By Trent Rentsch
Unlike Santa, I don’t check my list twice. That’s probably because I don’t make lists. This might explain why I scramble every year at the last second to find a present for someone I forgot. It’s not that the forgotten person isn’t important to me. There’s just a lot going on this time of year, many people I’d like to remember with a gift. So many to remember, I always forget somebody. It’s become a holiday tradition of sorts, the seasonal scramble.
I’d like to break with tradition this year. In fact, I’ve already started the list, if only in my head. Let’s see, Wife, all 5 kids, Mom, Dad, Brother, me... yeah, me. I’m on the list. Wait, before you write me off as a self-centered, greedy little elf, hear me out. I don’t plan on running out and buying myself a Neumann U87 (although if Santa doesn’t come through this year, who knows? More on that later). However, there are many gifts that only I know I want... or need, and nearly all of them won’t take a dime out of my Christmas fund for everyone else on the list. In fact, if I use my new toys right, I might be able to afford a greener Christmas for family and friends next year.
The Art of Re-gifting Yourself
I don’t know how you are when you buy new software, but here’s my ritual: Stare at the box for 10 to 45 minutes when I get it home, struggle to open it (why can’t the industry come up with one type of software packaging?), glance at the manual long enough to see if there are additional arcane instructions for installing it, then throw the manual on the bookshelf and/or pile with the other software manuals, load up the software, and spend the next week to 6 years learning the software by trail and error.
I’m sure you’ve already noticed the flaw in the process. Instead of spending time with both the software AND the manual open, I let the manual rest in peace in the graveyard of road maps, while I struggle down the rocky road of software discovery with no directions. There was a time when software manuals seemed to be direct Hieroglyphics to English translations that had little value, but that excuse has since sailed. Worse yet, I’ve often bought the “Learn this Software in Hours” books, knowing full well that many are only condensed, incomplete versions of the book that came with the software in the first place. These, I’m ashamed to admit, often suffer the same fate as the original manuals.
So, the first thing on my list to me is to “re-gift” myself with all those manuals. I don’t even have to wrap them — just blow the dust off, open the software, open the manual to page one, and start learning. I plan to give myself 15 minutes a day, more if I’m in the mood, but who can’t find at least 15 minutes? Which one to start with? The software I use the most (in my case, Audition). I’m sure that daily I go the long way around some recording, editing and/or processing tasks... really studying is going to make me more efficient, and hopefully a better Producer, technically anyway.
This kind of re-gifting goes beyond software. Most keyboards, sound generators and processing gear come loaded with a kazillion pre-sets these days. But when was the last time you’ve tweaked things to make them your own? Do you even know how to create custom sounds/effects, which buttons to push and why? For some of the gear I own, the answer would be no. Sounds like another re-gift for the list.
You really can’t put a price on the gift of knowledge, and by re-gifting yourself this way you are literally out nothing but a little time. Trust me; you’ll thank yourself for the re-gift everyday!
A Little Time, A Little Money
While we’re near the subject of time, I’d also like to give myself a little more. I realize this will take me away from vital elements in my day, like watching Groundhog Day for the 27th time, but I think it’s worth it. Besides taking the time to hit the instruction books, I’d like to take some time out each day to work on the organic part of the process. Really work out the pipes, practice breath control, inflection, interpretation, character voices... all aspects of voice-over that frankly, I’ve let get a little sloppy. Yes, we all voice copy everyday, but how hard do we push ourselves when the stack of work is tall?
In addition, I’d like to give myself time to write everyday... and not just copy. A few minutes a day of really focusing on the mouth and the brain can’t help but improve my skills as a voice-over actor and copywriter, and what am I out? Just time that I was already wasting.
This year, I am considering spending a few dollars a week on myself. My time as an Audio Producer has always been flanking a buried dream to write and produce music, and since I’ve learned guitar and keyboards by the same hunt and peck method I’ve used to learn software, it’s time to find someone to really teach me how to play. It’s a little money, a little more time, but I’ve gotten so good at wasting both over the years, these would be positive ways to move forward with my dreams and ambitions... constructive gifts that will keep on giving.
Now, about that Neumann I mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t dream of spending 5 times my entire Christmas budget for everyone this year. I would, however, consider putting away a little bit of the profit of each Creative project I do all year, all earmarked for the Holy Grail of mics. Granted, I might not have enough money stashed for next Christmas, but if I keep saving, and use the additional skills I’ve gifted and re-gifted myself with to pitch more and varied projects, who knows what cool gear could end up under the tree in a few years?
My gifts are ambitious, I admit. But I do believe that following through on even one of them means that I will be able to provide not only a better holiday season for my loved ones in years to come, but also a happier, more confident person everyday... both professionally and personally. And even though nobody puts that on their wish list, isn’t that what we all really want?