You Better Mess Around


By Steve Oppenheimer

(May 2005)

When working on a deadline-driven project, wasted effort can be at the least annoying and potentially a serious impediment. In the long run, time invested in preparing your materials in advance, developing templates for your sequencer or DAW, programming macros, and generally developing more efficient ways of working will pay big dividends. That’s why I asked Mike Levine to research and write this issue’s cover story, “Efficiency Experts” (see p. 50).

And yet, at the risk of appearing to be contrary, I also advocate occasionally throwing all of that to the winds and just puttering around in the studio. Of course, you can’t do that when a client is paying for your time or when a project is on deadline, and those with successful full-time studios are often especially hard-pressed. But if you can occasionally shake free of your scheduled recording and maintenance work, I suggest you take time to mess around.

After years of touring and doing session work full time, I realized I was getting stale. Having to be concerned about commercial viability sometimes made it too much like having a day job (ironic, since I now have a day job). So I got off the road in order to play what I pleased. I started programming some wild synth sounds, too, the type I probably wouldn’t have created for a specific project. I got back to the reasons I started playing when I was a small child and that I started programming my first synth: because it was emotionally satisfying and totally engrossing. Sure, it’s great when people enjoy the music, but the real thrill is in losing myself in the process. By returning to those first principles, I could recapture a freshness and satisfaction that I thought I had lost. Since then, I have periodically taken a break from serious work and made time to mess around.

A practical advantage to goofing off in the studio is that you are likely to discover a sound or a musical passage that inspires you in a way that would not have occurred had you been looking for it. I have since worked in a number of successful sessions where most of my sounds came from discoveries I made previously when messing around. I have also developed techniques and discovered features in my gear that I never had a chance to explore when working on the clock.

Admittedly, messing around is terribly inefficient. It isn’t how you want to run most sessions, although some artists might perform better in such a low-pressure environment. Nevertheless, I highly recommend occasionally making some time to mess around in the studio. When it’s time to get back to work, you can return to being an “efficiency expert” with fresh ears and new ideas.


On a completely different subject, although we love EM‘s new look, we had to agree with those who complained that the main text font was too light and consequently was hard to read. In response, we’ve switched to a darker version of the font. Thank you for your suggestions, and we hope that the darker type increases your reading pleasure.