I addressed a question, ”Should I continue making music” on a music forum, and upon finishing, I thought that the reply, which came out way longer than I initially expected, would make a decent blog post, for it’s been in the back of my mind to blog about that particular topic because, every now and then, I am asked how long I’ve been making music, how long did it take until I started getting songs released – ”Should I quit because I’ve been making music for X years and still haven’t got signed” etc… so here we go.
Should I make music? Should you make music? Let’s find out.
The person on the forum whose question (“Should I quit?”) I addressed on the forum might as well ask himself why he started in the first place. IMHO, it’s only worth it if you make it for yourself, for fun, because you absolutely love music – for it might come to a halt quickly if your motives are radically different from that.
A friend asked me recently whether it’d make sense to buy a skateboard when you’re 30 and have no previous experience on board. My answer was something along the lines of “Anything that contributes to your well-being – whether it be your physical or mental well-being – is totally worth it”. Totes McGotes, bro! Do whatever makes you happy – that’s the bottom line in many things. Don’t ask how others feel about what you do.
I’ve been making music for 22 years, roughly – my earliest memories of playing my awful early tunes for classmates are from 1992 or so (cassette tape style!). I got my first decent vinyl release with a decent distribution in 2003. Before that, I hadn’t even been thinking of getting my music released, and I think I handed out my first demos in early 2000 after having moved to Helsinki. It’s been from there that things have been progressing and proceeding slowly yet surely.
Back then, we didn’t live in a culture of constant validation (thank heavens…), and I was lucky to grow up in an environment without “likes”, sharing, feedback – and it wasn’t possible to upload your music to Soundcloud, share it on Facebook, post about it on Instagram and see if it’s getting “likes”. I only kept doing it for it I did for myself. I didn’t even play it for my family (to this day, I haven’t really played my music “for” anybody, with the exception of DJ gigs, of course, where I’m asked to do it).
To be honest, today’s culture appalls me with its likes and all that craze, and I hope most adults at least can see the musical worth, talent, etc., ignoring the numbers (which don’t mean much as you can even buy likes, plays, etc…can you actually believe how low it’s got?). I believe it’s not encouraging for aspiring artists to live in the unhealthy culture of constant validation thru “likes” – so if you make music, you should learn to ignore it and see the worth of everything without measuring it thru how many times people have thumbed it up. Do aspiring artists get discouraged when they’re not getting “likes”? I hope not.
Numbers are useful to illustrate certain things, and a few times, to those (especially some impatient youngsters) who have asked me the questions mentioned in the beginning, I’ve said this (this is to make a point about taking time with your music more than anything else).
I started making music around 1992, and got my first decent release roughly 10+ years after that. So it took a decade, and during the first decade, I was not trying to get anything released. During the following decade, I’ve released around 150 tunes (that’s a rough estimate) and I bet I made close to that many during the first. I point I’d like to make: I wouldn’t be surprised if I had made 150 tunes before I got my first release.
Numbers can be highly irrelevant, too, for example, when we’re talking about music as a lifestyle/hobby/badassery that contributes to your well-being: every now and then somebody asks me how much money I’ve spent on my hobby. Geez – I don’t know, and I don’t care! How much did you spend on your fancy car? How much money do you make? What difference does it make to anyone? None.
How much money can you spend on your well-being, i.e., on something that highly contributes to you enjoying your daily existence? Now that does make a difference: a lot!
Anyways, back to today’s attention culture and our motives for making music. It’s good to think of the reasons why anyone would make music. I’m guessing many people want to be a DJ/producer/skateboarder/hipster/davidguetta and what have you, and often it’s because they kind of want to fit in and be something that’s cool and/or to appeal to others. That sort of identity you can buy in a store in a second, and it only takes money and zero willpower or persistence. But it won’t last. Something you start out of reasons having to do with revamping your identity to appeal “cool” or whatever probably won’t last very long once you realize you didn’t start doing what you did because you loved it – it was for somebody else.
However, if you start making music because you absolutely love music for what it is and want to experience making some of your own rad & badass tunage and find out – out of pure curiosity and passion towards music – what you have to give and what kind of interesting results your own creativity can come up with, you should definitely make music…because, hey, you know music is the dopest thing in the world! Only then your music-making is founded on a very firm basis: it’s for yourself.
Also, personally I’ve always steered clear from asking anyone for feedback on my tunes. Because I make music for myself, others’ opinions don’t matter. And the “likes” or the lack of them doesn’t matter, either. When I see people on music forums saying “Please listen to my song – should I continue?”, I can’t help thinking they’re putting themselves into a very vulnerable position, for if they get nasty feedback (“OMG bro, that was the worst piece of sh*t I’ve ever heard…Skrillex would be ashamed and cry!”), they might come very close to thinking they have to quit. If you do it for yourself, however, even the worst feedback won’t do any harm. Asking professional people for constructive criticism is another matter, of course…just don’t ask anyone out there.
Every now and then I’ve had to address the common question today, “I’ve been making music for 1–2 years but I haven’t got signed to any label or scored any gigs, so should I quit?” My very honest answer to that is that that’s an unhealthy approach. I wish they taught patience in school! Honestly, in today’s over-saturated climate where everybody and their dog are producers, DJs, and whatever, you can easily do yourself a disservice if you’re sending your demos out too early. In the worst case, you’ll end up in a position where the label you’re trying to approach is ignoring your demos because the stuff you sent them earlier was so weak. Practice patience, and when you want to send music out, make sure it’s good – and knowing what’s good takes a long time. You have to learn to become critical, and getting critical does take work. You probably have a good taste in music and you’ve been listening to music for a good while, and to become decent in making music, you also need to put in the hours to take it to the level where your musical taste is. So remember that.
Also, one point regarding sending tunes out I really want to make is this. Make your “demos” personal somehow. Make it look like you actually believe in what you do. Say a few words about yourself, your background, what you like to make, etc. Definitely don’t write a dauntingly long read either…go for common sense. I do receive emails/messages whose subject is “Yo” or something equally thrilling as the subject and then there’s nothing more than a mere link to their Soundcloud or something. Seriously, broseph? You don’t have to be a writer, but come on. And you know what? It’s very rarely that I click on those links. I probably don’t even have to explain that at all, but: it’s cocky and it’s sloppy to approach anyone with your work like that. You gotta appear serious about your work. If you’re not, why should anyone else be?
I’d also emphasize that if your happiness as a music-maker depends on getting results quickly, you’ve probably chosen the wrong field, Sonny Jim. Go blow some balloons or grind coffee beans or something. I’ve said many times that, IMHO, we all should have in our lives something to do that exercises our patience, and for me, music (as well as skateboarding) has been just that – in both releasing music as well as developing my skills production-wise. They’ve both taken loads of work, and the results are gratifying, of course, but I’ve also highly enjoyed the road that I’ve had to take. I’ve stayed patient and hungry, and that always pays off. TBH, production-wise, I’m still learning, more than ever, and that itself is massively gratifying.
Also, as a creator, happiness that you can only get from getting your works out there and/or getting to perform them is also the sort of happiness that can be taken away from you really quickly, and personally I’ve learned that lesson several times as the demand for what I’ve been doing and representing has been fluctuating (that’s how the world of art often works). Happiness that’s too dependent on “external factors” can and will cause you headache, and at some points during my career, it’s definitely done that (yup, you’ve read about my frustrations, and letting them out is very healthy, IMHO, but that’s another story). Success is often quite “seasonal”, and let me be honest and say that I’ve definitely stood in the crossroads more than once, asking myself if it’s “worth it” and if I want to continue. When you find yourself very discouraged with music, it’s usually best to take a total break from it altogether. It’s always happened to me after a break that the answer has come to me naturally: hell yeah, I want to continue, and it’s so effing worth it, even if no-one cared about what I do and even if no more tunes of mine ever made it further than my hard drive – because, remember, dude, when you were a kid, that’s where it all started from: you and your music. That slow, noisy-ass PC and you in your room, nothing else – you loving it just for the pure enjoyment you got out of creating something of your own, something that didn’t exist before. Whenever it’s needed, I always remind myself that when I started making music, I had zero plans of it ever making further than my personal computer and, TBH, I was loving it then as much as I love it today. Things just happened and moved forward because I had the passion that it takes, and I’ve been hungry about making music for 20+ years and there ain’t stopping me…to be very honest, I seriously feel like I’ve just started with all the new projects, released lined up, new stylistical experiences and all…music is easily the best thing I know (*gets ready for reminders about the goodness of coffee*).
(It’s appropriate to mention in this context that I’ve always said, kiddingly, that the very best part about making music for me is when I’m working on a new tune and the head-nod starts happening…for it’s all downhill from there, haha!)
Well, heck, I’ll stop here. Maybe this is not the most coherent essay ever written, but at least it expresses directly how I personally feel about making music, its place in my world, how it’s been (and will be) going on for me. I’ve been getting these questions lately so I wanted to bang out a few thoughts real quick for aspiring producers (or colleagues in that crossroads), so I hope some of this helped.
So yeah – should I make music? Should you make music? When you start doing it and when you are doing it, it’s healthy of think whether you want to be
A) a dude (or a dudette!) who’s just making tunes simply because you love music no matter what and because you have the passion for it and realize music is THE bombest-ass thing in the world (yes, bomber than coffee)
B) an artist who’s making his/her living (or any amount of money, gigs, fame, whatever) making music.
For it’s virtually impossible to become B without being A for a long(-ass) time.
(PS: If you dig this sort of thing, feel free to follow me on Twitter where I tend to talk about production-related matters more often)