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The Path to Avoid Wrong Decisions

Since putting out a resource guide about where to start with audio programming, I’ve had a quite a few people reach out.  Here’s some of what they say:

“I understand the basics of programming and of audio processing but I have a hard time mentally justifying diving deeper”

“[I’m struggling] with making the connection between function and purpose for audio programming”

“I seem to be completely surrounded by options and directions and I’m not sure what path to take”

“My current biggest frustration is finding out how to start”

All of these comments seem to be summed up best by that last one – lots of people are interested, but are so overwhelmed that starting seems to be too much work.  Or, as the first example states – “it’s hard to mentally justify”.

Because if someone just said “Start here, do this one action” it would be easy, right?

Instead, most of you are doing some mental cost/benefit math hoping to be certain of your return on investment.

I can’t answer what you specifically are looking for as “a good return” – it’s probably that you want a job, or money.  But it could be something different.

I can tell you two things, however:

  1. How to make starting easy, and get a path for how to continue
  2. What your ROI is, even if it’s not immediate money, and why that’s worth your time

How to make starting easy

I’ve found myself in the same place numerous times in my life, and I’ll bet it resonates with you.

First, I find something I’m interested in – and I quickly start a project.  Many times this is late at night when I’m perusing the internet, and I get a great idea.  So of course I want to capitalize immediately.

I make several mistakes here.  First, underestimating the level of work required to pull off said idea.  Second, I get disinterested quickly when I repeat this cycle and find something else new I’m interested in.

Quickly, I feel down, depressed, and like I’m the kind of person who never finishes anything.  That’s a lie I tell myself, by the way, not truth.

Before too long I have a laundry list of things I wish I could do, but I’m overwhelmed and don’t accomplish anything.

Here’s the step-by-step antidote to this:

  1. Write down a list of at minimum 5 things you want do to and/or learn.
  2. Pick one of these things to initially commit to.
  3. Write down a list of at minimum 5 things you need to do/learn to accomplish the thing you picked.
  4. Pick one of these things.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4, breaking down each topic you pick in very granular fashion until you find yourself with some laughably easy to accomplish tasks.
  6. Pick one task, and do it.
  7. Work your way through the rest using the roadmap you just created.

The best side-effect of this method is, as I said in the final bullet, you are literally making yourself a roadmap of what you need to do to accomplish your goal.

If you make the effort to break tasks down into ridiculously easy to accomplish chunks, it auto-defeats your lack of willpower.  I know myself well – if given a task that seems semi-laborious, I will fight against it.  If I break that task down into smaller tasks, my brain literally goes “oh, well that’s easy – I could do that pretty quick!” and I get it done.

Don’t ever underestimate that power.

Go as crazy as you want with this, but I recommend starting with a handful of things you want to accomplish.  After doing a similar exercise myself, I’ve eventually gone and built a list of everything I want to accomplish.  I review and add to it regularly – it’s an awesome motivator.

Remember, the follow-through to this is the most important part.  If you get distracted and don’t finish – the tactic you take to do anything will be entirely worthless.

Here’s an example breakdown:

Let’s say your primary goal is “Learn C++”

You could have sub-tasks like:

  • Make a list of interesting C++ books and courses
  • Pick a C++ book/course to complete
  • Decide on a C++ project to do

From there you could follow through with the first bullet and just compile resources – not taking action on the resources themselves.

Once you have them compiled, you pick one course to take action on and discard the rest.

From there it’s breaking down the lessons/chapters into manageable chunks and completing them.

And once you’ve done all that – you can move to the 3rd bullet and make your own project!

Not so difficult, right?

Return on Investment

“That’s all well and good Adam” you say, “It seems like a great system.  But I don’t know what to pick in the first place!  That doesn’t really help me!!”

I’ve been here too.  It’s usually a symptom of perfectionism.

For me – I’ve had enough crazy life experiences at a very young age that I’m fortunate to realize life is very short.  I want my time to make the biggest impact it can, because I get none of these seconds back and I’ve already wasted enough of them watching TV.

Following that mindset – I never want to make the wrong decision and thereby waste time doing something that isn’t the exactly correct perfect thing!

But guess what?

There is no such exact right perfect thing.  There is only the thing you choose to take action on.

Certainly, if you have a given goal – let’s say you want to get employed by Bungie.  I happen to know that Bungie’s audio team uses Pro Tools and Wwise (or did a few years back).  Therefore, based on your goal, it’s advantageous to learn those two things.

Turn 10, on the other hand, uses FMOD.  So it would be advantageous to learn that if you wanted to aim at working there.

But say you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to work or what you want to do, and therefore are stuck in option paralysis.  What then?

It doesn’t matter.

At the end of the day – you just pick something.  In our FMOD vs Wwise case – it’s better for you to eventually know both, and you have to start somewhere.  So instead of agonizing about it – simply start learning one with plans to learn the other!

In my case, I started by building a C# application for my day job.  From there, I moved to building custom actions for Reaper in Lua.  Now, I have clients (and potential clients) asking me to work with UE4.  That required me to learn C++ and dip my feet back into Python after a few years apart.

I could’ve just as easily started with C++ and UE4, or Lua, or even built things in Python and showed them off.  All that mattered at the end of the day was having something to show.

This brings me to my final point.

The best ROI is giving your knowledge to others.

As I said before, I built a C# application, and made some rumblings among sound designers with Lua-based Reaper scripts.  Want to know when department leads at well known companies started reaching out?

When I put out my first book, Begin Audio Scripting with Reaper.  It was at that point I started getting contacted for custom work.

Why?  Because you show expertise by both building content/applications and by teaching.  I think you’d all agree with me that in order to teach, you need to understand a topic well enough to explain it to others.  Teaching puts you at a level of trust where clients will really reach out for your help.

Don’t believe me?  Try it yourself!  The exact same thing happened when I put out my resource guide.

What should you do now?

I’ve given you tons of resources at this point, and a path to start.  Before you look up anything else on how to improve yourself or your career, do one thing.  Start working through the things in this post.

If you’ve got any questions, ask away as always @adamtcroft.

Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.