Your fear of sucking is probably why you are sucking at making music. I know that sounds harsh but hear me out.
Over the last 20 years, I have coached 1000’s of people on their music making.  Having coached people from a wide variety of sill, background & styles, I have found many commonalities in their habits, belief systems & challenges. Breaking through these mental barriers can trigger a people in a lot of ways. The brain & ego will fight to hold on to belief systems that ultimately don’t serve them.
I get a lot of pushback on the philosophies I teach around music production & I totally get why. They have put a LOT of effort into their approach. How can less effort & a narrower focus get better results? Doesn’t it make sense that MORE effort, MORE information, MORE tools, MORE knowledge is the only path to better results?
Look, we are artists, not lawyers, rocket scientists or brain surgeons. We chose a platform with far fewer rules. We allow mistakes & happy accidents to inspire new ideas & ways of thinking. We recognize foundations & the process of creating, but we embrace that art is ultimately whatever we choose it to be & that scares the shit out of some of us. What if we try something new & it sucks? What if others hate it? How can I be any authority on my art, when I am not a pro, or am an absolute beginner?
I think you might be missing something really important here. There is absolute beauty in not knowing how to do something you have an interest or passion for. Having no rules or guidance is a type of freedom that we should greatly value. Of course that can only take you so far, but you never want to lose that curiosity. You never want to stop trying things that might give you terrible results. Many of the best things in music happen when someone either breaks the rules or doesn’t know them. Do your best to always keep a beginner’s mind when creating.
The act of not knowing & then making a new discovery is an absolute gift. Even if that discovery is trivial to an expert, the fact that you see magic in it will inject something fresh into an old idea. Then again, who knows, you might discover something that is so far outside of traditional rules, that nobody has really tapped into it.
So let’s address some topics that many aspiring producers get stuck on. Hopefully this will shift your way of thinking or framing the way you are currently seeing things.
If I know nothing, how am I expected to “just get started” or accomplish anything remotely decent?
Totally fair question. If you are starting with zero experience in making music, even the basic process can seem extremely overwhelming. I am not suggesting that you don’t need some basic understanding to get started. I am only suggesting that when to stare at your DAW, you start asking yourself some questions before you scour the interwebs.
What are you currently aware of that you want to do? Maybe that’s “I want to start a damn song, genius!”. Ok, fair enough. So let’s break it down.
Are you wanting to record a physical instrument into the computer?
Are you wanting to record a virtual instrument?
Do you want to try working with samples & loops?
When you breakdown what you want to do more specifically, new questions arise. Some of these might be:
How to I record my guitar or voice into my computer?
How do import audio samples & loops into my software? How do I get my loops to stay in time with the rest of my song?
How do I record a track using a Virtual vst synth? What is a vst? How do I correct wrong notes or timing issues?
My point is that by sitting down in front of your DAW & asking better questions, you will have a much better idea of what information is the most important to you right now. This will keep you from getting lost in a YouTube rabbit hole.
This is why I suggest setting a timer before searching information. When the timer goes off. Get back to your DAW & implement what you learned. If you find a hiccup in your ability to implement what you learned, you will discover a new question you previously didn’t know to ask.
I’m not saying information is bad. I AM saying that information that is not immediately useful is largely a waste of your time, if your goal is to finish songs.
The one perfect song
Many aspiring producers I have run into get so obsessed with making one song perfect, that they overwork a song & then lose that “spark” that excited them in the first place. It’s much better to call a song done when you have pushed a song to the limits of your current skill level.
I get a good amount of grief from those who think working on a higher quantity of songs means they should accept their results to be garbage. The truth is, everyone’s first songs are going to be garbage compared to what you will be capable of down the road.
Remember, finishing doesn’t mean sharing or releasing. It also doesn’t mean the song can’t ever be revisited & touched up. The benefit of quantity is that as you run up against similar but new challenges, your brain starts to connect dots that wouldn’t have been possible by obsessing on a single song endlessly.
I tend to find that every 5-10 songs I create, I make a discovery that can benefit most of my previously “finished” songs. This means the knowledge you gain from writing & finishing your 10th song will bring all your previous songs up to a new level. Personally, I’d prefer to finish 10 imperfect songs, than to struggle endlessly with 1 song that you’ll never gain enough experience on to perfect.
The added benefit is that in your pursuit of creating a lot of music, you have a much better chance at crossing paths with your current idea of perfection. As with all art though, you will never stop recognizing & aiming for new levels of perfection. It never ends & there is beauty in this.
There was actually I scientific experiment on quantity vs quality that I found is pretty accurate from my experiences coaching loads of producers.
Here’s the story:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Something to definitely think about.
“The more you simplify, the shittier the work” myth
This one really triggers people. I get a lot of “Yeah, that’s great if you want to make shitty cookie cutter crap!”. That said, the results I’ve seen for myself & others are quite the opposite. There is a ton of creative variety & the hook or theme of the song isn’t convoluted with the unnecessary, just for the sake of trying to impress yourself & others with something overly technical that ultimately doesn’t benefit your song.
There is certainly something to be said about complexity when done correctly but most memorable songs that give you an emotional response are not very complicated. And the ones that ARE complex tend to be crafted in a way that makes them sound deceivingly less complicated & more palatable.
At the end of the day, most producing is going to be you using cut, copy, paste, duplicate & delete. You can do a LOT with these simple commands. The need to always know more will entertain your brain & ego, but won’t necessarily translate to you making better music.
Another thing about complex things, is that they are always built from smaller simple pieces. By understanding the simple things more deeply, it’ll be much easier to create complex sounds that work well.
I know it’s easy to get angry that all the hard work your put in to attempting complex things is most likely never going to give you the results you want. There is a time and place for these things, but just like special effects in a movie, they are pointless without a good foundation.
Input vs output
When it comes to creativity, input & output are a balancing act. Since everything you create comes from your outside experiences filtered through you in your own unique way, there is absolutely a need for some input & inspiration. The problem is, when your sources of input replace your desire to create things & put them out into the world. At that point, pulling too much information in without doing something with it becomes artistically counterproductive.
A lot of producers get triggered when I tell them to stop collecting information & just start working consistently. Producers, like most humans are addicted to consuming & it’s really uncomfortable to accept that it’s a habit that will crush your productivity if you aren’t careful.
Nobody is saying that you have to live in isolation like a monk & although that might inspire some people, most of us have a need to connect & explore. Then again, sometimes we just need to let our brains unwind with some mindless entertainment. There is nothing wrong with that either. As John Lennon once said “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”
The problem is when you start telling yourself you have no time to do creative work & yet you spend 7 hours or more a day on the internet. The time is there & for most of you, you are simply procrastinating because you are afraid your time might feel like a waste if you aren’t happy with your results.
I think you need to reframe this way of thinking & go in with the attitude that you’re going to sit down & suck at something until some accidental spark of creative inspiration hits you. And if that doesn’t happen, celebrate the fact that you sat down, did your art & discovered something new that didn’t work. Every failure is a lesson that gets you close to success.
Learn to enjoy the process without expectations & you might discover that you exceed them more often than you might expect.
Fewer tools
Oh boy. This one really seems to piss people off. When I suggest you have enough right now to make music, people’s brains explode. People don’t like to be told that the problem with their music making has very little to do with how much gear you have. For many, gear accumulation is a form of procrastination. Don’t fall for it.
There of course are going to be some tools you are more drawn to than others but you should think of it like a live band. Each member of the band has a limited amount of gear that they make due with. The bass player & guitar player mainly use the same guitar & effects for most of their songs. Sure there are occasions when they have a 2nd or 3rd instrument, but even with that, it’s a limited palette of tools that they get to know really well. The drummer has 1 drum kit & maybe a 2nd snare to switch out on occasion, but I think you get the point. The limitations give a band their sound & this can absolutely apply to electronic music producers as well.
It’s much better to choose a limited amount of tools & just think “Great, here are my tools, time to stop searching for more stuff & just learn these ones inside & out”. Just because you CAN have a million tools doesn’t mean you should.
Yes, a new tool can give you spurts of inspiration without a doubt, but I’m certain you realize that even the new tools eventually stop being used & you start looking for the next thing that is finally going to make you a great producer. I’m here to tell you, that’s largely a dead end. Make music with what you’ve got. Once you have the essentials, stop accumulating & start creating something. YOU are the most needed instrument. Everything else is just a tool to express what is inside you.
Over time, when you do add tools, you will already have the habit of finishing your work dialed in, so new equipment won’t become a crutch that keeps you from creating. it will actually be an enhancement. Eventually, there are certain pieces of gear that you will become drawn to while others you might feel less of a connection to. It’s a good idea to reevaluate your “go to” synths, tools, samples & plugins about every 6 months. This will help you keep things focused, so you don’t get overloaded with choosing what to use on a particular track.
Start before you’re ready
When is comes to doing creative work, there is no such thing as “ready”. No matter how long you postpone getting started, you will still not feel ready. Because of this, you need to flip the script on yourself & choose to start before you feel ready. (The best time to do that is now, by the way).
There of course is a bit of preparation that you should plan for, like having your computer & studio relatively organized & working. You should have given yourself a basic understanding of your DAW, instruments & tools you plan to use. You will also inevitably run into things that trip you up or slow you down in the beginning. It happens, so accept it. When you keep pushing through though, a path will be laid out & you will realize you currently have all you need to get to work. Less choices makes you both more creative & more productive.
The same goes to seeking a coach to help you to your goals much more quickly, while avoiding common challenges that can trip people up for years. No matter where you are at with your music making, from absolute beginner to intermediate, it is never too soon to get guidance. Postponing this is another procrastination tactic driven by the fear that you are not coachable or that you aren’t worth the investment.
Keep an eye on your inner critic, as it will almost always give you a reason to postpone committing to something new. If you can’t take yourself seriously as an artist, no one else will either. Own where you are proudly & consistently work your way forward.
Most of what you are concerned about is only relevant once you are already finishing songs
I get a lot of people who ask me, “How can I focus on finishing music when I don’t have enough information to even get started?”. This question is fair but it’s a bit misguided. I get that you think focusing on finishing music is like putting the cart before the horse. The interesting thing though is that by not preparing & just getting to work, the brick walls you are going to come up agains are the correct things you actually need answers too.
When you over prepare, you will always discover some new technique that you are convinced you need to master before you get started on your track. It’s much better to sit down and work with however little you know. When you come up with an issue, stop & write down what you think the problem is. Then consider how you might solve it yourself, with your limited knowledge. Once you feel tapped out on answers, only then should you set a timer for 15 minutes & search for the solution. When the timer goes off, apply what you learn until you run into your next challenge.
In the beginning, it may seem like you’re starting & stopping a lot. This is totally fine. What you need to realize is that you are actually making progress AND teaching yourself what is important as you go. This is MUCH more efficient than scouring videos endlessly until you think you’ve accumulated enough information. The truth is, you’ll likely never feel like you have enough information. I certainly haven’t after 30 years of making music.
If any of this triggers you personally, you may want to ask yourself what your real goals are with your music. Do you only want to do the fun aspects of music making? Are you more interested in making cool sounds & samples instead of finished songs? Are you more interested in impressing yourself & others with your technical skills?
There is no shame in any of these options, as long as you are honest with yourself about your real goal. That said, if finishing songs is your top priority, try on this philosophy for a bit & see if things improve for you. From my experience in coaching aspiring producers, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your results.


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

To level up your Ableton Production Skills: 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!
Jason

Get Your FREE Ableton Essentials Course Now!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

Get Your 30% Off CouponNow!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

Get the 10 Things They Don't Tell Music Producers Now!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

Get the 10 Things They Don't Tell Music Producers Now!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

Get Your 30% Off CouponNow!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

Get Your FREE Ableton Essentials Course Now!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!

FREE Ableton Tips, Techniques, andProcesses to Make You a Master Producer!

Enter your name and email below then check your inbox.

Great! Check your inbox for an important message!