Music theory, something that quite a few of us producers don't know or don't even care to learn. There are hundreds , maybe even thousands of blogs on this topic, so why would I write about it? Well just like everyone else I want to give my opinion on it. Let me start off by saying I was blessed to learn how to play saxophone, clarinet & french horn when I was 8. That is also when I learned how to read sheet music as well, so I do somewhat have a music theory background. Now that I've said that I will also say that for a good number of years I didn't use these skills so I kinda "lost" some of what I knew. This last year though I've been back heavy into theory and almost instantly remembered things that I learned as a kid. Words like forte, mezzo-forte, allegretto, melodic minor will mean nothing to you if you've never taken music theory, and at one point when I was only producing hip-hop/rap tracks those words didn't mean anything to me even though deep down I knew what they meant.
Ok before I started to re-teach myself some music theory my tracks were pretty good, solid. I made a lot of tracks with artists (Indie Artists), and I never seemed to feel "limited" when I was creating. I will admit I would of course open up my DAW, load some sounds, and hit some keys on my midi controller until something started to sound good. I almost felt like I was hitting keys blindly until I came up with something. Never the less thats what I did for a good number of years, and like I said my beats from what I've been told are pretty good, not including the mixing, arrangement etc.
Now in this last year that I've been back into theory, my tracks definitely sound "different". Do they sound better, well thats a matter of opinion. You can tell that they are more musical, and some of my producer friends thought that I've been taking piano lessons and thats hardly the case. They say musically there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules but you really cant break them if you don't know what they are. Learning some music theory gives you those rules. As I mentioned earlier, once I started to re-learn theory I picked it up fast because of my prior knowledge as a child. What did I exactly teach myself? I mainly focused on learning major and minor scales, different time signatures and transposition. One thing I can honestly say is if you know a little theory or at least some scales, you can come up with ideas quicker than you can hitting random keys in my opinion. I can now sit at the midi keyboard and at least "know" what keys go together and what scale I am playing in before I start.
That is a great thing of course. There is a problem now though as well. Since I've learned what I know now, I sometimes over produce or make things too musical, especially for my hip-hop tracks. I never was too musical before, but now I turn a simple hot track into a unnecessary symphony, leaving not much room to lay vocals down. That is the one thing I will say be careful about if you go down that road of learning music theory and applying it.
In all I will say this, nothing is wrong with learning some music theory. I do think it can open you up, and open your creativity up a lot. I know for hip-hop and some other genres being that musical may not be a requirement., but if you know it you can use it as a weapon when necessary and that is a GREAT thing. One good site to learn the basics is here www.musictheory.net. They have good info so check them out if you are willing to learn.
Since I've started this blog I've posted about a lot of different topics ranging from ASCAP TO Home Studio Ideas. Lately my last few posts have been more based around staying motivated, procrastination, or overall "motivation" type topics. This is not by accident, because I've learned the hard way that if you reinforce the same ideas over, they will eventually stick in a persons mind.
Passion is defined as " a strong feeling, enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something". Musically as a artist, producer, songwriter etc, we have a passion for doing what we do. It doesn't matter if music is your profession, hobby or soon to be profession, your passion for it is what makes you continue to so it. My passion for music and music production is what led me to start this blog, which was never in the plans, but this is a extension of my love for music overall. Does or can a passion for something ever die? I'm sure it can just like anything else in life. A lot of times for us musicians, trying to maintain a everyday life, working a 9-5, maybe having children, a family can all impact your passion for creating music, but I consider these things to be natural life circumstances that can happen to anyone. The one thing I hope as a musician that you would never let impact your passion or desire to create music is because a person or people said you are not good enough, you suck, quit while you are ahead or anything like that.
I have come across a lot of negativity lately when it comes to how we as people criticize each others music/art. There is nothing wrong with giving advice, or giving tips to a artist or producer that you might thing needs it, but it seems like some of us are trying to "hate" on others music as opposed to giving constructive criticism that will help them. If as a artist, producer or songwriter you have been told you material is wack, weak, garbage or whatever, keep working at it to get better. Now I must say that if you are a artist that advocates, violence or anything like that , yes its still your art and your music, but I personally don't advocate getting better at spreading those messages but that's just me, but even still from a overall musical and lyrical standpoint find ways to get better and write about different things. If anything don't let your passion for something you love to do get taken by those who choose to point fingers and laugh at you instead of helping. If this is your passion continue to grind, don't stop because of outside opinions. I didn't write this post because I'm a "successful" producer standing on the mountain top telling you to be like me, thats no where near the case. I wrote this because I'm human and I'm affected by the same things that you who are probably reading this are affected by. We are all part of the music community so the least we could do is help each other when possible.
Have you ever wondered why you sometimes don't meet deadlines, don't write as many songs as you intend to or don't make as many beats as you plan to?I know a lot of times we go through droughts where our ideas are not coming to us as quick as would like, but in most cases its procrastination that slows us down. Being a procrastinator is a learned behavior that is hard to break, it becomes natural and its something that I had to deal with myself in my own life.
From my personal experiences trying to do too many things will lead you into procrastinating and not finishing anything, that was my problem. I would have ideas to write songs, make beats, mix & write posts for my blog. Of course I would get to do some of these things, but I would plan to finish up at a later date and would put things off instead of pushing through and doing what I can when I had a chance too. Before I knew it, several weeks or even a month would go by and I would not have finished everything that I planned to, so I would have a lot of skeleton beats, unfinished songs, etc.
I found that for me, it was better that I focus on one thing at time, complete that task & move to the next. I know as a producer, musician or artist we have the responsibility to complete a lot of tasks, especially being independent, but if your desire and hunger is still there to create music, if you can continue to be creative and you have the time to do so the only other reason that you would not be doing as much as you want to is because you are procrastinating. Real experience can only come through action. You can do all the planning, prepping, and organizing you want, but sometimes you have to just do it. Stay motivated and continue to push yourself, don't over think things and get to work. Once you can do these things you will definitely see better results in your productivity.
When this new year rolled around I said to myself that there is one thing that I definitely wanted to improve at when it comes to my music production, and that is finishing what I start. Sometimes you get a lot of ideas at once, or inspiration hits you out of the blue so you have to start on a track or song in order to get it out. That's understandable but it shouldn't become habit to not finish what you start to create.
Some years back when I use to produce with a production team called the SSC (SouthSide Confederates, we would get together every week to have beats making sessions. It was 4 of us and we were all using Reason & Sonar at the time. So we would first open up a pre-set template, then all take turns laying down different parts of the track. I usually laid down the drums and keys, and the other producers would add there elements. We would lay everything down within a 16 bar loop, with the idea of sequencing, arranging and removing parts later. Since we primarily got together on weekends as a group, our goal was to "lay down" as many ideas as we could while together. The burden of sequencing and arranging primarily fell on the producer who's studio it was because he was there all of the time, but he was fine with that. We got a lot of tracks completed up until we went our separate ways but there were also tons of unfinished tracks.
What I learned is that even though we were laying a lot of ideas down, we were also creating a lot of "skeletons" and leaving potential tracks/songs undone. I even carried this habit with me up until recently which is when I re-programmed myself to start completing more tracks instead of going for quantity. When you are trying to showcase your library of music, those skeletons don't count, you only can vouch for the full completed tracks or songs you actually have finished. It doesn't matter if you are inspired or not, I believe each time you push yourself to finish a track it will help you in the long run become a better creator. If you get into a habit of finishing what you start, on days that you might not be that inspired, you will still be able to complete your tracks. A library of 15 completed tracks beats a library of 50 skeletons or unfinished tracks any day. Its not about the quantity its about the quality. It actually took me some time to break the "16 bar loop" production style that I was used to. Now my tracks sound more "produced" and have more change ups, bridges, etc, because I am taking my time to complete them as opposed to just always laying down ideas all the time. Finishing what you start is a way of life, so its no different when it comes to your music career so get used to it.
Well this is one of those posts that kinda come out of nowhere but you feel like you need to get it out of your mind and get down on paper or in this case for me the internet. I usually write on topics like this when its closer towards the end of the year or on New Years Eve but I think its close enough since we are in the last month of the year. Self reflection, evaluating yourself and aiming for new goals.
As a producer, artist, musician, etc we all need to sit down and really reflect on our lives and really truthfully evaluate ourselves at this time of year. This subject is really not limited to those of us who just create music or work in the music industry, this is for anyone and everyone who has goals that they want to reach. For me personally this time of year I'm super busy with my family, spending time with them and making sure we keep that strong bond, but as I had a little free time today I was going through some of my beats and started thinking about how has my year as a producer turned out for me as a whole. I know the year is not over and a lot can happen in 20 days, but for the sake of what I'm writing I'm going to just say that I wouldn't expect nothing major between now and then for me. First off a person might ask well what were some of your goals for this year to begin with?? For me I wanted to work with more artists in different genres of music, create more music relationships, get better at playing the guitar (Electric and Acoustic), develop a faster production workflow and to produce one whole project on my own with a artist. On the surface it doesn't sound like a lot and there are a ton of other things I could've identified as a goal, but these I feel were the minimum I wanted to accomplish. I didn't reach all but I did accomplish most of them. So my next question was, did I try hard enough and did I use the time that I do have to make sure I would accomplish all of these goals, and unfortunately that answer was no. I know as a beat maker, songwriter, etc we go through beat block or phases where we have a hard time coming up with creative ideas, that is natural. I also know that for me there were times that I just didn't push myself like necessary to get things done that I've labeled as important. You don't think things like this in the early part of the year because you still have a lot of time left to go, but when November or December comes around you look back and say I wish I would've did more the earlier part of this year or If I would've did this in March I would be further along now, etc. Of course you have to move on and not look back, but this is a good starting point to make sure you do a better job in the upcoming year to reach whatever goals you will set or have set that you did not accomplish this year. Its about reflecting and truthfully evaluating yourself for the future, you HAVE to be honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable for whatever did or did not happen in your life, and find a way to make it a better one next year. With that being said, I'm looking ahead for a great 2014 as a music producer, the mistakes and procrastination I've made this year in some areas will not be repeated and I will push harder to make things happen in 2014 and I hope the same for everyone that might read this.....
As a music producer there are times where we all lose our creativity or creative flow. Most of the times we call this "beat block". Of course you can still try to create and fight through the mental block until something sounds good, but there are quite a few other things I tend to do that are still related to what I do as a producer to keep myself productive when my creative flow is not there.
If you are constantly sending out emails to different artists, subscribing to different tutorial sites, uploading youtube videos, etc, you already know your email can get unorganized and cluttered real quick. Even though I have intentions on keeping it clean as possible, sometimes it doesn't happen, so a lot of times when I'm not actually creating, I'm organizing/cleaning my email, making sure my contact list is in order, unsubscribing from pages I no longer visit, etc. Even though this is not directly related to making music, this is still a part of your organization skills as a producer. For me personally cleaning my email out feels like a load off my mind. I feel more organized and I can easily see what I've accomplished when I'm done.
RE-ARRANGING YOUR STUDIO-
The last time I had beat block, I stopped what I was doing shutdown my computer and walked out the room, then walked back in and decided I needed to move a few things around. I'm usually the type that will keep things as they are as long as its working but I felt that everything had been the same for so long that I would rearrange my equipment to try to have a better workflow and a different feel when I come int the room. My walls are also plain white in the room where I create so I added a few album covers to the wall so it now looks like this
I also moved my midi controller, flat screen, and dusted and cleaned everything. I didnt have a lot of room to spare but after I was finished it FELT as if I was in a different studio and I was anxious to get back to making music that same night because the little things I did do in the room sparked energy and my creative juices started back flowing.
In the last paragraph I mentioned how I dusted, cleaned and moved things around. Speaking of that, if you are going through beat block, it might be a good time to get a can of air to dust off your computer keyboards, clean the computer itself, blow the fans, and other areas in the computer where dust might develop. A lot of us keep our computers on the floor under the desk so it will get dusty in no time. Use that musical down time to unplug everything yes I said unplug everything, to dust off those cords, power strips, ethernet cables, etc. Things like that have to be down so keep that in mind when you are not creating.
When you are going through beat block is also a good time to organize music files in your computer and on your desktop, back up sound files and sessions to your flash drives or external drives, remove unnecessary files from your computer to save space and get all of your music projects in consolidated folders so they are easy to find. There are plenty more things that can be done of course like working on your social media pages, or watching tutorials until you are ready to create again. I actually didn't mention those things until now because I wanted to give you more ideas of productive things to do that weren't based around being online outside of cleaning out your email. There is nothing wrong with working online of course because we are all online, but a lot of times we forget the basics when it comes to staying productive outside of making beats. Everything I mentioned and more are important to your growth as a producer. The more organized you are the more your mind will be free and open which usually leads to creativity and at the same time you are still being productive. These are just a few things to keep in mind when beat block has you down!