PreSonus Blog

Capture—and Keep—Your Creative Impulses

Gregor Beyerle recently posted a video called Producer vs. Engineer—What’s the Difference?, which had quite a few comments. It seems most people feel that for those who work in the studio by themselves, these roles overlap. But it’s vital to understand the mindset of these different roles, because how we adapt to them can either enhance or destroy our creative impulses.

Why Creativity Is Elusive

You’ve probably experienced this: You have a great idea for some music. But by the time you boot your computer, open a file, turn on your interface, and get ready to record, the inspiration is gone. Or, you’re deep into a groove and being super-creative. Then some technical glitch happens that requires fixing before you can proceed. Yet after you fix it, you can’t get back to where you were.

These scenarios highlight how the brain works. Your brain has two hemispheres, which are dedicated to different functions. The brain’s left hemisphere is involved in analytical and logical processes. The right hemisphere deals more with artistic and creative aspects. Although this is oversimplified (both hemispheres also work in collaboration), research into the nature of these differences earned the Nobel Prize in 1981 for Physiology or Medicine.

So…How Can We Stay in a Creative Space?

Here’s where it gets interesting. The corpus callosum is a wide, thick nerve tract that connects the two hemispheres—and several studies with MRI and fMRI scanners have implied that a musician’s corpus callosum has better “wiring” than the general population. Apparently, playing music is like an exercise that improves the ability of information to flow between the two hemispheres.

Before home studios became common, recording involved the artist (right hemisphere), engineer (left hemisphere), and an experienced producer who integrated the two. The artist could stay in a right-brain, creative space because the engineer took care of the analytical tasks. The engineer kept a left-brain focus to make the technology run smoothly. Meanwhile, the producer integrated both elements to shape the final production.

Today, when we wear all three hats, we have to switch constantly among these three roles. This works against the way the brain likes to function. Once you’re doing tasks that take place primarily in one hemisphere, it’s difficult to switch to activities that involve the other hemisphere. That’s why getting sidetracked by a glitch that requires left-hemisphere thinking can shut down your creative flow.

Retrospective Recording to the Rescue

Fortunately, Studio One has a built-in engineer who remembers everything you play on a MIDI controller (fig. 1). Create an instrument track, and just…start playing. You don’t need to hit record or enable anything, because Studio One is always doing background recording of whatever MIDI data you play. You don’t even have to arm a track for recording, as long as the track’s Monitor button is enabled. If after playing for a while you come up with a great idea, just type Shift+[numpad *] or click the red button in fig. 1. Then, Studio One collects all the notes it squirreled away, and transfers them into the instrument track you were using.

Figure 1: Retrospective Recording works in the background to capture all the MIDI notes you play, whether or not you’re recording.

There are two Retrospective Recording modes. If the transport isn’t running, simply play in free time. Or, if the transport is running and you’re playing to a click, the notes will be time-stamped correctly relative to the grid. Furthermore, with Input Quantize enabled (fig. 2), these notes will be snapped to the grid. However, be aware that if you switch Retrospective Recording modes (e.g., record with the transport stopped, then record with the transport running), anything captured previously using the other mode disappears.

Figure 2: Play to the click, and Retrospective Recording will place your notes on the timeline—as well as quantize them if Input Quantize is enabled.

Retrospective Recording operates independently for each track. If you have different instruments on different tracks, you can play on one track and then decide to play on a different track. Everything in a track will be remembered until you transfer what you played to that track. For example, maybe you think playing on an acoustic piano will get your creative juices flowing, but you might wonder if an electric piano would be better. Load both instruments on their own tracks, play on each one, and you’ll find out which inspired you to play the better part.

What About Audio?

As expected, Studio One won’t remember audio that you play—audio requires much more memory than a MIDI data stream. But there’s a Faderport workaround that’s almost as good. Plug a footswitch into the Faderport. As soon as you open a song in Studio One, select a track, choose a track input, and arm the track for recording. Then, start playing. When inspiration strikes, press the footswitch. From that point on, Studio One will record on the track that you armed. Tap the footswitch again to stop recording but keep the transport running. You can resume recording with another footswitch tap. To end recording or playback, stop the transport.

Other techniques can help you stay in your right hemisphere. For example, the right hemisphere parses colors easier than text, so using color to identify tracks helps keep you in a creative space. Also, knowing shortcuts and macros can make initiating functions so second-nature you don’t have to think about them. In any case, the bottom line is that when it comes to being creative, you don’t want to think about anything—other than being creative.