My week’s been pretty productive so far. As much as I’d like to give myself some credit, I think it’s mostly down to this thing:

No wait, the framing of that picture might have been misleading. I meant this:

Let me explain. (The second picture, I mean, don’t ask me to explain the first one.) In one of my infrequent attempts to find a reliable way to trick my brain into being productive, I’ve been using this timer, which counts down from 20 minutes and 1 second and then goes be-be-be-beep, be-be-be-beep until you reset it. I think of a task to do – this used to be reading books for university, but this week it’s mostly been working on mixes for Project Bubble – start the timer, and focus solely on that task until the sudden beeping snaps me out of it. But by that time, I’m often so involved in the task at hand that I keep going for longer.

I think this is necessary because I never think I want to do anything useful or enriching, basically anything that requires any commitment whatsoever. Even playing a game or reading a book sometimes seems like too much effort. When I do make the little effort required to get started on something worthwhile or genuinely enjoyable, I almost always find it’s worth it. But the supremely lazy and cynical me that’s in charge a lot of the time is happy to fritter away hours, days, just clicking through his bookmarks bar in a depressing cycle, waiting for something to change in the online world, something that will motivate him to get his behind in gear and get out there and do something amazing!! It never does…

What this timer does is let me know “Okay, you only have to do this for 20 minutes and 1 second, then you can feel good about yourself and go back to your boring and mildly self-destructive ways”. Because there’s a definite end in sight, not too far away, it’s not too intimidating to start a task. Whatever I’m doing, I get a sense of achievement when the beeper goes off, which, however hollow, seems to be psychologically important to me.

I can’t remember if I read this exact idea somewhere, but I remember hearing that your brain can only concentrate on something for 20 minutes. This sounds suspiciously like one of those made-up pop psychology facts, but somehow 20 minutes has become an important length of time in my head. Unlike with 30 minutes, you can comfortably fit two of them into an hour, including all the faffing around, cycling through websites, working out what to do next, sitting down in the right place with the right stuff, etc. that inevitably happens in between. (The extra second is to compensate for the time it takes me to remove my finger from the “start/stop” button on the timer and begin my task. Sadly, I didn’t add it on just to make myself seem strange. That takes no embellishment.)

This has been pretty successful this week. Five out of six of the mixes for Project Bubble are in a good place. (The other one doesn’t exist yet, but let’s not think about that!) Who knows how long this method will continue to work, but no doubt I’ll come up with another productivity experiment once the novelty wears off this one. Maybe some day I’ll find one that works indefinitely! When that happens, I’ll either tell you about it or take over the world. We’ll see.

FLipping expensive

FL Studio playing a loop, as it is wont to do.

I just bought FL Studio. Nothing makes me feel like I’m getting stuff done more than buying a useful and pricey piece of software that I’ll feel guilty if I don’t use. Following similar distinctly first-world logic, my friend Gavin recently bought a Kindle to make himself read more. This method could be the premise for a whole line of self-help books: Guilt Yourself Into… Greater Productivity! Quitting Smoking! Learning Spanish! (The books would themselves be insanely expensive so you felt you had to make good use of them. That’s the first step, you see.)

So far FL seems like it has everything I want, which is basically just a piano roll with lots of possible voices. I’ve been using the hilariously outdated Magix Midi Studio 2004 for a long time, and I’ll probably still use it for initial arrangements since I’m used to the way it works and can compose fast in it, but the standard midi voices it lets you use are pretty much useless for anything approaching a final mix.

For what seems like forever I’ve been searching for a new sequencer with the simplicity of Magix but with more voices, filters and general options. I’ve downloaded dozens of trial versions and dismissed them all for what would sound like petty reasons. I’ve probably tried FL five times before, but it never clicked until yesterday (when I found the metronome button – badum-tsh). Now I’m excited to use it to add oomph to some mixes.

Sonic Triangle, in and around a tree.

Said mixes are for Project Bubble, which is my codename for the new Sonic Triangle EP, due out some time this summer if we get our act together. Sonic Triangle has existed since 2009-ish, and is made up of my friend Heather (singer), my brother James (person who can actually play instruments) and me (main songwriter and mixer). If you don’t know us, we do slightly weird, slightly noisy, prettily melodic pop songs, which you can hear on our website if you’re into that kind of thing.

If I have one regret about our output so far, it’s that it sounds overly keyboardy. Not just electronic – I don’t have a problem with that – but keyboardy. This is no great surprise since our only real instrument is the keyboard, which James plays very well, but something about building a song out of layers and layers of keyboard just makes it sound unsatisfying to me. I feel like we got away with it on our first EP, but it really bothers me on Morning Star in particular. The bass just doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t overpower you, you don’t feel it in all your nerve endings as the song seems to demand. I still intend to go back and mix it again when I feel I can do it justice.

Hopefully FL will help us add a new kind of awesome to our tracks, but I won’t know for sure until I get to grips with it. I also have a doorstop of a book on audio mixing which I should really read at some point. So don’t say you weren’t warned if I end up blogging about synths and reverb and phase and stuff.