One-time actions vs. browsing

Dropdown options have been around ever since I first used a computer in the ’90s. Their usage mostly makes a lot of sense – it’s a great way of compressing large amounts of information. For things that only need to be done once, they’re great. In some cases however, they’re wrongfully used for things that I want to compare quickly, or browse through.

When I’m using a VST plugin, it’s like the designers wrongfully think that I know which filter type, oscillator or distortion algorithm I want to use. I have no idea! Please let me compare them without having to constantly re-open and hover over your disappearing dropdown menu!

To illustrate – consider the scenario of doing an A/B comparison of two sounds. The sensible thing to do would be to have them both accessible simultaneously – in your DAW of choice, for example. Then you’d just click each track’s solo button. Imagine on the other hand if you had to click start -> open Windows explorer -> find the folder -> double-click A.wav and have the explorer window close automatically -> repeat for B.wav. This is how disappearing-upon-click-dropdown menus feel like to me in this context.

Examples, and Ableton Live workaround

I haven’t come across many plugins that do it right, but some examples are Native Instruments’ Razor, Future Audio Workshop’s Circle, and Sugar Bytes’ WOW2. They use dropdown/multiselection menus, but they stay open until I click outside of them. I can browse, explore, and compare as much as needed, and the menus get out of my way when I don’t need them. It’s a far more comfortable and inspiring workflow.

Native Instruments Razor even lets you choose whether you want it to stay open or not. Nice!

Native Instruments Razor even lets you choose whether you want it to stay open or not. Nice!

Why don’t all plugins do this? Again – I have no idea which oscillator, filter type, distortion algorithm or other such things I want. Why are you making it so difficult for me to simply compare the options?

I also appreciate plugins that make things accessible through buttons instead of hidden lists – I much prefered Live 8’s EQ Eight’s curve selection buttons, to Live 9’s dropdown list selection. Clicking once is better than reopening lists.

Let's compare synths' waveforms by re-opening this list a hundred times.

Let’s compare synths’ waveforms by re-opening this list a hundred times.

I’ve found a workaround in Live, which works well when these disappearing-on-click lists don’t have that many options. By clicking “Configure” on the plugin’s container, and selecting for example distortion type in Fabfilter Saturn, you get a slider. Now, you won’t have to constantly re-open the distortion type list to compare them – a much quicker and more comfortable workflow. It doesn’t work that well for large lists, as seen below, but at least it feels better than re-opening all the time.

Ableton Live's "Configure" gives you an alternative to boring re-opening of lists.

Ableton Live’s “Configure” gives you an alternative to boring re-opening of lists.

Also – it’s 2014. I wish all VSTs had resizeable GUIs, which even the ancient freebie legend Synth1 (thankfully!) has.

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Can I figure out the secret, once and for all?

I never really had any explicit purpose with this blog, beyond writing for enjoyment. Subconsciously though, I think I kind of wanted to figure out -the- secret to creativity. How could I come up with a fantastic idea, and get a perfect representation of it in my DAW? I had previously realised how it’s not about what you’re hearing, but rather the scenarios it makes you imagine and feel. Going by something beyond mere sound was a super cool revelation! What’s next?

Despite writing and thinking heavily about creativity, and constantly arriving at new and helpful knowledge, I’m not releasing hit after hit every two weeks like some guys I know. Halfway through 2014, I’ve only released one full-length track – what’s up with that? I know all these amazing things about how creativity works – surely, it should be easier by now!

Except it’s never easy; at least not when you fool yourself into thinking it’s possible to arrive at a stage where it’s possible to make something releaseable every time you open your computer. Slowly but surely, my goal went from “just make something and have fun” to “make something amazing and if possible, maybe have fun” – suddenly, there’s an outcome to a process which I know should be without one.

You can’t predict the future

According to the internet, it was either Krishna, Gandhi or Morgan Freeman who said the following:

You have a right to your actions,
But never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for the action’s sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.
Self-possessed, resolute, act
Without any thought of results,
Open to success or failure.

I had no other way of thinking back when I got my hands on Dance eJay 3 in 2001. I suspect this is the real reason kids learn things so easily, while adults are super quick to dismiss themselves before even trying. It applies to so many other situations, too. Whenever I’ve experienced social anxiety, creative worries, or other negative feelings, it has very often come from thinking about these so-called fruits. Thinking things out in advance is starting to seem more like stress to me – very useful in acute or serious situations, but harmful to your health on a chronic basis.

It seems to me like the education system’s enthusiasm for academic/theoretical/cognitive abilities has perpetuated this way of thinking. “This book explain how to drive a car, and with enough mental ability, you won’t have to go through the hassle of figuring it out along the way!”. It also involves constant worry about fruits/tests and figuring things out in advance, rather than simply immersing yourself in it and taking theory as a supplement, rather than a complete meal.

Sure, I could have learned music way faster than I have – my current music-theoretical knowledge can probably be learned in a week. However, even something as mind-reliant as composing music is still a very practical skill. To get good at making music, you have to make a lot of music, which is not something you can just read tutorials about.

What came first – the amazing idea, or the same old action?

I’ve noticed a pattern – for every tune I’m happy with, I’ve gone through dozens of horrible ideas. This has stayed consistant throughout the years, and this realisation confirms Krishna’s words – it all has to do with the action of making music, rather than any specific outcome.

Going through a bunch of bad “lameboringtunegaaaah” and “thissuxlol” projects is like taking steps when climbing a mountain. You take steps until you suddenly see the view from the top. You’re not doing it just to see the view – you’re doing it because climbing is enjoyable! Seeing a spectacular view (releasing something you’re happy with) is just a by-product of taking all those steps. Remember what Krishna said.

When I’ve gotten ideas that I’m happy with, they’ve always come quite suddenly. Pretty much all of them have come when I’ve been doing the same old “open Ableton Live and see what happens” routine. In the meantime, I’ve of course made sure to listen to different kinds of music, and doing stuff that benefits imagination and health. My brain knows how to be creative – I shouldn’t get in its way. Perhaps this is what the Greeks intended by attributing creativity to external forces (muses), rather than thinking they were in control.

Either climb the mountain (make tons of “useless” ideas, a.k.a. steps towards the top), or stop feeling guilty about taking breaks (muscles need restitution, bro). Or stop caring about what other people think about you in your daily life; do a silly little dance at the grocery store, or something.

What’s really important?

While these realisations have been genuinely useful for me, they’re missing a vital component – questioning. Sure, you will get more publicity by centering your music around sex, stupidity, controversy or trends, which is fine if your integrity remains intact, although Bill Hicks has a few words for you (strong language). Similarly, just because you’re told something over and over, doesn’t make it true: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions (not all of those misconceptions are misconceptions, either)

As per the playground metaphor, what’s really important? Will fame make you a better person, or will you look back on the good ol’ days when you lived in happiness as naturally as you magically turn dinner into poop? “Oh no, will I alienate all my hard-earned fanbase?” – See Bill Hicks above.Of course, some people are much better at things than others – no doubt about it. I have friends who have no musicality whatsoever, while they have abilities that I’ve never even dared thinking I’d master. Who’s better off though? The guy who sucks and is happy, or the talented miserable guy?

Music is everything, and by that, I mean it can be found in everything; things that aren’t music, tend to inspire it. Be good to others without worrying about the fruits of it, find other hobbies than just music – and don’t listen too much to me.

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