How Long Will it Take Me to Sound Like ______ ?
This is a question I get asked often from new aspiring producers. They often ask me this after they have purchased a training course from me or joined my Producer’s Playground, so given their current mindset, it’s a fair question, but it isn’t the best question. .
It’s VERY important that you start with a different attitude than “how long will it take me to sound like this pro?”
You can’t possibly go directly from A to Z, without moving through the whole alphabet. You can certainly skip some roadblocks that gets you through faster, but you still need to move through each of the micro steps before you make that giant leap.
The real question you may need to answer is:
“How many songs did this artist write to get to this level of production?”
Then your next question might be:
“How many songs will I need to finish to get the experience needed to write on that level?”
With a mentor or someone who helps you focus on the right things, you might be able to get to a professional level in your productions in less time than the original artist did, but I wouldn’t expect your first 5, 10 or even 20 songs to be on that level.
“Why even bother making making music I’m not 100% satisfied with?”
This is the attitude that keeps 95% of people out of the big leagues. It’s like asking “why even bother learning kung fu if I have to start as a white belt?”. It’s why most people quit before they have even begun. Most people are not able to sit with sucking at something until they don’t suck anymore. Instead they beat themselves up through the whole process.
Here’s why you make music, however bad you are at it right now:
1. Because you love music enough to fight for your ability to be great at it.
2. Because you already envision your success & you know these are the steps that get you there.
3. Because there is no other way to get there.
Your goal should be to get comfortable with finishing songs right now at whatever level you are at. Don’t make the mistake of spending a year on 1 song, thinking this is how you become an expert, because:
1. That isn’t the way to master songwriting
2. You’ll hate the song before you have even finished it
3. You might be inspired by something completely different by that time
When you go through the process of finishing songs, you aren’t only improving your writing skills, you are also improving your listening skills. The more your listening skills improve, the more you’ll realize that some of the first songs you wrote are missing certain details you never even thought of before.
This is why, as you are developing, it’s so important to call a song done when you’ve done the best you can for now & start something new. You won’t be able to develop your listening skills any other way, than to write songs & reference your music with other artists.
The writing and listening process will progress naturally, and when it does, you’ll be able to go back and improve your older songs. I do this ALL the time, as my process is always improving.
Does this mean that every song you make is going to be better than the last?
Not necessarily. You can’t really predict your hits and misses, but you are guaranteed to be a more experienced producer with every new song completed & your toolbox will be not only bigger, but much more organized.
You’ll be much better at sounding like yourself than anyone else
If you aren’t great at sounding like somebody else, that is a good thing. It means you have your own style that you are developing. As long as you improve at being the best you possible, you won’t be wasting your time chasing someone else’s art.
Chasing the dreams of others is the best way to kill your own art before you ever get off the ground. You will always borrow ideas for your art, but when you know who you are, the ideas you borrow will move your art forward, not somebody else’s.
So many artists die with their own art still in them because they never had the confidence to share themselves with the world. Don’t be another statistic.
I recall in the mid 90′s, I was trying to make the trance music that was popular at the time. The only thing epic about it, was what an epic failure I was at it. Everything I made sounded like house music. I felt like a loser, instead of realizing that my personality just happened to gravitate toward a different style of music. I now see my failure at making what wasn’t really me as a success.
Keep this in mind as genre’s change so you don’t get “shiny music syndrome” where you try to chase down every new popular style. If you want to sound like a pro, you’ll need to be consistent with your sound for long enough to get there.
“My song sounded great last night, but sounds like shit today”
This is incredibly common for new producer’s and even veteran producer’s and there is a reason why this happens. Let me try to explain.
If I were to play you a low quality mp3 dj mix, but not tell you… after about 10 minutes, your ears might adjust to it & suddenly it would sound just fine. Your brain has a way of adjusting to what you are listening to.
Since your song is all you are listening to for hours on end, compared to nothing but itself, it sounds great. Over the next day or 2, you will likely be listening to other music, refreshing your ears. Suddenly, when you return to you own production, you’ll hear the difference & notice that it sounds sub standard to how you originally thought is sounded.
This is part of you developing listening skills & it’s the reason you may look back on some of your work and go “what was I thinking?”.
Improving your listening skills
If you and I were to listen to the same song & then describe it in terms or production or arrangement, we would likely hear things differently, because our experience & listening skills are different.
You might say “Listen to that fat kick drum” while I might be hearing things on a different level and say “Sounds like a thumpy kick with short decay, layered with a clicky kick for presence & a subby sine wave underneath for the boom”.
We both heard the same thing, but our ability to break down what is happening in terms of production is proportional to our ability to really hear the details when we listen.
How to improve your listening skills
If you want to improve your listening skills, take 10 minutes before each music session to listen to a song & then write out in as much detail as you can, what you are hearing. Try to figure out what elements are making the groove happen, what is creating tension & what is releasing it.
Is there a sound that glues things together?
Can you hear what effects are being used to create dimension & space in the song?
Can you recognize what is happening with a filter?
What is happening in the song to keep it from sounding boring & loopy?
The more you can understand what really makes another song tick, the more you can apply that you your own productions & the faster you can expect to become the expert you so desperately want to sound like now.
With everything you do, there are shortcuts, but there is never a free pass. The faster you can accept where you are right now, the faster you can tackle each step necessary to becoming great.
Happy music making,
Kick or Bass getting buried? Try this..
A big mistake that is made by producers, especially new ones, is setting your levels too loud when you are mixing & having everything too close to the red to nudge anything up when you realize something is getting buried.
In this example, I realized too late that I wasn’t happy with how my kick & bass were coming through. Although I’m usually good with my levels, I must have gone a little overboard here. This left me with the painful task of having to turn down every other track in my song by a few db. This video shows an easier way to do that, as well as a very simple side chaining trick.
I hope you find this helpful.
Happy music making,
Music Lessons from a Viral Blog Post
Many of you may now be aware of my recent post that went viral called 10 Things they Don’t Tell Music Producer’s ‘Til it’s Too Late
As of this writing, it has received over 11,000 likes & tons of shares. This is huge for me.
First off, I owe my readers a huge thank you. This is the most popular post I’ve ever written. This all came as a surprise as, although I thought there was value in it, I didn’t expect it would be any more popular than any other post. In fact, I feel some of my other posts would connect better than this one.
This got me thinking about music making.
In the past, when artist would say “Wow, I had no idea this song would be a hit”, I really thought they were full of shit. Now I am realizing, that when you write music regularly, you can’t marry yourself to one song. You have to just keep writing more songs & let whatever happens happen. If you spend too much time over thinking things, you can easily lose the creative flow you are in.
If you are creating, you aren’t judging & if you are judging, you aren’t creating. Of course you will ping pong between the 2 during your creative process, but you don’t want to get yourself into the 2nd guessing game. That is murder on your productivity.
The truth is, if you write a lot, your big moment has a much greater chance of happening. If you write every song with the intention of it being huge, you will miss all the subtle creative moments of genius while looking for that one overused sound that will make your song a “hit”.
This is why I like to spend an hour recording a synth I don’t know at all. While trying to figure it out, I am not even thinking about the great random sounds that are being spit out. It’s a true joy going back and finding happy accidents in the randomness of just playing. No creative pressures, just having fun.
Creativity is intelligence having fun. Don’t take the fun out of your art. Some of your work will not be fruitful and some will. It’s ok to learn from those things that connect with people, but I’ve always loved an artist for those gems that the masses didn’t connect with. Something that touched me in a more personal way.
Remember, you are sharing you. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s story, just because they are more successful in this moment. If you can find your own voice through someone else’s art, great. Just please don’t make the mistake I made of thinking you like something only to later realize that you were just infatuated with the success of it. If you do that, you will be chasing someone else’s game for the rest of your life.
Here’s a quick video I made on this subject. I hope it connects with you.
Happy music making,
10 Things they don’t tell Music Producers…. til it’s too late
If you are new to music production, or even if you’ve been poking around for a while, there are a number of things that you haven’t been told about making music. Depending on what angle you are taking to get into the music production game, you are likely either over preparing or under preparing for what lies ahead.
Sadly, many suffer from what they consider to be complete failure & thus give up. It is my belief that if they had this information ahead of time, they probably would have had the power to move through the rough spots. The following are 10 things I certainly wish I had known when I started (or even after 10 years in!)
1. Your first attempts at making music won’t be great, and that’s the way it should be.
One of the biggest mistakes an aspiring producer can make is to think their next song is going to be the song that not only changes their lives but changes music history. Unfortunately, these are the high expectations and pressure they put on themselves & this is the reason they never finish anything. Nothing you make the first time around can compete with the producer’s who have churned out 100′s or even thousands of songs.
If you sit there for a year or more struggling with making your first song the hit of the century, you are missing the opportunity that creating many imperfect songs can bring you. The truth is that you need to finish a good 10-20 songs before you start to find your groove. This might seem daunting for perfectionist, but if you can put aside perfection and just call a project done when you’ve reached the tip of your current skill level, you’ll find yourself improving at a dramatically faster rate. Plus, as your production & listening skills get better, you can always go back and revisit old songs for improvements that now seem obvious to you.
2. Nobody creates in a constant peak state
Peak states of consciousness, also called flow is considered to be the most desired state of being a human can experience. Extreme athletes & adventurists don’t risk their lives because they are crazy. It’s because being on the edge is the only way to create these flow states. Nobody can experience these states constantly.
And when I say nobody, I mean it. The reason for this is that peak states of creativity follow a pattern which involves lulls & frustration. It’s 2 sides of the same coin & you simply can’t have one without the other. If you aren’t putting yourself at the edge of your capabilities and risking failure, your level of focus simply won’t be intense enough to put you into this peak state of mind.
If you are a multi-tasker or tend to surround yourself with distractions, you will have no chance of reaching this state. Peak creativity states make the whole world fade away and you experience “now” in a way that can’t really be explained unless you have been there.
Great artists have taught themselves how to get into this state more often than others, but still understand that 90% of the time, all artists have to push themselves to do the work regardless of how they feel. In fact as I write this, I was interrupted and brought into a whole conversation that I had to politely exit. It will now take me a bit of time to get back into my flow, even though it wasn’t a “peak” flow. Regardless the show must go on, and so must you. Don’t wait for the right time. Peak states only come to those who are willing to do the work regardless.
3. Most of what you think you need to know, doesn’t matter
So many artists have this belief that they can’t start making music with what they know right now. Because of this fear of creating, they over prepare. They end up wasting 100′s of hours watching every tutorial outlining tips for every style of music & diving deep into music theory.
What they don’t realize is that most of this information will fall right back out of your head & never make it into your tool box. On top of that, they are getting so many opposing pieces of advice, that all this information causes more confusion than it does benefits.
As a rule, a new producer should be spending 80% of her time making music & only 20% (at most) spent learning new techniques. I recommend you take your own skills as far as you possibly can, and only then do you search out the 1 or 2 tutorials that will get you over that creative hump so you can reach the next level in your music making.
This is the only way you will retain what you have learned as well as the only way you will keep yourself focused on actually music making. Don’t get yourself caught up in the information trap for the wrong reasons.
4. Most of the tools you think you need, you don’t
Many producer’s new and old join groups & forums related to their musical style or DAW of choice. I believe it is smart to interact with likeminded people, but be warned. The time people are spending in these forums is time they probably should be making great music. This lack of focus on actually working on your music can become addicted as everyone in the group lets everyone else off the hook.
Then there are the “know it alls”. These are the people who are pissed off their amazing talents haven’t boosted them into the stratosphere of fame and glory. These people are better than you & want you to know it.
“oh you’re using that compressor? That thing sounds like dogshit! If you aren’t using xyz plugin or this piece of hardware, you might as well pack it in”
Pretty soon you are spending all of your songwriting time searching other forums discussing 100 different points of view on what compressor you need to have to be taken seriously by your peers.
Stop it. stop it. STOP IT!
Yes, there are some amazing plugin’s out there, but the truth is, if you learn how to use a certain tool inside & out, you can usually get great results. I personally use mostly internal plugins from my daw of choice (Ableton). I’ve heard many people tell me Logic effects are better, and although I wouldn’t disagree, I’ve found a way to get the job done quickly & efficiently with the tools I have and so far, the type of plugin’s I use has not effected getting my tracks signed & reaching the charts one single bit.
At the end of the day, the person that finishes the most songs wins every time. Focus on that.
5. Your habits count more than your knowledge
Once again, you need to stop thinking you need to know everything. I’ve personally gone that route. In the past, I was able to teach people how to use music software inside and out & they would take a few chosen gems & run with them while disregarding much of the information they didn’t need right now. Good on them, they were finishing music, and at the time, I wasn’t. Lesson learned.
If you want to be a successful songwriter or producer, you should first concentrate on your habits far before your knowledge. If you haven’t instilled the habits that will force you to work on music daily, your knowledge won’t matter.
Frankly it’s a bit stupid to keep adding tools to your already oversized toolbox if you are never going to sit your ass down and use them.
You will get FAR more benefit by creating the habit of sitting in from of your DAW of choice for 15 minutes a day, even if you don’t write a thing, than you will from force feeding your brain with more “knowledge”.
If you ever want to create a creative flow, it comes from clearing your mind, not stuffing it like that closet you don’t show any or your guests.
6. Everything you want comes through people
People are more important than knowledge. Look around at all of those highly successful people. Are they all there because they are geniuses? No way.
Everything you want (outside of your personal spiritual growth) is going to require relationships. You simply can’t stay locked out from the world, making great music & expect that to be enough. You are going to have to interact, communicate & share your value in trade for the value of others.
If you think you are above promoting yourself (in the most ethical way of course) and sharing you with the world, the world will never have the opportunity to appreciate who you are & what it is you do so well. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is lying to you.
7. You don’t have to be miserable to make good music
Man, if I hadn’t wasted all those years with the “artist” mentality, I might have gotten more done & enjoyed myself a whole lot more.
You don’t need to fabricate a difficult, dark & addicted lifestyle to be great. If not saying that getting out of your head every once in a while can’t be beneficial. It’s not popular to say this, but sometimes the drugs do work, at least for a little bit. Gladly, I did my share & got out of it before doing myself much permanent damage.
I can reflect on those experiences from a sober state of mind & say with complete conviction that I am 10 times more productive as a sober person (who has the occasional beer). Don’t follow your fellow musicians down the rabbit hole too far or you will fuck yourself, your creativity & your productivity.
Have experiences & make music, but always give your music top priority. The “lifestyle” is largely bullshit anyway. Don’t believe the hype.
8. Musicianship is optional
I’ve spoken out many times of my happiness in being a non-musician, or at least my happiness of not letting it get in the way of creating things I am proud of. So many great songwriters are not the best musicians & many of the best electronic artists don’t have a big musical background and many of those who do, found it a hinderance to creating outside the box at times.
A non-musician does not have a total lack of talent, it’s just coming from another angle. The man who I consider to be the greatest engineer & one of the most celebrated artists is Brian Eno. All the music theory in the world wouldn’t put me at his level of talent. He’s responsible for some of the best works of David Bowie, U2, David Bryne, Coldplay (I know, I know), James & even Devo, not to mention his incredible work with Roxy music.
For all of the incredible music he is responsible for, he still considers himself a crap musician. If you have a music background, wonderful, use it. If you don’t, also wonderful, create from a different angle. You will never know your capabilities until you embrace them.
9. Time is the only difference from you & those who are now successful
Your musical heroes are not really heroes, they are arrows pointing in the direction of your own potential. Do not allow the thought that “some have it and some don’t”, it’s simply not true. The truth is that some people work for it(unfortunately very few) tirelessly & consistently until they get it. Some of the best artists actually took longer to get there than you would expect.
The video below explains this concept better than my own words ever could, so please watch it and let it sink in.
If you want to know whether you’ve got it in you or not, look at your daily habits, not your skill level.
10. Everybody steals
So many people are so fucking paranoid that they just sit there staring at their computer screen like me wandering aimlessly in a supermarket trying to put a meal together. My god, if I couldn’t steal recipes from people much more gifted in cooking than me, I’d be in even more trouble.
The truth is, that all of the music you hear is inspired by another musician, artist, poet or some abstract thing someone recognized as having a beauty that others might not have seen from that perspective.
That idea you are afraid to borrow was almost certainly inspired someone else, if not completely stolen. Picasso, John Lennon & Steve Jobs, all considered to be creative innovators all are famously quoted for nicking ideas pretty blatantly. You think Led Zeppelin were innovators? I did too & I still love them, but if you do some research, I’m sure you’ll be shocked.
Stealing ideas is how artists constantly fuel their own creativity. Letting go of the fear of being completely original will actually set you free & make you more creative, not less. Use samples, presets, loops, quotes, or even steal from your own past ideas. Nothing you can steal will be put back together quite like the source you got it from.
We are all human filters. This means that no matter what we borrow or steal, it still has to run through our unique set of parameters before it gets spit back out as our own art. Drop the fear & use everything around you when you create. It’s liberating.
Happy music making,
If you liked this article please make a comment below & feel free to share the lies YOU have been fed. If you want to take your Music Productions to the next level, I encourage you to take a look at my Producer’s Playground
Some other posts you might like:
If you’re interested in what I am working on currently, I make daily posts Here.
The process of about 50 songs of mine are all there for free, plus I invite others
to share their work as well.