How do we keep learning and improving our technique?
A lot of the knowledge that I employ in my work hasn’t come to me through formal education. I don’t have a degree in music or music technology. I picked up most of my knowledge from colleagues and mentors. Most of this sharing of knowledge was informal and there was no testing or awarding of certificates. I know what works because I have seen it work in action.
I am still deeply interested in all areas of the world of music: performing, recording, technology, technique, philosophy and more. I am continually engaged because there is always an opportunity to develop and deepen my approach to my work. I know from experience that there will always be someone I can learn something from, and they often show up in unexpected places.
There are two attitudes to self-improvement:
1) There’s SO MUCH to learn, what’s the point?
2) There’s SO MUCH to learn!
In my opinion, the first viewpoint (“What’s the point”) comes about when the student doesn’t feel supported in their pursuit of knowledge. If I am not connected to inspiring people or situations, it is very easy to become despondent.
The second, more positive viewpoint comes about when the student is surrounded – and supported – by inspiring mentors and equally curious peers.
Put simply, if you don’t see the world as a universe of potential, try changing your surroundings, and seek out people that inspire and engage you. (If you can’t find inspiring people, go to the library, look on YouTube, find other ways to be inspired.)
Here’s a brief explanation of the diagram above:
What is missing from your practice? What skills are you interested in cultivating? What abilities do you see in others that you want for yourself?
Research the things that you are curious about. Read magazines, source interviews with skilled practitioners, watch tutorials on YouTube.
Seek out a real person who already has the skill you are curious about. Check in with them and confirm that you are on the right track.
Take these new concepts and apply them to your everyday practice. Employ trial and error. Operate in a state of observation and revision.
It’s quite possible that stage 4 will trigger stage 1 again. The new ideas and concepts might point you in the direction of a new investigation.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are times when it is wise to avoid getting into this cycle, such as in the middle of a major project, where changing your work style could have a detrimental effect on the end results. In the context of commercial work with clients, the best time to nurture curiosity is between major projects. However, if you have an ongoing creative project that would benefit from fresh approaches, there’s never a bad time to get curious.
A real-world example of applying this cycle:
You hear about mid-side processing, either in conversation, or on a forum etc, and become curious about what it is and how you might use it in your recording or mixing process.
You do some research, read some articles in Sound on Sound, watch a few YouTube videos, check out some plugins that apply M/S processing.
At this point you might even have started trying out the process in your own work. Here’s where it is essential to check in with another professional who is familiar with the technique; personal insight borne of experience will give you a unique view of the new technique you are investigating.
If you can, check in with more than one peer or mentor. Always get a second opinion. Don’t take advice or instruction from just one source.
Lastly, you start applying the technique to your work. At this point, it is important to be aware that the new technique can tend to dominate your process for a while. Keep doing A/B tests to determine if the new technique is actually enhancing your work.
Get A Second Opinion
In my mentoring work, I regularly refer clients to other colleagues, either to look at a specific topic (i.e. synthesis/arranging etc) or to gain a different insight on a certain subject. I know from experience how valuable it is to see things from another viewpoint, and not to place the responsibility for your learning with just one person, institution or tradition.
Quite often I will check in with two or more people about a concept that is new to me, and I will get wildly differing responses. For example, some sound engineers are quite happy to use hipass filters when mixing, and others hardly use them at all, preferring to mostly use shelving instead. The challenge for me, then, is to make sure I understand their reasoning, and find a way to make both approaches work. I can add both techniques to my “toolkit”, and use them according to the needs of the project. Over time I might decide that one way suits me better, and it will become integrated into my personal aesthetic.
I hope this has been useful, and, as always, I look forward to your comments and feedback.