The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management. Among its core definitions, here’s their take on what a project is:
A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”
Using their definition, it’s safe to say that all songs are the products of a project. Bear with me:
All efforts involved during production are temporary, because they start one day -- maybe with a simple idea that is then captured, worked, and evolved--, and then ends the day the mastering is accepted. The product is ready for release.
Another rather typical ending for a song happens when the choice is made to stop and let it fall into song limbo, with all those unfinished songs that never saw the light of day.
Either way, it has a beginning and an end, so temporary endeavor, check.
Now, unique: No matter how hard you try, the song will be unique, because the people, environmental factors, and technical configurations have never been done in that particular way and in that particular order, and every creative process entails its own challenges. Ask any producer, no one take is exactly the same as another, ever.
As a professional project manager, I have been involved in projects in two industries that consistently take advantage of professional project management tools and techniques as means to get closer to success: Information Technology (IT), and Construction. They have made project management part of their status quo, creating whole infrastructures (governance) around tailored methodologies.
IT and Construction approach project management holistically, because they understand that their products are the results of projects (vs. a production line, where all output is pretty much the same).
If the music industry’s products are also mostly the results of projects, which we've already established, why can’t we find that many people in the industry preaching project management, swearing by it?
Well, the thing boils down to it’s sex appeal. It’s not sexy. Bricks, mortar, architecture plans, and discussing geeky topics while constantly indulging in caffeine overdoses really isn’t an attractive scenario for most people outside of those industries, or for people in creative or cultural industries in general.
On the other hand, music is sexy, with its overall rock and roll attitude across the industry, captured in that quote from “Almost Famous”, the James Cameron movie:
Excuse me, but didn't we all get into this to avoid responsibility?”
Man… project “management” rings really diatonic to “responsibility.”
The thing is, professional project management does offer some serious benefits, and once you understand them, their appeal might improve in your eyes:
Now, project management happens in all projects, regardless of our stance, understanding, or ignorance thereof. These are some historical examples of projects that the PMBOK6 offers:
I’m not saying that the Egyptians sat down to write a WBS, a risk matrix, or calculated their schedule and cost performance indexes based on their weekly status meeting presentation. What I am saying, though, is they used the available tools, knowledge and techniques to close the gap between idea and success, and anyone can do that, really.
Likewise, because all songs are the result of a project, the knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques involved in their creation were somehow managed. There was a budget, schedules, times, constraints, stakeholders and surely a plethora of fun things that required accounting for during the involved processes.
Sure, professional project management might sound scary, or dull, or boring, or it might be seen as additional work to place on top of all those other things you already don’t want to do because your thing is writing and performing amazing music, but using the words of Rick Rubin, "you can afford it, and it might help. What do you really have to lose?"
If you dig in and you don’t find any added actionable value to your current operations, you can always go back to using our email as your checklist, even if you know you’ll drop the ball sometimes, but really, exploring options can’t hurt.
Luis Garza is the head of strategic planning in Estratagema Records.