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 was a tremendous year for me so far. It’s a testament to taking on goals that seem bigger than you can handle. In 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.
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 (RIP). 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.
The giant awakens
To be more accurate, I made a decision 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 released on Beatport that year.
8 EP’s (with 5 more ep’s released the following year)
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, 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.
With that said, if you are benefiting from these posts, you will absolutely love my 2 bestselling books:
The Mental Game of Music Production
The Process for Electronic Music Producers
You can also Check out the: Ableton Courses & Instruments
If you are looking for personal guidance with your music production or Ableton, you can set up a free chat with me to go over exactly what your best next steps are to create the best music of your life. If it seems like a good fit, we can move forward from there. https://musicsoftwaretraining.com/private-coaching
Happy music making!
Great stuff Jason! It’s cool to have shared a small part of the 1 hour club with you. I wish you continued success!!
Thank you Jason for all these tips 🙂