How I wrote 49 Songs in 1 Year & How You Can do the Same
(tl:dr – skip to the “my advice” section to get straight to the tips)
2014 has been a tremendous year for me so far. It’s a testament to taking on goals that seem bigger than you can handle. It this post, I’ll be telling you exactly what I did & the results that came from it. Although some of this post will seem like a decent amount of self congratulations, I truly hope that this only reinforces what is possible for you if you commit & work consistently.
In this post, I am going to be as honest & candid as possible, as I want to share a realistic perspective on a topic that typically gets both over hyped & offers promises of easy success to all. That is both misleading & unethical, but hey, this IS the music industry right? In the grand scheme of things, I am just a medium sized fish in a small pond.
Some of you may be aware of a challenge I placed on myself Dec 3rd 2014. For those who aren’t aware, I made it my goal to produce music for an hour a day, everyday for as long as I felt capable. I was driven by the curiosity of how it would affect me as a producer & DJ. It might be important that I share a bit of my past to keep things in perspective.
A bit of background
Previous to this I had built a lot of big DJ support from my projects under the name Innerstate in the early & mid 2000’s (with production partner & great friend Frank Prosnik). Although we were getting great reviews from the biggest of big names, the electronic scene was going through some serious transitions & we had a hell of a time getting our tracks signed. 1 of the tracks was a bootleg, so that was never going to see a release anyway.
Eventually we would sign with a friend’s label, but would find that vinyl sales were down & we wouldn’t break even. Luckily, some of it was financed by us getting our track on Hernan Cattaneo’s 2nd Masters Series release for Renaissance, but this would be the 1st & last release from this small label.
Over the years, we would keep underground respect & cred from our past work which was both a blessing & a curse. We found ourselves invited to more exclusive parties & the like but we became unable to produce more music. There was so much fear that these early song of ours were just a fluke, that we didn’t want to prove anyone right by following up with a couple of crappy forgettable tunes.
Although we both poked around on tunes for the next 5 years, we never brought much to completion & of the music we finished, we shared almost none of it. Eventually we collectively lost interest in working together under our Innerstate guise & although still close friends, excused ourselves of the responsibility required to be music producers.
To be honest, I was suffering a lot from pretty severe panic attacks & anxiety & kind of withdrew from a lot of people. A chemical imbalance I put up with for 10 years before finally getting a handle on it (I tried going completely med free & it turned out I needed more than meditation & good diet habits).
Although I continued to make music off and on privately and get the thumbs up from close friends I spent most of my time sharing all the skills I had on this website you are reading this post on now. I am very happy with helping like minded people who might be struggling to learn production. I’m just as passionate about this as I am about my own musical journey. Truly, I’d rather be sharing my experiences with you than hanging out at after parties
An important move
An important factor in my steps toward gaining traction was moving to Denver Colorado in mid 2013. I honestly didn’t think it would have quite this much of a positive effect on me. I just figured that with the internet age, it didn’t matter where you live. This could very well be true, but when you don’t have proper support from the people around you, who both inspire you & give you a kick in the ass, you are at a disadvantage. There is nothing wrong with being a bedroom producer, but if you are tucked away in a closet with no one to share your passions with, you’re in trouble.
Denver turned out to be the perfect place for me. People were quick to treat like minded people like family & were as happy to see you succeed and they would be for themselves. It’s surprising that I didn’t have to do blow with every promoter in town to get treated as an equal.
Within a month of living in Denver, I was frequenting the great clubs. Particularly Norad & a Friday night called P.U.N.C.H.I.S. at the world famous Beta nightclub. I took several months soaking things in while doing my best to help the P.U.N.C.H.I.S. promoters any way I could.
I didn’t expect anything in return. I just wanted to be a part of something that resonated with me & my musical tastes. In fact I was asked 3 times if I wanted to play before I accepted. I have a profound respect for the club scene & I wanted to make sure I knew their vibe well before injecting myself into the mix.
To be honest, I probably didn’t really lock into the sound for a couple of months, but when it clicked, it really clicked.
2014 The giant awakens
To be more accurate, I made a decision on December 3rd 2013 to take on one of my biggest challenges. I knew I was serious & dedicated because I didn’t wait until the new year to get started. I was done with not knowing what could be if I actually gave this my best effort.
Aside from an indie dance remix for a favorite band of mine West Indian Girl (One of the vocalists would later marry Trent Reznor & form How To Destroy Angels), I had zero cred on Beatport. I would have to work my way up from the bottom.
So on December 3rd after reading a fantastic book called “the War of Art”. I had all the motivation I would ever have, so it was go time.
I decided I was going to commit to at least 1 hour of music making a day, everyday, come rain or shine. To give myself public pressure, I created a free facebook group just for this challenge & invited anyone who wanted to join my to share their daily work as well. My goal was to create a support group of dedicated people just like me.
December was a tough month to get started, the holidays would pull be in different directions & I would have to be truly committed. I went 28 days straight without missing a day. Although I beat myself a little, I’m pretty proud of that run. I wrote about 4-5 songs in that time from what I remember. My daily progress is still up on the facebook page, but I would have to check it so be perfectly accurate.
My first songs I shared with my new friends at the P.U.N.C.H.I.S. club. Everyone said they liked my work accept 1 of them, but what did he know right? Well, it turns out, his opinion would become the most important. See, everyone who said they liked my stuff to my face, secretly weren’t feeling it & told each other as much. When I found out, I had a serious talk with all of them to never spare my feelings when giving me feedback on a track. The feedback I would get from then on would be invaluable in my developing my new sound.
I went through 2 revisions of my first song I was working on & I just wasn’t hitting the mark. I could tell that my friends were losing a bit of faith in me even though they believed in my skills as a producer. I had a choice, and I think this was a make or break moment. Was I going to sink into a funk? Was I going to just say “screw those guys” a do whatever I wanted? No I choose option 3, I sat down that day & started a new track, keeping in mind all the feedback I had received & doing a bit of homework. In 2 days, I had a winner & it would be the first track I would sign in 5 years.
From there, I had momentum & a new confidence that I could do this, and possibly even do it well.
As of today, I have completed 49 original tracks, remixes & collaborations, and happily, I’m proud of 95% of them. In the past, I might have been happy with 10% of my work, so not only did my production output go way up, but also my satisfaction of my work.
Not a cakewalk
Setting any big goal is not easy, and this wasn’t easy either. I had to put my producing above a lot of other business while still doing my best to keep giving great value to my students & try to squeeze in a personal life as well.
Although I averaged at least an hour a day, sometimes spending up to 8 hours on certain days, I certainly found myself hitting burnout & taking the occasional day off. I seemed to be able to keep things to a minimal until around september. Then I would start missing 2 days in a row. Missing 3 days once or twice was my worst run though. I contemplated just stopping for a couple of weeks, but chose to just keep fighting on.
I thought about author Stephen King a lot & how he is known for writing every single day (with the exception of his almost fatal car accident, and an attempt at retirement). His work ethic has always been an inspiration for me & I’ve always wanted to do this with my music.
I often found myself mentally fatigued & having to just go through the motions & just pat myself on the back for beating procrastination for 1 more day. Sometimes that is the best we can do. Not all days can be inspired.
There were some points when a song I was working on was sounding like shit & I would get really down, think I had lost it. I’ve found the best possible solution for this is to just work through it. I’ve found the the shitty days usually only last for about 3-4 days before something clicks & gets you excited again. I ran into this probably 3 times over the year. Don’t let it scare you, it’s a normal part of the creative cycle.
Life and emotional will try to push you around through this process. You’ll give yourself all the reasons in the world why you simply don’t have the time. Your ego will soar & then hit the ground hard. You’ll have to learn to give those voices in your head a heart felt “Fuck You” at times.
No matter what, stand up & take the next step.
Accomplishments so far
As I stated in the beginning of this post, this year has been a stellar year. The most productive year of my life as a music maker. Here is where to get to watch me glout for a bit, so I apologize in advance. Hopefully you can see yourself in me & realize that there is nothing stopping you from doing the same as me, if not more. As of today I have completed 49 Songs. This includes originals, remixes & bootlegs.
Out of these 49 songs, this is what was release on Beatport this year.
8 EP’s (with 5 more ep’s scheduled for release)
26 Tracks with my name on it
(some are remixes of my tracks by other artists, so I didn’t contribute to all of these)
Every EP hit Beatport’s Minimal Releases Charts (2 releases currently in the top 100), some of which hit the top 5.
2 of my tracks made Beatport’s “Must Hear” charts.
Remember guys, this was a good 10 years after my peak with Innerstate (which was honestly only 4 songs, 2 of which got 90% of the support), so this was truly starting at ground zero again & working nearly every day for a year straight. I really want to drill this into your heads. You can do this!
Below I will share some important things I have learned over this year that you can put to use today.
My advice for music producers
Start a record label – I can not underestimate the power of starting your own label. Many of my EP’s this year were released on our own label. Luckily I have a partner that has vision & doesn’t accept shitty work. I’ve definitely shared sub par work with him & he forced me to make it better. Of course there are some songs I make that I know are outside of the musical boundaries of the label, and that is great. You need someone to keep the sound of your label focused, and if you are releasing your own music on it, that person shouldn’t be you. Find a partner with a great ear for your sound, plan 6 EP releases for your first 6 months & find a couple artists with a bigger name to release on your label, even if you have to pay for it. This will greatly raise your chances of your label being accepted (These days, probably 75% of label submissions aren’t accepted, so do your homework). I don’t suggest you attempt to go straight to Beatport. It’s much better to go through a distributor. We use LabelWorx.
Make music every day – This should be the obvious message by now, but I can’t stress enough how much true experience you gain through daily practice. The parts of songwriting that cause a lot of stress now will almost become automatic over the first couple of months. You will develop your own sound & gain insights & intuition that no book your read can deliver. Where now, it might seem impossible to sit down every day to write, daily practice will make it almost impossible not to make music.
Steal from yourself – You may take some time to get those first couple of songs sounding right, but when you nail it, save those presets as a template for future songs. There is no need to reinvent the wheel every time you start a new song. In the same way you might tell a drummer to give you a simple groove to start jamming to, there is no reason you can’t do the same by letting a beat from another one of your tracks inspire new ideas. To be honest, I rarely start a new song from scratch these days. If I really like a groove I’ve made, I’ll often create 3 basslines to it, saving each as an idea for a new track. This way when I finish my current track, I’ve already got a headstart on a new idea. Of course I change parts around later to make it stand on it’s own, but stealing from your best ideas and making them a little bit better is like standing on your own shoulders with a greater confidence that you’re developing your own sound that people will come to recognize.
Borrow ideas from everywhere – Anybody who is making a lot of music is allowing influences from all directions. Never shut this part of your brain down. Allow anything to inspire you, other songs, books, a conversation you overhear at a coffee shop, sound effects in movies, spoken word, nature, the sounds of the city. Keep a notebook or an audio recorder with you at all times. I can’t tell you how many great sounds I got from recording the ambience of a diner or randomly recording myself cooking in the kitchen. Just like with cooking, find great recipes and put your own unique twist on it. Everybody does it. Don’t ever feel like you are cheating. You are cheating yourself if you close the doors to daily inspiration.
Don’t get married to 1 song, move on – Once you get in the habit of finishing songs (and if you work on music daily, you will finish songs), don’t ever give your current song more importance than your next one. Finish a song, be proud of the accomplishment & start a new song immediately. Do not paralyze yourself wondering if you can make a song as good as the last. Just get started. I promise good ideas will come when you make this a habit.
Find a person who can be brutally honest with you (who knows the sound you are aiming for) – Like my friend who I run a label with, this guy has a great ear & is opinionated. There are times that we disagree, but often times he is totally right. When you produce, you listen to your song differently than the next person. It’s very easy to overlook weaknesses in your song that can be glaringly obvious to someone else. Just make sure not to share your work with an asshole, a one upper, or some who doesn’t want to truly see you succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves. Close friends might not be the best option, because they won’t want to hurt your feelings & you need someone who will be brutally honest at times. Trust me, you can’t do this all alone. Even the best writers have great editors on their side.
Finish everything you start – This one may seem counterintuitive to you, as some songs just won’t seem to come together & it seems writing something new would be a much better use of your time. Don’t give in to that. Even if you think what you are working on is a steaming turd, polish that turd & call it done before moving on. You’ll be surprised how many songs you can turn around from bad to good and when you do that, your producing confidence goes sky high. You’ll know how to handle these situations with much more ease in the future.
Take notes – It’s been extremely important to me to get myself out of the DAW and just use my ears to determine where I am at with a song. Once I have a decent structure dialed in and I’m getting closer to the finish line, I’ll render my song as a wave and call it a day. The next morning, I will open up a notepad on my mac and play the song through a couple of times taking notes of what is working & not working throughout the song. I’ll put the minute & second that I feel something needs to happen or if something needs to change. Sometimes I come up with as many as 20-30 little notes that I can immediately put to use after a short break. Sometimes you may need to repeat the whole process to make sure you’ve nailed it & of course you should share it with a trusted person who can give you honest feedback. When you dive back into your DAW, your work will be much more focused & you’ll bang through things without all the 2nd guessing.
Make your fellow producers and labels your friends – It’s incredibly important that you extend your network & find fellow producers who you get along with. All producer’s are just people, so don’t get all “fan boy” on them. Compliment them & then just have a regular chat. Be reasonable with who you make contact with & build relationships with people who are doing just a little better than you. You can not only learn a lot, but you may actually has some value to give back as well. Be generous but don’t expect the same in return, everybody is busy (and you should be too). Don’t go facebooking 100 of your favorite producers all at once. Just build quality friendships 1 at a time. It should feel natural. If it feels like what you are doing is spamming, you most certainly are. Have respect
Buy music regularly – This is more important than you think. You can’t seriously be a music fan if you don’t support the artists you like with your own hard earned cash. You would expect the same when people come across your music. When you are supporting people with your money as well as your words, it will come back to you. People can see genuine vs fake supporters. You will also value the music you pay for much more because you had to choose the very best tracks that you feel are worth your money. A much different process than the “download everything and see if anything is any good” approach. Trust me, supporting other artists will change you in many positive ways.
Hire a coach – Nobody makes it on their own. Everybody has a team, even if it’s a small one. Even Dirtybird owner Claude Von Stroke hired a coach & it skyrocketed his results. Everybody needs to have someone to kick them in the ass at times & help them through certain struggles. I get coaching myself with my business & it gives me a 360 degree perspective of my situation and allows me to break down issues into easy to digest, bite sized tasks. For people just getting started producing, a coach can help you get where you want in 1/10th the time. If you are pretty confident on the music front, it’s not a bad idea to look into your time management, procrastination, focus, daily habits etc & perhaps look into help in those fields. Sometimes a great book can be a coach as well (if you actually read and implement it’s advice). Always think of ways to better yourself & your performance in as many areas of your life as possible. Sorting out life can make you far more create & can help you free up time you didn’t even know you had.
So looking into 2015, I see a lot more music making, but I might scale down the pace a tad to make room for some new training courses that I think may be some of the most valuable information I have shared yet. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag yet, but if you are on my mailing list, you should be hearing more about that soon.
I plan to finish an artist album this coming year, which will explore many more of my musical influences & hopefully share a more 4 dimensional side of myself. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to get out of my system for a while & I think the time is right.
In 2014, my focus was in the studio & making tunes consistently. Although I still plan to keep up this practice, I’d like to focus more on DJing internationally. Travel has been a strong itch that needs to be scratched. I look forward to sharing all these experiences with you throughout the year.
Feel free to give me a kick in the ass if you feel i’m slacking
Happy Music Making,
80/20 Your Music Production
For those not familiar with 80/20 principles, welcome to the principles that will give you your life back. I mean that quite literally.
The principle was suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.
The concept of 80/20 has been around for a long time & we seem to be finding it’s algorithm in pretty much everything that can be measured. It works in both macrocosms and microcosms (I know Tom Cosm fans will have a giggle here. If not, tell him Jason Timothy sent you)
In the grand scheme of things, 80% of everything you are doing right now is only getting you about 20% of the results. These are tasks that should be discarded to focus on the 2nd half of the rule. 20% of the things you are now doing are giving you 80% of your results. These are the things you want to do more of.
Let’s look at some things in your life where 80/20 has a big effect.
* 20% of the things you eat give you 80% of the benefits
* 20% of your exercise routine gives you 80% of your results
* 20% of your workday creates 80% of your productivity
Get the idea?
So how can we take this kind of knowledge & apply it to music making?
I thought you’d never ask
So let’s look at some things that might be holding you back from being a more productive artist.
Not enough time
This is a huge obstacle for many many aspiring producers & it has stops many very talented people from even getting to the starting line with their music career. Let’s use the 80/20 principle & see if we can free up a large % of your time.
Let’s look at some time sucks that might be taking you away from making music. Remember, 80% of what you are doing is only attributing to 20% of the things you are getting done.
These things might fit in that category:
* Checking email or Social media more than a couple times a day.
* Phone calls that could be 80% shorter & still give you the same results
* Errands you might be running everyday that you might be able to accomplish in 1 well planned trip per week
* Taking your least productive hour of the day (usually the last hour before you go to sleep) & adding that hour in the morning by getting up an hour earlier. This will give you a highly productive time before your day gets crazy (Thanks to Mike Monday for this one)
* Needless time spent stressed & worried over a future that will likely never happen
* How much of the TV you watch each week is largely garbage that does nothing to improve your life?
Are you getting the picture here? 80/20 your time sucks & watch how magically time for music production opens up for you.
Music Production overwhelm
How much time do you spend trying to learn everything about making music while doing nothing with that knowledge?
It’s like you had a tornado hit your creative brain & now you have all these tiny fragments of information, to do lists, tips, tricks & widely opposing opinions, so disorganized that you have zero idea where to start.
The truth is, (probably more than)80% of the crap you’ve filled your head with is just an addiction to consuming information. It’s really just procrastination disguised as productivity. If you aren’t going to put the information you are watching to use in the next 10 minutes, it’s useless & a waste of your time and creative energy.
Between these scenarios, which do you think will give you 80% of your best results? 1 or 2?
1. Listening to 20 different people all telling you 20 different versions of the “right” way to get something done.
2. Trusting your own instincts & making a decision on your own, always evaluating & improving upon your own approach & only going outside yourself briefly to keep perspective.
1. Spending a week in forums trying to find out what the best possible synth or plugin to use. Buying & downloading all 50 of them & then searching tutorials to learn each one (just in case one synth might be ever slightly better at 1 or 2 things).
2. Giving yourself 1 hour to see what synths are out there, reading the “cliff notes” that matter to you & choosing 1 to learn in depth.
When starting a new song…..
1. Going through every synth, preset & sample until you find the drum sounds you are happy with, the right bass sound & all the additional elements.
2. Spending a day or 2 putting together a “go to” list of 10 or less sounds for each section that gives you quick access to sounds you already know you like.
If you’ve been choosing option 1 throughout your music production journey, welcome back to having a life!
This is just the tip of a very large 80/20 iceberg (although 80% of that undiscovered iceberg probably isn’t going to serve you any purpose). I challenge you to find other areas in your life that you can free up more of your mental energy for music making. Leave a comment below & let’s discuss this further.
If you want to dive deeper into 80/20, I highly recommend this book by Perry Marshall (not an affiliate link). It takes a look at things from more of a business perspective, but is pretty easy to apply to almost anything.
happy music making,
Producing is mostly problem solving
Many new and old producers have a really difficult time looking at their own work and saying “This is done”. There is a huge paranoia that there is a gaping hole in our work that is immediately going to be spotted by our peers. This issue can lead to analysis paralysis and cause you to never finish anything you start.
Every track you show people will be a “work in progress”. You’ll never commit to saying “here it is, it’s done”. I hope this post will help you across the finish line with more confidence.
The truth is, if you haven’t written in a while, your songs may very likely have some unfinished business, but you really can’t look at things like that. Your job is not to create perfection, it’s to abandon your work when you’ve done all you can currently do.
See, your production improves in direct relationship with your experience and your listening skills. This means that unless you are willing to put yourself out there & possibly fail a few times, you will never truly begin to succeed. You’ll think that one more learned trick is going to save your song, but it’s really not the case.
You can’t improve your skills from studying somebody else’s skills unless you are also learning from doing. You also can never expect to develop your own style. Instead you’ll be chasing everybody else’s.
When is my song done?
So when is your song complete then?
The short answer is that it’s done when you say it’s done, but let me dive a bit deeper.
As you produce your own music, you start to develop a much better ear for things. You get much better at figuring out what makes other songs “tick” & learning to apply it to your own work.
Many of us go through a period where we realize our song is still missing something. The problem is that we don’t know what. Sometimes there truly is an element missings, other times the problem is in the mixing or EQing. Other times there is just too much happening and the song no longer sounds clean.
Once again, you learn this from doing. With any form of art, you can only be as good as your currently are.
So when is your song done? When you can no longer perceive any problems.
The problem solving approach
This year I have gained a decade of experience over the last 10 months by writing constantly. I’ve written, remixed or collaborated on more than 60 songs so far & still going strong. Surprisingly, I like 90% of my work quite a bit. The advantage you have when you are continuously writing is that you are building habits, skills and instincts. You can also always go back to a previous “finished” song & know immediately what you can do to make it better.
See, you don’t have to call a song done forever, you just have to abandon it when your current ear is satisfied. You can always come back. The trick is to get something as far as you can take it, then try to take it just a tad further, then let it go without getting too much emotion involved & start your next tune.
My approach as a producer now isn’t to reach some sort of perfection, but to construct something that sounds good to my ears and feels good in my body, then arrange it into a full song format & finally fix the problems.
Some of the issues I find I need to solve are:
* The song sounds muddy, what sound do I need to clean up? Do I need more high frequency content?
* This part has been going on too long without change, how can I retrigger some excitement?
* I seem to have lost the groove, what is taking away from the rhythm?
* Everything seems to be coming from the center, how can I add more movement?
* This sound isn’t cutting through, should I add EQ, compression or saturation?
* This new sound is overpowering another important sound, can I solve this with panning or EQ?
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.
Getting out of the DAW
When I feel I am getting close to completing my song, I will mix it down and listen to the song outside of my DAW. Sometimes visual cues can trick you, so I like to be 100% using my ears.
While listening, I’ll make a note of issues with the mix & the time it is happening. This is extremely useful to me, because I know exactly what I need to do to call this song done. I no longer need to overthink, I just go through my checklist.
When there are no more issues I can perceive, I call the song done & move on to the next one.
Follow my songwriting process
If you would like to follow my (mostly) daily songwriting thread on facebook, you can check it out here. It’s totally free & you can also share your own daily process. It’s helped a lot of producers stay focused and productive. I invite the same for you.
Happy music making,
Stutter Effects with Warp Settings
Here’s a hidden trick in your warping setting to get cool stuttering effects on any audio file you apply it to. Automating it sounds pretty cool too, although you will need to do that manually while recording the results to another track. Depending on what you are going for, the results may very well be worth the extra time (which is really only 1 or 2 minutes).
Check out the video below and I’ll show you how it’s done:
Happy music making,