A lot of us think that music production is only about music and putting the time to work hard on music. However, working harder is not the same as working smarter, and there are a few habits that I’ve implemented that will make you a better producer…
4 THOUGHTS FROM ME
1. Split your Creative/Arrangement session from your Sound Design or Mixing sessions. Whenever you sit down to produce, try to focus on composition and arrangement first, not really carrying about sound design. Then, after you’re sure the composition and the arrangement are nice, then start sound designing and mixing the song to make it sound better, but don’t do all these at once. Why? Sound Designing and choosing the right sounds can take a lot of time, and often break your momentum when composing and arranging a song if you overthink it, which can even make you start resenting your track. So, splitting these tasks into different sessions can make sure you keep the focus on the story of the song before you actually sound design it. In addition, this will help you evaluate your good ideas faster since if the idea sounds bad with raw elements, normally it’s not the sound design that will save it, but if it sounds amazing only with a piano, then it will become even better when you sound design it. For this to happen, when you’re composing/arranging a song, I recommend (1) using the same samples (kick, claps, snare, etc) you love to avoid overthinking and losing time. Pick samples from previous tracks and use them as placeholders until you’re committed to the idea, and then you can change them afterward; To make it even faster, (2) make a template for you to try your ideas with all percussions already in place so you can easily and quickly tell if that idea is worth pursuing or not. By doing this, you’ll be able to have a more productive composition/arrangement session, and test your ideas quickly in the context of a song, which will make you more focused on what matters when composing your ideas and, therefore, more assertive when developing your songs, as said, if the idea is not strong, is not the sound design that will save it (normally).
2. Don’t think about labels or releasing while you’re producing. When you sit down to produce, focus on having fun and doing the best song you can regardless of anything. NEVER think ‘I want to make a song for label XXXX’ because that will only limit you and also put pressure on your project, which can be harmful to your creativity and, therefore, the song. When producing, and especially when you’re beginning, your goal should only be to make a song better than the last one and this evolution is what will get you to make signable songs in the future. However, when we begin and after we get our first signings, we start obsessing over signing more tracks with labels, and we often start doing what’s “safe to get signed”, and that’s exactly what will get you rejected since it can make your music become generic. In addition, when you put a goal that is beyond your control in a project, even if you love the song, if that song fails to get signed, you can get frustrated and eventually lose your motivation, which happened to me several times. However, after I stopped carrying about labels when producing, not only my songs got better, but it also turned what was a task (making songs to get signed) back into a fun activity (making songs to have fun), and when you have fun producing is when you’re going to grow to eventually make your best music. Therefore, when producing, forget about labels and focus on making your music better. Feel free to send songs to labels, but always put that as a consequence, and not as a goal.
3. Force yourself to make at least one thing different within every track. Experimentation is the key to always growing as a music producer. However, for you to experiment, you need to learn new techniques that you could later try in your projects. But, how will you learn this? In no particular order, (1) watch project walkthroughs by other producers since you can learn a bunch of new things by seeing how other producers make their music (that’s how I learned the one move that made me comfortable with mix and master, for example) or (2) watch quick technique videos on youtube and write down the ones that you’ve never tried so you can recall them and test them on your projects later. “But Leo, I don’t have time to watch walkthroughs and videos”. Then listen to it passively at work, and if something gets your attention, then you stop and make a timestamp for you to watch it again later. Or, (3) Find a mentor to help you out when you get stuck or don’t know how to progress since you’ll be able to optimize your time by learning ideas and techniques optimized for your music; Lastly, (4) if mentors are too expensive, check the courses from Production Music Live as they have multiple start-to-finish courses with an accessible price that can help you as well; All these techniques will give you options to productively experiment when producing, and not just mess around doing random things you don’t know it will work. But, most importantly, this is what will make you keep on developing your music and making you a better producer.
4. Sleep more and produce when your energy levels are at their peak to use your creativity in a better way. In 2018, I read a book by Matthew Walker called ‘Why We Sleep’ and it is one of my favorite books because it upped my producing creative game a lot. The biggest takeaways on it that will help you with music are: First, you need to sleep decently to strengthen your creativity and motivation. When you sleep less than your optimal amount, your creativity doesn’t function well because you’ll be tired, and relaxing your mind after your day job will always be more attractive than adding more stress to your day with another hard task, music production. Therefore, try sleeping 1hr more than what you average since this can greatly enhance your ability to think creatively and to motivate yourself to produce since you’ll have more energy and also more will to produce, which is crucial for music production and to enhance your learning. Second, you need to find your optimal energy time in the day to produce faster and more productively. I used to think I was a night owl, but I’m actually an early bird… I was just in love with the silence and peacefulness of the nights, but these moments also happen early in the day, when I’m less tired and less stressed. Therefore, I shifted my schedule to produce before work and it changed my productivity levels amazingly. Why? Because you likely have more energy and are less stressed when you wake, and that makes your creativity and productivity shine through more in these periods. Therefore, if you’re always tired to produce after your day job, instead of producing after work, when you are tired and stressed, go to bed early and produce before work since it could help your music by making you learn easier and also produce faster and better.
1 QUESTION FOR YOU
Are there any other habits you’re doing that made you a better producer? Share it with us if so, but here are a couple more ideas:
1. Creating 30 days challenges: When I’m not really feeling my creativity, I always create 30 days challenges to spark it up again. Write one or two chord progressions (just a midi, not a song) for 30 days and I’m sure you’ll be writing amazing songs by the end of it. If you’re struggling just to start, do it by copying a melody from a track you like.
2. Tracking your time can help you make sure you’re producing the amount you set yourself to in order to achieve your goals. I’ve been tracking my time since 2014 and that made me able to understand if I was working on what I needed to work on to become a better producer (Learning time, practicing time, mix & master time, networking time, etc). A useful app for tracking time is TOGGL, which has a free plan;
3. Track your development with a Journal: I used to track my development with a journal, setting 2 to really productive days and -2 to days that I didn’t produce or spent my time incorrectly with a few notes of the activities I had that day. That made me understand what made my production better and then I focused on adding these to my days, excluding the days that I thought were a -2.
4. Produce every single day: Even if it’s just 30 minutes, producing every day has one compounding benefit that can really enhance your skills: It gets you into the habit of producing, which makes sitting on your chair and making progress on your songs a lot easier since it becomes part of your routine.