about project management.

Songs, albums etc. as projects

When people refer to something as a project they often want to emphasize that it’s a one-time event or not as important as the main-thing (like a ‘side-project’ of a band member or refurbishing their garden shed). There are several definitions for what a project is and it depends on what you are doing which one applies. Check out Wikipedia on this one:

Temporary, permanent, reoccurring – if you want to you can call anything a project and treat it like one. But the more objects, people and tasks are involved the easier it will be to actually finish something if you plan it properly. No matter what and how you’re going to do it: listing all the said things will already improve your workflow as you’ll try to organize everything a little bit automatically. After you’ve done that you can just go on with your regular procedure but not forget something this time. Or you can sort the tasks chronologically and use a waterfall model for this project. It also helps to connect the required resources with the tasks to make sure that the equipment or person is available.

For more modern approaches you could learn everything about SCRUM ( and apply it to whatever you’re doing…

Back to recording: in contrast to many business projects the waterfall model is still usable for your (home) studio. You record track after track, instrument after instrument, then mix, then master, done. Even the “checkup loops” can be planned on fixed points. The most critical point is to plan backwards and with a lot of “headroom”. So from your deadline to the starting point and add about 30% of the time needed. For critical elements add 50-60% or if there is enough time double it.

For most bands the drums would be the most critical element as the other members need those for their recording sessions. So the finished task ‘drum recordings’ is a requirement for the other recording sessions etc.


One flaw of this method is its lack of flexibility. If you need to insert a task or change the duration of one then the entire plan has to be changed. So if the drummer can’t do the recordings for whatever reasons and there is no one to replace him – bad luck.

Or if you’re a one-man-project doing everything yourself but your grandpa dies and you got a lot of other stuff to do you find yourself jettisoning the entire plan. I initially planned to release two songs this month and now I am happy that I can finish one. And I am way more flexible than a regular band. For example I do not depend on a drum recording – I can record all the instruments using a really dull basic drum track. But that didn’t help this time. I invested several hours of work in both tracks but due to the lack of time I had to drop one song for now and finish the other one within the short period of time. So I had to redo the plan to maximize the time and it is just on spot. If I had to visit more family members on Easter I wouldn’t have been able to finish everything.

So the next time I try something more ambitious I am going to plan it with even more headroom. There are only few reoccurring tasks in recording and mixing so there’s no help to find in the modern tools of project management – except for the knowledge of projects being doomed if not planned and executed with the most possible carefulness.

This is this month’s result:

So long

PS: tables are great for planning, especially if you use automatic coloring.
0, red, not even begun
1, dark orange, rough idea, not ready to record
2, yellow, ready to record
3, green, recorded
4, grey, bounced with FX
5, blue, do not touch again

Sunday, March 13, 2016

DrScythe Thoughts - Part IV: Critique

First of all: critiques, reviews, feedback – whatever you want to call it - is important. It’s what helps you improving and keeps you moving on. Ideally.

In today’s world it’s a little more complex. Earlier in the history of mankind you weren’t able to learn about the opinions of the masses and you had to rely on magazines or shows. I’ll ignore fan mail and threatening letters for obvious reasons. Nowadays everyone blogs, posts and comments everywhere. So you have to filter out the relevant information yourself. That includes the magazines etc. as they tend to exaggerate their statements to get more attention too.
Look at the wisdom written on the left
In the very early stages (like where I am now) you can read everything and pick out what to take from that. Let’s use examples:

“Great!” “Love it” “Wow!”
Nice for encouragement and motivation. Might want to say thanks… ;)

“I don’t like your voice and your face is just a balloon with hair on it.”
Ignore this. And don’t mistakes comments like that for statements about your singing skills.

“The song is great but your guitar sound sucks.”
As long as you use decent equipment (e.g. interface + free amp sims by LePou+IRs) and just dialed in a tone to your liking dismiss this. If you’re using a Fuzz Pedal into the mic in of your computer you might want to check your setup. Those ‘mixed’ comments which include pros and cons might contain important information especially if a positive general statement is followed by criticizing a specific element. But it could also be a matter of taste. Definitely investigate.

“The bass is boring”
This is one of the more difficult ones and it would help a lot if you had background information about the person posting this. There are not enough insults to be meant as trolling/hate comment but barely more than that. Is it about the sound, about what is played, the whole song or a part? If it’s the only comment - or if it bothers you enough - you can try to investigate the background either by asking or by checking the profile. If the person coincidentally plays the criticized instrument part it’s highly likely that this comment is somewhere in between of “if I played this song I’ve done something different” and “I know the instrument way better than you”. And what to take away from that heavily depends on what the comment was about. If you just implemented the said instrument for this one song to add a little more color to the overall sound it’s pretty pointless to think about it long. If it’s a reoccurring basic instrument (like bass) you should investigate if you didn’t cut back on this part on purpose to make room for something else.

“Long and constructive criticism”
Although it should be obvious that if someone takes the time to write a long text and even suggests something you should at least answer “thanks I’ll look into it” I suggest you really check the stuff pointed out and address it in an answer. Some things you might do on purpose and it would be good if people knew that. Other things you never thought about and those are really moments to thank the person for pointing out.

The more people you’ll reach the more comments you’ll get and the more you’ll need to filter. And then it’s still another balance to keep: where does “accepting foreign ideas” stop and “humoring critics” begin? In the beginning you want to find your own style later on you want to evolve. And there’ll always be people who first write stuff like “new/refreshing but needs a little more finesse” and later “lost track, forgot own roots”. So in the end it’s – like most of the time – up to you and your goals. Do you just want to express yourself and be happy with the responses you get? Do you want to appeal to the masses? Bend the border of the genre you’re into?

At the moment I focus on establishing DrScythe and improve my mixing skills. So I read everything but sort out most of the comments on songwriting and style. As I release one song per month and only I know that the next one will be completely different it doesn’t make a lot of sense to listen to stuff about these topics by now. Also I want to achieve better mixes but not in terms of ‘modern, loudness to the max’-style. I don’t have to care about radio stations and my songs not jumping into the faces of listeners. I just want everything to be ‘glued together’ and besides that to sound like I want it. I really don’t like ultra-modern sounds like extremely gated kick drums, buzzsaw electric guitars and everything just running into a limiter until it’s a squished and stirred acoustic mess.

I am consciously taking the risk of people disliking it just because of that right now. But I started my project because I wanted to hear my songs coming to life and the sound is part of that. This doesn’t mean that I am completely happy with the mixes of the released tracks so far…

So long

PS: I left out one critical point on purpose. Genres. There’ll always be people who just stumble across your work (e.g. in your attempt to promote it) and who have no idea about what you’re doing. And this stretches to things far beyond music. Ask street photographers and nature photographers (esp. with a focus on animals) about equipment and approach to their hobby. 

PPS: Self promotion for good measure

Sunday, March 6, 2016

DrScythe Thoughts III – The importance of being earnest

If you enjoy my music and want to annoy some friends I now just got the thing for you: a channel trailer!

Sorry for this entry being a little confusing and loose - my grandfather died when I was just past the half of the text and I said to myself: well finish it and...wasn't a good idea it seems.

Today’s blog is about the elemental balance between fun and seriousness. Personally I’d say there are three overall categories:

Pure fun; no real ambitions at all, just playing an instrument (and drink lots of e.g. beer), extremely rare gigs, might even be difficult to play with fellow musicians, being skilled takes a lot more talent due to lack of time spent with practicing  

Hobby but with results (gigs/records): probably largest group, enthusiastic beginner to seasoned semipro, balancing between work, life and hobby is a problem, might even make some money

Pro: keeping the fun might be difficult until you reach the highest spheres, technically two subgroups: studied musicians and those who had their very own combination of luck/skill/time/connections/etc. to become a pro

I recently realized that the balance between having fun and getting some results can be a problem especially if it’s not your fault that whatever you’re trying to produce isn’t finished by a certain date. At the moment I am almost anxious before I record vocals as my neighbors tend to…well…ruin the takes. Hammering, drilling, screaming, REALLY LOUD CONVERSATIONS right in front of the door, vacuuming…staying motivated to wait for 10 minutes of silence and having fun in exact that moment isn’t quite what you want when following your passion. But you still want to finish your work and begin thinking about why you’re doing this.

That’s when I noticed that I am taking my hobby way more seriously than ever before – and also had more fun than ever before. In my case it’s almost like a dream come true to finally hear some of those songs finished and even receiving positive feedback.  And there are some songs left that are even more important to me.

This doesn’t mean that everybody should take making music more seriously. But maybe think about it once in a while. Especially when I thought about the musicians I met on the way I noticed that some were way too earnest about it and some seemed to have no motivation beyond playing their instrument. As long as you’re a band of hobbyists I highly doubt it’s useful to demand perfect instrumental skills or plan every gig for three years in advance and calculate possible fans. On the other hand you can’t expect your band mates to tolerate you failing to play a song you all agreed on over and over again be it an original or a cover. So if you want to get somewhere you’ve got to put some work into it.

Which means you need to do stuff that isn’t quite fun to have more fun later or find the fun in work. Of course if it is your passion it won’t always feel like work to you but others might see it as work and at some point you’ll run into something you can’t avoid to make progress that isn’t fun even to you. This might be quite early on your way (I realized that I won’t ever find motivation to practice enough to shred after half a year) or later. What’s always on the line then is where you’re going from there. Find your motivation to go through with it? Look for something else to improve? Look for a way around it? Or give up altogether and never move on again?

With some parts of the process of writing, recording and mixing my songs becoming some sort of routine I have to say that it’s really exciting to focus on the creative parts. Not only while writing it but also during the mixing phase. Deciding whether it should sound more compact or sort of spacey, dry or full of effects…per track and overall. On the first two songs I was definitely way more focused on balancing everything out which I now find quite easy as some tricks already found their ways into my memory.

So…I hope I was able to explain what I wanted to say…if not, please comment, then I’ll try to descramble my brain a little…so long


PS: Should I start a vlog instead of a blog?...