Asking the Right Questions

‎”Answers are easy. It’s asking the right questions which is hard.” (The Fourth Doctor, The Face of Evil, 1977)

A few weeks ago, I attended the NAMM Show (put on by the National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim, which is the biggest music equipment show in the world with over 90,000 attendees and numerous vendors trying to sell all types of gear and services to help people make music. Anyone reading this who noticed that I tagged it with ‘Security’ is probably wondering at this point what this has to do with that topic, but keep with me — it’s worth it.

During the course of the show, I attended several classes on various recording techniques. Most of these classes ended with a question and answer session. What struck me was that during every single session, the same questions were inevitably asked and most of them boiled down to “What should I buy?”. There were subtle variations, of course, such as “What is your FX chain?” or “What mics do you use?”, but these questions aren’t actually what the people actually wanted to know, though it’s what we’ve been trained to ask. I’ve seen the same flaw in the security industry, where people constantly ask what to buy to protect them, but this isn’t the right question in that situation, either.

What people actually wanted to know at NAMM was “How do I make my recordings sound like yours — or at least sound better?” While at security conferences, the questions is “How do I protect my company (or organization) and its data?” Perhaps part of the reason we don’t ask these questions is that they are much more complex. Asking what to buy is a simple question with a quick answer and a point in the right direction. Another big reason is that these conferences, by their very nature, are product-oriented, so the thought of what you can buy would come naturally.

To move forward, we need to stop looking for the easy way out and work to ensure that we solve the root problems. To make better recordings takes time and experience (and working with several types of gear to get the desired result). The more recordings you do, with a variety of styles and artists, the better you will tend to get at it. For security, research and hard work are involved, as many of the problems are have no definite solution — everyone’s doing the best we can with the resources available. Many people have solutions to pieces of the problem and you will need to work out what the best answers are (and it may include some equipment or services).

I think The Doctor (or actually Chris Boucher, the episode’s writer) was simplifying things a bit in the above quote, since there are many questions which do not have easy answers. However, you’ll never get the right answer if you keep asking the wrong questions.


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