The Process Is the Product

Part Copying

When I was in 7th grade, my school music director asked me to orchestrate one of my original songs for our middle school jazz band. I had never written for a 17-piece big band and I remember being excited, honored, humbled, and scared all at the same time.

When I finished the score, I had to copy it into 17 individual parts (one for each musician). This was something I had never done before, and I struggled mightily. It was super-frustrating. I remember checking each part, lining up measure numbers and section letters, playing each part so I could be sure that each musician would be able to read my handwriting. It was tedious and hard, and I was making all kinds of mistakes.

Just when I was about to give up, my father (a professional music educator and my first music teacher) sat down next to me to see how I was doing. He looked over the work and immediately pointed out a few errors. I started making all kinds of 12-year-old excuses, ranting about how hard it was, etc. My dad sat there quietly while I put on a show filled with colorful metaphors. When I was done, he gave me a bit of life-changing advice. I’d like to share it with you.

First, he asked me to play the song for him. This immediately changed my mood. I love to play and no matter how I feel when I sit down to play, I become immediately joyful (even when I’m playing a sad song). Then he asked me to describe the process of realizing the work on paper. He wanted me to tell him which part I wrote down first. He wanted me to explain my method. To my great surprise, I had a specific process for translating the music from my head to the page. I had been doing it daily for as long as I could remember, and the process never varied.

Then he asked, “What process did you use for part copying?” I told him the truth. I grabbed some music paper and started copying the parts for each instrument off of my score. And, as he could clearly see, it was not going well. In fact, it was a complete disaster, there was a rehearsal in just a couple of days, I was never going to get it finished, and I started to get frustrated again.

That’s when the magic happened. He put his index finger to his mouth (the universal “Stop talking now” sign), smiled, and said, “The process is the product. You joyfully composed this piece using a process that you fully understand. You put in on paper with a process not only that you fully understand, but that you use almost every day and trust completely. So, it makes sense that the results of those processes are just what you expected. You were in a good mood, so the music is good. However, you clearly don’t have a process for part copying and because you have no process, you have no product. And because your mood is terrible, the product is terrible. The process is the product.” He repeated the phrase several times.

It took my dad less than five minutes to teach me the proper process for part copying (aka music preparation). This was a time before home copy machines and personal computers. I had to use a ruler and a mechanical pencil to title each page, draw each bar line, number each measure, etc. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a process that yielded the desired results: a featured original composition at my middle school spring concert.

The story doesn’t end there. This process was adapted and changed over the years. It evolved with the advent of the photocopy machine. It evolved again with the advent of personal computers. It evolved again with the advent of music notation software. It is evolving again with the advent of AI and generative adversarial networks. But to this day, two things are as true as ever: create an environment where people are “excited, honored, humbled, and scared all at the same time,” and you will have a great outcome. Build, continuously innovate, and evolve a process, and the product will be magical.

2020 and Beyond

Most of us are waking up in an unrecognizable world. We are working from home or forced to adopt new ways of working together. All of the processes we have taken for granted are being replaced with new, improvised ways of getting stuff done. We’re all adapting and doing our best just to get through the day.

There are not many silver linings to this dark pandemic cloud. But one may be the opportunity to create new, better, more productive processes.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a series of articles about how you can adapt your processes and workflows to grow your business. Because now, more than ever, the process is the product.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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