Applying Agile To Music Creation

This isn’t the 2020 any of us planned for by and means. I can lament a great many things but I won’t because honestly I’m one of the lucky ones that still has steady employment and things are overall still great for me. What has been rather impacted in my world is music. Those who know me in the real world know that I’m not only a huge music fan, but writing, recording, and performing music is the thing I live for above all else. Rewind to February and my band Astral Chaos was putting the finishing touches on our debut EP release and tightening up our live set for a huge gig April 4th opening for the band Insomnium. Well as fate would have it, a week and a half into March and all of that evaporated save releasing our EP. We faced the choice of spending 2020 in an uncertain hiatus or figure out how to adapt and do what we could, and we have chosen the latter.

Fortunately for us everyone in the project is tech savvy and we are all already using slack to stay organized and keep communication rolling. Myself and the other guitarist in the project are the primary songwriters, and we both have drum programming software and bass guitars at home as well. When one of us comes up with a song idea we make a rapid prototype complete with programmed drums, bass, and guitars. These sessions are stored in a group accessible cloud drive where we can make changes to arrangements, add in new parts and bounce demos for the group to listen to and provide feedback on. Once a song reaches a complete structure it’s sent to the drummer to record drums in his home drum studio, then completed drums are sent to me, the bassist tracks his parts, I track mind, the other guitarist tracks his, and finally our vocalist lays down his tracks and the finished song is sent off for mix and master.

As songs progress their progress is tracked on an Asana Kanban board with swim lanes for each step of progress, as is artwork and tracking progress of mixing and mastering. We have band calls every few weeks that serve as a touchpoint and informal sprint rituals of sort where we provide status updates for things in flight, discuss what was accomplished since the last call, what we’re planning to accomplish before the next one, ensuring everyone has what they need to accomplish things and we move on from there.

Since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve released an EP, filmed and edited a quarantine music video, 4 lyric videos, released a single, filmed a music video for an upcoming single (masked up and socially distanced), finished another single, as well as wrapped up songwriting for a full length release. At the time of this post 8 of 10 songs are fully tracked and in various state of mix and master and the final two are ready to begin recording. While it has been over 6 months now since we were all able to be in the same room together rehearsing and jamming we have still managed to write some great music, keep everyone engaged, and continue forging ahead when other bands are forced into hiatus or unsafe conditions.

In summary some of the tools and methodologies we’ve used to maintain our progress are:

  • Regular meeting serving as a combo standup/planning/retro
  • Rapid prototyping, tight feedback loops, rapid iteration
  • Multi-channel slack communication
  • Kanban
  • Cloud storage with shared access
  • Zoom (for video conferencing)