Archive for the Life Hacks Category

Roll Your Own Artist Residency

Posted in Creativity, Life Hacks, Music Making, Scarehouse, Sound Design with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by deliriumdog

I’m spending this week at The Scarehouse to focus on music, sound, video, and immersive environments. Sure, in this networked world, I could pretty much just phone it all in from my home in Baltimore, but there is a lot to be gained from being away from home and its many distractions to focus in on just one thing. Even though I’ve arranged my work week so I can be home a full three days every week, there are still many shiny things competing for my attention. Housework. Errands. PS3. Skyrim (yes, I just started playing it a couple weeks ago). Drinks with friends. I have no idea how those of you with kids in the mix get anything done at all!


Photo: My little setup this week at ScareHouse.

In all that, I may at most get a few hours a week for the sort of “deep dive” that I require to create something of quality. Also, while my wife provides a great sounding board for ideas, it’s good to get feedback from others and give her ears a break. What I desperately needed was a significant chunk of time removed from my usual orbit to immerse myself in sound and the flow of creative process.

This all may seem obvious, but how often do we really do it? Take a week off just for our art!? Can’t we squeeze it in between all the other things? Sure, but we do that because we have to, not because it’s optimal. Far from it. 

This is roughly the third time I’ve done this and it’s always resulted in something worthwhile. I may not have ended up with single complete product, but I usually end up with a lot of little ideas that I can pick up later during less inspired moments and work to the finish. When I did this in 2010, I ended up with half the ideas and a lot of video footage for the FEVER BRAIN BATTERY album. This time, I’m chopping up and remixing recordings from the 1920’s, marrying them with new beats and sounds, and seeing what happens. It loosely relates to new (and currently secret) projects happening at The Scarehouse, so some of the output will end up there. As I’m working, I occasionally take off my headphones, crank up the monitors, and see how people react. Instant feedback! I’ve also been walking around the haunt, eyeing up the new spaces and getting a sense of what might play well in there. The ScareHouse set designers are pretty brilliant, so I’m not wanting for inspiration.

Okay, so you may not have access to a large haunted attraction–and even if you did, it might not be your ideal site for an artist residency. But try this: close your eyes and picture what, for you, would be the ideal mobile creative work environment. Decide what your most essential tools are for making your art, and picture them in this space. Maybe your tools are so large that you need a special studio, in which case your options are pretty well narrowed down for you. But maybe you have a friend or relative in another state with a really cool basement or back porch. And maybe they work all day and don’t mind giving you the run of the place. Or maybe they’re around just enough to check in and give you feedback. That doesn’t sound ideal? Scrap that plan and start over. Maybe you need to put aside the time and money to go to an actual workshop/retreat with an instructor and other students to inspire you. But I believe that it’s possible to create an atmosphere from whatever is at hand and whomever you know. (If you’re a creative person who does not know any creative friends, you definitely need to find some new friends!) Once you’re done visualizing your ideal temporary work space, surrounded by the right people (or no people at all) think about where and how to make that happen.

It’s not going to happen on its own. While I’m sure they’re happy to have me at ScareHouse, I invited myself for the week. They no longer think it strange that I may want to show up, occupy a large table with my stuff and pace around listening, tweaking, taking photos, shooting video, staring out the window, and asking all sorts of random questions. Whatever it is you need to do to create–you want that to be totally normal behavior during your retreat.

It’s also important to have some goals. And it’s just as important that you are able to abandon those goals if better, more urgent ones, come along. I have a long list of goals, some of which cannot be finished in a week. As long as I’ve made progress on any of them, and maybe even achieved one of them, then I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something. Usually it’s the new, surprising opportunities that come along during the retreat that you end up being glad for.

Do not expect everything to work out beautifully during your first DIY residency. In 2010, the space I chose for my impromptu “studio” turned out be less than optimal. I also brought way too much stuff, which bogged me down and made me feel sad that I was not using it all. Even still, I was able to readjust and lots of good things came out of that week. When I came home, I had a new perspective on how to improve my home studio as well. The work I started that week definitely would not have existed if I had not thrown myself into that new environment.

Even if the work you create ends up getting scrapped, it’s not so much about the product. It’s about getting the opportunity to focus on something you love doing and fanning the creative embers. That is never a bad thing.

One last tip: be careful about reentry. Returning to the day-to-day grind after being so unfettered can be downright painful. Be nice to yourself and others, and understand that whatever you’re doing is necessary so that you can eventually return to your creative space.  

I’m curious: have any of you done this? Let me know in comments or elsewhere on the social webs (see below) how you have made time and space to make your art.

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So How’s That News Break Working Out For Me?

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Life Hacks on June 6, 2012 by deliriumdog

In January of 2011, I wrote that I was going to greatly reduce the time I spend reading about news and (especially) politics and divert that time into my serial obsessions. The idea was that news (especially politics) was generally a downer and had very little to offer me other than sadness and anger. There was nothing I could act upon, other than to be more sad and angry. If I instead spent that time learning something new about music or video or social media or any number of other topics allowed me to put that knowledge to work right away. In that earlier post, I detailed (bullet points and all) the changes I made to steer myself in a more productive direction.

How am I doing with that now?

It was working out great for several months. I would start the day with an article or two about music marketing or learn something new about the software I use for audio or video, and then settle into the day knowing I had already done some small thing to move my work forward. During any break time I had, I would dive into the large list of bookmarks I’ve gathered about multimedia production and pick up some new tidbits. I did the same at all times that I would have reached for a news fix. It helped me in a lot of ways. I didn’t feel stuck–I felt empowered. I knew that whatever I learned that day may not change my whole world, but that  after a month or so I could look back and see actual progress. And I did.

At some point I sort of fell off the wagon. While I did a great job of keeping politics off this blog and the other social medias, I did think about it a lot. The events of  the presidential primary became so darned entertaining that I got sucked right back in. It was not nearly the same level of saturation as in the past, and I did make progress with my music, but it was still too much. I know it was too much because I have so little to show for it now.

Perhaps I’m doomed to learn that same lesson over and over. BUT things are better now. Really. When the election settled into a “wake me up when it’s time to vote” phase, I saw an opening to shift back to a news-light lifestyle.

I’m also re-learning that I do not need to follow the minutia of the news in order to stay informed. In fact, I barely need to follow it at all. I find that the important news finds me no matter what. I do work in DC, after all. The people around me are very informed. Friends ask “have you heard?” and we have something to talk about. I can check in to the two weekly news programs that I enjoy and hear information that is actually new to me rather than a recap of what I already know. And of course, spending any time on the internet, news is always bubbling up through the social medias.

So now I pause every time my muscle memory goes to tap out “washingtonpost.com” into my browser and try steer by brain towards better nourishment. It feels a little like I’ve had my head above water for the first time in a while. It’s like I’ve moved around some tubes and wires that had fallen into disuse and fashioned them into a positive feedback loop. It feels good.

There is one thing the news consumption habit was good for: it was a habit that involved reading and ingesting new ideas on a regular basis. That is one habit I’m going to keep.

My (Not) Evil Plan is Working

Posted in Creativity, Life Hacks, Music Making on February 28, 2011 by deliriumdog

I’ve been pretty productive lately. Not with blogging so much, but with music and trying to give birth to a new album within my self-imposed deadline (early May). I think I owe much of this productivity to a change I made a month ago to replace the time I spend reading about news with reading about music (or music news).

The bottom line is that it is working. And I’m definitely happier about things as well. I think it’s working because when I get to have that precious time to actually work on music, I spend a lot less time shifting gears. I don’t have to pivot from politics and world events to music because I’ve already been thinking about music. I’m ready and motivated to create something. I’m happier because I’m reading more about things I am able to act upon rather than factors outside of my control. I feel empowerment rather than despair. Sometimes I feel a bit of stress, too, but in the right quantities the stress can be a good thing. It keeps me motivated.

So far, then, I would heartily recommend this change.

The Advantages of Being 15 Minutes Ahead

Posted in Digital Culture, Life Hacks on February 13, 2011 by deliriumdog

15 years ago I landed a pretty nice job as a web designer based on very little experience. I didn’t get it by lying in the interview, just by having more experience than anyone else did at the time. The web was still very young and relatively simple. One person could code an entire site in a sitting (without the help of WordPress because no such tools existed), but not many folks knew how. I like to tell people that “because I could spell H-T-M-L, they gave me the job.” From then on, I realized that to stay relevant I would have to keep learning new technologies and basically stay “15 minutes head of everyone else” to keep getting decent jobs.

Of course, that 15 minutes could mean a few weeks or months, but the 90’s were such a wild ride for information technology that it definitely felt like 15 minutes. I eventually moved away from the web when I found I was not interested enough in it (and way too many other people still were) to keep ahead of that curve. Now my day job is in digital video production, which has also have been evolving pretty quickly.

I say all this because I think I lucked out again with Ping just by being a few minutes ahead of the curve. Virtually overnight, I appear to have picked up more followers in Ping (nearly 1700) than I have in Facebook in over a year. The only explanation I have for this is that there are currently fewer indie artists around in Ping, and because Ping is still young, fewer artists in general than other services. Less noise, more signal, and more opportunities to be noticed.

Having been shut out of Ping when it initially opened, I guess we all became despondent about the network. I used to grumble about it, and initially did not let go of my pingy angst when I first saw that I had an avenue into the network. Then I decided it couldn’t hurt to take the small proactive moves necessary to create a Ping presence, and then ping! A small, not insignificant following!

Maybe this post is more about doing things even though you don’t think they will matter. Or maybe it’s just about being lucky (and we’d all rather be lucky than good any day). Like all things on the Web, this windfall is probably short-lived. I was initially getting hundreds of new ping followers per day and now I’m just getting a couple. But I’m once again reminded that being just a little bit ahead of the curve can make all the difference, even if it’s just 15 minutes.

No pressure!

(See also my earlier post about Ping.)

Focusing My Serial Obsessions

Posted in Creativity, Life Hacks, Music on January 25, 2011 by deliriumdog

I have what I believe is the opposite of an addictive personality. Whether we’re talking about eating, touring, gaming, drinking, or bowling (or drinking while bowling) it doesn’t take long before I feel it’s time to change things up or move on to something new.

But I do have what I call Serial Obsessive Disorder. During a Serial Obsession, I enjoy things intensely and at great depth, taking deep dives into a concept or task like it’s the most important thing in the world, and then, after a time, just move on. Usually there is a nugget of insight, or key bit of learning from that experience that I can take with me to the next obsession. Sometimes that insight is nothing more than the fact that I’m not very good at fill-in-the-blank (like my failed attempt at guitar building). Others are great discoveries (like how synths are amazingly versatile noisemakers) and become incorporated into my regular way of doing things.

But sometimes an obsession can be a complete waste of time. I won’t be writing about politics in this blog (there are plenty of blogs about that!) but I do admit to becoming obsessed with news and politics from time to time. It’s like sports for me–and I get about as much out of it as one does from watching (and not participating in) sports. There are moments of intensity that fade pretty quickly with the next news cycle or the next rise and fall of this or that politician, and there is not much to show for all the attention I paid.

Now I should state here that I do believe everyone should be reasonably informed because otherwise our democracy cannot function. However, there are practical limits to how much energy you can and should devote to certain types of information.  Your time, productivity, creativity, and mental health all depend on knowing where those limits are.

So last week, I took some steps to lead me away from news consumption and towards the obsessions that matter more to me: music, sound, video, and related topics. These are huge (almost infinite) areas of interest and one discovery always leads to many others, so time spent reading and learning about them always feels enriching.

Here is what I did:

  • First, I deleted all the links in my bookmarks bar–like those you probably have at the top of your browser right now. Most of them were to news sites. I know where to find those sites, but having the links up there made it so easy and habitual to click and be lost for an hour or more in some story that didn’t matter to me just a minute ago.
  • Then, I replaced those links with ones that will feed my music obsession in some way or another.  Plus a few links to sites that will give me useful tools that can make my life or creative process better.
  • I got a new app on my iPhone named Pulse (basically a news feed reader) and loaded it up with many of the same links.  I put that app in a place more prominent than my news apps. I made the other music apps on my phone more easy to access as well.
  • I reorganized the desktop on my computer so that the folders on my desktop all quickly lead me to a project that will get me making music, or at least working on some tiny part of a musical piece.
  • Another step I took a while ago was moving all the games off of my computer. Did I mention I also like games–another potential time-killer? Getting a game console (both a Wii and a PS3, if you must know) was no great sacrifice, but it did move the games out of my studio and into a separate entertainment space. There are times when your brain needs to consume art rather than create it, and now I have no illusions when I’m in the entertainment room which one my brain is doing.
  • I plan to similarly organize my Twitter feed. The news can be it’s own category that otherwise stays invisible.
  • I’m rearranging my physical space as well. (This is a whole other blog post.)

I don’t wish to cure my “Serial Obsessive Disorder.” The focus it gives me has helped me do some pretty cool things. But I do need to hone it.

Any other ideas? I’ll post more as they come to me.

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