Productivity for Creativity – Advice #5 Use Presets

Why this may be helpful for you

This is about why you need boring productivity techniques when you want to be spontaneous creative. Here, I want to give solid advice about what techniques you might try, because they are working for me. This is part of a series of articles which will run as long as I still have something to offer. I hope you give this train of though a try and it would be awesome to hear/read from you about this. If you’re in the mood for a bit more introduction, check the first article of the series. This fifth article is about that it’s ok to use presets, sometimes it’s the only right thing to do.

Tip #5: Use Presets

Maybe you think “My work is unique: For that I have to create all my stuff from scratch and am not allowed to use any prefab stuff at all. Only with all that stuff coming from me, the result is my art and nothing else”. Well, sorry, but this is crap. Where does this come from? Maybe you heard / saw / tasted / experienced the work of some artist and found his/her/its work unique. It was all fresh and new, something you never had experienced before. Sorry to burst your bubble but in many cases you just didn’t recognize the sources. Does that make the experience less of what it is? I don’t think so. Does that make it less inspiring, less awesome? I don’t think so. We all stand on the shoulders of giants but they may not be visible.

Sometimes someone else created something that fits exactly your mood / idea or what you want to express in your own context. And that’s ok. Should you use it? Yes, you should. Let’s take the preset you call “Piano” or “Distorted Guitar” or “12 bar Blues”. All are cool presets and still they may be unique depending of player and context.

Let’s borrow an idea originally from software design called DDD or Domain Driven Design. One of the ideas in DDD is that it’s ok to use prefab components (the same ones your competitors has access to) for areas in which you don’t want or have to be unique. Unique stuff is meant for your core, these areas in which you want to be different, your identity. Create your own unique programs for your core and use stuff from Microsoft, SAP etc. for all the other stuff. No programmer (well, some maybe) will program a word processor to write e-mails if you’re not part of an email company. No programmer will do sorting algorithms, unless you’re part of a sorting company (if there is such a thing) or the genius who invents the next step in quantum sorting.

To bring this idea of being core focused back to music: Use presets where it doesn’t matter for you and your music or use presets in an early phase of your song were it doesn’t matter yet. Depending on your musical style you may still change those presets later. Often, being fast beats being unique especially in early stages of the song and if a presets help you to avoid lossing momentum it may be a good method to stay on track.

Some examples about this, in which I use a wide-spread interpretation what a preset is or may be in my point of view:

  • Singer/Songwriter tends to be unique not by instrument (piano, acoustic/electric guitar) but by their singing, lyrics and the stories they have to tell
  • Classic pianists are unique by their interpretation of given material on a given instrument
  • More general: In an environment with a strict set of rules, you still have the chance to express yourself. Again, take Blues or Singer/Songwriter or classical Piano or any House Stile where even the kick drum sound is pre-defined (yak)
  • An unspectacular layer synth sound already in the machine when you bought it: It may be perfect to be just the right bit of chord background information.
  • Another synth sound you bought from someone or got for free may work as background filler or as lead-in-your-face
  • Standard chord progressions by genre (Jazz, Pop, Rock, etc.) if you want / have to fit a specific genre or if you’re sick of using your own ideas over and over again. The same is true for standard arrangement / sound usage by genre or standard drum beats by genre. Let’s face it: You may be awesome while improvising but you will repeat yourself. A chord “preset” may be the fresh wind you’re looking for.

Just because you could build something from scratch, it’s not said that you should do it. Why? Here are some reasons

  • Dont kill your flow. Awesome melodies or chord progression don’t need a unique synth preset to be played. A cool beat don’t need a unique kick drum. If you have such an idea just use piano preset / TR 606 or what’s handy, record it and move on to stay in the flow. Change it later or just leave it as it is.
  • Real artists not only ship, but they ship early and often
    Want to produce a song with a piano sound in it? Want to buy a piano and sample it? Want to produce your own electricity? That would take a lot of time to do right. Time you could better use to be unique at your core. Want to become the best piano sampler ever? Go for it, but forget that song.
  • Want to fit into a specific genre or (lucky you) you’re paid to create a song fitting into a specific genre? Use to fitting presets and be unique somewhere else. Remember school tests? You may write a beautiful story about your last holidays. It’s still a 6 / F if the assignment was to write some lyrics in the style of Goethe.
  • Afraid to sound cheap when someone noticed your use of presets? This will not happen. First, most of the listeners won’t recognize the source. Second, the ones recognizing the source will have the feeling of a found easter-egg.
    I had a blast when I noticed that Lamp used a sample from a prefab lib I used in my song as well. “Hey, cool, I used the same sample!” and not “Buh, Andy Barlow used a bought sample, how un-unique not lamb”

Spend your time at the core of your music, minimize your time doing other stuff. If presets can help you with this, let them help you.



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