How U2 producer Brian Eno solves the paradox of choice (lessons for online PR)

A recent Daily Telegraph interview with legendary music producer Brian Eno contained an instructive quote about dealing with too many choices:

“In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people.”

Whereas in the past these recording choices would only have been available to a small number of well funded bands, the problem is now one faced by anyone who has played around with Apple’s Garageband software.  It is all too easy to get sidetracked into tinkering with different instrument settings and effects (how about trying a bit more phasing on that clavier?). Before you know it, hours have passed, and you haven’t actually recorded anything meaningful.

In many ways, a similar problem faces marketing and PR clients. The range of possible choice in terms of the composition of the marketing mix grows by the day. A mind blowing selection of agencies, tools and offerings that serve to make your brain fuse. Experimenting with Twitter and Facebook is similar to agonising over Pinch or Flutter Harmonics – and the million and one permutations of digital effects.

Brian Eno thus seems to belong to the same “Less is More” camp as Clay “filter failure” Shirky, Barry “Paradox of Choice” Schwartz and Richard “80/20” Koch.  You have to set up some boundaries and constraints up front to prevent getting sucked into an endless cycle of fruitless tinkering.



  1. Great post. Having just recorded an album with a little band, I concur that you can be drawn into complicating things given that the process is arguably cheaper these days.

    The drummer may think he can easily add, say, an Indian tabla track even though he only knows standard percussion. “I’ll just wing it, and fix it in the mix,” he thinks. A helpful recording engineer will do you a favor, though, and advise scrapping it, if you can’t pull it off in or two takes.

    The same can be said of marketing today. You’ve got to practice using these new communications channels — be it Twitter or video — before you try to “roll tape” for a client. If you don’t have the time to do that, focus on what you know, and stop worrying about not looking cutting-edge enough.


  2. Find a few platforms, master them and use them.

    Update and discard as necessary.


  3. Jeff – totally true. Try Logic and Native Instruments Komplete and you can literally sit for MONTHS without actually recording anything meaningful.

    I had to get away from it, and I eventually did and put out my own album using all real instruments, im saving my electronic and tweak-abilites for when Ive ACTUALLY finished a product.

    anyway the good news is my album “gallery” will be on itunes in a couple weeks. (dion roy – gallery)


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