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,