If you’ve been following the news since the beginning of 2020—what’s happening in Australia (the fires and political situation), Iran and USA, etc.—it’s clear that our lives are all effected by things we feel like we have very little control over. For many, global events and news may increase feelings of helplessness, anxiety, or frustration.
Feeling a lack of control is not alien to musicians, who constantly deal with the feeling of not being able to control their path or destination. Notable situations are, for instance, not knowing if a label liked your demo, not knowing sales figures of a release, waiting for news from a promoter that booked you, not knowing if people are really enjoying your music, not knowing how to really have the mix you want, etc.
“Not knowing” becomes an uncertainty that musicians face daily, and it can haunt their thoughts. Some people also feel like the world is spinning out of control, so what, exactly, can we do about it?
For those of you who are musicians and going through a tough time, once piece of advice I can give you is make more music. To people who complain that they don’t have time, I say, find and make time for it as if your life depends on it. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but I’d like to explain you why, in my case, it really, really helped, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating in saying it almost saved my life. As a musician or creative person, making time for making music is incredibly important.
In a span of 3 years, I lost both my parents. My father passed away first in 2016—a huge shock as he was very healthy. I was left completely destabilized and felt a deep void which I couldn’t see the end of. The only thing that was really helping was to listen to ambient music when I’d be home. I would play music by William Basinski, which is lofi and loopy as hell, but very comforting in a way. In 1998, just before I decided to make music as Pheek, I had a rough separation from my girlfriend at the time and I was basically invalid, at home, not doing anything but listening to the same CD over and over. Music was the only thing that made sense at that moment, and made my path through life seem less negative. Listening to familiar music was a need for me, and my brain demanded that I listen to a specific sound. Nowadays, with the power and reach of what Spotify can do (or even YouTube), you can get suggestions based on what you listen to, and while being soothed, you also discover similar music. There’s an endless amount of music, and as a musician, you have the power to add to it, and to be inspired by it.
That break-up and these intense listening days led me to want to make my own, healing music. Plastikman’s music led to the creation of my Pheek moniker. The loss of my father caused me to make ambient music for 8 months, mostly creating soothing loops that I would listen while commuting or at home. What’s the use of making music if you don’t do it for yourself first?
I find that this is something people I work with sometimes seem to miss. It becomes more of a dispensable thing—the focus becomes where your song will end up instead of making music for oneself. I don’t mean to be judgemental, but this is something I often see.
Now, when it comes to immersing yourself in music creation and dedicating time to spend on it, it gives your brain something to focus on. To combat my own fears about climate uncertainty, I decided to register to this website called Weeklybeats, where artists are asked to make one song per week, for the entire year. I feel that I need to completely push myself to do more music for myself. I’ve been at the service of others for the last year, but recently I felt like my music was too low of a priority in my life and that my skills as a producer had suffered.
When the brain is on a mission, it will focus on resolving problems, being creative in new ideas, and finding inspiration everywhere. If you can swap the hopelessness with a creative flow, even if it doesn’t bring any solution to the world’s problems, at least you’re not being a problem yourself: you are making music and music brings people together.
Making time for making music
“I don’t have time” is the number one excuse I hear when I talk about making more music. I make it myself regularly, and also suffer also from the “I don’t know how I’ll do that” excuse. You get a better sense of free time when you become a parent. When you have a child, all your time and energy is focused on the family and you’ll forget about yourself and your own needs. A 5-minute moment of free time can feel like gold. I felt a shift in my music production when I had my son in 2010. I couldn’t just wake up and make music anymore, there were other responsibilities to manage, and everything felt out of control. I managed to use every 10-minute moment I could find to have some work done on music projects.
How did I do it while raising a child? I’m not totally sure, but I can recommend some ways to dedicate more time to making music in your own life that helped me:
- Move a “lighter” setup of your studio closer to your routine. This one might be difficult to figure out, but 100% of the people I talked into doing this came back to me with positive feedback. Most of the time, people have their studio in a far-off portion of their life. That means, studio either out of their apartment or in a room that is in the back of it. It’s slightly disconnected physically from you and it won’t have a place in your life, apart from being a image in your mind. I often encourage people to bring a simpler studio in the living room, kitchen, or the place they hang out the most. I also suggest to leaving your computer or gear on so that you can, without any delay, just pass by and play with music. You can leave a loop playing while cooking/cleaning. Having music as a physically proximal part of your life is a huge eye-opener for new methods of production.
- Go mobile. This might sound a bit weird, but making a bit of music on the go is quite fun. Don’t forget that a lot of people use Airpods to listen to music or will listen to it while commuting. I’m not saying that you’ll make a masterpiece this way, but if you can start a few ideas on your way to school or work, then you have something that keeps you busy and creative. I would also recommend to record some moments of your life. We see a lot of pictures on social networks, but not enough audio; recording moments and listening to them later is a surreal experience, plus you can use parts of those for songs, too. There’s nothing more surprising than adding a bit of random conversation into a song.
- Don’t wait on perfect conditions to work. The number one procrastination excuse that comes up for a lot of people is that they need certain “acceptable” conditions to make music. It can be with regards to the setup they have, missing gear, missing software, or time of day. Some people believe they can only make music at a specific moment of the day. If you are giving power to these conditions, you are not in control of your creativity and believe that external forces influence you. Sorry, but not sorry, this is false. You, and only you, can make it happen, and it starts by sitting down and just doing it. If it feels overwhelming, then commit to 5 minutes of music and see where that leads you.
- Commit. This is why I decided to take on the challenge of doing 1 track a week for 2020. Instead of making an album this year, I’ll make tons of music, on a regular basis. You can commit in many other ways. It can be by partnering with friends to swap music, or making music for local DJs or for your Bandcamp.
- Let yourself and your process be free-form. The biggest enemy of creativity is a mold or formula, and if you always follow the same patterns, you will forget that music can even be a simple few notes repeated. Try to listen to 60s-70s neo-classical, minimalist music to redefine how you perceive what you do. Let yourself explore random ideas. A song can be a simple idea and you don’t always need to make a template or a track. It can be something imperfect, recorded out of the blue. There are no rules, be free!