Be Prepared

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, 

“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell.

from Be Prepared: The Motto of the Boy Scouts of America

As a young Boy Scout, I was struck by the simplicity of the Scout motto. “Be Prepared”: two words, that can be extended into all areas of life. Decades later, I have found that being prepared is a critical aspect of creativity, especially when it comes to documenting and recording your own work.

For decades, my “studio” was a haphazard corner of a room or basement, with various synths, guitars, and amplifiers piled up in untidy configurations. The vast majority of musical ideas I created during that time were lost to the moment, as I didn’t have a good recording setup.

Flash forward to the early 2010s, and I found myself using DAWs on a daily basis, but not recording much music. My various instruments existed outside of my computer ecosystem, and required a fair amount of work to patch into my recording interface. I would come up with ideas while doodling on guitars or synths, but by the time I set up the gear to record myself, the idea was lost.

A few years ago, Don Gunn came over to my studio, threw up his hands, and told me something that I have never forgotten: “If you don’t record it, it doesn’t exist.” He talked me through setting up my synths in such a manner that they were always wired up to my audio interface, or accessible via a patch bay connected to the audio interface. From that point onward, the only way I could hear my synths was by turning on a DAW and listening to the synths through a DAW channel. This way, if I stumble across a useful musical idea, all I need to do is hit “record” to capture the idea.

Today, when setting up a new music rig (like my Desert Island Portable Electronic Music Studio™ I talked about in the first creative blog post), all sound sources go straight into the inputs of an audio interface. This gives me instant recording access, as well as allowing me to work with all sorts plugins, including Valhalla works in progress. The computer adds some weight to the setup, but ends up saving a bunch of weight compared to even a handful of stomp boxes.

The current state of my “Desert Island Electronic Music Setup.” The Palette 101 synth is connected to the Focusrite audio interface, which hooks up to the computer via a USB hub that is poorly hidden in the back.

A few suggestions to Be Prepared™ when working on music:

  • If you work with acoustic instruments, have a microphone hooked up to your audio interface at all times. Or, carry a portable recorder with you (put it in your guitar case!). This is less about making perfectly recorded and produced music, and more about capturing ideas.
  • If you play guitar through an amp, put an SM-57 in front of the speaker. Or, get an attenuator with a direct out to the computer. Save your ears while you save your ideas!
  • Sing a melody into your phone as a voice memo.

We’d love to hear your ideas on how to be prepared to create music! Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.

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Comments (2)

  • As I mentioned before I recognize a significant difference in my workflow since I have hooked up every synth into my mixer. I only have to light two power switches, wait until my computer is up and running. In that time, I collect my thoughts to look at my notes to remind myself what I want to do. To me being prepared means that all my notes (lyrics, mixing memos) are always close to me, either in book form or via my phone. I tend to synchronize the digital ones with my computer so that I have access to them when I am working in my DAW. I took some time until I figured out the right combination of apps and shortcuts. Today I couldn’t be happier with the way I work. It’s always great to read how other people think and work. Thanks for sharing your very inspirational ideas.

  • Double Tap

    “Be prepared” is great advice and there is a glorious history of songwriting in its honour:


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