The Importance of Going Outside
This article first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk!
I was talking to a friend on Twitter (ironic start to this I know), and he sent me a picture of a beautiful lake. We got to talking about that lake, and how his habit was to take long walks around it. I said I thought it was important to go outside as much as possible, and he agreed. I told him there was a similar (former) lake outside my department in grad school, and that I’d head out there whenever I wasn’t in the studio, but back then, that wasn’t very often. He shared that a certain recent song production had been finished while walking around that lake with a friend, and it occurred to me that there’s more than one reason to get out of the chair and hit the fresh air.
As engineers, producers and musicians, most of us spend the majority of our time squirreled away in dark clubs and darker studios. Night is the preferred (or necessary) time of work for most musicians, and isolation from the world is necessary both acoustically and emotionally. This isn’t bad, but we spend our energy mercilessly in the studio – people who have never mixed a record have no idea how much physical energy it takes. That’s reason one to get outside. It can kill a person to sit in front of a mix desk or a computer all the time and never see the light. Sitting has even been called the new smoking. So, it’s important to get up, leave the room, leave the building, and go outside. Take a walk, get some more serious exercise, or just look at something natural.
My Twitter friend pointed out reason two with his story about the song. Inspiration comes from “refilling the well” (to paraphrase Julia Cameron), and if you sit too long in your own production, you can run out of perspective and ideas. Personally, I’ll probably never write a lyric about a pristine lake; that would be boring to me. But refilling the well is more about replenishing energy than direct and literal inspiration. Sometimes a walk around the lake just causes that last, elusive idea to come.
In this case, getting outside is both literal and metaphorical. We need to get outside of our heads, outside of the room, and outside of our own thinking. We need an outside perspective. That’s why there are mix notes. That’s why great mixers clear out the control room. There needs to be someone who wasn’t there the whole time to come in toward the end and give an outside perspective. Sometimes it may even behoove us to hire an outside mixer, producer or player, or take a project to an outside studio.
Reason three: Ears need breaks. Listening fatigue causes poor sonic judgement and especially if things are loud, ears can get damaged over time. Getting away from the sound at regular intervals is as important as keeping volumes reasonable and wearing ear protection. If you live in Manhattan, going outside may not help you here, but as I recall, it’s only about a 5 minute walk from Hell’s Kitchen to Central Park, so maybe all is not lost for you New Yorkers!
If health isn’t your bag, and inspiration is coming out your pores at all times no matter what, maybe reason four is enough to get you outside: You can’t get famous if you never meet anybody. One could argue that you can use the internet for that, but we all know that meeting people face to face is so much more powerful. Getting outside in this case just means out of your house, and you still may end up constantly in dark clubs, or once you achieve this fame, deep in penthouse suites drinking chardonnay and eating thousand dollar fish guts, but if you want that to last, I refer you to previous paragraphs regarding health.
I for one have changed the way I do business and make music. I get up in the morning now, I keep the windows and doors open 95% of the time, and I built my new office/studio in the sunniest room in the house. I never book a session longer than four hours (usually it’s two) and I stand up and walk out the front door repeatedly throughout the day. All-nighters are a thing of the past now, as is the romance of the dungeon studio.
For me, it’s more than just nature, sunshine and lakes, and it’s more than literally going outdoors. For me, it’s about work/life balance, something that people in other professions enjoy, but it seems that musicians usually don’t. For me, it’s about treating my dream job as WORK, and not a hobby, which means, I get to have a life outside of work/music. We don’t HAVE to be squirreled away all the time and miss the beautiful, varied, colorful things that live out THERE, not in HERE, just because we make music.
I may not ever meet my Twitter friend by the lake, but I’m glad he reminded me to take it outside. If you need me the rest of today, that’s where I’ll be.
I’m a vocalist, pianist, producer, engineer and – as you can see – writer. I’m currently outside, but when I come in, you can find me at @AaronJTrumm on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.