Coaching and Producing

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Summary:

David Hussman applies lessons he learned as a music producer to his current position as an agile coach. An excerpt of this article was originally published in the March 2009 issue of the Iterations eNewsletter.

What do The Beatles, Nirvana and The Minnesota Symphony Orchestra have in common? Each group was lucky enough to work with a producer who helped guide them in the creation of a great recording. Successful music producers understand the importance of iterative collaboration as a key ingredient in producing great recordings. The best producers learned long ago that balancing creativity, skill, time, and money is essential to delivering valuable recordings.

As a music producer, I found success in a process that allowed me to track progress while allowing for improvisation and creative tangents. It also involved getting to know the players, their music, and the studio and recording gear. I found that process is good, but producing is a craft that needs a simple process to succeed. Like producing, coaching agile projects is a craft fed by a simple process. Successful coaching involves getting to know the project community, the product being built, and the tools and technologies at play. Successful coaches balance development skills, product requests, time, and budget to deliver timely and valuable software.

The Process of Producing Music
Each song follows a similar process-write, mix, master, and release-but the journey for each song is unique. Some make it through undamaged or even unchanged. Others, some of which are great, never make it to your ears because there is too little process to complete the project before time or money runs out. One way to help songs live past the recording process is to employ a producer, who guides the players through the recording process the same way that a coach helps a team deliver a software product. Working with the players, engineers, and investors, the producer helps work the songs into a holistically complete product ready for public consumption.

Fig. 1: These are the common steps used to record a song.

Production Styles Vary
As I watched successful producers and studied industry greats, I observed two categories of producer: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive producers push people to follow processes and techniques they have successfully used, while descriptive producers guide with anecdotes. Instead of telling people what to do or play, descriptive producers suggest ideas and encourage musicians toward chance while playing and even invite them to make decisions about how to capture their music. As I honed my producing skills, I learned the importance of having a simple process that provides enough structure and organization to allow for improvisation and foster creativity.

Preproduction
Time spent preparing before your first day in the studio goes a long way towards creating a relaxed and successful recording session. The music world calls this work "preproduction." While I tried to not let preproduction prescribe the outcome for any recording session, it helped me learn about the players and the way they play as a group. Preproduction was also a time to help work on the arrangements (possibly co-writing or suggesting various changes) and see the way the group worked (or failed to work) together.

Organized to Create

A recoding engineer once told me it was relaxing to work together (an act agile projects call pairing) because I was so organized. At first I was hurt. I would rather have heard how wildly creative I was. Later, as we paired our way through the recording sessions, I learned that he did think I was creative, but he appreciated how I used a simple schedule to stay on track while also making space for the improvisation that makes music magical.

I learned to take preproduction seriously from watching other producers use this time to seed a healthy vibe (mood) for the coming recording

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