This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

One of the most common ways a music fan judges a song is whether it gives them goose bumps or it makes them dance, bang their head or go into a trance. These metrics are all heart-based reactions to music. One of the biggest mistakes made in music ― especially in the early days of Pro Tools ― is to put every note on the grid to make them "perfect." Whether this grid is a level meter, click track or auto-tuned note read out, these tools are used for you to help gain information about what you're hearing. Music on the grid, whether they’re pitch, timing or distortion, doesn't always feel as good for the intended reaction (dancing, head banging) as music that's not directly "on the grid."

The tendency to quantize or do other automated functions can work well for certain results, but A/B testing to consider whether these processes enhance or diminish the intent of a song is overlooked. Meters and grids are meant to be references to confirm or dispute what you're hearing, not as guidelines that every element must line up with. You need to trust your ears, not your eyes to judge what feels good, not what looks good since you're the only person who will ever stare at these "correct" readouts on a screen. A good performance is a balance of imperfections that make it an emotion, not an expressionless computer code. Scientific experiments on quantizing performances to grids and other metrics show that when music is too perfected, it becomes less enjoyable to listeners.

Furthermore, these grids lie. There are countless times a note is dead on the grid, but it sounds off time due to inconsistencies within the software as well as MIDI delays. A sound can be off the grid but sound great, in many genres of music, clipping tracks on both tape and digital is a preferred sound. Every experienced engineer has learned that sometimes the computer lies. Which also leads me to remind you that when listening back to your music, don't look at the computer screen. Until the late 90's there was no computer screens to look at, so looking into this screen can cause us to be fooled by auditory hallucinations where our eyes are telling our ears what to hear. Take the time to give listens where you look away from your screen to perceive your music the way everyone else will hear it, with no visual representation aside from an album cover.

Listening Not Looking To Become A Better Creator

There's a great story of a tabla player whose instructor wouldn't allow the student to watch him play. Instead, he'd sit back to back with him during lessons, having the student explore the tabla until he found the proper technique to emulate the tone the teacher had played. This led the student to find the many nuances of the instrument, allowing a greater understanding of the instrument instead of an imitation. This also allows the player to develop their own techniques instead of imitating and conforming.

Ignoring what your eyes see in order to hear the nuances of a performance strengthens your standards as well as proficiency to diagnose flaws and to fix them. Getting to know what you’re hearing and then using meters or grids to confirm what you hear is the only way to become proficient in zooming in on the nuances of a musical performance. The reverse order leads to poor decisions that perfect music for the sake of perfecting it superfluously.

When Metric-Based Standards Ruin Music

There are musicians whose standards are too concerned with the head that neglect checking with the heart for emotional resonance by solely concerning themselves with accomplishments of proficiency. The most common flaw in a guitar solo is to focus on heady accomplishments of technical proficiency instead of serving a function of the heart like taking the melodies of the song to a new place. Synth programmers will automate envelopes to show they understand synthesis. Singers want to incorporate the most challenging scale they can sing to show off their chops. All of these practices can work if they are combined with an emotional intent, but far too often they neglect to do so.

The ego can be part of what takes standards in a heady direction. Often a musician asks to play a part without doing punches or employing editing strictly to prove they can do it. Even if no one else can hear the punches or editing, they'll insist on doing this to satisfy their ego. Standards that concern process instead of enhancing emotional resonance are entirely superfluous. While having a good work ethic and striving for proficiency in your work helps to improve your craft, if you concern yourself with accomplishments more than emotional resonance, you're sacrificing the most meaningful part of music. Instead, this becomes a standard that's only for the ego boost of getting past an obstacle.

 If a standard is judged by technical means instead of what's emotionally resonant, it's bound to become superfluous. Reigning in collaborators’ standards to make sure they're checked for the objective of emotional resonance is a saving grace for musicians who commonly refer to technical standards.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.