Tag Archive for: Intuition

Intuition for decisions in music production

In a sense, musical intuition is what defines someone who can bring a bit of creative magic into something, in comparison to someone who sticks to truly technical application of software. I’ve often had the chance to watch experienced producers make music, either while I was visiting one’s studio or on the spur of the moment of a jam. For instance, we once had the infamous Narod Niki experience at Montreal’s MUTEK in the early 2000’s where Zip, Villalobos, Dan Bell, Akufen, Cabanne, Dandy Jack, Monolake (even Cassy sang for some minutes) all synced their laptop and gear to improvise a show for us. Our local festival gave us many opportunities to watch, what I would call, masters in what they do, play in front of a crowd to present how to create and perform. The live act itself, when done properly, should sort of represent what the artist is doing in his or her studio, but in a way that can bring the crowd on a journey.

When I state a live set done properly, I refer to something that is partly prepared, partly improvised: a set that relies partly on musical intuition. Musical intuition is the happy combo that allows for “happy accidents” and creates a sense of risk-taking. There are a lot of pre-recorded performances that I don’t get the point of. What interests me here, is the topic of musical intuition. Ever since I started teaching, this one question is often brought up:

How does one teach musical intuition, or intuition at all?

There are 3 points about intuition that we need to discuss first. Intuition can be:

  1. immediate apprehension or cognition without reasoning or inferring.
  2.  knowledge or conviction gained only by intuition.
  3. the power or faculty of gaining direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.

What I refer to by using the word intuition is a bit different from those three points. For me, intuition in music is how someone does something that seems to be random, but is actually done in a very effective way. Partly unpredictable, partly guided by experience, but entirely guided by a personal vision to arrive at a specific result. This is musical intuition.

A notable example would be an artist, during a live show, dropping some sounds or a musical idea that was unexpected but works with what’s happening at the current moment completely. Another example could be a musician proposing a random idea and having that incomprehensible idea make total sense after 2-3 minutes or development.

Can musical intuition be learned or developed in music making?

I firmly believe it can be. Some ways to get there would imply:

  • Listening to a lot of music genres, be diverse in the selection. The best way to get new ideas for one song and bring a wind of freshness into something is to translate an idea from somewhere else. The number of ideas I get from free jazz or Indian music are too large to count, but I find a lot of depth into these genres; they have been around for so long that they have developed so much maturity. Try to dig into realms that seem obscure or spend time listening to folkloric music as a starting point.
  • Knowing your tools. This one is overwhelming as there’s always something to learn. I often say to people, what you need to know about your DAW should be just enough to make blocks and build tracks. The rest of it, you learn as you go. But the main part is that you should be at ease with the DAW, and using it should be second nature to you. Moving blocks around, copying & pasting, and arranging basics must be something you can do fast so you never lose your flow. It’s when you start looking for how to do something very simple when you struggle too much and lose your initial idea. Imagine you couldn’t explain to a friend how to get to the nearest grocery store because there are too many details to explain; it would be confusing for him and you.
  • Be attentive to your routines and things you don’t like. We get caught up in what has previously worked, and will tend to repeat it ad nauseum. While part of what attracts people to our music sometimes one specific sound, if we become a slave to ourselves and to people’s expectations, we will fail to grow as artists. Musical intuition progresses with your personal dedication to grow and stepping outside your comfort zone. The easier it gets for you to explore, the more easily you can express yourself. The sense of becoming fluent in music-making will allow you to become more spontaneous and able to come up with new ideas.
  • Nurture technical curiosity. Spend tons of time reading about music, but also, non-music related topics. I have had so many ideas come to me by reading sci-fi novels, watching dancers, reading about architecture, drawing with my son, running in the woods, etc. Your brain needs to do other things other than spending time in the studio. You can only learn to a certain extent in there, you open yourself up to new ideas by doing other things.
  • Rehearse alone and with others. If you can jam on your own to get comfortable in your art, that is one important thing. But when you can then play with a friend, it becomes very interesting as the dialog forces you to interact/propose/listen/adjust. This will improve your communicative music skills by a few notches.
  • Play for friends. I used to do intimate, living room concerts where I would play for 3-4 friends, sitting on the floor, sipping tea, drawing, dancing, chatting but mostly, listening carefully. Those moments are where I’ve learned the most and this is often overlooked as people think playing in front of a lot of people is where the fun is at; it can be, but it’s not the only option. The advantage of playing for a handful of guests is about getting intimate and instant feedback, which can be a very rich experience.

Experiment with these ideas and you should slowly develop your musical intuition. Let me know if you have questions or join my mentoring service to explore your music more deeply.



SEE ALSO : What Is A Mature Sounding Track? 

The next big thing?

During a conference I was recently invited to talk at, I was speaking with a group of people @ College Du Montreal and was asked a question I couldn’t answer quickly. The question that came up was what I’d consider “next level”, which I responded by saying “chances are, you’re going to be disappointed by my answer.” And in many ways, it wasn’t the answered they wanted, and I could see that a few were puzzled, hoping to hear about something new, exciting, and truly ‘next-level’.

Now that that moment is behind me, the concept of genres, and what’s the next big thing has had time to linger in my mind and I’ve thought about it more.

Can you remember a time before Soundcloud? Before iTunes playlists, a time where you literally dug deep through record bins and spent time chatting up record store employees about what was new? Have you bought records without even listening to it simply because you connected with the artwork and knew this was something you needed to have?  Whether the music was next level or not you had the feeling you discovered something special.

In many ways, the overwhelming amount of content we’re exposed nowadays can make us lose track of what’s going on. Musicians can post a track the second after finishing it, and the whole world can potentially hear it within minutes. Yet the tidal wave of self-released music is so frequent that it can also be harder than ever to get noticed. If you’re attentive and curious, you can catch people’s new ideas, yet the question now is – how can one really can keep up?

Here’s a fact to keep in mind: One doesn’t know he/she is making next level music until afterward, and it’s seen as next level.

If you focus on making music that sounds good to you, your skills and confidence will naturally grow. If you have fun making music, you’ll fall in that mind state named the zone. In that mindset, you’re able to achieve the best of yourself with little effort. This concept isn’t esoteric or religious, it’s a known experience studied in psychology and a state within the reach of everyone. But this post isn’t about that.

Most commonly new genres are created when an artist creates a bridge linking different musical styles together – think Jungle which brought Jamaican MC influences and sound effects with faster beats, and thundering sub bass. Think about underground mashups and artists like Girl Talk, which can’t be released legally but borrow music from anywhere as long as it works melodically. Think about the latest genres of dance music to emerge with significant popularity – tropical house, future bass, etc.. can you explain to me what those genres represent?

On a sound design level, I think of Serum, a wavetable synth hugely responsible for creating the growling and murderous monster bass sounds in electro/dubstep. Do entirely new sounds or production technique make that music next level?

What is next level, exactly?

For me, next level comes from one’s point of view. My perspective of what’s next level has dramatically changed in the last 10 years. My interest in sound is continually shifting, and what I feel about it today might be different next week. Sometimes I love music with low-production quality but filled with originality, sometimes I love over-produced generic pop for the crazy slick techniques in the mixing and sometimes I go back in time to revisit classics by Miles Davis to acknowledge the true masterful skills he had in performing his art.

To me, the real question is, what and why are you looking for that?

Rarely will my next level tracks make it to my day-to-day playlist I can listen to in my car. Next level music is usually something I can connect to its world/melody/content. I believe this is also what most people are connecting to with once they pick to make a playlist that moves them. It’s not always something big, loud, or obvious, often it’s a musical element already known, just done really really well, or a touch differently. If the arrangement of a song is smart and tight, often time any tricks happening in the mix won’t be the first thing the listener will hear, but more generally will feel as a whole.

To wrap this post up, focusing on sound design is critical to any producer. Your sounds are your words and your voice as an artist and remember that this is what can get the attention of your listeners more than your technique or tricks.


SEE ALSO : Using and Choosing an Alias