Advice for young producers


First, a few words about me in case you are not familiar with what I do, as it is somewhat relevant in terms of this blog post.
My name is Janne Hatula, and I have been making electronic music for around 25 years. I have made and released most of my music as Fanu, and I also make a bit of hip hop as FatGyver and some slower tempo electronic stuff under my real name.

In addition to making music, what keeps me busy is being a mixing and mastering engineer and running my own company for it. I am also an Ableton Certified Trainer. And I like to blog/Instagram about music stuff quite a bit. So all I do has to do with music; it is a situation I have worked a whole lot for, and that makes me happy.

I have been out there as an artist for a good while; my first proper release came out around 2002. I started making music in 1992 as far as I can recall. So it has been a journey, for sure, and it ain’t stopping.

That is why I receive questions relating to making music often, and one question I get asked a lot is, ”What tips would you give to a new producer?” and I can never answer that very briefly, as there is no brief answer. Many times I have said, ”I could/should write an essay answer to that”, and feeling like I finally kind of owe that to all those who have asked me, I decided to finally write a post about it instead of keeping it as a list of notes on my notepad.

I’m not sure what order these points should go in, so I’ll just write them all down in an arbitrary order. Without further ado, here we go.
This is more of a motivational one instead of a technical one (which might be fun to do at some point).

It seems very common for young producers to have a desire to sound like somebody. “Oh yeah, you sound like Noisia”. “How can I sound more like [insert producer]?”
Imitation and copying sounds is a good way to learn stuff, but don’t feel like you’re not on the right path if you can’t categorize yourself or directly compare your music to someone else’s. It’s very OK to be you, and, after all, even if you manage to sound like the next Skrillex, well, you’ll be another Skrillex, and ain’t nobody gonna be impressed about that anymore.
Worth pointing out that many of those who don’t seem to be super-comparable to somebody are often the most interesting. Take Finland’s Recue, for example.
Be you, do you, stick to your thing, and do what comes naturally without trying to fit in a mould; there’s a gazillion guys in all those moulds already.
Also, do not let others dictate what you should do or what direction you should take with your music. You will be getting that sort of advice, but the fact is that everyone has an opinion, but no-one can know where you want to steer your ship. Be you, do you.

I’ve seen so many posts along the lines of, “I’ve been making music for two years and still haven’t got signed. Should I quit?” and it’s not even funny. It takes serious time to build your craft, but those taking it seriously are willing to put that time into it. Failing to understand that is a quick recipe for failing and feeling miserable. Name any producer who has been signed to a label, and you know he’s been working on it for a really long time even if he’s just released a few songs.
Many of you have probably been playing video games a lot. Remember how much time it took you to finish a game? A lot. And hey, you were enjoying it without thinking of “making it”. Put the same passion into music. And multiply by ten. You’ll make it.

I recently heard a good saying: “If you live off praise, you’ll die from criticism”. Food for thought.
One very important thing I learned at some stage was that sending music to your close friends will very, very seldom result in them telling you that they like it. Honestly, I’ve probably never heard it from people I know well. Don’t expect friends to be blown away by your music; that won’t happen. When I was young, I was often working on something that made me feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever made, and I never heard anything back other than “Nice”. It used to discourage me a little bit back then, but I learned that I’m expecting good words from the wrong people.
Also, close friends often can’t give you criticism, either, often because they think they’d hurt you.
So, don’t rely on friends for great feedback (unless you really value their opinion and make them do it because they’re experienced producers).

(Not talking about constructive, helpful criticism here)
Especially music forums can be ruthless. When you’re out there in the public, your works and actions are open for everybody to comment. There will always be people giving you shit even if your intentions are good. I’ve been out there as an artist for a good part of my adult life, and I’ve experienced receiving plenty of flak from “nobodies” on forums – and established producers I’ve looked up to (just to hear it’s happening behind my back). There’ll always be those people who will dislike you or your music, and the only time they’ll say something about you it’s in the hopes of making others dislike you, too. It’s good to realize that the people whose intentions are to hurt you are not happy with themselves or what they do. I’ve seen this in the music world so many times.
There’s tons of artists who are so insecure about their position. When they see others do well, they can’t stand seeing others’ success. Which kind of leads to the next point….

I don’t mean to sound too cynical or cold here, but this is a fair philosophy. Me, I’ve received very little support (DJ support, anyone mentioning my music, etc.) from people who I could consider my “colleagues” or people who are doing a thing that is very similar to me.
It’s funny: I’ve never seen 99% of the DJs on my DJ mailing list (which isn’t that big) say anything about the music I send them or play my music even though I play their stuff and have let many know about it; the support comes from people who follow my music, not from those who I might expect to play it for whatever reason (there’s always a few exceptions, but in general I’ve found this to be very true).
Please understand there is no whiny tone here at all; this is a fact.

Numbers mean very little these days. Statistics cloud the judgement of many. Remember: good-looking statistics don’t guarantee anything. Also, low stats don’t mean the music cannot be absolutely great. It’s also good to realize that many of the bigger producers with tons of likes/plays/etc. are receiving them through extensive marketing, and that’s done for them. If those guys created a new social media profile with another name that no-one knows yet and started posting their music there without anyone knowing who made it, it would not gain the same amount of love. Remember that.
In a nutshell, likes and quality do not go hand in hand. Chase the latter, not the former (although if you really put work on the latter, the former will probably come, but it doesn’t work the other way around).

Everyone who’s “made it” in a way or another is always the type of person who’s absolutely obsessed with their craft. In the long run, this means that they will keep on doing it, no matter what. Even if no-one liked their music, they’d still be doing it. Perseverance is key.
If you really love it and have the passion for it, you will make it in a way or another eventually, but if you’re chasing success and only do it to get somewhere, your work is not on a very steady ground.

I’ve often heard from my Ableton Live students, “There’s so much to take in! Coming up with good ideas, then finishing a song, then all that compression stuff, processing, mastering…I feel like I will never be able to master all that, and it feels exhausting!”
You need to realize that it IS a big package, but give yourself time and do not exhaust yourself by asking too much from yourself. Don’t worry – you don’t even have to know it all. Handle, study, and master one thing at a time, study one technique at a time. Realize where your weaknesses are, and work on them – one thing at a time.
E.g., my music’s always been known for the drumworks. I did put lots of time into it at some point, conquering every single obstacle relating to it that I could think of; for a while, I did only drums, obsessing with drums. It definitely paid itself back.
Also, you definitely don’t have to know it all. You’d be surprised how many gaps in music production knowledge even some of the bigger producers have. E.g., it took me a long time to be remotely interested in compression. A big amount of my back catalogue uses no compression; I can hear it a little bit now, but that does not make it any worse – and that music was loved by a lot of people anyways.

A good guideline in life in general. This one used to hurt me a lot at some point when I was comparing myself to others who I thought had worked way less than I had, and they were going way further. It was killing me.
At some point I matured and realized that this really applies to life in general: people’s lives go along different paths. Even if we all tried to walk the same path, doing the same thing, we’d end up going in different directions, experiencing different things. And good things come in many forms: not always the same way it probably came to the producer you may be comparing yourself to, but it’ll come to you in another way at another point. Realize this, be free from similar expectations, and enjoy your own path.

It will make you respect your craft even more.
Think back to mid-nineties or early nineties. How many guys were making music back then? Way, way fewer people making music than today. Why was that? The tools cost a lot of money. Well, then what? The guys who spent on those devices ended up spending considerable amounts of money (even samplers used to cost tons!), which made them really appreciate those devices and learn them inside out.
I’ve found that when I started paying for the tools I used, it made me respect them way more and I started seeing them as investments that I’d like to sort of pay themselves back in a way (often meaning improving my output), and that’s not going to happen when you’re downloading 100 cracked plug-ins and quickly going thru a ton of them without really learning anything properly.
Also, if you invest in a decent computer for music-making, it’ll make it smoother for you, which again will make you enjoy the process more and simply do more of it. If you have running shoes that make your feet hurt, you won’t run. If you have a computer that is struggling under the workload, you may start avoiding using it.
I’ve always said it’s OK to invest money in yourself and things that make you feel good. You’ll find it worth it. There’ll always be people pointing out, “Wow, all that music gear must have cost you a fortune”, but you can say, “Yeah, I invested a fortune on myself – what have you done about it? That new car?”

Every time I’ve been expecting one certain project to come to fruition or bring “results” (e.g., expecting an album to bring gigs or such), it won’t happen. Then, I kind of let go of it, and at some point somebody approaches me about something else – using my music in a video, a remix offer, doing a presentation, teaching them music stuff just because they heard the last album etc.
What I’m trying to say is that when you stay active with what you do, the seeds of it will spread around, and the rewards will sometimes come in forms that you did not expect. I have learned to “let go” of a project (album/EP/etc.) the day it’s out and not even think about its “rewards” anymore. If you expect a certain type or reward for it, you will most likely be disappointed.
See the bigger picture and don’t look at one spot in the painting for too long.

I.e., have it all in one place instead of few. Keep it relevant, and have your profiles somehow reflect each other. What do I mean here?
I’ve got three artist names (and many of you may have read about my struggles of juggling between them, ha!) and I used to have different outlets and pages (FB, Soundcloud, Bandcamp) for them, but I’ve realized that all music followers these days have so damn much to follow and keep up with that in my opinion it is not worth having several artist or Souncloud pages. I have it all in one Bandcamp / Facebook / Soundcloud page. If you have something on Soundcloud that’s released, have a clear link to it on your Bandcamp page. Things easily get confusing, so try and remember to make it clear and relevant for your followers.
Another word about relevance. I find it quite difficult to follow anything on social media these days, but the only people/companies I can follow are those whose output is relevant. I don’t mind if someone posts five times a day per se, but I feel that if I’m following an artist and he’s posting pics of his lunch, shoes, café selfies, memes, cat pics, and commenting on today’s shoe fashion, no way I’ll be following that guy. Me, I don’t have time for that.
I’m not saying I’m any kind of perfect poster myself (as one doesn’t exist), and there are no rules, but in my two-cent opinion, if you want to put forward a certain relevant message that supports your artistry/craft, think of the message you want to contribute to the vast amount of information being generated every second.
I know many interesting artists musically whose social media output offers me nothing in spite of me willing to see what I’d find interesting about them.

Ableton Live* is my DAW. I’ve tried out a few, even while having Live as my main DAW, and it’s OK and fun to explore things, but I know some get caught in DAW hell, never learning one properly, switching between them only because they hear their favorite producer is now endorsing this or that DAW. This will hinder your productivity. Learning a new DAW slows you down a great deal for a while. Trust me, there is no DAW out there that can’t give you amazing results. You just have to learn one well, and that will pay itself back.
If, however, you can use different DAWs efficiently, all providing you inspiration, use them by all means. I’ve got several hardware units, all of which inspire me to do different things due to their own quirks/limitations, etc.
(* = I wrote about Live’s biggest selling point to me very recently)
(** = I still see some people say they can’t get a good sound out of Ableton Live. Shame on them. Trust me, it does not sound inferior to any other DAW. Hell, I’m getting great results with it and nothing’s stopping you, either.)

There is always things to learn, and a lot of new information will open new doors for you in your music production and/or inspire you to create new things. Always.
There’s an abundance of information out there that can help you improve what you do. Those who are really good in what they do are always the ever-curious type.
Read music forums (DOA Grid, Gearslutz, Ableton forum, etc.) and relevant magazines (e.g., I’ve found Computer Music an absolute goldmine in terms of tips and techniques), and the techniques and tips you’ll learn will always take you forward.

Phew, I think that’s all for now! This is why I’ve never answered to those who have been asking me what I’d tell to a young producer. But I hope this will help or inspire some people.
What are your “pro tips” for beginners?
I’d love to hear any comments you may have, relating to what your pro tips are or just comments on my post.
If you think this was useful to you or might be useful to someone in their early stages of music production, please share the post!

Happy music making 🙂

-Janne Fanu
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