Think about shining a flashlight at night. You can light up an area and have a pretty good idea of what you’re seeing … sort of. Compare that to shining a laser instead. While you may not see as much of the surrounding environment, it’s highly focused and, if powerful enough, can literally cut through steel. Each has their need and purpose, but the laser is much more piercing and accurate.
This is an analogy I’ve often used in my professional life. When I first began my career in music after getting a business degree at college, I taught myself the art of audio engineering. That led to developing the skill of mixing, which in turn led to surround sound production. All the while, I continued to study guitar, simply because I loved to play, and began writing original music too. While I enjoyed it all, I can see now (with the benefit of hindsight) that I was a bit unfocused as to what I really wanted to do, as well as what might be viable in terms of making a living. It was almost like I was shining a flashlight as I walked along my career path, trying out various things, looking here, looking there.
It took some time, but eventually all these skill sets dovetailed to enable me to become a successful television composer. It was as if I took the broad beams of that flashlight and finally focused them on one area.
An online article called “What Is the Difference Between a Laser and a Flashlight?” explains that “the light from a flashlight cannot travel a long distance. This is because the light is unfocused and diverges as the traveled distance increases. The flashlight beam traveling distance depends on the size of the flashlight and the batteries being used. Laser light, however, can travel a long distance: Any laser light can be beamed to the moon and back. They can travel such long distances as they are coherent and do not spread out while traveling.” You’ve heard the term “shoot for the moon”? The fact that a laser can hit the moon is testament to power of being focused with a coherent goal. (Physicists, in fact, refer to the photons emitted by a laser as forming “coherent” light.)
Another good analogy is that of shooting an arrow at a target. If you pull a bow back just a little and use several arrows, when you release them, they will fly all over the place. Maybe one or two might find the mark … if you get lucky. But if you pull the bow back with intent and use one single arrow carefully aimed, you have a much better chance of scoring a bullseye.
When I work in my home studio, I have only one monitor screen at my mixing desk. This is a conscious choice I made years ago because it helps me stay focused. While some find it useful to have multiple screens, I personally find all the additional colors and light to be distracting. Having a single screen allows me to better concentrate on the big picture, which is delivering great-sounding tracks. A side benefit of the single screen approach is that the speakers have less surface to reflect off, which helps direct the audio into the “sweet spot” where I sit.
There are many other ways to create a focused work environment as you write, play and mix music. For one thing, how about shutting your phone off? Sure, there are times where you need it handy to communicate while working, but let’s be honest, most of the time it’s not necessary — it’s just a force of habit. This is actually one of my pet peeves and something that I make clear ahead of time when I’m asked to do a session at an outside facility. If you are working with me and want my time, don’t waste that time by talking or texting on the phone. I’ve found far too many people checking social media during sessions, and I’m not afraid to politely insist that they shut it off (OK, maybe not always so politely) — not just because it bugs me, but because I know that it’s a powerful sensory distraction that can detract from the end result.
Since we all have more time on our hands these days, why not use this overall “laser-like” approach to look at your own professional and/or musical objectives? What skills can you combine by synthesizing them together into a singular focused effort? It may take a little thought and considerable effort, but the end result could be well worth it. Stay focused and shoot for the moon!