I’ve met many budding music producers who tell me they need to learn more before they finish anything.
They need to a course, learn this or that technique, or watch more tutorials.
While these are (occasionally) useful activities, they are only useful in the context of actually doing what these hopefuls are learning about!
Believe it or not – if you want to be a music producer (and not a sound engineer or music production tutor) – then you must produce music.
Not just learn about producing music. Do it first. Do not get caught in the tutorial trap.
Because experience is always the best teacher. In fact, experience is the only teacher who is completely necessary…
Learn a lot, and you’ll do nothing.
Do something and you’ll learn a lot.
P.S. The wonderful original art on this post is the handiwork of my mate Tim from Loudwhisper.
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You know that phrase “little hinges swing big doors”?
Sometimes just one small change in your life can turn everything around for your music. In fact it often does.
Today I’m going to give you a tiny hinge which could swing a huge door. Something that helped me sacrifice (at least some of) those things in my life I repeatedly did that held me back.
Think of those things you do that make you feel comfortable. Those activities (or non-activities) which distract you from the long term discomfort, pain and stagnation that avoiding what you secretly know you were put on this earth to do.
- Watching mindless tv
- Playing computer games
- Pointless twiddling of micro details of every track
- Low (or high!) level alcohol or drug consumption
When do you tend to do most of these activities? If you’re anything like me – it tends to be in the evening doesn’t it?
So why is this?
It’s not because you’re not at your day job.
Trust me – I’ve worked for myself for most of my life and even without the job – throughout the day I watched my daily good intentions topple one by one until I was a barely functioning sofa slug who couldn’t even be bothered to find the remote…
Think of your brain as 2 broad areas. (This is a huge oversimplification – but it’s a useful way of looking at it.)
On the one had you have the evolutionarily ancient, automatic, animal part (sometimes known as the lizard brain). It’s by far the biggest and most powerful area. In fact, it controls much of your behaviour, and not just the stuff you don’t think about at all like breathing, digesting, blinking and so on.
Then you have the evolutionarily modern, controlled part of your brain. It’s the part of our brain where your consciousness resides.
It’s what you think of as “you”. Here you think, make conscious decisions and rationalise stuff.
But here’s the problem.
Because the newer part of your brain is newer – it hasn’t had time to develop to the point of being particularly efficient. So it’s very power hungry. It uses an enormous amount of your available resources and consequently gets tired very quickly.
- Lack of sleep / tiredness
- Drugs & alcohol
Will mean it stops working as effectively.
And under certain circumstances while you might believe your behaviour is as a result of a conscious decision you have made by weighing up all available options, what is actually happening is the ancient part of your brain is causing you to do something – and all your conscious mind is doing is rationalising the behaviour.
“I definitely need to try another hundred sounds for that bass line (which is working fine as it is) because I really care about my career. I must go that extra mile to make sure it’s as good as it can be.”
…is probably your prefrontal cortex rationalising the behaviour the ancient parts of your brain want you to do because it’s scared of what finishing this track might mean (like possible criticism etc.)
After a hard day your conscious mind doesn’t have the mental resources to say no to the ancient animal part (which because it’s so ancient has had time to evolve, become very efficient and use minimal energy).
So when you come home from an exhausting day at work and you attempt to do something creative?
You turn on the TV instead. Maybe open a beer, smoke a joint (or whatever your particular vice happens to be.)
And if you do manage to drag yourself to the DAW? You end up checking Facebook, or watch tutorials, or twiddle pointlessly.
(Or all of the above!)
But here’s the REAL killer.
If this happens over and over again, as well as rationalising your behaviour in the moment (like trawling through every available preset to find the “perfect” sound) your conscious mind also starts to find reasons why you can’t do this stuff at all.
I’m a perfectionist…
I’m not cut out for this…”
…and then these “reasons” become self fulfilling prophecies.
You believe you’re lazy, so you act lazy.
(Yes – your unconscious mind will tend to conform to your conscious self image.)
But you’re not lazy.
You’re human. Tired. Stressed. Annoyed. Or all of them. (if your day job was anything like the one I had for a spell!)
So how do you make sure your prefrontal cortex is in control when you make music?
Well here’s just one suggestion I give to all of my students.
The tiny hinge which swings a huge door.
Take your day and shift it forward by just one hour.
Simply go to bed 1 hour earlier and get up 1 hour earlier. And make music in that hour in the morning before you go to work.
Now I know this seems almost too simple.
But if you can do it (remember simple isn’t necessarily easy!) it creates certain conditions in your life which support your creativity in the studio.
- You are making music when you have the mental resources available, employ willpower & finish that track.
- You are making music when you have the mental resources to make the difficult decisions and finish that track.
- You will make music before everyone else wakes up = less distractions.
- You have one less hour at the end of the day to do what the ancient part of your brain will want you to do (conserve resources, be safe and check Facebook!)
You are effectively giving your dream 5 hours a week.
In terms of your brain they are 5 of your best hours. Hours in which you are likely to get 2x, 3x or 4x more music done in the time you would at night.
Now I know this flies completely against the traditional view of the music producer burning the midnight oil to make beats.
And certainly if you currently believe you are a “night owl” (like I did for years) you might think this won’t work for you. But you ain’t gonna know unless you try it!
Sure, you might be better at night. There are people who work like that. But this could easily just be a belief (it was for me!)
At first it might not work – it might be difficult. But in my experience once you get used to it, and stick at it – it does for many. The key is to transplant the time you have at the end of the day to stay safe and attach it to the front end when you are best able to be daring!
It comes down to answering this question…
What are you prepared to sacrifice to make music your life?”
So I’ve helped a lot of folks make changes like this with spectacular results, so please go ahead and share your experiences and challenges with this “tiny hinge” in the comments and let me help you make it too…
There are 2 components to your success in music:
What you are willing to do. (Usually what makes you uncomfortable – finishing tracks / sending them out / etc.)
What you are willing to give up. (What keeps you comfortable and safe – watching tutorials / checking Facebook / mindless TV )
And in the next couple of weeks I’m going to give you some tried & tested strategies for doing both.
You see – I really want you to make more music.
This is because…
1/ I’m committed to helping you achieve your dreams and ambitions.
2/ When you do this you’re more likely to join my program so I can help you even more! 🙂
It’s a win win.
(And of course you don’t have to buy my stuff if you don’t want.)
So I’ve already talked about knowing what you want. Having a big (even “unattainable”) dream or goal to shoot for.
But unless you have a coach or mentor to guide you and cheer you on, you need a simple strategy to build your momentum towards that goal. So here’s one of the simplest, most powerful strategies there is…
Do It Every Day
There is no more powerful strategy I know for building momentum than doing it every day. In fact it’s so powerful that the whole first month of my online program is devoted to given you a system for creating daily habits.
But for now, here’s what I want you to do…
1/ Decide on a short term musical goal for the next 7 days.
It doesn’t need to be big. But it could be.
2/ Work out how much time you can set aside every single day for the next 7 days to work towards that goal.
Make it as short as you want. Even just 10 minutes is better than nothing. What’s essential is that you can commit to doing it EVERY SINGLE DAY. So if you want to do an hour – but because of other commitments you can only do 30 minutes for 3 of the next 7 – make what you are committing to 30 minutes! This is important.
3/ For the next 7 days – spend the time you have committed to completely focussing on working towards your 7 day goal.
Turn off the internet, your phone, tell your family and friends that this time is sacred. And do it come rain or shine. Remember – because you are only committing to a minimum this will not be hard to do!
4/ When your allotted time is over you’ll have either:
- a/ not got much done
- b/ made steady progress
- c/ amazed yourself, be on fire and mega excited
5/ If it’s either a/ or b/:
Stop! Give yourself a pat on the back. Today you can be happy that you’ve done what you set out to do. You’ve won. How well it went is not important in the slightest.
6/ If it’s c/:
The by all means continue. Just make sure to STOP WHEN YOU ARE STILL EXCITED.
7/ When you do finish your daily session, record or bounce down what you have done.
Even if it’s virtually nothing and is the worst thing you have ever heard! Do a quick bounce of what you have been working on and put it on a device you can listen to somewhere else. Your phone or iPod or laptop or whatever.
8/ Before you go back to it and in a different context (i.e. not sitting in the place you make music) listen to what you have done from beginning to end.
Without listening to it again note down 3 things you are going to do when you go back to it next time.
9/ At the start of the next session try each of the 3 things you have noted down.
Don’t get too hung up on them if they don’t work! Remember these notes, your ideas are simply starting points.
10/ Repeat steps 3 – 10!
This simple process works on a few levels:
- You are focusing on the process of a daily practice rather than the music itself. This takes much of the emotional “sting” out of the music making – freeing up your brain to be more creative. When you don’t try so hard you do better – right?
- Because you are making the “win” a very minimal commitment you are much more likely to do it.
- Stopping when you are excited make it easier to come back to. Most make the mistake of stopping work when you get bored or tired. That’s absolutely the worst time to stop. Because when you stop while you’re excited you’ll be desperate to get back to it next time.
- Listening back to what you have done in a different context gives you ideas you would not have got otherwise. This is a failsafe method to beat that “blank screen / blank brain” phenomenon.
- Having recordings of each day’s progress means you start to focus on your progress = pure unadulterated motivation.
- A list of 3 things you are going to try when you go back to it means you are removing much of the fear of the “blank brain”
- 3 things to try when you go back to it means you have a springboard to getting into the groove – a shortcut which you’ll need if your time is limited.
When you do this for 7 days straight you will have made progress to your short term musical goal.
Or maybe you won’t!
Maybe you’ll hate what you have done.
But that’s ok too.
Because you’ll be finding it easier to sit down for your allotted time, and will be getting ever closer to making something you like.