Spring Cleaning (2000)


By Steve Oppenheimer

(May 2000)

Here in sunny California, spring comes early. Ready or not, it’s time for spring cleaning. For most folks, that means freshening the house, catching up on yard work, and clearing out junk. For musicians, it’s also a good time to take a fresh look at our studios-and our music.

Most of us are so busy that we put off full-scale reexaminations of our lives. But we’re asking for trouble if we don’t occasionally step back and take a long, hard look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and how we feel about it.

The physical aspects of spring cleaning are obvious. Inventory your music gear, right down to the cables and connectors. Use the list to update your insurance and identify items you want to sell. Check and clean cables, connectors, and patch bays; (carefully) dust the inside of your computer; restock removable media and cleaning materials; and update your wiring charts. (You do have a diagram of all the connections in your studio, right?) Reorganize your removable media, track sheets, song files, and sample library. Review your studio’s acoustic treatment and examine its lighting and ventilation. Check everything.

But physical cleaning is just the beginning; spring is also the time to take mental and emotional stock of your studio, your band, and your music. Make a list of what you like and don’t like about your musical life, keeping in mind that life involves change and growth, so the tasks you enjoy now might not be the same ones you liked in the past.

For instance, are you happiest when engineering, producing, writing, arranging, designing sounds, performing live, playing sessions, or doing business? Perhaps you’ve spent so much time working with clients that you haven’t written a new tune in months. Maybe you’ve let your studio become an ergonomic mess. And don’t overlook music-business issues and your band’s structure and musical direction. You probably can’t change everything you dislike, but moving closer to your ideal will help keep you happy and productive.

As you examine your musical life, ask yourself one question: do I still care-passionately, as a creative artist should-about my work? If not, why? For instance, it’s okay to craft music strictly for the money, but are you neglecting your artistic side? Perhaps your musical tastes are changing, and you need a fresh challenge. Don’t wait until the thrill is gone before you think about it.

Some people avoid self-examination until they wake up one day and realize they’re miserable. I hope you won’t do that. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, so seize the opportunity to reinvigorate your musical life.

Speaking of reinvigoration, EM is getting a fresh charge of positive energy from new assistant editor Marty Cutler, who has more or less inherited Rick Weldon’s old gig, including the “What’s New” column. (Weldon now writes for Dolby Labs.) A master of and innovator on the 5-string banjo, Cutler is a computer-savvy veteran electronic musician and recording artist. He plays a wide variety of music, created MIDI files for PG Music’s The Bluegrass Band, and is an authority on MIDI guitar and – yes, seriously – MIDI banjo. Cutler is also a strong writer who fits in perfectly at EM.