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The State of Flow and the Music Producer...

State of Flow? So, this clever psychology professor named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi classified this peculiar mental state.  It's vital for great music production.  In fact, it's why we make music...

What is Flow?

It's a state of complete immersion and enjoyment in an activity. No sense of self or time. Intense intrinsic motivation. Pure focus.

In the zone, on a roll, in the groove, on fire ...

... it's what music production is all about!

Csíkszentmihályi and co-author Nakamura identified the following six factors as encompassing the Flow experience...

1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2. merging of action and awareness
3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5. a distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Flow is the antitheses of anxiety. You cannot be frustrated or bored while in a state of Flow.

Have you ever sat down to make music and suddenly found yourself 3 or 5 hours later, amazed at where the time went?  In this case, you know Flow!

Why is the Flow state so important for music producers?

Well, it's important for everyone.  People who access the state tend to be happier and likely healthier compared to people who don't often access the state.

The Flow state is important in particular for artists and music producers because it's a state where you learn faster and improve your skills with greater ease.

You probably know all about Malcolm Gladwell's concept of 10,000 hours by now.  It's the minimum amount of hours it takes for one to master any activity.  The way to get the hours under one's belt is to get in a state of Flow often and on a regular basis.

There is strong indication that the state might also be correlated to improved performance...

"Expert performance is commonly accompanied by a subjective state of optimal experience called flow. Previous research has shown positive correlations between flow and quality of performance and suggests that flow may function as a reward signal that promotes practice." - "The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing" - de Manzano, Orjan, Theorell, Harmat, Laszlo, Ullen & Fredrik

Why is this Flow state so important?  Well, like that Daft Punk song says, it makes you harder, better, faster and stronger.  It's in your interest as a music producer to access this state as often as you can and maintain it as long as possible.

So, how do you get into the state?

The following three conditions must be met to achieve the state of Flow...

1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.

2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the state.

3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.

From Wikipedia - "Conditions for flow"

The music production process by its very nature is structured to provide the first two conditions. The goal is to create a great final mix or master of a banging track. The feedback is immediate and clear,  either your closer to a great final product or you're not.

The third condition depends on where you see yourself in terms of your music production competence and how that matches up to what you see as the challenges involved in the production of your music.  If you think it's impossible to do the job at your current skill level then you may need to set a lower challenge, or face frustration.  If you think it's too easy you'll become bored. This means you won't access the state of Flow.

So, the art here is to find the balance between your skill level and the challenges that you set for yourself in the studio.  You may need to start with simple challenges if you're new to music production.  The point is to set the bar just high enough to challenge yourself, and not so high that you cannot complete the task.

You can help this along in the studio when you understand the music production process and apply it when you work,  until it becomes second nature.  This makes it easier to know where you're at in relation to your finished mix and what to do next.

Take action...

Get your hands on a copy of "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" and read it, preferably twice!

Watch this TED presentation by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi...

Set up everything in your studio and DAW software to support your ability to access Flow.

Then, sit down and work. As long as the 3 above-mentioned conditions are met, you can be sure you'll find Flow.

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