Look, you’re here to learn about how to become better at making music. There is a huge list of things you need to learn to be able to accomplish that goal. And a lot we can help you with. But you know what… it’s not all about learning how you can improve your music and applying that knowledge directly. No… Mistakes also have to be made. It’s a great way to learn. And the only way you’ll learn from a mistake is if someone tells you that what you’re doing is just not going to work. Often times, I’m here to teach you how to make your music sound great. But today, I’m tackling a different angle. Today, let’s look at 15 different ways to be just another average producer nobody will listen to… How many of these mistakes have you made?
1. Run after perfection
Why put anything out there if it isn’t absolutely perfect, right? I see people fall into this trap all the time. To be honest, when I started out I also fretted over ever single detail. No matter what I was working on, it was never good enough. But here’s the thing. Music doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, in some ways imperfections are desirable. Think about drums for example. Nobody likes a perfectly quantised beat! The problem here is you’ll worry so much about finding the perfect beat or the perfect melody that you’ll never get anything done. You wouldn’t dare making a mistake and therefore you will never be able to learn from them! Which takes me to my next point…
2. Tweak your mixes for weeks on end
I’m sure some of you have been guilty of doing this at one time or other. It’s related to the strive for perfection. And it’s natural, you know… Our music is our baby. It’s our love child. And you wouldn’t want to put something out there that isn’t absolutely perfect, oh no! So what do you do? You keep working on a mix until it is just right. See, striving for a great mix is fine, but keeping at it for weeks on end will only result in never finishing a mix. Eventually you’ll just give up thinking you can’t get things to sound perfect. You’ll just move on to a new song. I know I have. Just remember… You will never be able to make it perfect. A perfect song just doesn’t exist. A much better alternative is to simply start mixing your production and finish it in two – maybe three – sessions at most.
3. Make tons of 8-bar loops
Oh brother. Have I churned out my part of 8 bar loops. I must have an entire library out there of these little buggers. And you know what I did with them? Absolutely nothing. Nothing! They’re just lying around, never to be visited again. Do you have any idea how much valuable time it cost me to make all those? And do you know where it got me? (hint: nowhere!) It’s really really tempting to bust out a ton of loops and think “I’ll get back to one of these one day and make a song out of it”. The seduction is real. But you know what? You never will come back to them. You’ll just keep creating “great” 8 bar loop after loop.
Alternatively, focus on making finished tracks. Arrangement and song structure is much more important than having a killer beat. After all… listening to music is a moving experience. It needs to be fresh, interesting. And a ‘killer break’ isn’t exactly interesting if it’s not an entire song. So finish your songs – no excuses!
PS. It’s always nice to be able to take your pick out of a library of loops that has accumulated over the years. Just make sure you finish what you start!
4. Play it safe and don’t stand out!
Look, I get it. You’re a musician, just like me. We have fragile egos and do not, under any circumstance want to hear anyone tell us what we’re doing is weird or different. We want people to love our music right? So what do you do? You give the people the music they want, right? While that’s fine if you’re under a Universal contract and need to appeal to the general public. Chances are that’s not the case right now. And there’s so many producers out there. A friggin’ butload I might say. Standing out from the crowd is the ONLY way you’re going to have a shot at getting heard. So do your thang, friend. Make the music YOU love. There’s bound to be someone else out there that is looking for what you’re doing. Which leads to the next way you can be sure to fluke your music career…
5. Never EVER take any criticism – like an average producer
Suffering from a little thing called Kevin Costner syndrome? Look, I know you probably think you’re great. We all love to think that what we are doing resonates with our audience. But the truth is… that’s not always true. The only way to become better at what you do is to actively seek out feedback from your target audience.
Make the music you want to hear, sure. But if that means not a single soul cares, maybe you could improve your music a little bit by figuring out exactly what are the things that people dislike about your music? That means sucking up criticism like it’s the blood of a unicorn and working with it.
Now, I’m not saying take critiques from everyone – because that will likely result in a bland, boring miss mash – but do listen to what your TARGET audience says. If you’re making dub step it’s ok if your mom says it’s crap. But maybe it’s not that good if people in the club think you suck!
6. Forget about setting SMART goals
No idea what I’m talking about? That’s ok. I didn’t know about SMART goals before either. But you know what? It’s great. SMART goals are a tried and proven technique to get from where you are now to where you want to be. It’s a simple concept used in every industry that makes it easier to attain and measure your success. You can read all about SMART goals on wikipedia, but here’s a quick summary of how to formulate one:
- Specific – Formulate exactly what you want to achieve.
- Measurable – Make sure you can correctly assess your success (or failure).
- Assignable – Specify the person to make it happen – of course, that will be you in most cases.
- Realistic – Don’t expect a miracle to happen. Define a goals that you can realistically achieve.
- Time-related – Specify when you want your goal to be attained.
A great example of a SMART goal in music production would be: “I will sell 100 copies of my EP by next December”:
- Specific – Sell 100 copies of your EP.
- Measurable – Easy in this case: just look at your sales.
- Assignable – It’ll be you making it, but who else will be involved? A mix engineer? Need mastering?
- Realistic – Well, depends on your fan base and marketing obviously. Let’s assume that 100 copies is realistic here.
- Time-related – By December 2014.
If you formulate your goals in this way, you’ll know exactly what success looks like. And that, my friend, is called motivation!
7. Don’t reach out to fans
Your fans are your livelihood. You cannot survive without them. And just as much as you need them, they need to hear from you too! A true fan would do anything to meet their idols. Or you know… just to hear from them once in a while. Connecting and reaching out is a great way to nurture your fan base. So let them know what you’re up to. Show them who you are and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation once in a while. Your fans will love you for it.
8. Don’t treat your music as a business
As musicians, we adore what we do because it’s creative. It’s inspiring. It’s FUN. As a result, most of us hate to think of making music in a business context. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t start to act professionally in advancing your music career, it’s not going to go anywhere. There’s a reason labels exist. It’s because musicians are terrible marketeers and maybe even worse managers. So labels help you with that. If you’re not signed, however, you have to step up and do it yourself. Otherwise, your music will never get heard.
9. NEVER collaborate
Kevin Costner creeping up on you again? Want to do everything yourself because you’re the next big thing and you want to prove it to everyone? Newsflash. No you won’t be a prodigy on your own. In the crowded and extremely competitive environment that is the music industry, you’d better reach out to other musicians, influencers, labels, blogs, managers and music producers if you ever want to get anywhere. That means NETWORK, silly! I know it’s scary and you probably think promoting yourself is something only douchebags do – but it’s absolutely crucial. It is downright impossible to become big without any help. How do you think other people have done it?
10. Wait for your big breakthrough to just… happen
You bust out a track. And then another one. And another! Ad infinitum! One of these will get viral, right?! And you wait. And wait some more. Nothing. No rolling download counters. What happened? Why hasn’t your breakthrough come yet? You must not be making enough music! Nobody likes your music! It’s all going to hell!
Well I’ve got good news for you son. All that is probably not why it didn’t happen yet. The more likely problem is that you’re simply not doing enough to put yourself out there. If you want to be successful in music production, 20% of your time is spent making music. Only. That. Much. The rest of your time needs to be devoted in promoting yourself as an artist. You need to spend serious time setting up a strategy to get yourself heard. More often than not, that means doing a lot of things that you’ll hate doing. Moving to the next point:
11. Be very, very polite
Yeah, of course you don’t want to come over as a dickhead to your fans. I totally understand. And obviously – that’s a good thing. Don’t be an asshole. When I say being very polite will get you nowhere – I’m talking about not having the guts to do whatever it takes to get yourself in front of your public. Sometimes, you just need to push and shove to get to where you want to be.
Well, you know… not literally. Pushing and shoving again comes down to taking the time to set up an effective marketing campaign. Without one, your music is not going to end up in front of anyone. You can hope for the “magic share” that’ll make it go viral, but in 99.99% of the time that’s just not going to happen.
So do your marketing and do it well. Don’t be afraid that people will think you’re just another annoying salesperson to shove a new CD up their throat. Put your music out there, and put it out there well. The only difference between sleazy salestalk that will annoy people and a good marketing campaign in which people won’t even notice they’re being sold to, is a good product. So make sure your music is up to snuff before you’re going to start marketing it to the big public. Then sell. Like your life depends on it. Well… Your music career does, anyway!
12. Shy away from making ‘fucking pop music’
Fu-cking pop music, amirite? No WAY you’re going to lower yourself to that kind of shit. Look, I’m not a huge fan myself I’ll admit. But if you want to really hit big with your album, you better make sure there is at least one song on there that can compete in the charts. And you’ll have a lot more luck to compete if that one song destined to hit the charts contains a lot of pop elements. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. Just look around you. Everyone does it.
Let me take one of my favourite albums of all time as an example: The Wall by Pink Floyd. On it’s own, it’s a damn obscure piece of art and sure enough a masterpiece. But do you think they would’ve gotten anywhere without “Another Brick in The Wall” on there? With it’s lovely, catchy chorus? Of course not.
Your music album can be as obscure or weird as you want, I don’t care. In fact, I encourage it. You should stand out of the crowd. But please do yourself a favour and include at least ONE song that – while maintaining the style of the album – includes a lot more pop elements. Think basic pop song structure, catchy melodies, standard stuff that people can easily follow and most importantly: sing along to. There’s just nothing better than making music that people remember and love to chant together. It’s magic for your career.
13. Do a ‘surprise’ release
Oh yeah you’d like to make a big entry, wouldn’t you? Be the prodigy nobody expected? Wouldn’t it be great? Fame? Glory!? I’m telling you though… If you’re planning a surprise release without any real audience yet, you’re not going to be very happy when the day comes.
See, people like surprises. That’s true. And there is certainly a way to make a surprise release happen to your benefit. But it’s not just throwing something out there and hoping for the best. No. What you need, my friend, is a plan. A well thought out release schedule to ramp up the anticipation of the crowd. With a well thought out release, marketeers always make sure there’s a lot of buzz going around a few weeks and right before the release.
You need to start low and slow. Get the word out to some people that you’ll be releasing a new album in a couple of weeks. Don’t give an exact date yet. See how they react to your message and adjust it accordingly (there’s always a way to make your copy better so don’t be shy to look for feedback and test!)
Follow up one week later by announcing your new album to the general public. Make sure you go big this time. You want people to KNOW it’s coming. And maybe even more important: that it is not there yet.
The next two weeks before your release, keep pushing out short messages about the album. Post pictures of the studio work. Maybe even a little teaser. Show parts of your lyrics.
I don’t really care WHAT you do, as long as you’re building up the hype. Let people know you’re working on it and make sure to communicate your excitement for what’s to come. You want to get your fans anticipating the big moment. So get them excited, too!
Two days before the release, it’s time to really pick up the pace. Double your efforts. Make the anticipation accumulate. In fact, as we’re all producers here, let me just compare it with a big rise towards the drop. It’s the same thing in planning a release as it is when you’ve got a huge drop coming in your song. A long enough exponential anticipative rise will most certainly get people to absolutely WANT to hear the drop. Same thing in building up hype for a release really. The hype just needs to get exponentially stronger.
Finally, when the drop does finally come, when it’s time to release, you need to pull out all the stops. Make it huge. People have been waiting for the release for 4 to 5 weeks now, it’s time to give the people what they want!
14. Don’t start selling anything before you get signed
Because why would you, right? Nobody’s going to buy your music. Maybe you’ll make one or two sales and that’s it. So why bother? You should just wait until you’re signed – THAT’s when you’ll make the big buck! Let me tell you why: exactly BECAUSE of those one or two sales. It won’t cover your rent, but boy does it feel amazing to know that someone actually bought your music! It’s just one of the best ways to keep motivated and keep moving. Plus you’ll earn some beer money. That’s a double win right there.
15. Hide your best music – like an average producer
Sometimes I just lose a little bit of faith in humanity. You know how many great producers I’ve come across that aren’t know yet? Know how many times I said: “Shit. This one’s going to be something big some time soon.”? Do you also know how much I had to SEARCH to find those people? And how much I then had to go look for their music?!
Christ, it’s entirely frustrating to see how many great producers without any real audience yet go to really great lengths to hide their best music. I don’t know why – maybe you’re ashamed? Maybe you don’t think you’re worth it?
That’s just plain and simply false: of course you’re worth it! Remember, you need to get yourself out there, people! That means: have a dedicated website or soundcloud page where you put all your music and ONLY your music. One. Page.
Sure, throw around some tracks across the web. That’s a great idea. But for the love of god if I google your name, PLEASE let me find all your best music in one place. Please?
So What About You?
There you have it. 15 ways to be just another average producer nobody gives a crap about. How many are you guilty of? What else have you done wrong before?