Strategy and songwriting. Part 1.

20120711-071321.jpgA little over a decade ago, I was in San Francisco visiting my son, Randy Bias. This was before he became a cloud computing rock star. He shared a big Victorian house with a bunch of amazing, creative people in the heart of the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. One of his housemates was Amit Shoham, now a prominent SF DJ, artist and producer. I had recently released an album and was working hard to develop a career as a recording artist, in my spare time, which is another story.

When I first called him to work out my plans, he said,
“Mom, Amit’s got a studio in the basement. When you get here, we need to lay down some tracks.” “OK. What are we going to record?” “We’re going to lay down some tracks.” At that point, I began to get concerned. You see, recording is not that simple. You need a plan.

I voiced these concerns and Randy told me that we would be recording “house” and it would be alright. We would go in Amit’s studio and lay down some tracks. It was all under control. He had an idea of what we were going to do, but I needed more than idea. I wanted a plan. I wanted a song.

Often, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and start ups take a similar approach. They become captivated by an idea, but when the time comes to execute, the plan is weakly formed. If success isn’t forthcoming, they change direction. What I’ve learned, the hard way, is: make a plan and stick to it.

Nashville is home to some of the greatest songwriters in the world. There are also many wannabes. Smart recording artists learn to write their own songs by co-writing with the best. The ones who make the most money, stick to singing songs they had some hand in writing. They take time to learn the craft.

Smart business strategists take time to do the heavy lifting and work out a strategy. They make their plan and stick to it.

 

Comments

  1. As someone who has been in many a recording studio, this is genius.

    I agree that much time and $ is wasted in the studio, mainly because of a lack of planning, AND because people think they can record 10 tracks and end up recording 2, exhausted because the tension mounts as it becomes apparent that they underestimated the project.

    The same principal applies to professionals, and this is a great parallel drawn by you.

    CJG

  2. Hi Pat,
    I think there’s an aspect to this story that’s missing here. (I’ll be careful not to give away the ending to the story)

    In my view it’s not entirely correct to say that Randy didn’t have a plan. In house music, some tracks are songs, but not always–some tracks are not meant to be a song but rather a cool musical element that a DJ can mix with other tracks. One plan that often works very well for producing a house music track looks something like this:

    1. Gather some “raw materials.” I.e. collect some cool-sounding instrument sounds, vocal phrases, samples, etc.

    2. Sort through all this material to select the bits that pack the most emotional punch. Find a set of these raw materials that complement each other.

    3. Create loops from the raw materials, and add anything that’s missing (e.g. if there’s no bassline in the raw materials, a new one has to be composed).

    4. Edit all this stuff into a “rough draft” of the track.

    5. Refine the arrangement, and mix everything down.

    Personally, I understood that we could at the very least execute some of the first step of this process during your visit (i.e. record a few bits of vocals), and I never expected to get beyond that during that limited time. We could have spent half an hour in the studio with you singing a few phrases like “everybody on the dancefloor” and maybe a few “oohs” and “ahhs,” and later Randy and I could have used these raw materials to create a good house track. I had already produced records using variations of this process, so when Randy asked me what we could do with a limited amount of time, I assured him that we
    could get some usable material even with a short session.

    But that wouldn’t have worked for you: you wanted a song. In order for you to get personal satisfaction, a reasonable level of comfort with the process, and a product that could benefit your songwriting career, we had to create a song. And a song requires a very different plan than the one I outlined above–so you needed to see a different plan formulated and then followed through.

    In order to meet the original goal that Randy and I had in mind, we had to stick to the “house” genre. But making a house track that is also a song was a fundamental change to the nature of the project!

    There’s an interesting question here from a business perspective: how does one negotiate a request from a customer/vendor/collaborator/etc. to ones own benefit?

    I won’t elaborate on this for now–I don’t want to give away the ending of the story, nor do I want to taint your answer with my own ideas. I’m curious to find out what you think! Looking forward to part 2…

    -Amit

    • Pat Sharp says:

      Amit, what a great reply to share with my readers. They can get an inside look at your creative process! For my purposes, I just wanted to stress (by using songwriting as an analogy) that having a plan, or strategy, is critical for business success.

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