Do you want to find out how to produce music faster and of a higher quality every time? You've come to the right place.
It doesn't matter whether you're at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level. It also doesn't matter what genre you prefer to write. This process applies to any creator of music at any level.
It's always hardest at the start of any pursuit. The very act of getting the ball rolling is the stage at which there is the greatest degree of inertia, the greatest amount of resistance.
Picture the journey to your goal as a series of walls that you will need to break through. Each wall represents a problem, a challenge or a 'dip' in motivation. It's these dips that are often the most dangerous, as lack of motivation is single-handedly the biggest killer of success.
The walls are relatively thin at the start of your journey when you first start learning how to produce music. As a beginner it's often exciting and motivating as you see great results in a new pursuit. This peak in progress, however, is short-lived. What follows is 'The Dip', as Seth Godin most famously describes in his book of the same title.
Soon enough, the walls start to get taller and thicker. The path isn't as rewarding as it was at the start, as you begin to realise the extent of the learning curve and get a more accurate perspective of the amount of time and effort it will take to reach your goal. It seems impossible, causing you to lose motivation, succumb to distraction and, ultimately, give up.
Now, imagine that each one of these walls has a door, and that each door is locked. You need to find the key to each door to pass through to the other side.
What most people fail to realise, myself included for the longest time, is that finishing is the key. By finishing what you start, you will eventually unlock the doors to success.
I recognise that this example is incredibly abstract, but it certainly helps me to visualise my own journey, and keeps me motivated to stay on the path.
Do you want to know what really separates the artists and producers who are successful from the ones that aren't?
Successful people finish what they start.
Natural talent helps. But there are a lot of talented people in the world, many of which you'll never, ever hear about.
[Random aside: I've always had this sad thought that the best performers are locked away in their bedrooms practicing day after day, and they've never had the courage to let their skills see the light of day.]
Hard work also helps, even more than talent. I'm a strong believer that talent can quite literally be outworked.
However, there's working hard, and then there's working smart. You can be efficient without being effective. Without the right goals, tools and strategy you're not going to get anywhere very fast. You need to work hard and smart if you're going to achieve success.
What Creates Success?
I've done a great deal of research into successful people over the years (it's become a bit of an obsession in all honesty), and the same common denominators keep coming up again and again.
The key ingredients that separate successful people are:
- Focus - Knowing what they want to achieve and obsessively focusing on one thing at a time;
- Effort - Working hard to drive momentum;
- Consistency - Sustaining this level of output;
- Perseverance - Pushing through problems without fear of failure (often, actively seeking it).
This is achieved with a clear process:
- Goal - outlining a clear objective
- Plan - reverse-engineering the goal to form a clear strategy
- Action - executing the plan (rather than procrastinating)
- Complete - seeing each task/project through to the finish no matter what
- Evaluate - reviewing what worked / didn't work and applying it going forward
You can boil all of these things down into one word...
Planning, focus, hard work and consistency mean nothing if you're not able to finish what you start. It's the last step, the final piece of the puzzle. It's what separates the winners and the losers.
Quantity vs Quality
This is why I want to talk about a counterintuitive approach:
Quantity over quality.
There is a famous example from the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland that has been making the rounds on the web over the last few years. The story goes as follows:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
The Beauty Of Iteration
This story perfectly illustrates the difference between quantity and quality when learning how to produce music. You begin to realise that when you analyse the results of any successful person, business or virtually any area in life, it's always quantity that produces the results. Iterating over and over again forces inevitable improvement.
By seeing something through to the end, you will learn, grow and become better equipped and more likely to succeed in the future. The more that you produce, the better you will get.
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee
Finishing things repeatedly will improve your skills in any area. Repetition creates muscle memory, to the point where skills become second nature. Exploit this reality to its fullest.
Perfection Is A Fallacy
I'm going to tell you something that I hope will provide a sense of relief:
Perfection does not exist.
Anyone who argues with this fact, is simply unenlightened.
I've struggled with perfectionism for most of my life and I can tell you first hand that it kills any opportunity for improvement. I've repeatedly obsessed over the finest details only to end up with a product that's 5% better.
Don't get me wrong, I've always hit deadlines, but I could have used all of this extra time to be more productive in other areas, and to hone my craft even further. That's why I love the ceramics class example so much, as it serves as a perfect reminder.
As John Sonmez from Simple Programmer explains, he would rather put out 10 first drafts at 90%, than agonise over 1 piece of content to get it to 97%. Sean McCabe, too, talks about 'the 90% rule' and explains that perfection can be paralysing.
Let go of perfection. With repetition you will improve and develop. It's inevitable, it's human nature.
Seek Out Failure
As clichéd as the saying goes, failure really is simply an inevitable part of learning how to produce music and of your journey as an artist.
I was always scared of failure. It had been bred into me from childhood to avoid failure at all costs. But this mindset is so shortsighted: it's a falsehood.
By avoiding failure I was avoiding improvement in so many areas. I was scared to fail, and was therefore destined not to develop.
I enjoyed learning new skills and achieved initial success in many areas, but because I feared failure, I was unable to achieve mastery.
Don't let 'beginner's high' distract you from your path. Actively seek out failures. It's the only way you'll grow.
Successful people and businesses ship. Even when they know that the product isn't 100%, even when they know that they could improve it ever so slightly if they just spend a few more days tweaking.
They move on, taking what they learn and applying it in the next project. Successful people iterate, review, learn and improve, and don't get stuck in the same place.
It's the same for software development, or any other field. You need objective feedback. Successful people know this. They put their work out into the world for all to see and gather feedback from their customers. These people don't care if the comments are negative and they don't take it personally. By separating themselves from the product, they remove ego from the equation and don't take it personally.
Microsoft have famously let go of many of their testing departments in recent years, preferring to let their customers carry out the beta testing for them. Windows 10 is a perfect example of this.
Only by finishing your work and putting it out into the world will you gain an objective view of it's strengths and weaknesses and subsequently improve your own skills.
Preparing The Mind
To learn how to produce music well, first, you need the right mindset.
The fact that you're reading this means that you know that your current process isn't working. Whatever you're doing right now to develop as a music creator and put out great tracks is failing. Understanding that fact is the first step. You made it here, so well done.
You need to cultivate discipline and change your habits. It's not easy. But then, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and that's precisely why you need to do it.
By becoming disciplined, consistent and prolific, you will stand out from the rest of the crowd. Humans are naturally lazy, so if you can conquer your mindset, you're already ahead of most people on the planet.
Then you'll be ready to move on to the practical steps.
Rather than giving you abstract advice about how you should behave, what you should 'think about' changing, or giving you some crazy positive mindset mantra, I want to provide you with a concrete, practical, step-by-step walkthrough to get your tracks finished and put them out into the world.
Most online advice focuses on mindset and, while this is important (and I certainly provide you with proven strategies), you also need to marry this with the implementation of a practical methodology. In other words, you need the cold hard skills to get you there.
I know what it's like to be stuck in the musical rut. I know how it feels to have hard drives full of unfinished projects and 8-bar loops that lead to nowhere. It's depressing. That's why I believe I'm qualified to talk about this. I was in the trenches, and I built a ladder to climb out, through a lot of research and painstaking trial and error.
How To Produce Music Faster
Are you struggling to finish tracks? Do you have a hard drive full of unfinished tunes? Download my free Track KO Cheatsheet and finish your tracks today: