Let’s talk about time machines.

Oh. Why did I do that…

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Wouldn’t it be amazing to own a time machine? There have been so many times when I have thought to myself, I wish I hadn’t done that. Today, I finish off my first year of marketing, I will be looking back on this blog and on my music production. Mistakes I’ve made, and what I can learn from it.

Let’s begin.

Throw money at it.

When I began my music making life, I was an idiot. I spent unnecessary amounts of money and time buying and downloading different synths and VST’s. I knew I didn’t sound like a professional producer, and I expected that it was simply that I didn’t have the products they used. I reasoned that if I threw enough money at the problem, I would eventually sound like the industry leaders.

Wrong.

After my first year of producing music, I went through my files to see how I had improved.

I hadn’t.

In fact, my productions had gotten worse.

“How is this possible?” I thought, “I have been learning so much, I have all this software now, surely I should sound better.”

What I discovered is that while my skills had increased, I had oversaturated myself in options. With only a piano, many of the greatest songs of all time have been written. Here I was trying to learn how to play the entire orchestra.

So, what?

A lack of vision, paired with unlimited options meant I would completely lose focus on producing music while trying to find which of my seven bass synths suited the song best (when in reality any of them would have sounded the exact same once in the mix).

I have learned since that limitation does not hinder creativity but actually enhances it. By having established boundaries, you waste less time trying to push your limits, and more time trying to work within your established rules.

A brilliant example of this is Image Line’s 3xosc challenge, which told users to create a song only using their 3xosc synthesizer (the most simple synth they have developed), and the results are incredible.

Challenge yourself by limiting what you can and can’t do. Try writing out rules on a sheet of paper before you write out your music. You might be surprised how much faster you will work when you take the decision-making process out of the picture.

Repetition and consistency

Write a song with no tonal center, and you are a bad songwriter. Write an album with it, and you are a genius of musical composition. Its amazing how once our brains are used to an idea, we can adjust our way of thinking to allow that thing to fit into our worldview. Robert D. James, a pioneer of electronic music, once said,

“if you hear a chord that you’ve never heard before, you’re like, “huh.” And your brain has to change shape to accept it.”

If you are consistent with your brand, people can come to know what to expect from you. Aphex Twin will always make out-of-tune music, and the Chainsmokers will always make poppy music for the masses.

Because both of these brands are consistent, they both are able to build up a strong fanbase who know what to expect from them. If either of them were to try the other’s formula, however, they would likely alienate their fanbase and lose traction in their respective fields.

This brings me to my next point:

I don’t know what I am doing.

In both my music and my blog, I feel I have not had a clear focus on what I have wanted to express on these mediums. My advertising program required me to write blogs relevant to course content, but my own focus and passions are in musical production. It has been quite a stretch trying to compromise both into a cohesive final product.

Because of a lack of tonal focus, it has been hard for me to gain any traction, and with a lack of consistency, I have not been regular enough for users to feel any benefit to following this blog.

My global audience of beatmakers and producers don’t often venture too deep into blog territory, so I feel that I would have to really ‘up’ the quality and relevance of my posts if I wanted to build a meaningful community of people looking to discuss the topics I touch on.

Will I keep this blog alive?

Heck yeah! I enjoy educating people on music production as much as I love songwriting itself, and I find it gratifying to see my “students” (or in this case, cousin) improve over time.

Once I get into my work schedule, I will be able to see how consistent my blog will be, but I am hoping to post something every second Wednesday. I want to keep the focus more on music concepts over actual hard-knowledge, as I find technical teaching is better suited for video.

Instead, I plan to be more a voice of reason, giving sage wisdom from the mountaintop of my past mistakes, to beginners who wish to know where to start when they begin their music-making journeys.

If I had a time machine, would I change a thing? Sure! Why not?

But alas, I don’t have one, nor do I wish to open up the possibility of creating a paradox where I cease to exist.

Because I can’t give my past self lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, I guess I’ll just post them here, for the next generation of producers!

What do you think? Whats one thing you wish you knew about music production when you started off? Let’s talk about it!

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In the style of…

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Do type-beats have a place in modern music?

“All rap music sounds the same.” is an argument against liking rap and hip-hop music that I hear all the time. While this argument infuriates me as a lover of hip-hop, I think the biggest reason I am bothered by it is that it is absolutely correct from a certain point of view. When looking at what is at the top of the charts, one could easily come to the conclusion that yes, all rap music does sound the same.

Today, we will explore some reasons why.

The rise of the internet, the fall of the beat-tape.

When the internet made it into the music world, the culture of beat-making was forever changed. When the craft of beat-making started, a beat-makers’ only hope for recognition was to pass out tapes, demos of their skills and abilities, and hope that someone would vibe with it and further complete the project with them. In these days, anyone lucky enough to have the equipment to produce beats would have to work hard to hone their skill. In those days, the culture was still underground so if an artist wanted to be found, they would have to find a way to get their tape into the hands of a DJ or MC who would be able to play their work.

As the internet began to take hold in the 2000’s, beats began to take hold of the mainstream spotlight as well. With this sudden ability to share and copy music came the now iconic “producer tags” we now have come to love or hate. These producer tags were started when producers would find their instrumental beat being sold under someone else’s name and were created as a means to ‘watermark’ their work.

Today, the beat-tape is all but extinct, as producers choose instead to focus their efforts on marketing singles, as the need to collect compilations of instrumentals no longer makes sense to the average producer.

The type-beat

It has been said that people dont know what they like, they like what they know. The music industry is no different. Since Pachelbel’s Canon, pop music has been using the same four chords for almost every song. Humans are attracted to things that sound like what they know, as it gives any type of music a sense of comfort and familiarity.

Rap music is no different. When one art style becomes famous, every artist follows suit, hoping to cash in on the success of the previous. This might be intentional or not, but because of it, we end up hearing a lot of really similar sounding beats.

To gain a following faster, many beat-makers got their start by making type-beats to capitalize on this phenomenon. You are an up and coming rapper? You can either search through hours of un-exclusive beats hoping to find one you like, or you can search (your favorite artist) – Type beat, and then find something you know you will like. It has been proven time and time again, that this is a steady way for new producers to potentially make money, but it does create a problem.

Everyone begins to sound the same.

When a new beat-maker makes a song trying to sound like an artist, and takes off, then the next beat-maker will try to piggy-back the fame of the last. As time goes on, you create an oversaturation of similar sounding beats, and everyone suffers for it.

When everyone is copying everyone, the medium grows stale, and people lose interest. Its why country music is on the decline, and its why funk music, rock music, and countless other genres fall in popularity.

In this over-saturated market, its no wonder that fusion bands like 21 Pilots or Gorillaz have seen such a rise in popularity. The fact is, people want unique sounding music, but nobody knows how to find it.

Click Culture.

In a podcast by Sam Harris and Zeynep Tufekci, they talk about how the internet feeds us things we like, and how it will constantly shift our attention to the next thing so that we remain on any given site.

Because of this, we are constantly drawn to things that are similar to what we have previously found, and we are constantly fed what we already like. This is why so many youtube channels make their focus on helping people to make type-beats. This formula is tried and proven, and it evidently works.

I think that whether or not taking advantage of the system is helping or hurting the industry, it is definitely not going away anytime soon.

 

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

 

“Collab bro?”

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How to play well with others

Batman works alone for good reason. He has a vision for his city, and only he can execute it. If anyone else wants to help, good. But they shouldn’t expect to have a say in how he should execute his vision.

For the longest time, I operated like Batman when collaborating on my music projects. If anyone wanted to work with me, I would dominate the project and render them a slave to my… “creative genius”.

While this approach has its merits, it unsurprisingly won me very little friends, and I never ended up completing any of my collaborations. Time and time again, my collaborators would grow tired of my behavior and eventually give up on working with me.

Today, we will be exploring how a charity operates, and how we can learn from it to better our collaborations.

Learning from the Salvation Army

In my Leadership and development course, my teacher recommended I read Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army, by Robert Watson and Ben Brown. 

I found the book online on Google Books, but I will be buying the ebook version off Chapters once I finish reading the two chapter preview online.

While this recommendation is mostly founded in my work as a volunteer at an adult drop-in centre, I found much of the wisdom in the book can also be applied to beat-making, so I will be sharing what I learn from the book here!

I hope to learn more about their practices, and how to apply them to prevent burnout in my own works, as I know burnout is often a key problem both in music production and in volunteer work, so I expect that the book will go into this in greater detail later. I’ll be posting on burnout later in the month, so you can stay tuned for that!

The “big idea”

The Salvation Army operates with a central “big idea” that they wrap everything they do under. For the Salvation Army, their big idea is to “Engage the Spirit”  (referring to the biblical holy ghost). 

In so many words, what they are doing is creating a purpose for their work, and then letting everything they do be defined by that.

Your big idea must be something that excites and motivates you (and your collaborator) to work on your project, and then letting that central idea dictate how everything else falls into place.

For an example, when collaborating on a film project, we started by establishing the rules for our project. With guidelines established, it not only made us work more efficiently, it also helped us to create a more cohesive final result, where everything blended together perfectly.

 

The seven principals

In Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army, the authors note that there are seven bottom line principals that connect to their “big idea”.

While your “big idea” may be different (I don’t expect many of my readers produce music for Christian charities), these seven principals are still relevant regardless of your intent with your idea. 

1. Put people in your purpose

Finding a way to serve people with your project can be a great way to ensure that you are motivated to complete the task, and can help to keep you and your collaborators motivated while working on the project.

This can be as simple as deciding that the project will, “make people feel happy” or something like that.

By finding ways that your work will help others, it can make the work more gratifying to complete and will help to prevent fatigue for you and your collaborators.

2. Embody the brand

Go public with your vision! By letting people know what you are doing with your project, you form a certain level of accountability for your work and can inspire others to follow your lead.

By being clear about your vision statement, it can be an easy way to gain followers who resonate with your vision.

3. Lead by listening

With followers comes critics. When feedback comes, dont shy away from giving it its due-diligence. When your critics or collaborators give their input, be sure to give it consideration and use it to better refine your work to serve your goals.

Ignorance is a surefire way to ensure your work won’t have longevity.

4. Spread the responsibility, share the profits

When everyone in the collaboration has equal responsibility, it can help everyone to stay motivated and emotionally invested in the work at hand. When everyone has an emotional connection to their work, they will be more motivated to put their very best into whatever they are doing in the project.

Kanye West is a prime example of an artist who is willing to let other people step in and share their expertise where he is lacking, allowing the larger project to shine all the more.

5. Organise to improvise

Be prepared to change your work. When collaborating in mixed media environments such as film, it is an unavoidable fact that you will eventually need to scrap ideas and sometimes even start over from the ground up, in order to ensure your ideas fit into the grand narrative of the project.

Don’t be discouraged when this happens. Be prepared for it, and pay attention to the ways it forces adaptation and rewards innovation! Its important to be willing to adapt your work to better suit the narrative.

6. Act with audacity

Take risks! Creativity comes out of a relaxed mind, so don’t be afraid to mess up and learn from your mistakes. If you only do what you know, you will never bring something innovative to the table, and you won’t learn from the collaboration. Find ways to experiment with your work, and take calculated risks!

Try new tools, new effects, new instruments! There are many opportunities for experimentation when working with others! Noah ’40’ Shebib and Drake created their now-iconic sound by acting with audacity and giving themselves the freedom to experiment.

7. Make joy count

One of the best ways to prevent burnout and to stay engaged in a project is to take pleasure in your work, to celebrate little things and to share these celebrations with others! Create an environment where your collaborators feel that they are giving valuable contributions, and they will often return the favor with you.

Even when they provide an idea that you may not agree with, use constructive language to speak with them, saying things like, “That is a really cool idea, but I don’t think it fits into what we are doing right now.” instead of simply rejecting the idea altogether.

This way, your collaborators will not be discouraged from trying new things, and the project will be better for it.

 

Putting it all in perspective

While it is natural to want to take control over a project and to want to have full control over its outcome, this approach does not often yield positive relationships and can often end up hurting a project in the long run.

By defining a big idea, and then ensuring that everything you do serves that big idea, the larger project will have a clear focus and all parties present will be more motivated to complete the project.

What do you think? Do you agree with these methods? Have you had similar experiences collaborating?

Let me know!

The Kuleshov effect

How context defines meaning

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The storm.

Recently, Ram put out this advertisement. At first glance, I thought the ad seemed pretty normal, but then I discovered the firestorm that followed. Every comment I saw, every article I read, every response video that was posted, all bashed Ram for their “insensitive use of Martin Luther King Jr’s quote“.

Soon after this, I discovered a response video that used a different section of his “The Drum Major Instinct” speech.

Oh.

This puzzled me. How could a quote’s context change its apparent meaning so much? Today, we will explore this concept, and then see how we can apply it to our beat-making and music production.

The Kuleshov effect

In the 1910-20s, Lev Kuleshov was a Russian filmmaker who pondered the question, “what makes cinema a distinct art, separate from photography, literature or theater?” He came to the conclusion that any form of art has two features: The material itself, and the matter that which the material is organized.

In this way, Kuleshov came to determine that the organization of individuality shots (also called a montage) was what makes a film stand on its own as an art.

In 1921, Kuleshov first demonstrated the techniques that would later be known as The Kuleshov effect. This technique is explained perfectly here by the influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Some things never change?

This idea that meaning can be defined by the context that which it is presented in is displayed perfectly in the advertisement put out by Ram.

While the Ram advertisement is not explicitly changing the meaning of the sermon, it is still very ironically excluding the segment criticizing those who buy expensive cars, and the folly of trying to “one-up” one’s neighbor.

One for the toolkit

Now, you are likely wondering how all of this ties into the art of music production and beat-making. Surprisingly, these theories of context are quite easy to apply to our music-making using one simple technique!

The technique is called reharmonization. Essentially, it is the art of alternative ideas. A good exercise for reharmonization is to play your favorite tune’s melody in one hand, (assuming you are using a keyboard), and change the chords being played beneath it. Notice how while the melody keeps the song recognizable, the new chords change the context of the melody and will evoke a different emotional feeling from the melody.

Cool stuff, right?

This can also be seen frequently in Hip Hop music. When an artist samples a record, and then adds a new bass line, or a new melody, or any other musical element, this can be considered reharmonization, even if the artist is not explicitly intending to do this.

Here is a cool video of an artist creating a song using reharmonization as its main feature!

What do you think? Was Ram in the right? Is rehamonization a cool concept? Are these examples connected?

Let me know!

Beneficial blogging for boom-bappers in bedrooms

The start of a conversation

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In the beginning, there was nothing…”

When I began my pursuit of music production all I had was a midi controller, a demo of FL Studio, and my love of music at my disposal. I had no limitations, no pressure, nobody telling me what I couldn’t do, but also nobody telling me what I should do.

While the internet is full of great tutorials for understanding software and hardware, they all cover the “how” of music; they never cover the “who, what, where, when, and why‘s” of music. With this blog, I hope to explore these concepts and provide a guild for music producers like me; the ones who produce as a hobby, without a budget.

So who am I?

I produce music under my alias, Misadventure!

My real name, however, is Daniel Snider. 

I am very new to the idea of blogging and this is the first blog I have ever done, but I look forward to sharing my thoughts and opinions with anyone who is interested to read them! While this blog is technically an assignment in my program, I do have plans to make it my own as much as I am able to.

So, blogs?

I don’t want to write a book. I like quick and easy information. It’s amazing how much information can be conveyed in 200-400 words. For this reason, blogs felt like the natural fit for me.

I like the no-nonsenseness of blogging, with short sentences and paragraphs making it easier to read and understand. No clutter, no frills, just raw information.

With my blogs, I aim to post my opinions once a week as a sort of guild for newcomers to music production. The posts will range from advertising advice, to choosing what equipment is worth investing in. Basically, everything I didn’t know when I was starting out.

If you, the reader, have any pressing topics you want me to write on, please let me know, I would be happy to give my insights and help in any way I can!

Happy creating!

 

Form, function, and the Digital Audio Workstation.

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What is more important- form or function? Does one follow the other?

As a music producer, I am guilty of harboring extreme prejudice against certain VST plugins simply because they, “look ugly” to me. I have often overlooked amazing sounding software simply because it lacks an interface that looks inviting to me.

On the other hand, I have also found plugins and software that look graphically amazing, but simply do not function in any particular musical way, or do not work altogether. When I choose which plugins I use, there is a careful balance that must be walked. Firstly, what I look for is its appearance. Is it laid out in a way that makes it easy to use and understand? Secondly, does it sound good?

Huh?

I know many of you are thinking, “Shouldn’t sound quality be your top priority? Why does  how it looks matter?” and it is reasonable to be thinking this. How the plugin sounds should come first, but it doesn’t. From my experience producing, it can be a disaster to my workflow when I have to stop and try to figure out how to do something on a confusing plugin when I could have done an almost as good job using a simpler, nicer looking plugin. If a one plugin’s design means I can get results faster, I will choose that plugin every time, even if the alternative sounds “better”.

So why is that?

At the end of the day, I can spend hours fine-tuning, making everything “perfect”, but it won’t matter if I never actually get my content finished and published. When I spend too long on a project, I will often end up scrapping it as I run out of creative energy to finish it. If a plugin is fun to use, I can get results faster, and am often more likely to finish a track. If I am not having fun with a song, I will usually scrap it. If a plugin isn’t fun to use, it can be a huge creativity killer.

In closing

I think that form and function need to work together if a developer wants the end user to actually choose to use the software they develop. This is why companies like Native Instruments and Arturia have become so commercially successful in the highly competitive audio market. They make their software fun to use.

At the end of the day, if your work is musically interesting, which plugins you choose will not matter.

What do you think? Why do you use the plugins you do?

Fax Machines: the future of music promotion.

Why social media is DEAD for music marketing (and why email works)

Today I read this article.

What the heck.
The last time I heard email regarded as “the future” or as an “innovation“, it was around the nineties, before I was born.

Email.

Freakin’ Email.

Maybe they are right.

In the world of over saturation in the music scene, It can be next to impossible to reach people in a meaningful way, and with the slow and painful death of soundcloud, reaching people with your music is getting harder and harder.

Where we check daily for deals, and to see which classes are cancelled, maybe Email is the next reasonable step!email-music-buy-rap-beats