Tag Archive for: electronic music production

Recycle Your Old Projects

Sometimes I’m baffled by two things when I work with clients:

  1. They start from scratch each time they make a new song.
  2. They let finished projects asleep once over (and never reuse them).

In both cases, there’s a huge loss of time and energy. But when I explain them that each of their projects are a gold mine of opportunities sleeping on their hard drive, I see their faces lighting up. If you think about it, a song has often a lot of leftover material that won’t be used plus, think of all the common elements all your songs have, so why do one person not create a way to have the computer use resources to create that material.

The way I approach making music, ultimately speaking, is to be able to first find a very original idea and then put it in context quickly so you can work to give it a timeline.

 

Why speeding up your workflow?

 

Interestingly enough, as an artist and coach, I often teach that creativity is a super slow process and that trying to rush things might not be a best idea. But there’s also the paradox that it’s important to grasp an idea and make the most of it, then to move on. The idea of speeding your process is to ease your expression in order to not get lost in technicalities. One of the place many people loose time is in the details, clarifying technical details and such.

If a song is an idea, put on a timeline, it is also easy to get a lot of distance from this idea if you are more technical than artistic about it.

 

The strategies below are meant to ease the technical part by focusing on organization.

 

Strategies

 

The first way to speed up your process is to think forward. Just like this movement where people would pay for a coffee for a future client who would be low on cash, the best way to speed the next session is to organize it in the one you’re working on. I’ll explain habits and strategies that will be helpful down the road.

 

One effective method is to utilize the import feature from the Ableton Live browser. For example, if you’ve developed a compelling chain of effects in a previous project, save it as a macro. These macros can then be easily imported into new projects, giving you a head start with tried and tested sounds.

 

Template Creation

 

Beyond importing specific elements, consider creating templates based on your most successful projects. These templates can include your preferred routing, default effects chains, and even placeholder instruments. Starting a new project with these templates can dramatically reduce setup time, allowing you to dive straight into the creative process.

  • If you notice a routine and habit, turn it into a template where you can import what’s needed.
  • Useful arrangements or mixing templates are essentials.
  • Templates are basically like a recipe that you can reimport channels or arrangement section, adjust to taste and then, save again as a new template.
  • See them as “Global Presets.”

 

 

TIP: There are different types of templates to start with. Analyze your last 10 projects to see what’s always there de facto.

 

Creating a Channel of ‘Leftovers’

Another innovative method is to create a special channel in your DAW for ‘leftovers’ – bits and pieces from previous projects that didn’t make the final cut but still have potential. This could be a half-finished melody, an interesting sound effect, a discarded vocal pattern or a unique drum pattern. By saving these leftovers, you create a personal sound library that’s not only original but also infused with your signature style. Whenever you’re stuck or need inspiration, dive into this channel and discover elements that can spark new ideas.

There’s always been a non-written rule that one shouldn’t use presets and should re-invent themselves for each projects. While this answers a need to always have non-repetitive ideas from song to song, it can also be extremely time consuming. A good way is to use your leftovers as a starting point for a future project.

  • Leftovers are basically what you want them to be. I tend to hoard on anything unused. You’d be surprised the uses I’ve found for some sounds.
  • Instant inspiration comes from ideas you thought silly: re-pitch, stretch, slice, filter, EQ wildly… or heavily process them.
  • Decide of your own inner rules on how many times you use a sound. There’s no right or wrong.

 

TIP: Export your leftovers normalized so they sound full and ready for future projects.

 

Remixing Your Own Tracks

 

Sometimes, the best way to recycle is by revisiting your own tracks. Remixing a track you’ve previously produced can be an enlightening experience. Isolate individual elements that stood out and reimagine them in a new context. This not only breathes new life into your existing work but also expands your creative boundaries.

I always smile when a client tell me they can’t decide if one decision is best or another, regarding their track. Perhaps both ideas are good so why not make 2 versions?

You can have as many versions as you wish from your songs. In the 80’s and 90’s, some songs would sometimes have 3-4 variations which was really playful for DJs in how they could use and re-use a song.

Some ideas for new remixes could be:

  • Instrumental or with a vocal
  • Change of scale
  • Beatless or with different percussion set.
  • Collaborate with a musician for adding live take.

TIP: Try combining 3-4 songs into one.

 

Systematic Sound Design Sessions

 

Allocate specific sessions solely for sound design, separate from your songwriting or track-building sessions. During these sessions, focus on creating unique sounds, textures, or rhythms without the pressure of fitting them into a current project. Save these creations in an organized library.

Spending time organizing your sounds is also a useful way to make it easier for later on.

When working on new music, you can tap into this library for inspiration or elements to incorporate, significantly speeding up the creative process.

  • Take the time to understand complex presets on sounds you love.
  • Cross-pollinate the preset parameter of one synth to another.
  • Test demos of a synth you would love to acquire and record your tests to audio.

Collaborative Workflows

 

Encourage collaboration with other artists or sound designers. Sometimes, a fresh perspective can lead to unexpected and inspiring results. Collaborations can result in a shared library of sounds and ideas, offering a wider palette of elements to draw from when starting new projects.

  • I love to share a Dropbox folder with someone. As both of us can share projects there, you can see them being updated on each other’s sides.
  • Ask someone who has musical knowledge to revise and reinterprete a melody of yours with an acoustic instrument.
  • Befriend producers from other genres and see what they can provide for feedback.

 

TIP: Share a Dropbox or Google drive with friends.

 

Regular Review and Curation of Existing Projects

 

Schedule regular sessions to review your past projects that aren’t released. This is not just to reminisce but to actively search for reusable elements – be it a catchy hook, a unique synth sound, or an effective drum pattern. By doing this, you not only remind yourself of your past work but also build a readily accessible repository of ideas and sounds.

People who work with me knows I love to bring all my projects to 90% of completion instead of 100%. The logic behind this is simple: I like to gather a bunch of songs on a specific day or upon a need and then wrap them all up at once. This resolves multiple issues: coherence across a release, avoiding repetitive structures, better originality, etc.

  • Revise the kick of a project for a whole new approach on the direction of a song: harder, smoother.
  • Mute all channels that aren’t part of the hook to avoid clutter. This is easier to do if you are emotionally distant from your project.
  • Try a shorter version of your song to keep it straight to the essential (eg. radio ready mixes are 3 min long).

 

Incorporating Field Recordings and Unconventional Sound Sources

 

Sometimes, the most inspiring sounds come from the world around us. Regularly record sounds from your environment – these can be anything from street noises to natural ambience. These unique sounds can spark new ideas or add an original flavor to your music. There’s a beautiful plugin named Life which comes with a mobile app that sync up with the software on your computer. Not only you can grab sounds from everywhere but the software will chop it, while giving it a structure. The results are impressive.

  • When you are someone public such as a restaurant, pay attention to the music in the background. What do you hear when in a new context? Think of how your music would translate.
  • Try to listen to melodies from your environment. There can be hidden melodies from a street performer, from people talking around you or from a car passing by.
  • Explore noise and shape them to percussion.

 

 

Routine Exploration of New Tools and Habits

 

While it’s important to have a familiar toolkit, regularly experimenting with new plugins, instruments, or software can bring a fresh perspective to your work. This doesn’t mean always buying the latest gear, but rather exploring different tools, perhaps through demos or free versions, to keep your creative approach dynamic.

Exploring new tools means, perhaps, exploring mobile apps that can do sounds. There’s a large myth over those as many things they’re not good enough but you’d be surprised how many of them are extremely solid enough to make ideas. Not only the interface is lovely but the fact that you’re not in front of your computer is a different outlook on what you do. You can explore on your mobile shop to check apps that are tagged as music related and you’ll see synths, drum machines or weird DAWs. You can also check on VR headsets for the same kind of tools to explore.

 

 

Mind Mapping and Conceptual Workflows

 

Sometimes, the block isn’t in the production but in the conceptual phase. Employ techniques like mind mapping to outline the themes, emotions, or stories you want to convey in your music. This pre-production step can provide a clear direction and help in choosing or creating elements that align with your vision.

For this year, Mind Mapping is all rage for me. I’ve been starting to put down to image concepts, how I work in audio. Sometimes to mind map what you do gives you some insights you can’t think of when you only always do music on it’s own.

One method I learned is named “Sticky Steps.” Basically you start with the end and then roll back with little steps on how to get there. I like to think of it as a reverse engineering method. It’s possible that some steps, you will lack the knowledge to explain or know how to do it which is why you can contact me for instance, or ask friends.

 

I hope this kickstarts your new year in good manner. Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions below.

Applying Da Vinci Principles to Music Coaching

As you already know (well I hope, at this point), one of my speciality is to work with young or veteran music producers and remove struggles so they can create freely. Recently I’ve been studying how Leonardo Da Vinci was learning and creating, so I saw a crossover to what I do. After all, each song we make is basically a creation in itself, an innovation and a prototype for future project of ours. If it’s not already, I invite you right away to think of each song you make as a step taken in a direction that will lead you to greater things.

Leonardo da Vinci, mastered the art of innovation and interdisciplinary thinking, modern musicians and producers can draw inspiration from his principles to unlock their potential in the realm of music production. In this blog post, we will delve into each of the seven principles from the book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” and explore how they can be skillfully applied to music production, enabling you to become a true maestro in your craft. If you’re seeking to enhance your music coaching journey, embrace these principles as guiding stars to navigate the musical cosmos.

 

Curiosità – Embrace Musical Diversity

 

Leonardo da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity fueled his passion for knowledge and exploration. As a musician and producer, nurturing curiosità involves delving into various musical genres, styles, and cultures. Too often, as a producer, we get obsessed by a genre, a song, an artist and we focus on it for a while, forgetting anything else. Sometimes, the answers to our questions and inspiration pitfalls come from another unexpected source.

Break free from creative boundaries and venture into new territories to experiment with new sounds and musical elements. Diving in genres you dislike, switching to past eras of time, exploring the roots of another country are good places to look into. Drum and Bass took loops from funk. Hip hop samples jazz, while dub techno is inspired by reggae, which has roots in old African music. All genres taps into another culture and this means you can softly break rules by doing the same, whatever genre you’re doing.

TIP for inspiration: Find a genre to explore, pick any song and isolate an instrumental moment where you can hear the main melody then convert it to midi in Ableton.

 

Attend music festivals, workshops, pay attention to street artists and listen to a wide array of musicians from different backgrounds. Learn who inspired your heroes such as Villalobos’ love for Keith Jarrett. This diverse exposure will not only enrich your musical palette but also infuse your productions with unique flavours.

Dimostrazione – Hands-on Learning and Experimentation

 

Da Vinci’s approach to learning through practical experience resonates with music production. Aspiring producers should engage in hands-on experimentation with different instruments, digital audio workstations (DAWs), and audio effects. There is different projects one can do such as DIY reverb units, foley ideas or simply recording percussion out of anything at home.

A fact that I share to clients all the time: practice, practice, practice and make mistakes.

Practice creating diverse arrangements, experiment with modulation and synthesis, and explore various mixing techniques. By consistently practicing dimostrazione, you’ll build a deeper understanding of music production that theory alone can never provide.

TIP: I am curating a Youtube list of experiments you can try. That list is growing everyday and is filled with ideas to try.

Sensazione – Developing a Keen Ear and sharp vision

 

Sensazione refers to the sharpening of one’s senses, and for a musician, this means cultivating a keen ear for music. Train yourself to listen actively to various musical compositions, both old and new. Pay attention to the nuances of melodies, harmonies, rhythm patterns, and the subtle production details that make each piece unique. Regularly practicing ear training exercises will help you identify and appreciate intricate musical elements, allowing you to apply them creatively in your own productions.

 

TIP: Write some few notes and test all music scales to see how it sounds for you. Try all different chords as well. Spending time to know them will help later to understand melodies.

 

While we know music is about the hearing and that ear training is important, I also encourage to train your eyes as well. One thing I disliked when I used to work in a music school was that all teachers were telling students to only rely on their ears and from what I was seeing, that tip was frustrating for them. This is why I tell people to first learn to trust your eyes when you use sound analyzers and then train your ears to make the link with what you see.

As we work with visual tools such as a DAW, training yourself to know what happens when you click here and there or where to find your tools comes with practice but the visual organization is essential for speed. The faster you are with your tools, the more you’ll be in the flow when you think of an idea and want to execute it. This speed and understanding can only happen with practice… yes, once more and now you know it. I notice that even for myself, if I skip a few days of not practicing, I forget some ideas I have.

One thing I invite you to do is to learn and practice critical listening. That skill is extremely important for whatever you want to achieve and you’ll thank me later.

 

Sfumato – Embracing Musical Ambiguity

 

In the realm of music production, Sfumato encourages you to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. This is where many producers struggle but also, the average listener. In the psychology of music listening, people can be on various modes. One is about listening to a song to reconnect with the mood, emotion, idea because of the emotional craving of having the song inducing that. An other is about discovering something new. Even when someone is open to listening to something new, they’ll have a bunch of personal filters that will make them decide if they like it or not: sounds used, tones, density, speed, scale, etc. If you come with expectations, you’ll most likely be not enjoying it.

Understanding that your listener has it’s own personal story once they listen to your creation will help you understand how you want them to hear it. Finding the right balance of ambiguity is the key to educate your listeners to be able to deal with more.

 

Music is an art form where unexpected twists and creative risks often lead to remarkable breakthroughs. Allow yourself to explore unconventional chord progressions, atypical song structures, and unorthodox sound combinations. Question what others tell you that you can’t do. Of course, some technicalities are essentials but if it’s purely arbitrary and personal tastes, it might be worth exploring the why behind anyone’s discomfort. Embracing the uncertainty will open doors to uncharted musical territories and give your productions a distinct, avant-garde charm.

But uncertainty is also the path of the musician. We don’t know if people will like our music, we don’t know if what we do will be understood, what kind of reaction it will bring us and ultimately, open or slow down our ascension as an artist. To develop ambiguity endurance is a good investment.

 

TIP: Consider that there are so many songs that have technical imperfections that eventually became seen as a risk, that they set the path to new standards. Accepting ambiguity means to accept imperfection, which is hard for perfectionists.

 

Arte/Scienza – Balancing Artistic Vision with Technical Expertise

Leonardo da Vinci famously harmonized art and science, a practice that resonates with music production, especially in electronic music. I firmly believe if he was around, he’d certainly be interested in how electronics can mimic sounds. Balancing your artistic vision with technical expertise is essential for achieving a polished and professional sound. While artistic expression fuels creativity, understanding the technical aspects of audio engineering, mastering, and sound design empowers you to bring your musical ideas to life with precision and finesse.

Some classes, courses and technical knowledge you could look into that would be beneficial could:

  • Studying computer science. I often say that if you’re computer challenged, it will be a hurdle to make electronic music for all the technology needs behind it. Studying how your computer works, hard drive, files management, hardware optimisation and also, coding, will definitely help in one way or another, especially if you have to troubleshoot.
  • Signal flow. Understanding the basics of sound with phase, polarity but also basics as what is loudness, how speakers/monitors work will help. You don’t need to study engineering in itself. But if there’s one concept I find essential, it’s gain staging. Especially for DJs, since so many are completely clueless on how to use a DJ mixer properly, which leads them to misunderstand how music is made. This would also cover bits and sample rate, two concepts essential for basic quality upgrade of your music.
  • Music theory. Maybe not that much needed as one can go a long way with little knowledge but to know the basics will certainly help.
  • Computer logic. If you’re not familiar with Boolean maths, logic (If, Then, etc), I would encourage you to look into it.
  • Sound synthesis. Looking into envelopes, LFOs, MIDI, signal rate, etc. There’s a lot to learn but getting the base will help you across many tools you’ll use because those ideas are general and used across many plugins, synths.

If you want to break rules, you need to understand them first. It will be also useful to be able to criticize all the misleading feedback you’ll read online.

 

Corporalità – Nurturing Physical and Mental Well-being

In the fast-paced world of music production, it’s vital to prioritize your physical and mental well-being. Long hours in the studio can take a toll on your health and creativity. Make time for regular physical exercise, meditation, and activities that rejuvenate your mind. A clear and focused mind leads to enhanced creativity, allowing you to channel your emotions effectively into your musical compositions.

Over the past 30 years, the rave scene and electronic music world has built a lot of glorification upon drugs consumption and many artists received royal treatment for how poorly they’ve treated their body. While I value the importance to celebrate and do experiment, I also think that all the self care possible will do justice on the long run. If your art needs years to be recognized but your health won’t let you see it, then you’re failing your success.

In my case, I see how running, doing workouts and lots of yoga has paid off. The days where I run 10km are extremely productive and more creative than any evenings I spend partying and trying to accomplish something. Finding the balance helps much. I’m happy that in the last few years, there are more importance for healthy lifestyles and I totally see the point of that.

TIP: Learn to spot inner tensions when making music which should be a cue that you need to stop, go for a walk to think about whatever is happening and then come back.

Connessione – Uniting Musical Elements

Finally, embrace Connessione, Leonardo’s principle of recognizing interconnectedness. Music production involves various elements like melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture. Learn to see the bigger picture and identify how each component contributes to the whole. Effortlessly blend diverse musical influences and genres, making your productions a testament to the beauty of unity within diversity.

One exercise I’m doing much these days is to listen to melodies in any song and then pay attention if the notes are going up or down, what is the pattern. Then I pay attention to the rhythms of those notes and see if they come at the same time or not. That kind of attention is a way to observe how music is made across genres in order to see how I can create my own melodies. Any notes can then be applied to my music, maybe also reversed engineered in modular terms, such as a way to use an LFO to create regular melodies.

 

 

As you embark on your music production journey, channel your inner Leonardo da Vinci and embrace his timeless principles. Cultivate curiosity, experiment boldly, and listen attentively to the musical world around you. Embrace ambiguity, balance artistry with technicality, and prioritize your well-being. Recognize the interconnectedness of musical elements, blending diverse influences into your unique compositions. By applying “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” to music production, you’ll unleash your creative genius and pave the way for a remarkable musical legacy.

The Paradox Of Releasing Original Music

Releasing original music can be hard if the artist is truly original. Recently, the techno producer and label owner Ramon Tapia lamented that after spending the day listening to demos that, “Young aspiring producers create pretty much identical tracks.” However, when you listen to his label, Say What? Recordings, you realize that all of his tracks kind of sound the same. 

So you have this well known producer insisting that everything he gets sounds the same, but then when you listen to the stuff he releases on Say What?, it all kind of sounds the same. Therefore, naturally, after people listen to his label, they’re going to send him a pretty accurate representation of what they believe fits on the label, and thus everything he gets will sound, more or less, the same. This, my friends, is what you call a paradox. However, he is not alone in this. This is just how the industry is.

 

Categorization = Homogenization 

A problem that many artists have is squaring their artistic integrity with being able to get their music heard. And just like artists have this conundrum, so do the labels that sign them. Many labels wish they could allow artistic integrity to shine, but ultimately they have to make sales, and truthfully, most people, even music hipsters, are pretty closed minded to new sounds. 

Additionally, for better or worse, we live in an era where sound has become homogenized into a bunch of genres and subgenres, and where time has essentially collapsed (nostalgia is strong in 2021). It seems like this was originally meant to make it easier to create a taxonomy of music, and thus open up more possibilities for artists to create more unique sounds, but in a lot of ways, it has done the opposite. 

While everything back in the day used to be “rave music”, now everything has its own neat little home, and anything that strays outside this becomes too different to stratify, or simply gets earmarked with the ubiquitous “experimental” label, which is often a red flag for “inaccessible.” That’s why releasing original music can be hard. 

How This Has Made It Hard To Release Unique Music

This has made it difficult for people who create art focused music to find a home. Sure, there are labels that are more open minded than others, but those are far and few in between. Most labels have a sound and they stick to it, because they know that it will sell to their market. 

However, every once in a blue moon you see one of the label curators, like Ramon, stating that all the songs that they get sent all sound the same, not realizing that they caused their own conundrum by “curating a sound.” 

Archipel (my label), while we curate a sound, does things a little differently. That’s why, in this blog post, I wanted to touch on how we balance originality with marketability. 

How Music Is Sold And Consumed

First, let’s talk about how much is listened to and sold. There are three spheres – people who make music, people who listen to music, and the bridge that connect people between the two. This bridge is either labels, or channels such as blogs, YouTube channels, and Spotify playlists. 

However, because of the algorithmic era that we live in, in order for many of these channels to grow, they have to keep listeners engaged, and the unfortunate fact is that most listeners aren’t that interested in hearing new music. Sure, they may be into new music in a respective genre, but anything that challenges that genre may result in a user skip. And every time you get a skip, you get devalued in the algorithm. And content curators know this. Therefore, it’s in their best interest to keep things predictable, and to be wary of anyone releasing original music. 

a picture of how culture matters while releasing original music

Your Culture Matters

Another part of how people consume music is the culture that they live in. If it encourages people to be open minded to new sounds, then they may check out new sounds. 

A good example of this is Montreal, where I’m from. We have a ton of unique, forward thinking musicians that don’t sound like anyone else, releasing original music. Good examples of this are Tim Hecker, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire, Grimes, Kaytranada, and Leonard Cohen. 

Sure, there are a dime a dozen Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen sounding musicians, but at the time they were first releasing original music, these sounds were fresh, and exhilarating. And this innovation was only possible due to the culture they existed in. Unfortunately, most places aren’t like Montreal though. 

Don’t Disregard Small Cultures

Speaking of culture, even if you don’t live somewhere as open minded as Montreal, there are most likely small circles where you can get away with releasing original music, and performing it to a receptive crowd. There is this perception that in order to enjoy music, you somehow have to be part of the mainstream crowd that represents it. This is usually unrealistic for most people, so I always recommend finding five or so people who can become advocates for your sound. They’ll tell others about it, and you never know what opportunities that will open up, or what other subcultures they belong to that your sound fits into.

a photo of a guy preparing for releasing original music


The Label’s Culture Matters When Releasing Original Music

I’ve written about this a lot, but another thing about Archipel is that just because your sound might fit, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be signed. That’s because just as much as a label is about creating a sonic portrait, it’s also about cultural fit, just like most other businesses. 

Think about it, you’re a software developer who applies for a job. You have all the credentials, and can write clean code with the best of them. However, so can everyone else who is in the same round of interview you are in. So what separates you from them? Your personality. That’s why we generally only sign people who we have a personal relationship with, or someone who presents themselves to be culturally relevant. 

Therefore, before you try to get signed with Archipel, it’s best to talk to us for a bit. Maybe get some mixing and mastering done. Interact with our posts. Talk to our artists. But if you don’t want to do all of this, then, for God’s sake, don’t just cold email a link. This has been happening constantly over the last 10 years, and it’s a waste of time. Instead, write something about how you would be a good fit and show that you have done your homework, just like any job interview. This attitude will result in a higher acceptance rate to other labels as well, even if your sound may or may not fit.  

Good Labels Release Original Music As Part Of A Narrative

A good example of this is a while ago I was mastering this artist’s release, and I thought that it would fit the label. So I reached out to him asking if he wanted it to be signed. His response was somewhere between flattery and shock. He was flattered that I thought it should be on the label, but at the same time didn’t think it would fit. That’s because with Archipel, I approach the label like an album, or a DJ mix, where the next release is a song that acts as a bridge to the next. 

I see the whole thing as a narrative, in a way. And that means that even if a song would have worked in the past on the label, at this particular moment, it didn’t, because of the curated story. 

However, this guy’s release, while it might have not made sense in the past, made perfect sense here. 

The moral of this story is that if you really want to be on a label, and that label curates many different genres, don’t worry if it will fit or not – just send it over. You never really know the intentions of the A&R. However, if you want to send music to a label like Say What? Recordings that almost exclusively releases 130+ BPM peak techno, then it’s probably not wise to send them your leftfield ambient track.

In Conclusion

Labels are a tricky thing if you plan on releasing original music. If it’s too similar to everything else, it will get ignored. If it’s too different than everything else, it will get ignored. Even if you find a sweet spot in the middle of that, chances are it will get ignored too, since you don’t have a relationship with the label. Therefore, it’s best to cultivate relationships, and join a culture that will accept you for who you are. Remember, at one point, all genres were truly original. It just took a curator to have the the confidence in order to release it on the market. Maybe it’s time for curators to have more confidence?

 

Electronic Music Coaching Lessons

There is this attitude in electronic music that if you share your secrets and techniques that somehow an essence of it will get lost, and some of the magic will dissipate. Additionally, people may take that advice, utilize it, and somehow outgrow and surpass the teacher. And nobody wants to feel like they dug their own grave. This philosophy about electronic music coaching took me some time to overcome, and I’m glad I did. 

Instead of the relationship between teacher and student becoming parasitic, instead I have found it to be purely symbiotic. Sure, some students have surpassed me in many aspects, but I find that they are reciprocal about their newfound knowledge. Now I have many people who are happy to help me with aspects of music making that I don’t enjoy doing as much as they do.

A photo of George Martin coaching the Beatles.

George Martin helping The Beatles. He would have been excellent at electronic music coaching.

Success Takes A Team

As I’ve harped on in previous posts, it makes sense to delegate some of the tasks of your music making, as this is what happens in every other genre of music, yet, for some reason, seems to be stigmatized in electronic music. Think about it, The Beatles had George Martin, Miles Davis had Herbie Hancock. Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones (as did Frank Sinatra). It doesn’t make you less of a musician to be the teacher and embolden your students; it empowers you and propels you to greatness.

That’s why, around Spring of 2016, I announced on my Facebook page that I’d do free electronic music coaching to anyone who would come to me. Back then, it was just a pure invitation to share my knowledge to people and using Mailchimp’s newsletter technology, I was hoping I could send emails to people and guide them in exercises. 

Initial Experiments In Electronic Music Coaching And The Lessons Learned

My initial attempt kinda failed pretty quickly as my lack of understanding of the email technology drove some of the participants mad and I had more damage control to do than coaching. So I closed that option and decided to open an electronic music collective / Facebook group with a precise goal – to provide a safe space for anyone who was unsure about their music before posting it publicly or sending it to a label. Of course, any question would be welcomed and we would have a hive mind to answer questions from various people.

As I’m approaching 5 years of free electronic music coaching, I’ve learned a lot from this. From giving feedback and to seeing mentees grow into solid musicians, these are the scenarios I saw play out.

Common scenarios In Electronic Music Coaching

Pretty much everyone who came to me to get some help had one thing that was blocking them from something. A minority would come to perfect their skills and some would come to have guidance in different situations but in the most part, people come to me because they’re blocked. In our electronic music collective, the more specific questions are usually searching for a specific effect used to replicate a sound or getting feedback on a song. These are quickly answered by the community that share a few ideas and hints. Often, it might not be exactly what the person needs but it often guides them down a path that may lead them to something more proactive.

However when doing one-on-one electronic music coaching, I often am presented with the same problems:

  • People who are experiencing a major writer’s block and are feeling helpless.
  • Aspiring artists that have worked really hard and are feeling stuck, not seeing improvements.
  • People who have the loopy syndrome, having countless loops but not being able to finish songs.
  • People who have deep love for what they create and are stubborn about any criticism, or conversely, they have intense hate towards what they create, and beat themselves up over it.

How Evolution Impacts Knowledge

If you look in hindsight at what happened in the world of electronic music production in the last 20 years, the software world paired with the internet has made it much simpler. 20 years ago, we were limited to a few resources and we’d always be in stasis waiting for our answers to come (if they ever did). We are now living in a world where we are constantly having our attention pulled in multiple directions, with each direction espousing that “this is the true way,” when there is rarely a “true way” for anything, especially in art.

It’s these conflicting statements that seeds a ton of doubt, or unnecessary confidence in their practitioners. This doubt, or this overconfidence that my one on one sessions seek to remedy. 

There is nothing wrong with being confident in your work, but overconfidence creates barriers to learning, and conflicts with progress. Sometimes I wonder why these people want electronic music coaching at all, but the fact that they get it, shows they at least have a conscious understanding of its importance, even if their subconscious confidence conflicts with it. 

Conversely, the doubt that many musicians have creates a similar problem. They may be in coaching to become more confident, but their lack of confidence results in that sort of barking little dog syndrome, where any bit of critique damages their already delicate creative ego, even if they consciously know it’s necessary. This can be likened to something like physical therapy; it’s going to hurt to walk again if you broke both your legs, and you’re going to hate it, but you know it’s necessary.

Successful Students

After coaching for over 15 years total, I had noticed that some people did better than others. At the beginning, I was working with a plan, and would teach all the people the same things but I quickly adapted that because it was not working well. Some were learning fast and would provide some interesting challenges or questions while others had some of the same questions but were always struggling on basic issues.

I understood one thing which is, you can’t really teach electronic music theory and music production training from a rigid approach because what makes it successful is to understand someone globally and then, as a team, find strategies to build a routine and work habits. More importantly, I tried to help the person find its own way of learning through the internet jungle.

Here are common points that people who succeeded had:

  • They had a clear direction: People that I see with a clear intention and direction, such as “wanting to sound like X”, are the easiest to guide. If you have a target and goal, you can always try to push what you do and technically study how it is done with music you have on hand.  With my help, we can reverse engineer some songs and try different things. Once that target is mostly reached, what’s interesting is how it leads them elsewhere. The fact that they know how something is done allows them to discover other artists or songs that are itching their curiosity. But working with targets, is always a clear indication of improvement.
  • They showed consistency: Anyone who works on a regular basis, over a constant time, has shown great improvement. More than people who started really strong but couldn’t keep up the pace. Working hard isn’t always smart. It’s more about knowing what you can do and try to consistently learn something new, practice it and then putting it into context of a song.
  • They asked a lot of questions: Often creative success and inquisitivity go hand in hand. Asking for advice and technical guidance is a must if you wish to go far. You can do everything yourself but you’re not giving yourself the chance to grow adequately. Even if someone thinks otherwise than you, there’s some part of his view that can be useful.
  • They stayed humble and always wanted to learn. If you come with the idea that you’ll learn something everyday, you won’t be stagnant in whatever you do and will always be looking forward.
  • They were not afraid of rejection and criticism. Because each song is an experiment in itself and anyone’s point of view is arbitrary.

electronic music coaching photo

Struggling points

These are individuals who have been facing a number of problems in the learning and while have learned a lot and improved much, they unfortunately haven’t rolled out as much as they wished. These are what commonly hinder them.

  • The student focuses on the success of a specific song.
  • They work in a linear fashion and won’t change.
  • Insisting on doing everything themselves.
  • The musician is often convinced they know more than they do.
  • Their expectations are set really high.
  • The belief that hard work brings success is deeply ingrained in them.
  • They see music in a hierarchical way.

 

What I’ve Learned In Electronic Music Coaching

The Latin proverb docendo discimus translates to “by teaching, we learn.” These are some of the lessons I’ve learned by teaching others.

Free isn’t always a good thing

If you give something for free, it doesn’t always have value. Free advice is cheap advice. Unless people pay for it, there is less of a chance that they will anchor said advice. Not saying that giving free advice is bad; that’s what these blog posts and the group flourishes on. It’s just that they can be easily dismissed. However, if you paid for advice, there is a greater chance that you implement it.

Consistency is key to development

Think of it like training for a sport. If you are training for a marathon, and decide to take a month off, you’re going to have to spend time ramping back up to that level. Additionally, the longer you put something off, the more chance you have to disregard it.  

Not be afraid of making mistakes

The comic strip artist Scott Adams has a really poignant quote about mistakes in the creative journey. He says, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” I find this statement to be very true. Many of my favorite parts of my works have come unintentionally, or are a result of seriously messing something up. 

Bob Ross would have been great at electronic music coaching.

Being part of the community

No man is an island. Civilization was built by teams, and communities, not individuals. Teaching has allowed me to be part of a vibrant community, and for that I am extremely grateful. It has taught me at least as much, and provided me as many resources, as I have provided others.

Other Benefits of Electronic Music Coaching

Since my music is pretty esoteric, I learned over decades of performing that the people who attended my shows were cut from a similar cloth. They were musicians, and sound designers, eager to absorb some of the essence of the performance in order to translate it into their own creations. 

This gave me the realization that in order to grow and keep my fan base engaged, I had to give the people what they wanted. Therefore, electronic coaching became not only empowering creatively, it became a solid marketing channel. 

If you’re interested in becoming part of our community and getting some free coaching, join our electronic music collective, Pheek’s Coaching Corner. We also have a bunch of tutorials on YouTube as well. If you want more personalized coaching, I offer that as well.