If you are new to music production, or even if you’ve been poking around for a while, there are a number of things that you haven’t been told about making music. Depending on what angle you are taking to get into the music production game, you are likely either over preparing or under preparing for what lies ahead.
Sadly, many suffer from what they consider to be complete failure & thus give up. It is my belief that if they had this information ahead of time, they probably would have had the power to move through the rough spots. The following are 10 things I certainly wish I had known when I started (or even after 10 years in!)
1. Your first attempts at making music won’t be great, and that’s the way it should be.
One of the biggest mistakes an aspiring producer can make is to think their next song is going to be the song that not only changes their lives but changes music history. Unfortunately, these are the high expectations and pressure they put on themselves & this is the reason they never finish anything. Nothing you make the first time around can compete with the producer’s who have churned out 100’s or even thousands of songs.
If you sit there for a year or more struggling with making your first song the hit of the century, you are missing the opportunity that creating many imperfect songs can bring you. The truth is that you need to finish a good 10-20 songs before you start to find your groove. This might seem daunting for perfectionist, but if you can put aside perfection and just call a project done when you’ve reached the tip of your current skill level, you’ll find yourself improving at a dramatically faster rate. Plus, as your production & listening skills get better, you can always go back and revisit old songs for improvements that now seem obvious to you.
2. Nobody creates in a constant peak state
Peak states of consciousness, also called flow is considered to be the most desired state of being a human can experience. Extreme athletes & adventurists don’t risk their lives because they are crazy. It’s because being on the edge is the only way to create these flow states. Nobody can experience these states constantly.
And when I say nobody, I mean it. The reason for this is that peak states of creativity follow a pattern which involves lulls & frustration. It’s 2 sides of the same coin & you simply can’t have one without the other. If you aren’t putting yourself at the edge of your capabilities and risking failure, your level of focus simply won’t be intense enough to put you into this peak state of mind.
If you are a multi-tasker or tend to surround yourself with distractions, you will have no chance of reaching this state. Peak creativity states make the whole world fade away and you experience “now” in a way that can’t really be explained unless you have been there.
Great artists have taught themselves how to get into this state more often than others, but still understand that 90% of the time, all artists have to push themselves to do the work regardless of how they feel. In fact as I write this, I was interrupted and brought into a whole conversation that I had to politely exit. It will now take me a bit of time to get back into my flow, even though it wasn’t a “peak” flow. Regardless the show must go on, and so must you. Don’t wait for the right time. Peak states only come to those who are willing to do the work regardless.
3. Most of what you think you need to know, doesn’t matter
So many artists have this belief that they can’t start making music with what they know right now. Because of this fear of creating, they over prepare. They end up wasting 100’s of hours watching every tutorial outlining tips for every style of music & diving deep into music theory.
What they don’t realize is that most of this information will fall right back out of your head & never make it into your tool box. On top of that, they are getting so many opposing pieces of advice, that all this information causes more confusion than it does benefits.
As a rule, a new producer should be spending 80% of her time making music & only 20% (at most) spent learning new techniques. I recommend you take your own skills as far as you possibly can, and only then do you search out the 1 or 2 tutorials that will get you over that creative hump so you can reach the next level in your music making.
This is the only way you will retain what you have learned as well as the only way you will keep yourself focused on actually music making. Don’t get yourself caught up in the information trap for the wrong reasons.
4. Most of the tools you think you need, you don’t
Many producer’s new and old join groups & forums related to their musical style or DAW of choice. I believe it is smart to interact with like minded people, but be warned. The time people are spending in these forums is time they probably should be making great music. This lack of focus on actually working on your music can become addicted as everyone in the group lets everyone else off the hook.
Then there are the “know it alls”. These are the people who are pissed off their amazing talents haven’t boosted them into the stratosphere of fame and glory. These people are better than you & want you to know it.
“oh you’re using that compressor? That thing sounds like dogshit! If you aren’t using xyz plugin or this piece of hardware, you might as well pack it in”
Pretty soon you are spending all of your songwriting time searching other forums discussing 100 different points of view on what compressor you need to have to be taken seriously by your peers.
Stop it. stop it. STOP IT!
Yes, there are some amazing plugin’s out there, but the truth is, if you learn how to use a certain tool inside & out, you can usually get great results. I personally use mostly internal plugins from my DAW of choice (Ableton). I’ve heard many people tell me Logic effects are better, and although I wouldn’t disagree, I’ve found a way to get the job done quickly & efficiently with the tools I have and so far, the type of plugin’s I use has not effected getting my tracks signed & reaching the charts one single bit.
At the end of the day, the person that finishes the most songs wins every time. Focus on that.
5. Your habits count more than your knowledge
Once again, you need to stop thinking you need to know everything. I’ve personally gone that route. In the past, I was able to teach people how to use music software inside and out & they would take a few chosen gems & run with them while disregarding much of the information they didn’t need right now. Good on them, they were finishing music, and at the time, I wasn’t. Lesson learned.
If you want to be a successful songwriter or producer, you should first concentrate on your habits far before your knowledge. If you haven’t instilled the habits that will force you to work on music daily, your knowledge won’t matter.
Frankly it’s a bit stupid to keep adding tools to your already over sized toolbox if you are never going to sit your ass down and use them.
You will get FAR more benefit by creating the habit of sitting in from of your DAW of choice for 15 minutes a day, even if you don’t write a thing, than you will from force feeding your brain with more “knowledge”.
If you ever want to create a creative flow, it comes from clearing your mind, not stuffing it like that closet you don’t show any or your guests.
6. Everything you want comes through people
People are more important than knowledge. Look around at all of those highly successful people. Are they all there because they are geniuses? No way.
Everything you want (outside of your personal spiritual growth) is going to require relationships. You simply can’t stay locked out from the world, making great music & expect that to be enough. You are going to have to interact, communicate & share your value in trade for the value of others.
If you think you are above promoting yourself (in the most ethical way of course) and sharing you with the world, the world will never have the opportunity to appreciate who you are & what it is you do so well. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is lying to you.
7. You don’t have to be miserable to make good music
Man, if I hadn’t wasted all those years with the “artist” mentality, I might have gotten more done & enjoyed myself a whole lot more.
You don’t need to fabricate a difficult, dark & addicted lifestyle to be great. If not saying that getting out of your head every once in a while can’t be beneficial. It’s not popular to say this, but sometimes the drugs do work, at least for a little bit. Gladly, I did my share & got out of it before doing myself much permanent damage.
I can reflect on those experiences from a sober state of mind & say with complete conviction that I am 10 times more productive as a sober person (who has the occasional beer). Don’t follow your fellow musicians down the rabbit hole too far or you will fuck yourself, your creativity & your productivity.
Have experiences & make music, but always give your music top priority. The “lifestyle” is largely bullshit anyway. Don’t believe the hype.
8. Musicianship is optional
I’ve spoken out many times of my happiness in being a non-musician, or at least my happiness of not letting it get in the way of creating things I am proud of. So many great songwriters are not the best musicians & many of the best electronic artists don’t have a big musical background and many of those who do, found it a hindrance to creating outside the box at times.
A non-musician does not have a total lack of talent, it’s just coming from another angle. The man who I consider to be the greatest engineer & one of the most celebrated artists is Brian Eno. All the music theory in the world wouldn’t put me at his level of talent. He’s responsible for some of the best works of David Bowie, U2, David Bryne, Coldplay (I know, I know), James & even Devo, not to mention his incredible work with Roxy music.
For all of the incredible music he is responsible for, he still considers himself a crap musician. If you have a music background, wonderful, use it. If you don’t, also wonderful, create from a different angle. You will never know your capabilities until you embrace them.
9. Time is the only difference from you & those who are now successful
Your musical heroes are not really heroes, they are arrows pointing in the direction of your own potential. Do not allow the thought that “some have it and some don’t”, it’s simply not true. The truth is that some people work for it(unfortunately very few) tirelessly & consistently until they get it. Some of the best artists actually took longer to get there than you would expect.
The video below explains this concept better than my own words ever could, so please watch it and let it sink in.
If you want to know whether you’ve got it in you or not, look at your daily habits, not your skill level.
10. Everybody steals
So many people are so fucking paranoid that they just sit there staring at their computer screen like me wandering aimlessly in a supermarket trying to put a meal together. My god, if I couldn’t steal recipes from people much more gifted in cooking than me, I’d be in even more trouble.
The truth is, that all of the music you hear is inspired by another musician, artist, poet or some abstract thing someone recognized as having a beauty that others might not have seen from that perspective.
That idea you are afraid to borrow was almost certainly inspired someone else, if not completely stolen. Picasso, John Lennon & Steve Jobs, all considered to be creative innovators all are famously quoted for nicking ideas pretty blatantly. You think Led Zeppelin were innovators? I did too & I still love them, but if you do some research, I’m sure you’ll be shocked.
Stealing ideas is how artists constantly fuel their own creativity. Letting go of the fear of being completely original will actually set you free & make you more creative, not less. Use samples, presets, loops, quotes, or even steal from your own past ideas. Nothing you can steal will be put back together quite like the source you got it from.
We are all human filters. This means that no matter what we borrow or steal, it still has to run through our unique set of parameters before it gets spit back out as our own art. Drop the fear & use everything around you when you create. It’s liberating.