Anyone who knows me knows that I’m passionate about food. Love the stuff. I like being around it, eating it, discussing it, smelling it and dreaming about it. Yes, I’ve had food dreams, what of it? Only in the last ten years or so, I’ve become more passionate about actually cooking food. Before that it was making meals as quickly and easily as possible…. or paying someone else to do that part for me. With much of the US huddled under snowing skies, including here in Austin, one of my favorite winter time meals comes to mind: stew.
What makes a great stew is the right ratio of ingredients, mixed together over the right amount of time. Stew, at least good stew, isn’t something you make super duper fast. So why am I writing about stew on my audio production page? It’s because of how often we, as composers and audio professionals, push audio content out the door SUPER fast. Sometimes this is out of necessity. Client calls and needs four cues by…. tomorrow morning. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. There’s definitely a skill and virtue to working fast and being able to just…. CREATE… without getting in the way of yourself. But there’s also a great deal of value to “living with something for a while.” “Letting it stew.” These are both phrases I’ve heard several audio directors use in the past.
We’ve all had moments of furious creation, where the art just flows out of us. It’s a great feeling and something that you should ALWAYS capitalize on! But for those more “regular” sessions where you’re not super inspired, I’ve found giving the audio some time to stew is useful and invigorating. Currently, I have two situations where I’ve had to let things “stew” longer than I normally would. One situation was recording several live musicians for a new track that still hasn’t been released yet. On top of that, I’m taking composition/production lessons (something I strongly urge everyone to do!) and I want to get some additional input before publishing the piece. As a result, I’ve lived with this piece much longer than normal for me. It’s made me re-evaluate and tweak certain parts of the work. Even my process and approach to that piece. All of this is making a strong impact. The other situation was for a HOG (hidden-object-game) that’s taking longer than the producer first thought it would (huge shocker there, I know!).
While letting something “stew” and “living it with” – you might find your ingredients were a bit off. Maybe your chorus is too weak? Maybe your voice leading is cluttered? Maybe your production is too static? Or maybe everything is just about perfect and you’ve confirmed it by letting your ears and mind rest before pushing the publish button. I’ve found that I do a lot of thinking about my music and audio outside of the studio. While I’m working out, running, doing chores or just watching TV. The problems I’m working out in the studio are always in the back of my mind. And often the solutions don’t come to me during my studio time. It reminds me of the quote from Hans Zimmer to his assistant about “working too fast” and missing some of the finer details.
Here’s what I’m NOT advocating: endlessly tweaking and “fixing” a piece. We’ve all been there. It can become an endless cycle. Eventually you do have to let go of your babies. And perhaps this article is coming about because so many of my clients, writing me today, want their audio done… yesterday. If not the day before. Everything’s a rush. But where possible, take it a bit slower when creating your audio. Consult an outside voice (see my previous entry “Letting Others In”) and when you’ve done a solid job of considering your work – release it to the world. Rest assured, young(er) composers, you get better and faster at creating good audio the longer you study it.
So how do you apply this in a real-life situation? Well, to be honest, it’s not always possible. But if you have a good relationship with a client, where they trust you, then you could say “hey, why don’t we try this out for a bit? If it works – great! If not, I’ll fix it.” It doesn’t always happen. Many of my clients need the audio as quickly as possible and don’t want to spend much time (and effort) implementing different options of audio content. They just want it to work. I don’t blame them for that. But if you get on with a project early enough or work with a client who does want to invest that time and energy into the project’s audio – seize that opportunity!
TL;DR – When and where possible, give yourself time to reflect on your audio work before rushing it out the door. The results might just surprise you.
Go make some noise.