Writer’s Block & Breakdowns
Songwriting and music production is going to be hard, especially for anyone who is just starting their music journey. Anyone who says differently is not doing you any favors. This is not to say that you can’t simplify the process & develop habits that can assist you when the going gets rough but nobody creates in a place that is void of self-doubt or feeling stuck.
Breakdowns are a normal part of the process
When you understand that getting stuck or feeling lost is a normal part of the process, it can no longer hurt you. You will come to the understanding that by simply keeping yourself moving forward, you will move past the discomfort & begin to gain your confidence again.
In fact, breakthroughs and peak states of creativity very often follow a creatively low period. With repetition of pushing yourself through the process, breakdowns will usually become shorter & shorter. For me, that “stuck” feeling or the “this sucks” period usually lasts for 2-3 days before I get my 2nd wind & start feeling good about things again.
It’s normal. I can’t repeat this enough to make you believe me, but with experience, it will certainly become clear to you.
You are just experiencing fear that you have either lost your magic or that you never really had it. The secret you have to understand is that there is no magic. There is only process & a consistent work ethic.
Comparing yourself to others
Comparing your work to the work of others is a double edged sword & it’s one I would encourage you to practice but please be humble & realistic. To obsess about the gap between your experience and theirs is a big no-no. You should instead be focused on how with each new composition, you are closing that gap.
You are going to need to balance the process of “listen, create, do the best you can, Repeat”. Most people get stuck on the “do the best you can”. We as artists & as people expect so much of ourselves, that we have a hard time accepting when we have given the best we can in this moment. Allowing ourselves to call a piece of work done & moving to the next piece is the secret to success that nobody wants to acknowledge.
Doing the best you can and calling something “done” when you have reached your current skill limitations, is about the most important habit that you can develop. If you are using Mozart as a reference and working on your very first song, can you see the poison in not calling your work done when you’ve gone as far as your current skills allow?
When listening to your reference artist, you need to consider all the years of failed or lesser quality songs that lead to the artist’s ability to create that particular song.
Take a look at any technology we now enjoy in our lives and you will find that each was a process of failing forward. A process of getting better with each attempt. Wasn’t it Edison that failed 10,000 times to create a light bulb that worked? He just happened to view his failures as discovering a new way that didn’t work, taking note & taking a different approach.
The process of getting better is one of the sweetest experiences you can have. The doubt, the struggle & the small victories. Take the time to savor this, as you will never have the chance to go back and do it all again for the first time. You’ll never be able to re-experience the person you become through this process.
It does get easier
at some point is DOES get easier. but you have to accept that nobody is going to drop you at the top of the mountain, you’ve got to climb it step by step. There is no training or tutorial that will replace experience, only some shortcuts & lessons from those who have reached where you would like to be. You can be shown the easiest path up the mountain, but you still have to do the climbing.
Improvement is addicting when you reach a bit outside the amateur level. It takes a good amount of grunt work to get to that place where things level off a bit, so be easy on yourself & understand that there is no human who doesn’t hit a creative wall from time to time. You are not abnormal or unworthy of reaching the top of your game, just because you have some rough spots.
If you are ever feeling down, bookmark this page and read through it often.
If you are still feeling down, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe in you & your journey. Keep moving forward
Scoring a Beatport # 1
Today, I find myself with my 1st #1 release on Beatport. As I write this, it’s been #1 in Minimal releases for 4 straight days. Something completely unexpected.
I’ve hit the top 5 a couple of times for a day or 2, but never topped the spot until now.
How did it happen? I really don’t know. We as artists don’t have the luxury of dictating what is good and what isn’t. We create the songs and then let the public decide. Sometimes you get to celebrate a win & other times you are disappointed. It’s all part of the game.
This particular EP, interestingly enough, started with me asking my students for their unfinished 8 bar loops. The now Label owner (ThanQ), Producer & well-established DJ, Marina Karamarko answered that call. In the weeks that followed, I put together a series of video tutorials showing how I would approach finishing that tune. The goal at the time wasn’t even to release the track, but upon listening back, I got back in touch with Marina & suggested we both tighten it up for a proper release. This song became Dysmorph.
Marina had another idea bouncing around and we decided we should try to collaborate on a 2nd song. At some point during the process, I have taken the idea in 1 direction, and she had gone in another. Since we couldn’t decide which to use (because we liked both results), we decided we would release both as separate songs. Now we had 3 songs, instead of 2.
There we had it, from 8 bar loop to a completed EP. Sometimes, that is how things come about. They start as an experiment & then evolve. The first song went through several changes, returning to it month after month. It wasn’t a song that just came together over 3-5 days. This EP was on and off the backburner between projects for over a year. My work ethic doesn’t allow me to throw away songs anymore. If something isn’t working, I don’t ditch the song. Instead, I break it down and figure out what about it doesn’t work & build it back up.
You can learn SO much more as a music producer if you push yourself to solve problems in songs you would normally trash. This is one of the many things I teach in my “Create an EP in 30 Days” Master Course.
So now we had 3 songs and needed to shop for a label. Yes, it eventually signed to my label Punchis Records, but I am just 1 of the founders. My partner Sergei is the quality control guy & he has turned down a # of my tracks (and rightfully so). I like that quality control, as it makes me a better producer, even if we disagree at times. Sergei made a few suggestions on a couple of the songs which we agreed would improve the songs a bit, but ultimately he was really happy with the release & then got a remixer involved. Battric & MIVU took the job and made an excellent take on one of the original tunes.
So that was it, now we had to get the cover art done & schedule it for release.
Although we were pretty proud of this EP, like any release, we really had no idea ho well it would do. For example, when I released my 16 song album Deconstruction Time, I was hoping to see it skyrocket to the top, but it ended up with only marginal success, even though it stayed in the charts longer than an average EP. The point is, you just never know & you can’t force it.
So when it finally got released, as usual, the 1st day nothing happens, you are just in anticipation. The charts are a daily reflection of the sales from the day before.
So the next day it hit #31 on the Minimal Chart Releases. Surprising, because usually you don’t see results for a couple of days. The next day it stuck around that area or might have dropped a bit. A bit of a letdown, but we still had hope it might reach the top 10.
The next day it did just that, hitting #7, then #2! At this point, our label had reached #2 once before & I have personally reached #3, so this was already worth celebrating. We had high hopes for #1 the following dayf, but certainly didn’t expect it. When it happened, we were all really excited, as this was a first for everyone involved. (Beatport categorizes by genre, both their Top 100 releases & Top 100 Songs. Then they have their top songs & releases over all genres. Good luck on hitting that one).
Now normally, when you hit a peak like this, you fall pretty fast the next day. This is what I’ve always experienced. And within a few days, you are off the charts completely in many cases. So the fact that I sit here today, the 4th day still at #1, I am shocked and humbled. Since I haven’t experienced this before, I have no idea what this means in terms of my career. Digital labels don’t really make much money, truth be told, so I know financially my life won’t change through digital music sales. Will I start being offered more gigs nationally and abroad? This remains to be seen.
My guess is, probably not, unless I make a big push from my end to capitalize on this current hit EP. That is really the truth of the matter. No matter the circumstances, unless you are charting big in the most commercial styles of music, you still have to create your own luck. If by some stroke of luck, my inbox starts to fill with offers, I will update this post, but I predict life will stay pretty much the same, except a few nods from my friends.
This is why it is SO important to not get hung up in self-congratulations & get back to making music. Maybe the next one is another hit or maybe it’s a flop. At the end of the day, consistency will get you much further than having 1 song that rises to the top & then falls back down.
Although I hope all of you reading this get the exhilaration someday of having a # 1 in your style of music, my greater hope is that you never stop making & finishing music. Your best work usually isn’t the most popular anyway. Enjoy the popularity contest for what it is, but don’t ever get stuck there.
Baklit Ableton Keyboard Review
Up until recently I had thought about, but never gave a try to shortcut keyboards for Ableton. Being fairly proficient on my keyboard shortcuts, I wasn’t certain what I would get out of it.
That said, I certainly have forgotten some shortcuts & had to dig through the menu to recall them, which can be a bit time consuming.
When i was asked to do a review for a new product, I wasn’t sure what to think, but when I took a look at it, I found the thing to look not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing as well. Also, in a dark studio, without a backlit keyboard, there is a good amount of struggling to hit the right keys. This solves that completely.
So with that, I opted to give this thing a try & said “send it over”.
The Baklit keyboard was beautifully packaged and the keyboard itself was equally nice looking.
I plugged it into my iMac, installed the driver & initially had issues, as it’s settings defaulted to a Windows computer. With a simple look through the quick start guide, I just had to change a setting or 2 in the preferences and was good to go. I should also mention that support was really on the ball & helped me quite a bit.
Once I was up and running the keyboard felt like a solid piece of gear and the keys felt amazing. Soft, quiet and responsive. It took a bit of time reorienting myself to a new keyboard, but quickly settled in.
Having all the shortcuts backlit & displayed in an easy to interpret way, made finding the right keyboard shortcut really fast & easy.
Although this might not be as exciting as a brand new synth, your keyboard is easily the most used piece of gear in a computer based studio. Having something that visually inspires & feels amazing to the touch, while offering everything you need at a quick glance is a big win.
I find the keyboard a pleasure to use in the studio & give it a strong thumbs up.
If you think a keyboard with a shortcut layout is in your future, look no further. I’m certain it will get a lot of use in your studio.
You can check it out at: https://www.editorskeys.com/ableton-live-backlit-keyboard/
Considering the lack of any real press, the response has been great. Typically, if an electronic release gets charted by websites like Beatport.com, it fades into obscurity within a week. The fact that it’s held strong for 3 weeks and, as of writing this, sits in the charts of 6 different electronic genres (Minimal, Techno, Tech House, Chillout, Nu Disco & Electronica), I am truly humbled.
Sadly, local papers in Denver like Westword only seen to mention electronic music when it’s a Red Rocks show. Such a shame, when it’s clear that this city has one of the best electronic music scenes around & the greats are playing the smaller venues. Hopefully they catch on soon & realize what they have been missing.
Since I am not currently getting press offers right & left, I figured I should tell you a bit about this album myself. If any of you reading this would like to do a write up or interview, by all means, get in touch.
Deconstruction Time – track by track
I’m going to do my best to give you a bit of background on each of the songs. Most of these were written between 2014-2015 while others were unfinished ideas that I recovered & completed. I was doing great making plenty of EP releases on a number of labels, but I wanted to put something out that would give me an opportunity to show a different side to my musical personality & share some music that wasn’t strictly for the dancefloor. Hopefully you enjoy this as a full album as well as the separate songs it’s made from.
I haven’t had the time to figure out what this piece of work is trying to say as a whole, and I wouldn’t tell you if I knew. I’d prefer it to speak to each person in it’s own way.
Feel free to follow along with this Soundcloud Playlist
This track was just an experimentation with sound that I had no goal of making into a song. It was so simple & childlike in approach. It starts off with a static kind of sound, almost as if it was a mistake. The fact that this sounded the way it did is completely accidental. I liked the freedom it gave me to say “yes, this can be a song too” without apology. I personally like the way is seems to evolve into something out of nothing, much like the way ideas form.
I can not take credit for this song. Before this collaboration, it was conceived on one of my favorite EP’s of the last several years. Lucky for me, we are also good friends and he allowed me to essentially remix this song. I think it fit perfectly on this album just as his original fits perfectly on his own EP. Transmutation by Parauguria (aka Christopher Auck) Listen & buy it!
Filling the Empty Space
It’s hard for me to say exactly what makes this song work, but it seems to be a track that leaves a big impression on the first listen through the album. This is me exploring Deep Tech in my own way. Like many of my songs, it started while a solid bassline & everything was built around that. As opposed to stabs accentuating the darker side of a song, the stabs in this song give the song a little lift before dropping in back into darkness. I also found how useful “dirt” can be in composition.
I don’t recall exactly what inspired this song. It almost definitely started as me stealing from myself & taking it in a new direction. I have a love hate relationship with drones in my work. I love them, but they don’t always love me. Whether they work in a track of mine is really hit & miss. The song also has a bit more of a melodic element to it, without really trying. I think I got lucky with this one. One can’t always take credit for their own work, sometimes your job is to sit down and become a vessel for creative things to happen.
I recall this being an early attempt at Techno but ending up Deep. This was me experimenting with a new bass technique. It’s actually 2 basses. One kind of doing the octave thing to create some tension & then sinking into a deeper groove. The other I wanted to sound a bit like it was ripping through the speakers. I tend to like that sound. Reminds me of U2’s opening of Zoo Station, which sounds like your hi fi speakers are failing on you. I also added a sample from my iphone of my girlfriends niece laughing. I love the artifacts that come with lo-fi recordings. I didn’t try to clean it up, but rather worked with it.
Tricolor was originally an abandoned collaboration between myself & Sergei Loginov, my Punchis Records partner in crime. He wasn’t really feeling where it was going, so I asked if I could deconstruct it and make it my own. Deconstruction was a big part of this album’s process. I can tell from our many collaborations, that his influence definitely remains in this track.
There is an interesting story regarding this track. I wanted to prove to myself that I could make a song out of anything, so I found a 2 minute long low quality porn clip (yep, porn), started cutting up and manipulating sounds into snares, hi hats, kicks, bass, melodic elements & basically built a song around it. You’ll never hear percussion the same..haha. There is a youtube series of me creating this song. Later when dusting this track off, I cheated a little by adding a couple drum layers & a sine wave sub. Everything else is from that short clip.
No Step (My Body, Your Love)
This was another experiment that wasn’t really meant to turn into a song, but that’s how a lot of my ideas get started. It keeps a sense of playfulness in the process when you aren’t feeling pressured to deliver some masterpiece. In this case, someone (wish I could recall, but can’t) had given away a collection of dubstep samples. I wanted to see if I could make a completely different style with samples that were not intended for it. Thus the name. I’m not sure where the voice part came from off the top of my head.
Between the Shadow & the Soul
This was a wonderful random accident. I was listening to something on soundcloud & after it completed it started playing a song I hadn’t heard from another artist. Her name is Natalie Alva & I thought what I heard was brilliant. I asked (more like begged) her to let me remix her track and she was very open to the idea. This is more or less her song, which was more ambient sounding, which I added drums & a groove to. I’m very happy & honored to have this on the album. We intend to collaborate again soon.
What I mostly recall about this song is that the voice is me just making a nonsense sound. It was what came to my head, so I just added it without question. Sometimes you just have to obey what comes to you & that is what I did here. I’m happy with the result.
This is one of the few songs of mine revolved around a riff & with a long bass part. It reminds me of some of Silicone Soul‘s music. If you aren’t familiar, look them up. Great stuff from the old school. I created more of an evolving riff but layering it 3 or 4 times, each with variances in effects, pitch or placement. Then it was a matter of volume automation to get the final result.
This track is all inspired by a sample from an Alfred Hitchcock movie that peaked my interest. I liked the reverb & tone of it. I think it was a paperboy in a train station. I suppose you could hunt it down if you like. This track took many renditions, twists & turns until I was happy with it. I have definitely used it to great effect in my own dj sets. It’s all about placement, right?
I remember this track quite well. I was sick in bed watching music documentaries on the record label Creation & also a documentary on one of my favorite genres of music, shoegaze. I’ve always loved that wall of sound created by guitars from bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride & Cocteau Twins. This was me creating a similar wall of sound with synths. Since I was sick, my brain was not taking it’s normal creative path. Once again, I like being able to take a song without any real structure and declare that “yes, this can be a song too”.
This song uses only samples from the movie “The 5000 fingers of Dr. T“. Which is a great surreal movie by Dr. Suess. One of his few non-animated pieces of work. I was really inspired by an artist called Pogo, who makes amazing songs out of movies. I wanted to see if I could deconstruct how he did what he did. Sometimes it’s simply that question of “how was that done?” that can lead you down some very creative paths.
Free Like a Rocket
This is a collaboration with one of the most talented electronic musicians I know. He is best known for his amazing Advanced Synthesizer Instrumentals discography that spans 20 years. In my opinion, he is up there with the greats like Jean Michel Jarre. His work is absolute genius. Anyway, this song was originally a remix, but I took it in a different direction by adding my vocoded voice to the remix. He graciously allowed my to use this one my album & he didn’t even want credit. He just said “You made this yours, take it”, but all credit must go to the great Dennis Alvarez.
This track came about from another experiment where I forced myself to make a collection of songs giving myself only 24 hours to finish each one. This leaves them sounding beautifully incomplete & forces you to find creative shortcuts that might be outside of your comfort zone. I learned a lot from this experiment & pulled this track from that period of creating.
I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with me. I really have nothing to teach in this post except to always be asking creative questions & allow yourself to be shamelessly inspired by the work of others. Nothing truly comes from nowhere. We simply filter ideas through our own unique process to hopefully creates something that will inspire another’s work.
If you would like to own this album, you can pick it up here. If you screenshot your purchase & send it to me through a Facebook message, I’ll send you 3 of my other popular EP’s as a bonus (they are good, I promise!).
I look forward to reading your album, even if, like me, you reviewed it yourself.