Tuesday, 17 May 2011

GTD For Songwriters (pt 1)

(read the intro post here)

For the last 2 years I’ve been attempting to implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity system into my life and for the same amount of time I’ve been trying to get some kind of meaningful handle on the mountain of raw song material I already have.

Did I say mountain?

50 odd cassette tapes (yeah remember those?), 4 track master tapes, a DAT tape, 30 CDs, a couple of hundred mp3 files, not to mention mp4s, WMAs & WAVs. That’s just audio. 4 ‘page a day’ diaries full of lyrics, 7 or 8 manuscript books, a couple of exercise books and a few ring binders. 

No wonder I never go there. That amount of information frightens me. I might go in to look up some old chord progression and never come out again, only for one of my kids to find my body weeks later crushed under a pile of mp3s.

The way out

Last year I’ve began to see a way through the mess and it was inspired by an insight from GTD. Allen say...

Most undermining of the effectiveness of many workflow systems I see is the fact that all documents of one type (e.g., service requests [or lyrics]) are kept in a single tray even though different kinds of actions may be required on each one. One request needs a phone call, another needs data reviewed, and still another is waiting for someone to get back with some information – but they’re all sorted together. This arrangement can cause a person’s mind to go numb to the stack because of all the decisions that are still pending about the next-action level of doing.

GTD p. 151-152

can cause a person’s mind to go numb ?

 - David, you know me so well!

Our natural habit is to store ‘like with like’. Take books for example. Where do you keep the books you love and reread and refer to? What about the ones you're probably never going to read again? Probably rubbing shoulders on the same shelf somewhere. And that’s fine. For books.

What we really need to do with our songwriting ‘stuff’ is gather and organise it according to what the all important ‘next action’ is - the very next thing we need to do with that file or piece of paper.

Portrait Of Chaos 

Look at my files. In one manuscript pad I have a transcription of a John Scofield solo followed by the finished score for a 4 voice minimalist piece, excerpts from the Rite of Spring, various riffs, scale and rhythmic ideas to explore and finally horn charts for one of my songs.

In audio files finished mixes rub shoulders with rough mixes, live performances, single riffs, snatches of melodies & chord progressions. I have music recorded in professional studios next to ideas captured on a built in laptop mic.

The way out of this creative jungle is to file things not according to what they are , but according to what we need to do with them next .

I'll unpack how I do this in practice in part 2

Related Posts: A songwriting masterclass with Peter JacksonSteven Spielberg

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Other free songs by Matt Blick

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