Despite what people say about electronic music, it isn’t just as simple as pulling out your laptop clicking a few buttons and out pops the next Diplo song.
It’s definitely easier now than it’s ever been to finish a song on your own, but regardless creative work is difficult and to succeed at it you need to develop certain skills.
So what skills should we as aspiring music producers have? What skills should YOU possess as someone who wants to get better.
From my viewpoint, there are five core skills that successful music producers have.
Skill 1: Focus
In today’s age we’re blessed with the ability to create an entire track on our laptops, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.
There are far more distractions then there have ever been, from clickbait titles that are skewed to your personal interest, to the dangers of endlessly lurking facebook. And if you don’t think these distraction aren’t bad, the studies are in and they are saying the opposite.
In a recent book Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests that a “new economy” will have three groups that garner a serious advantage
- Those who work well and creatively with machines.
- Those who have access to capital
- Those who are the best at what they do
He then directs to two core skills for being successful in this new economy
- The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed
- The ability to quickly master hard things
How do YOU improve focus?
- If focusing on something for even a short amount of time is difficult for you, commit to something small,even only 30 minutes is helpful!
- REMOVE ALL distractions that could cause any lack in productivity (turn off your phone, turn off any internet or digital distraction, even move your cute pets if they cause you to lose focus)
- Set objectives and goals, and WRITE THEM DOWN
Skill 2: Patience
When I was teaching I received a number of questions about ways to “fast-track” to success, how to not have to jump through the same hoops that a lot of the producers these students were listening to had to.
Unfortunately there is no easy way to become a great music producer, it’s all about time, dedication, and consistency. IF you’re patient all of this becomes increasingly easier.
Now people often make the mistake that having patience means going slow, it just means having the maturity and awareness that what you’re working on is going to take time and you’re likely not going to reach satisfaction for weeks, months of even years (Depending on where you’re at currently)
How do YOU improve patience?
- Focus on being consistent rather then randomly intense. It’s better to work on music for say three hours a day, then to pull all-nighters to finish a track
- Think about long term goals, set a plan for as far ahead as you can imagine
- Lastly, study the paths of artists you like and respect. Look at their progression honestly, and see how long it took them to achieve the success they have.
Skill 3: Objective Self-Assessment
Objectively critiquing yourself is a really difficult task for any artist, but it’s an integral skill and anyone who’s successful currently has a way to critique themselves that works for them.
There’s nothing worse then sitting on a new groove for 3 hours and then to realize that you just spend 3 hours on something that is trash.
The successful producer knows how difficult and emotionally taxing it can be to honestly critique his own work, yet he’ll do it anyway. Good producers will know that being biased towards your own track is inevitable, but finding ways to limit that and keep objectivity as the forefront is beyond helpful.
How do you improve objective self-assessment?
- Giving your music time is the best way to objectively view something, when you’re working on the song you’re obviously digging the ideas you’re coming up with. But when you step away for a day or two and come back to it, you’ll have much more honest perspective on what you wrote.
- Ask for feedback from others, ask multiple people and try to realize they all have biases and you have to take everything with a grain of salt.
- Lastly reference tracks you like, if your low end sounds terrible compared to a Skrillex track, that’s because your low end is probably terrible (sorry)
Skill 4: Attention to detail
“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail”
Perfectionism is the obsessive desire to reach something unattainable (sounds familiar doesn’t it). This being theoretical, and nearly impossible.
Attention to detail, is a key element that successful producers have. The ability to create a musical interaction with the music and the lyrics, the slight change of velocity to the drums to create a groove that swings more.
The sign of a great producers is that you can notice things that normal people just wouldn’t, they would feel or notice “something” if you took it away. But wouldn’t necessarily be able to pinpoint what it is they’re enjoying.
Attention to detail goes hand in hand with focus and patience, now trust me I understand that putting things under a microscope is a difficult process for anyone. But its for the better of your music and your career, so do it trust me.
How do you improve attention to detail?
- Start to take notes on what you enjoy about music you’re listening to, then listen to your music and do the same thing, this time include critiques of what isn’t in your music that was present in what you listened to and enjoyed.
- Mess around with tracks you’ve already made, try and change/make improvements to them based on what you were hearing in tracks that inspire you.
- Take a simple song or idea and slightly change even one high hat placement, or add a 16th note repetition to a melody idea. These slight changes will force you to notice the subtleties of your track.
Skill 5: Controlling your Drive
Drive is a difficult one because this is what allows you to obsessively work on your music all night, and keeps you from visiting your cozy bed. But you can also burn yourself out so it’s important to make your drive as manageable and consistent as possible.
It’s okay if you’re sitting there right now saying “I’m so passionate about music and I love it so much, but I find it hard to sit down and just work on music sometimes”
That’s okay. It’s natural to not have a endless drive that makes you want to work on music for all hours of the day, all day, everyday. This just means that you’re going to have to harness and develop that drive, this may take some time, but you’re in a good place that mostly every successful producer has been in.
How do you improve your drive?
- Set BIG goals, it’s important to have something dreamlike to strive towards. Want to headline at Coachella, or be on a massive stage at Ultra fest. Or even just to perform at a local bar in front of all your friends. Set a goal that currently seems unattainable, this will keep you going on those late night sessions when you’re feeling like giving up.
- Try to be working at music everyday in some way, listen to new music, podcasts on music, watch interviews, listen to new genres. There are so many ways everyday to keep yourself inspired and moving forward.
- Schedule, Routines, and habits are your best friends. Work on things and force yourself to be consistent…. Even when you don’t want to.