RPM 08 Thoughts and Concerns

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Contents

Positives

What worked the best for this competition seems to be the teamwork, the musical ability of each member, the deadline pressure and the themed album idea. Whether it was due to the random grouping of individuals, or it can be generalized to the project concept as a whole is uncertain, but this project had a decent combination of people and distribution of talent. As noted further below the time constraint put undue pressure on a small subset of our members during the mixing process and mastering process. Other than that, having a set deadline allowed us to find our groove and get things up in a timely manner.

Negatives

We had devised set system for uploading tracks onto the server. This method was updated throughout the process which might have created a small amount of confusion. Also in the middle of the project, there was some discussion and mixed success of altering the file format in which sources were uploaded as. This lead to a mixed format and double format uploads through the second half of the project. This in turn lead to a visually confusing source directory.

There were also some minor technical issues experienced by individuals, but this is to be expected in most pressure situations. It seemed to have a small, if noticeable effect on the process as the distributed method allowed others to continue working. Had there been some technical issues with the server, or any another single point of failure, however this might have lead to a project failure and might need to be considered for future deadline issues.

Some issues with the file upload process

   * Version Control (i.e. the first mix vs. the second mix?)
   * Multiple File Formats
   * File Naming Conventions (i.e. length vs informative)
   * Song Data Mechanics (How to share info like bpm, time sig, track info)
   * Fairly Cumbersome Upload Process (i.e. export from ardour, convert to .ogg, upload to site) 

Some issues with the collaborative process

   * Lacked Initial Communication
   * Uncertain Initial Project Goal lead to wasted time
   * Wasted time up front lead to undue pressure at the end 


Project Outcomes

These issues lead us to conclude that there are a handful of areas which need to be addressed. Some of these areas have already been addressed and we have implemented working solutions for them, such as the communication problem. Others require outside assistance or further trial and error learning to reach an acceptable solution.

Issue 1: Communication

Problem

While the email discussion list allows for instant communication and archival retrieval of information is possible, it is not the easiest method available to keep all members on the same page.

Solution

We implemented this wiki which allows us to update info, alter info and track additions with ease. It gives us a platform to share ideas, to discuss ideas and allows us the transparency necessary for others to join in and know exactly where we are and where we are going. This wiki in addition to, not in place of the email list will also allow for the reaching of consensus on future projects and goals for the group.

A good example of this already taking place is the BandNames page where we are/have already chosen a name for our group.

Issue 2: The Source Sharing

Problem

Sharing our sources with each other is the single most important aspect of our collaboration. During the album process, we realized that our currently implemented process needed tweaking. We believed at the outset that this would be an acceptable practice. Often times that is how good methods are born, from trial and error and mid-course corrections. However, while in the middle of a time-sensitive project this lead to some confusion and minor inconveniences. Thus we propose that in the future, we should set a method before hand and attempt to work within it until the project is complete, then make the necessary changes afterwards.

While we have already taken some steps to correct some of the issues involved with the file sharing, there are a handful of things which require consideration for future revisions

  1. Any method must be command line friendly for users not using graphical interfaces
  2. The method should be space conscious. That is, it needs to use some compression technique.
  3. The method must allow for uploading/downloading of files.
  4. The method must give us the ability to track version changes without removing any previous versions (Example: drumtrack1 gets uploaded, someone else re-does it and group goes with the new version, drumtrack2. drumtrack1 needs to stay present for those who might still find it useful.
  5. The method should allow for tagging of tracks with relevant information such as tempo, time sig, name, contributors, etc.
  6. The method should allow the user to easily add any track at the correct location into a multi-track software suite, (i.e. ardour) 

Solution

Considering the previous stipulations, we have conceived of an elaborate set of rules for uploading and sharing sources. This file can be viewable here: Readme. This method relies heavily upon the user to obey the rules of the method and effectively makes the user bear the responsibility for ensuring the consistency of filing naming. This makes things easier in the sense that we no longer require any software solution along with its possible limitations. However, this puts a burden on the user which limits the amount of time the user spends simply writing music and increase the time the user spends on less productive tasks. It also increases the learning curve for a new user to take part in the project.

Therefore, some complete or partial software solution is sought which might help to automate the process of exporting a file, or set of files as a mix, for example to an appropriately compressed format, uploading the file to the server with the proper conventions, and then tracking changes to the file, and automating the process through which the user might be able to retrieve those changes from the server.

Possible solutions have been given:

   * SVN or some other management system
   * Ardour Session Exchange (though this would automatically violate Consideration #1) 

Also, we have considered speaking with some software developers and posting on the LAU for further ideas.

Issue 3: The Goal

Problem

During the process we had a lack of consensus upon what the goal of the process should be. Part of this problem was lack of communication which has been addressed through the wiki. The other part of the problem, though was lack of a clear goal or outcome.

Solution

Some possible solutions for this have been proposed:

   * Set smaller interim Goals
   * Work on Fewer Songs
   * Set Regular Time tables for work to be completed
   * Try some different work flows 

Regardless of the goal, we need to reach consensus on what to do and how to do it, and then assign tasks to each member. Facilitated by the communication tools provided in this wiki, we can keep track of what each member has to do, what each member has done and then re-distribute tasks as needed.

Email Discussion Questions

What worked well for RPM?

- Having a deadline was key It got everyone focussed and we came together to get it done.

- The FTP site was nice and worked out well.

- The workflow that evolved on what I feel are the strongest songs, is a workflow that included everyone and played to our strengths: Drew wrote lyrics, Jeff chose freely among them and wrote music and sang lead, I put on bass, Kevin put on drums, Frank put on guitar and backing vox, Peter put on woodwinds and textures and mixed/mastered it.

- nice teamwork

- low ego factor

- good musicians

- We were able to work together and collaborate having never seen each other.

- Our Various Musical Styles worked well together.

- We came together and all added value to the project

- I liked being able to look through Drew's Lyrics and Post idea tracks.

- compatible level of musical skills and talent - and that's more surprising than you may first think (with appropriate paean to Peter as an honest-to-god working pro)

- gratifying degree of creative depth - that well never reveals itself until first tapped (I wonder who was surprised by what they found in themselves)

- by all indications, a great group of guys - or to quote and ever so slightly paraphrase that Romulan commander in Balance Of Terror, "In a different reality, I might have called you friend(s)"

- A few of the tunes conceptually and structurally would stand up against releases by signed artists - and with refinement, in performance as well (ask me about the jaws that dropped at school today)

- the space theme was an excellent choice, with further comment in question #2

- we worked well under tight time constraints at the end - for now, let's call that a good thing (though Peter and Ken would surely have benefited from another day or two)

What did not work so Well?

- Versioning mixes and dealing with duplicate audio files (i.e. in our approved format and also in the Ardour project == duplication)

- Did we put too much pressure on Peter at the end? It's fun but also exhausting to be the "last guy in the chain" when there's a deadline, and mixing/mastering is that. So I hope he didn't get too burnt.

- I lost my 24/7 internet connectivity, so I feel like I kind of dropped out of it at the end, which was not my intention.

- I/we could have been a little more timely at the start. Some folks were, but it took a while to get collective inertia.

- The mechanics of sharing song data was somewhat cumbersome.

- I had equipment failures.

- Delayed and sparse communication through probably half the month - had we committed to the space theme and had a strategy for approaching it we'd have done even better (more in question #3)

- Multiple files - naming and revisions proved problematic, but that's already been acknowledged and is solvable

- Me - I struggled to find time and focus, consistently missing my intents - however, I'm delighted with what we did and what I was ultimately able to contribute

- Wasted time on parts that were eventually done differently - Hydrogen tracks replaced by Kevin, etc. ("place holders" of value but should be no more detailed than necessary to convey a concept)

What can we do to improve #2?

- Try that SVN/rsync combination: rsync for the interchange/audio_files/*, and SVN for the foo.ardour file.

- We can also experiment with some other workflows too. If others join the project, that'll happen by itself; they'll bring in new energy and ideas, and everything will kind of shift to accomodate them.

- Set interim small goals to get inertia early on, or choose to work on less?

- Specify, design and implement a process to allow for better song data sharing. Include developers in the discussions.

- Breaking this down may not be as coherent as it should be, but as a "debriefing" this would likely have been more productive: I'd have loved to do a complete space themed piece including more planets, moons and in general space probe telemetry. It would probably have worked well if each of us, including I assume Kevin as a non-melodic instrumentalist, had "taken" a planet or two and worked up the creative concept. Once ratified by the group, we'd pile on them, probably most efficiently one-by-one, working our way through...space. There are all sorts of mythological and astronomical images to draw from as Holst did.

- More and more-effective communication without a blizzard of lengthy messages (mea culpa - I've been known to write a novella in a number of e-mails)

- There must be a most productive division of the multiple tasks involved in song writing and assemblage - I'm sure we either enjoyed or bumped up against them in this project

- Enough for now on that too - don't weigh the words in #2 or #3 and conclude that I have any significant complaints or negative feelings whatsoever - I am completely delighted...and proud

What can't we do (i.e. how do we need others to help us) about #2?

- Might be nice to work with Ardour devs on this

- Include developers in data sharing process & tools discussions along with users.

- Ahh, this is a tough one, as first I know from our direct experience that there is NOTHING we cannot do - seriously, but in the spirit of openness would hate to discourage or worse yet exclude other participants

- I would also hate to mess with the chemistry and to risk people's work being bumped by newcomers to the continuing project - at one point I had a minor concern that Drew wouldn't feel as bound up in our work as the instrumentalists and vocalists. We exchanged some messages about singing and harmonica. However, it turned out that his lyrics were perhaps the single most represented component of our output - how about the two line One Hit Wonder

- I need a better mike - the only thing I liked the sound of that I recorded was my $5000(!) Martin 000-28VS acoustic guitar (I paid half that figure and it still broke the bank but I love that guitar - and what really knocked me out was how much I loved how it handled on guitar fills compared to the one electric I used, and Ibanez AS-120 that rather kicks ass as a semi-hollow body. I've got a Tele and a Strat which would have been very different sounding and better fits on a number of the pieces - hey Peter, your flute, clarinet and saxes were spectacular, Jeff your piano as well as the quality of your voice and the recording of each was outstanding, Kevin however you recorded your drum kit was superb, and Ken, the material you posted on your site knocked me out at first listen)

What should our next goal and/or project be?

- I like the couple-songs-a-month goal.

- An "outward facing " website would be nice: one that introduces the band and project for a listener, and provides easy links to the songs, and album art, band intros, etc, for those who just want to hear what we've done without reading all of our README's or digging through our "source repository".

- Did anyone post an announcement on LAU? I've been AFK for a long time, so I dunno if that happened. I also need to update my own blog with links to this RPM08 CD!

- Someone might want to post the cuts to [1].

- Document what we've done: The story, the website, the references.

- Publicize what we've done.

- Define the next iteration of data sharing process and put it to the test on a couple songs.

- Try a "dog pile" on a song to see if we can get lots of group inertia with a small project and a short timeframe.

- I still have the six or seven songs I wrote but put on hold once the space theme became established (if you liked my contributions of lyrics, melody, vocals and guitar I'd be honored to have your gifts to bring these pieces to life. On the mixes I posted - some time ago Rainbow and recently This Time, I believe I erred in layering all tracks. I'm weakest on keyboard and to a degree on bass and really never did much of anything with synthetic drums. To this effect the stuff I'll post beginning this weekend will be just enough to lay down the concept leaving all the tracks open to other's interpretation and contribution. Probably vocal, acoustic guitar, maybe electric fills, and maybe bass for flow)

- Imagine this as listed first - we should solicit sales of our work, there's already a donation link on the Wiki. I cannot predict any popularity or dispersal, but have to believe if we produce our best anyone chancing upon it would at least acknowledge its quality, and I'd hope like what they heard. With all our first careers, even a small financial incentive would at least psychologically offset the sacrifice to a degree.

- We could return to the space theme, as per everyone's ideas and my comments above, and really knock it out of the park.

- We could redo weak parts of what we've done, and there aren't many but I know things that I'd do differently

Other Questions

Did anyone feel like they got left out or shoved out of the process?

I imagine that more than I wish we'd had enough time to do more before the deadline? If any of us have pushed anyone aside, it'd be good to work through those issues, either in private emails, or with the help of the list. Little things can turn into big problems as they fester. Physical bands in the same locale have this trouble frequently, no? I didn't sense any troubles, but I want to make sure that I'm just not being dense. -Kevin

It may very well be less of a problem in this virtual band construct for any number of reasons: As mentioned earlier, greater requirement to seriously focus on everyone's work. Unlike the flamefests and other crap that anonymity or at least separation fosters, we indeed checked egos and treated each other with respect. Latency in the process provided an inherent gate to the reflection and response component. It's interesting to argue for the "superiority" (!) of a creative ensemble that's disembodied in such a manner, but there are more issues that might suggest precisely that than those I cited above. -Frank

No, but I feel that I would have liked to contribute more towards the end. Towards that end, I am going to try and practice mixing and mastering for next time should we do this again. -Drew

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