In a previous article I showed you a clear process that you can follow to learn music production and take yourself towards achieving your goals.
The aim of this article is to explore a proven and methodical approach for systematically improving the quality of your work, as well as the quantity of your output, to learn music production as fast as possible.
I call this learning process the ’Level-Up System’, because it enables you to specifically target weaknesses and consistently improve upon them to enhance your overall progress and ability.
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Learn music production as quick as humanly possible
Music production is an art like any other. It takes years of consistent practice to become proficient. However, the speed at which you develop can be greatly increased using this methodology.
There are 4 stages within this approach to learn music production effectively:
In this article you will learn how to do the following:
- Define your goal;
- Identify obstacles to achieving your goal;
- Apply deliberate practice to eliminate these obstacles;
- Evaluate your progress and adjust accordingly.
I outlined an 8-step music production process in a previous article in this series, and in this post I’m going to expand on practice in more depth to provide you with the tools that you need to learn music production effectively.
Learning how to learn
One of the biggest reasons for people’s lack of progress is that they don’t actually know how to learn. You’d think that, of all the things that the education system should teach us, it would be how to learn something from scratch by teaching us about the learning process and providing us with a systematic approach.
Unfortunately, schools, colleges and universities don’t teach this. They teach us facts and figures and occasionally ways of thinking, but there’s very little time set aside for learning how to learn.
It wasn’t really until I began my teaching degree that I really began to explore this in depth. My problem with this is that I don’t think that this knowledge should be reserved for teachers. Everyone should analyse and test how they learn best, and know what strategies to put in place for learning a subject from scratch.
How to improve at anything
The learning process I’ve outlined above is a fantastic approach for anyone who wants to learn music production, and it can be applied in any field. The process is experiential, meaning that everything you learn is contextualised and relevant to the task at hand.
In short, this means that everything you study is way more likely to stick!
I realise that this site is supposed to teach you to learn music production, but I feel that it’s important for you to also understand why I’m recommending certain approaches so that you’re motivated to apply them now and going forward in the future.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
1) Define your goal
As with any other journey, it’s pretty darn important to know where you’re heading before you set out. Yet, so many people don’t plan ahead. They get into a pursuit like music production because they like the idea of it or they enjoy recording their own music, but this initial high is not enough to sustain their interest or motivation.
This is precisely why so many beginner and intermediate producers plateau and struggle to improve.
Granted, if you’re a hobbyist, you may not be aiming to take over the world, and that’s totally fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with producing music for the sheer fun of it, and there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had!
My only word of caution is that the fun doesn’t last very long in anything if you stop getting better at it.
It’s precisely for this reason that it is essential to know why you’re getting into something in the first place and what you hope to gain from it.
Once you know the destination, you can work backwards from it to outline a plan. This ‘reverse engineering’ approach is what separates the top performers from the amateurs in any field.
What’s your why?
Why did you get into music? What do you want to achieve? What’s your dream? Do you even have a dream?
By asking yourself these questions you’ll begin to form a clearer picture of where you want to go. Subsequently, you can then figure out how you’re going to get there. This isn’t necessarily an overnight thing – it may take some time to outline your goal and that’s absolutely normal.
Think specifically about what it is that you want to achieve and the rest will become much clearer.
Do you want to set up a recording studio and work for yourself? Do you want to support Deadmau5 at Coachella? Have you always wanted to release your own album?
What path will you take?
There are many paths available in music production alone, and it’s worth researching these roles in order to align your goal with your interests and natural abilities.
Maybe you want to be an artist, in which case your main focus will be on creativity and originality. You’ll need to be able to translate this into well structured writing and arrangement, and be prepared to study marketing and networking to work your way up within the industry. In addition, if things go well, you’ll need to be ok with the fame and recognition of becoming a well known artist. This isn’t for everyone, even if they think it might be.
Alternatively, you may prefer a quieter, more studio-based life. In this scenario, the role of a songwriter or ghost producer/engineer may be more suitable.
Maybe you’re more of a geek than an artist and prefer a more technical approach. Perhaps you’re not so into writing, but you love the process of recording, mixing or mastering. In this case, you may prefer becoming an engineer for artists and labels.
Figured out your goal? Write it down. I know it may sound strange at first but, by physically writing down your goal, you will begin to internalise it both physically and mentally.
Pin it up in your studio, make a wallpaper for your desktop and your phone. Look at it every day. I have to admit it’s surprising how well this works.
One of the biggest killers of achievement is distraction. By revisiting your goal every day it will be at the forefront of your mind. Modern life throws hundreds of distractions at you and it’s therefore ever more essential to stay focused on your target.
Once you’ve identified your goal, you can move on to assessing the barriers that stand in your way.
2) Identify obstacles
Now that you know what your goal is, you can begin to identify the barriers that stand in your way of achieving it.
You can think of your goal as a problem that needs to be solved. This ‘problem’ is made up of a series of smaller challenges that need to be completed first before the goal can be achieved. These smaller channels can be viewed as the incremental steps along the way to your desired destination.
You can break down your overarching goal into a list of objectives, and this list of objectives can be broken down further into a series of obstacles. This outline then forms your roadmap to achieving your goal.
Forging a plan
The easiest way to illustrate this process is by way of a specific example. Let’s say that you want to be an artist, and you want to make music full time. While this example is relatively simplistic, it’s purpose is to illustrate how you might apply this analysis to your own goal.
Goal: Become a professional artist
- Release first EP;
- Build a following;
- Play a live show;
- Get signed to a label.
Now, take one of these objectives and extrapolate the main challenges that stand in your way:
Objective: Release first EP
- Identify the target audience;
- Write and arrange 4 original tracks tailored to target audience/genre;
- Mix and master EP;
- Research and select independent distribution channels.
You can now go even more meta, by breaking these challenges down into their own component problems:
Challenge: Write and arrange 4 original tracks tailored to target audience/genre
- I have difficulty finishing tracks;
- I’m not sure how to create smooth transitions between sections of the arrangement;
- My vocal recordings sound too ‘thin’.
Hopefully you can see that, as you move further down through this chain of analysis, the steps towards your goal become more and more concrete, and thereby clearer and more pragmatic. I’m not saying they’re easy problems to solve, but by simply having an awareness of the challenges that you face, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of the steps that you need to take.
This process eliminates procrastination and enables you to move forward. As simple as this sounds, if you follow this process you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of wannabe music makers.
Apply this system of analysis to your own goal and break it down into the subsequent objectives, challenges and problems that you face.
Do you want to improve your writing & arrangement? If so, what specific aspects do you need to work on? Do you struggle with introductions, choruses, transitions etc.?
Do you want to improve your mixing? What’s the biggest hurdle in your mixing right now? Do you struggle with low-end, high-end, mids, stereo imaging, getting power from your drums etc.?
3) Deliberate practice
You now have your goal, together with a list of obstacles or weaknesses that are preventing you from achieving it.
It’s now time to set out a plan to deliberately practice working through these problems. This process of deliberate practice is the fastest way to conquering your challenges and working through them to reach your goal. You are quite literally facing them head on.
To illustrate this, I’ll take one of the problems that I established above:
Problem: Finishing tracks
If you have an issue with finishing tracks and find that you’re unable to escape the infamous ‘8-bar loop’, then you need to deliberately work through this problem. You will need to practice finishing tracks consistently until it no longer becomes a hurdle.
Next, you’ll need some rules and some parameters to work within to ensure that you can measure your results. You could outline some specific strategies, for example:
- Copying the structures of successful commercial tracks;
- Analysing the arrangement techniques of successful tracks;
- Constructing and implementing project templates.
Once these parameters have been set, you’re ready to start implementing deliberate practice. For example, you could outline a number of tasks that need to be completed each day.
- Setting a deadline;
- Completing one section of the arrangement at a time;
- Arranging each part of the instrumentation, one at a time;
- Completing the full arrangement before beginning to mix.
When implementing deliberate practice, it’s important to create controlled conditions so that you can accurately measure the results. It’s therefore recommended that you put a strict schedule in place with a fixed start and end time for each practice session.
As you’ll often be learning a new skill during these periods, I don’t recommend long stretches of time, because your brain will be working in overdrive to absorb new techniques. In other words, the aim is to be in a state of deep work.
Deep work is intense, but it is integral in honing your craft and levelling up your skills. Due to its intensity, you can’t remain at this level of concentration for long periods, especially when starting out. Research has shown that short bursts with regular breaks are therefore much more effective in acquiring new knowledge and skills.
For a step-by-step strategy on scheduling and batching your time, I’ve outlined everything you need to know in this article using the Pomodoro Technique.
If you actually have a problem with finishing tracks and you haven’t subscribed to my free course, do it now. I walk you through a step-by-step process to eliminate this issue and supercharge your music production.
Unfortunately, even the vast majority of people who have the get-up-and-go to implement this learning process tend to skip this last step. The problem is, arguably, it’s the most important of them all if you truly want to learn music production, or conquer any other pursuit.
DO NOT SKIP THIS STAGE.
I repeat: do not skip this last stage in the process! Without evaluating your work, you won’t move forward effectively, you won’t improve your skills as quickly and the first three stages will have been almost entirely pointless.
It’s essential to review your mixes because you need to understand what’s working well and what’s not working so well in order to move forward and further develop your skills.
Every time you practice, you need to allocate a little time to review your outcomes and evaluate the positives and negatives. What worked well? Where is there still room for improvement?
Every time you address an issue, you should work on this in your next track to improve. Then, evaluate again, adjust and practice, evaluate, adjust and practice…and so on.
Deliberate practice can only work effectively if it’s accompanied by reflection and review. Without knowing what to practice when, you’re not going to get very far.
There’s no need to worry, though, this process isn’t complicated. Reviewing and reflecting on your work can simply take the form of a few notes, analysing where you might improve. You can then adjust and optimise your approach with each new practice session.
It’s also very important to highlight what’s working well in your tracks. Not only is this cause for celebration, it’s also key to know what’s positive so that you can double down on these techniques going forward.
Tips for effective reflection
The act of reflection in itself takes practice, and it can seem like a real chore when you’re just starting. However, stick at it and it gets easier and easier, almost to the point of becoming second nature.
Reflection is a skill just like any other, so take your time with it. Below are a number of tips that I’ve learned over the years that will help you to optimise your process and save a lot of time if followed correctly.
1) Take a break
First of all, it can be really useful to leave some time between practice and review, especially when mixing. It’s a good idea to give your ears a break and get away from the track for a short while to regain perspective.
Returning to the track the next day, or even a week later, can often be very beneficial in gaining a more objective view of your mix.
2) Listen broadly
On that note, it’s important that you develop your analytical ear and your ability to truly listen objectively. If you write and produce your own music, your impression of it can be highly coloured by the time you sit down to mix and it’s key to bear this in mind.
When reviewing your work, start out broadly and try as much as possible to put yourself in the position of the first-time listener. Play back the track and take as many notes as possible – the first listen is key as it’s at this point that you’ll be the most instinctive. Listen to the mix as a whole and play the track a second time if needed.
3) Listen in detail
Once your gut reaction has been captured, you can afford to go into greater depth. The problems outlined in stage 2 of the process become your marking criteria. Based on the issues that you have already diagnosed, listen more closely to individual elements within the mix to review how successfully you have improved.
After 3-4 listens you should have a good amount of notes detailing what’s working and what’s not, and you can reflect on the level of progression from previous practice sessions.
4) Compare with reference tracks
To help maintain objectivity, I highly recommend using reference tracks. Comparing your music to commercial tracks throughout this process is essential to keep a level head, maintain perspective and avoid wasting time.
5) Seek feedback
In addition to self-evaluation, seeking feedback from others can have enormous benefits and is one of the best possible ways to improve your skills.
Obtaining critique from friends, peers and professionals is worth its weight in gold. It’s important to respect the opinions of others and to take it on board, whether or not you agree with it.
If you are going to seek feedback from friends, make sure that you can trust their opinion and that they will remain objective. While it feels great to have friends and family members compliment your mixes, it’s not particularly useful. Get objective critiques that you can trust.
Back to the drawing board
Once you’ve completed your evaluation, you’re ready to head back to stage 1! You can now adjust and refine your plan for deliberate practice to continue to improve.
Rinse and repeat to learn music production as fast as possible
Hopefully you can see that by consistently honing your strengths, developing your weaknesses and adjusting your techniques each time, your learning will be greatly accelerated.
Most people don’t even think about what they actually want to achieve, let alone put in place a strategic system to improve. By doing so, you’ll immediately be ahead of the pack.
One of the biggest reasons that people don’t plan or their progress plateaus is because they over-complicate the process. The key is to make things as simple and as manageable as possible.
At each stage, try limiting yourself to working on improving just one element at a time. One outcome is easy to measure and easier to improve upon, leading to a greater sense of achievement and a higher degree of motivation to continue.
Keep in touch
If you’ve been reading these articles from the beginning of this series, congratulations on making it all the way through! You’re now fully equipped to finish your tracks, accelerate your learning and supercharge your music production. Now, go forth and level-up!
I want to hear about your results – let me know how you’re doing in the comments below. If this series helped you please do get in touch and you’ll get an opportunity to be promoted to the entire LearnMusicTech community!