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!
No matter what genre of music you produce, one thing most producers will agree on is that your drums are one of the most important elements of the track. If you have access to live drums or drummers, half of your battle is already won, but for those of us who program our drums though software programs, there is some work to be done in order for your drums to have a "real feel and sound to them. I started off producing on machines like the MPC 2000, which was known for banging out good drums with swing to them. Now since I've been using programs such as FL Studio , Reason etc, I put in a little more work to get the results I am looking for. I am going to go over a few things to think about when programing your drums in a track using software.
First and foremost as with software or hardware, your drum samples and loops should be of good quality to begin with. When your sounds are not good, all the tweaking in the world won't change that. It doesn't matter if you sample some drums from vinyl, buy quality samples, layer them until they sound good or whatever, just make sure you get them sounding right.
When a drummer is playing drums, remember that he or she has 2 hands and 2 feet, so there are obviously some limitations to what can be done in the real world when playing on a real kit. This is just something to think about also when programming real complexed patterns. The average listener may not be able to hear or even think about details like that , but a person who has a good ear,play themselves or in the industry will you know that you can't physically do what you are programming, like hitting a snare, crash and hi-hat all at the same time.
Panning your drums the way that a real kit is set up is also a good way to bring real feel to your patterns as well. Crash to the slight right, hi-hat cymbal left, bass drum middle, etc. Editing your velocities in a drum pattern is also good because we know that more than likely everything won't have the same volume each time you hit it if you were playing live, so keep this frame of mind when programming. If possible I would also say that playing your drums manually with a midi drum controller like the Akai MPD, or even using your midi keyboard controller is better than just clicking the dots in a pattern sequencer. Playing them in gives a more real feel as sometimes clicking them in make your drums come out robotic and leaves more editing for you to do to get them right.
Quantizing is a personal choice. I used to quantize a lot when I first started producing, but I now definitely don't use it as much. I'll say that if you are always snapping your drums "on the grid" and leaving them as is , they are probably somewhat stiff. Maybe try less quantize, or if you do quantize them, try to nudge them over when you edit so they can have a human swing to them. The quantizing theory is not a easy one, so just practice yo see what works best for you, but I will say that I think most producers as they gain experience don't quantize much or at all.
There are more tips out there of course from compression, to eq-uing, dynamics etc, but I think I've at least given a starting point to head in the right direction. Of course some of these rules do not apply depending on what you are trying to create, but remember everything takes practice so just work at it until you get it which is what I do all the time.