Why is it that we work longer hours with fewer breaks than we used to five years ago? Computers were supposed to make our jobs easier and quicker, so we had more time to live life. Whether you were working on a spreadsheet or comping a vocal, the computer was intended to provide speed and elegance to your gig.
Cut to 2008. We stare at a screen all day, play music less, and don't even get 20 seconds of rewind time to relax between takes. It seems that we are working even harder than before. The music business looked way cushier in high school, I'll tell you that.
So what the hell happened? It would seem that expectations grew with capability. We expect perfection — right now.
Here's the rub. With music, tools are meant to facilitate, not inspire. They can inspire, to be sure, but in my opinion, inspiration for a mix or a song comes from life. Not a new guitar or a new compressor. So while the expectations from content providers are skyrocketing, the time we all have to experience life outside of work is shrinking. Our time to dream is getting the short end of the stick.
Work has become life. The proliferation of live/work loft construction is proof of that.
So when are we supposed to get the good ideas? I myself always have different and fresh ideas about work when I get away from it for a minute or two.
In the short term, survival has required a new skill set for the producer-engineer. We must learn to do our jobs without much experimentation. There is just never any time, it seems. It's a shame, too, because experimenting with new sounds was one of my favorite parts of the gig.
If you're like me and audio is a passion, you experiment in your own time. You have to. But that requires even more of that fleeting commodity. It's time I still find, but with more difficulty every day.
Don't get me wrong; I am happy to be working, and I am blessed with an amazing client base. But I can't help but notice how much less time I spend in front of a person playing an instrument and how much more time I spend editing alone. Perhaps that's a product of the fact that I am mixing more than tracking these days. Or maybe it's a product of the fact that people are tracking less. Either way, these are new music-making processes that are here to stay. Though that is not necessarily a bad thing, I just wonder sometimes if we could get back to the charming imperfection of people playing in a room. I miss that aspect of production.
What does seem clear to me is that when someone does decide to spend the time exploring their craft, they usually make something new and very credible — in every medium. I guess, in the end, it is going to take some real discipline in this blazingly paced world to find the calm to inspire. I should probably meditate more.
That's all I have to say about that. I'm tired, it's 1:35 in the morning, and I have been here for 15 hours. Editing.
Nathaniel Kunkel is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, and comedian Robin Williams.