Tips for aspiring producers (and advanced ones, too)

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Making music > gear..even though I love it!

Every once in a while, I get asked a few quick and/or important general tips for making music. I’ve been making music for a little over two decades, and made a few tunes every now and then, so maybe that’s why. Or, at least that’s an indication that I manage to finish my feeble efforts.

I’m planning to update this blog a bit more often with production-related material (there already is some), and this time I wanted to get busy with some of the basics.
I started keeping a notepad so that I’d write a blog post on the “useful tips for beginners” topic, and this is it. It’s definitely more of a general one than a technique-specific one.
I’m definitely not a “master” of making music, but these topics are something I can look back on and say at least I’ve learned something valuable regarding them and all of this is based on experience.

These are in no particular order.

1) DO YOUR OWN THING. 
Yes, yes, this is what everybody says, and you’ve probably figured it out yourself. But we mean it. It’s absolutely fine to start by copying others’ styles as well as sounds* to get going, but in the end, to make it “worth it” and keep it interesting for you, there’s no better “point” in making music than making it yours, for yourself, because it’s only that way that truly unique voices are born. And you probably won’t stick out of the crowd if you’re not unique to an extent.
Besides, you know we can’t listen to any more of Skrillex clones, another Noisia clone or another boring two-pence neuro artist at this point anyways (did you know that “onion burger” is anagram for “boring neuro”? Now you do. Thanks to Trisector for pointing that out).
(* = you’ll probably find out that most of those sounds were actually pretty easy to make, anyways, so now make/find your own or mangle them so that they become yours)


2) 
DON’T ALWAYS WORK FOR SONGS – WORK FOR FUN AND IDEAS.
This is quite crucial, and I’ve read so many times something along the lines of “I’ve been making music for two years but I’m failing to finish songs, and I’ve only made six so far…but I try really hard.” I know all about the frustration when it happens: you fail to finish a song. Shit, man, you spent your valuable time on it…and it didn’t end up becoming a song even though that’s what you had in mind when you started working. That sucks. And trying hard, now that IS hard.
The “I must write a song” mindstate isn’t always very encouraging, for it demands results from the get-go, and strictly aims at results – now that’s pressure, and pressure kills fun….and what should making music be, for the most part? Yes: fun. Not “hard work”.
So, work for fun and ideas, and quite often you’ll feel quite liberated and hey, the chances are that soon you’ll actually be working towards a song. And, if it starts feeling like this idea isn’t going to be a song, it’s OK. Just keep the good idea you created so you can use it in a future project. Maybe save those with a uniform prefix in the filename (idea_SoulPrideBreak, idea_ReeseBass10) or something like that. This way, there are no failures.


3) LISTEN TO MUSIC.
Pretty simple, huh? This is to inspire you – both on a conscious level but also subconsciously. Your productivity needs fuel.
On a conscious level, listen to sounds you’ll sample (either sample it right away or keep a notepad about them), listen to inspiring ideas or structures in songs (I do that every time I hear a song on a bus, at a restaurant, etc, and especially if it’s a really bad song, it’s a great idea to try and pick something useful out of it instead of dreaming of napalming the band…try it next time!), listen to how some producers use some effects in a creative way, etc…as those little ideas often inspire you to try that yourself, and hey, you’ll be working towards a song again.
Subconscious level…now that takes care of itself without you having to take part in it.
Listening to music that’s from outside your main genre IS important. I do a lot of drum and bass, always have, and let me be honest and say (even though I sound old and grumpy…hey, I am old and grumpy and I’m proud of it) I miss those days of D&B when producers in general were way more inspired by just music in general rather their main genre. It’s so ridiculously easy to hear. So, get inspired by music, not just your “main genre music”. And that may well be subconscious.


4) 20 LESS-THAN-PERFECT SONGS IN A YEAR GETS YOU WAY FURTHER THAN 5 ÜBER-PERFECT ONES. 

How is that? Isn’t perfection what everybody wants. Well, there are no perfect songs. Also, “perfect” is a bit of a crappy word anyways, but what I’m trying to say is that it makes no sense working on a song forever in the hopes that it’ll be so great that it’ll get you signed, results in label interest etc…whereas making more songs teaches you way more about your own production techniques, workflow, shortcomings…so in short, it’ll teach you to make better songs. In a way, quantity can be better than “quality”..but don’t quote me on this without context!
Trust me, I’ve had plenty of experience in working on songs so damn long that you think you’re going to vomit if you hear it one more time. And I don’t think those songs ever come out that good anyways. The good ones finish way quicker, and the problematic just take time. My last album was the last time I spent a ridiculous amount of time on some songs, and I swear that was the last time. It can be so liberating to just move on, because, after all, you create the “pulp”, the interesting part of the song quite quickly, and later sessions are mostly just a continuation of that same vibe. I don’t think you’re going to impress labels by having ultra-tight mixdowns, if you ask me, but what gets their attention is just good, solid songs. And if you’re working on a song for two months, you’re probably not working on the part of it that matters that much.
And how much electronic music with “perfect” mixdowns and with no soul is  there, anyways? A LOT.
Remember: potential>perfection


5) DON’T GET TOO CONFUSED BY MILLIONS OF DAWS OR PRODUCTION METHODS AND WAYS OF WORKING – FIND YOURS.
Everybody has to come up with their own workflow, and nobody can teach you how you should work. One man’s preferred ideal workflow (+DAW) might be another’s hell. I’ve seen people switch DAWs just because an artist they like said it’s their choice, and let me tell you: that will not help you make better music, and the chance that it’ll result in you making music as good as his or similar to it is very, very, slim…it’ll only slow you down.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t find out about others’ ways of working, for there is often a lot to learn from how others work, and I’ve learned a lot just by talking to others about production or watching them work, and that’s a great tip anyways.
My point is that the web is so full of tutorials and masterclass videos etc., which are great, but they may not help you in making music…often they’ll just eat your time. I bet there are always methods out there that might be a bit faster/better or even more fun than yours, but as a general rule, it’s highly important to use what you have and make music with that because, in the end, only that will bring you results.
I get lots of Qs about my preferred DAW, what I think about DAW X, etc., and I’m always trying to say they’re all somewhat equal, and you just gotta find one that looks appealing, then get deep with it, and the results will come. This relates to the next point…


6) MAKING MUSIC IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOING AFTER “THE BEST-SOUNDING” PLUG-INS AND/OR GEAR.
Seriously. You can make great music with a laptop. Period. There are so many plug-ins of any kind out there (take EQs, for example) that finding out what sounds “the best” may be equal to chasing rainbows. I’m not saying it’s bad per se, but probably won’t help you a whole lot to make better music. Maybe some plug-in may make that snare slightly more crispy (or dope-ass or crusty-ass) than some other, but just don’t get lost in the vast sea of plug-ins before you know how to make music from start to finish and write decent songs. A lot of the revered gear, for example, is more about that “5–10% betterness” than “50% better”, so you’ll have to reach a certain level before it makes much sense.
Music first, gear/plug-in lust second.

 

7) DONT THINK ABOUT “MAKING IT”.
What is that anyways? I’ve heard/read ”I’ve been making music for 3 years and still haven’t got picked up by a label…should I quit?” way too many times as well. It takes time to get anywhere in anything, so you have to be loving what you do, and love it for the right reasons. If you’re looking for results too soon – or ”results” in general – it may get heavy for you.
Instead, work on having fun and maybe just creating a great back catalog of music that some lucky people will be able to hear one day. Don’t think too much about getting there now.
To me, ”making it” at this stage just means being able to make songs, keep up a steady flow of music (quality before quantity!), keeping it consistent etc…just keeping it up in general. That’s ”making it” for me. Anything that may come after that (money for music sales, gigs, connections, deals, etc.) is an added bonus.
Music is a journey and there is no goal. Keep in that mind.
I had been making music for 10 years when I first sent out my first demo (which may or may not have to do with the fact that I started making music when internet didn’t really even exist, i couldn’t share songs by any means other than on floppies etc), which leads us to the next thing….

 

8) A FEW BASIC THINGS RELATING TO SENDING TUNES OUT.
I know some of these probably are ridiculously basic to many, but still, it’s crazy how much unprofessional approaches I get to see on the regular.
A) Do not send out tunes for the sake of sending out tunes. Only send tunes that you know are solid. You won’t be doing yourself any favors by sending to labels some tunes that don’t represent your best abilities.
I’m not a big artist by any means, but even I receive loads of tunes, and often it takes me ages to check them out, and, sadly enough, I don’t get to check them all out in the end anyways. So if I get sent tunes by someone that are poor, I may not check his tunes the next time (just because there’s 70 other promos waiting in my promo inbox the next time I decide to check for promos). And all the listening I finally get to do is after all the music production of my own as well as mastering tunes for others, so it can be a bit demanding sometimes. And this relates to the next one…
B) Do not send out a zip file of 14 tunes. Just don’t. It is intimidating. Personally, I much rather peep two songs than 14 (yes, I’ve had many of those). It also looks like you’re not really sure of what’s good and what’s not so you’ll send out an album worth of tunes and ask for the receiver to pick out what’s good. No – it’s your job. Send out 2–3 strong tunes, and that’s it. And…
C) …if you don’t hear back, don’t get discouraged. That does not mean in any way that your music is crap. Most DJs and get so much music, they barely ever have the time to comment back unless it really blew up their world.
D) For the love of God, do not go for “Yo, check my song” + link. That is the lowest. Your song will not get heard. It’s ridiculous how much of these I get. It means instant deletion in my book, and I bet I am not alone. If you don’t show any sort of faith or a bit of healthy pride in what you do, it does not look appealing to anyone – and you appear a spammer. Do you want to be remembered as a spammer the next time that person sees your email with a tune link? No. Write a few words of what you do, why you happened to send it to the DJ/label, so it doesn’t look like spam you’re randomly sending out to 100+ people – oh, and yeah, never go for THAT. Social media may give you the tools for that, but posting plain links or “Cool page! Hey, check out my page” on people’s FB pages / Instagram pages in hopes of attention will NOT make anyone check out your music. Again, you’ll be seen as a spammer. You have to do a little more than that. I’ve even seen some well-established artists post “Hey, check out my album – link is in my profile” on others’ pages, and that’s just sad.
Well, that’s a few thoughts. If you happened to find this useful, you could do worse than sharing it. Also, you might like checking out my other related content in the blog.

Happy music-making sessions!

-Janne Fanu

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