If you were to dig through my blog archives (and I know you all do that), you would find an old blog from years ago, titled “Room for Improvement.” In that blog I wrote about re-visiting, and subsequently re-writing, one of my old arrangements – a jazzy vocal/orchestra chart from a splashy Christmas record I produced in the early 1980s. What I discovered in the process was how much I had learned about the craft of arranging and orchestrating in the years since I penned that particular chart.
I also blogged that it was very unlikely that I would ever re-visit the dozen or so other arrangements from that same series of Christmas charts. (Famous last words.)
But – in a recent slow spell, when I had no pressing assignment on my desk, my OCD tendencies got the better of me, and I did indeed revisit not one, but several, of those Christmas arrangements. I fixed voicings, improved chord changes, deleted unnecessary instruments, and added instruments I wish I had used on the originals. Once again I saw how my arranging and orchestration skills have improved in the 40 years since I did these charts. Considerably, noticeably improved, in fact. The whole exercise was invigorating. and it made me want to re-record every one of the charts. (Maybe someday.)
Now you may wonder – Are the re-writes were true improvements, or are they simply “different” than the originals? I’m confident that if I were to show the originals and the re-writes to a dozen professional arrangers for comparison, they would all see the improvements.
And that’s brings me to the point of this blog – a point I think is also worth re-visiting. Musicians’ skills don’t necessarily diminish with age. We are the poster children for the axiom, “Practice makes perfect.” And for the writer/arranger, our very work is our “practice.” Every chart we write, every note we put on paper – it’s all part of our practice. And that practice makes us better at our craft. (Or at least, it should make us better.)
Regardless how far down the road you’ve already travelled in this creative life of songwriting, arranging, orchestrating, etc., know this: If you stick with it, and do the work, you’ll get better. Despite the fact that popular music tends to favor the young, ironically your musical skill set should grow and strengthen with age. You may even find yourself, like I did, reviewing past work and thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that back then???” If you ever find yourself in that spot, it can be fun to do some re-writing. But if you can’t spare the time, just make sure you apply the lessons learned over time to your latest work.