9 Ways Music Producers Kill Themselves (and How to Fight Back)

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As artists, we’re often our own worst enemies. Here’s a list of negative thoughts you may experience and how to deal with them.

1). You think a part of your song is too long winded. You’re not sure if a part of your song is too repetitive.

Why you shouldn’t care: Length of sections (and repetition of something even) are all things you should measure by your audience.

How to deal with it: Find what’s appropriatefor your genre — listeners know what to expect. I call this Genre Expectations. An audience who listens to a specific genre knows what they’re getting. I love the example of Deadmau5’s “Strobe” which has an obnoxiously long introduction… except the song is commonly referred to as one of his best. That’s because his audience expects slow builds and emotional releases.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/gM0-D5TZV2k

If your intro is three minutes of kick drum, hi hats, and a snare, you will probably fail to appease a Rock n’ Roll crowd, but Minimal House fans will dig it if it flows and grooves.\r\n

2). You think your song (or some aspect) is too “simple.”

Why you shouldn’t care: As I’ve said before, complexity does not mean good. It means complex.

How to deal with it: Understand that simple is an aesthetic choice. Most awesome music is really simple — it’s to the point and doesn’t distract. Complicated music tends to be an esoteric adventure (think Progressive Rock with twenty time signature changes within a single song.).

If you often share your music with other producers rather than regular listeners, you are familiar with how complexity can become such a circle jerk. As makers, we inherently find ways the art is pushed to be interesting. We can suspend taste for technique.

An average listener does not give one damn about how many time signatures or synth modulations you’ve managed to stick in your track. Do what you need to do to make what you want to make and say what you want to say, and you’ll connect with someone.

Note that keeping it simple is not an excuse to be lazy. It’s a method of removing extraneous fluff from your track and identifying the core of what makes your music soar… and then, ya know, making it.

3). You can’t seem to make the sound you want. You think your sounds are “cheesy.”

Why you shouldn’t care: If you think your stuff is cheesy you’re most likely unfairly comparing yourself to some other producers work. You may even think it’s too simple — which we’ve discussed previously is not a valid reason.

How to deal with it: First, stop comparing yourself to another artists sound. Unless your goal is to recreate a track, you should not do this. Comparing yourself to professional mastered tracks is an excellent way to lose your identity and question your tastes. It’s a terrible way to make music you feel great about.

There may be some other mental block as to why you’re not appreciating your sounds, so try to identify them and let them go… or try to listen to your sounds with as open a mind as possible. This may require stepping away for a few minutes, an hour, or even a day. Especially if you’ve spent a long time on a particular sound — it can be hard to stay objective as all your focus is poured into one thing for so long.

4). You can’t seem to get a sound from your head into your computer.

Why you shouldn’t care: Execution is always short of vision. I’ve written about this as the “potential of a hot girl\”.

In summary, a musical idea in your head is the opposite of concrete — it’s abstract and infinite. It has unlimited potential because it’s not locked down in a medium. This is attractive. Things we don’t completely see or hear give us space to imagine that they’re much better. It’s like being a mystery to a romantic partner — you let them fill in the gaps.

Once you attempt to carve out a space for the melody, chords, beat, or whatever, it becomes real. It becomes cemented in reality. Grounded. Real. It loses the romantic aspect.

Not to say it’s always less appealing, but it pretty much is. You’ll rarely rock something out your head onto paper and be perfectly excited with how it came out.

How to deal with it: Acknowledge this. Once you understand that execution is always short of vision, you’ll be able to accept that you often can’t make something as wonderful as the notes in your head.

And that’s perfectly okay and expected.

Keep on rocking. The more you try, the more you aim for that infinite ideal, the closer you get to it.

5). You think your tracks are “unoriginal” or all sound the same.

Why you shouldn’t care: There’s a few things that could be at play here.

The first is your musical taste is narrow and thus your musical output is narrow.

Imagine if, in your entire life, you’ve only read Sherlock Holmes mysteries. You never heard another story. If you were to go ahead and make a story, you’d end up with something very similar to a Sherlock Holmes story because that’s all you know about storytelling.

The second is that you might actually have a really strong flavor or taste — that is truly your own — which comes through in everything you make. About a year ago I had a conversation with Brian Trifon of Trifonic and this topic came up. Here’s what he said:

With Trifonic, it’s never been an issue because, I can’t help it, I have a sound, and I’ve had a sound ever since I started making music — and for better or worse, it comes through.

The downside is when I get into another artist, like Trentemøller or Murcof, I’ll try to do music like them and it sucks. It ends up sounding like low-rent Murcof. But, I’ll keep working at it and it starts to sound like Trifonic and it’ll be cool and I’ll like it, but it’ll sound nothing like Murcof — and that’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s frustrating.

I have friends who can mimic anything but their complaint is they don’t know what they’re trying to do. It’s become a conscious decision for them to decide what they will sound like on that day.

For me, I don’t even have that choice. I’m going to sound like Trifonic even if I don’t want to sound like Trifonic.

Thirdly, you might be limited on your tool set. If all you have is a guitar and a wood block, I bet your music sounds like someone playing a guitar and a woodblock… and unless you try harder, your instincts will have you making music a specific way over and over.

How to deal with it: Widen, broaden, and expand your tastes by listening to and learning to appreciate or even enjoy a wider variety of music.

This often requires peeling back layers of resentment or disgust. Yea, Taylor Swift might not be your cup of tea but the artist who understand why her songs work and why she’s so popular is wielding a much stronger pen than an artist who shuns away anything that he dislikes.

Understand that your personal flavor comes through in everything you make. The stronger it comes through, the more your tracks will have a cohesive sound.

This rocks. This is your identity speaking through your music.

Find some new tools or toys. Having new ways to create is a surefire way to have new outcomes.

Here’s more Brian:

People are always like, “what plug-in should I get or how do I do this little trick or that” and it’s actually, really boring. I’ve spent a lot of time and there aren’t that many tricks — those are the things I’m happy to show and share with others.

If your sound is a trick or a single tool, then you can’t have longevity. For example, let’s take Skrillex. Whether you love him or hate him he came out with a sound that was different and very polarizing. Then you have a lot of people who are trying to imitate it, but he will always be moving along and innovating.

He’ll move on and continue to evolve. I really doubt he cares that much about his monster growl sounds — he is not a one trick pony in that regard, whereas I feel some people are relying on that sound, and we’ll see overtime if they can swim because there will be a big backlash if it’s not already underway.

Your life is a lot easier if you do something that comes naturally that’s also somewhat different. There are two choices: One, you do what other people are doing and do it better. This happens sometimes, but it’s really competitive. Two, you do things slightly different and you end up competing with less people.

If you want to create something for the masses, you just have more competition because there’s more people who are trying to claim the fame, or the audience, or to be recognized. And the people that are doing it right now, no matter what you think of their music, are really good at it — you can’t do it and not be good at it.

People always hate on whoever’s popular, like Tiesto or Deadmau5, but those guys do not fuck around. They aren’t jokers — they didn’t just luck out. They don’t just have a Sylenth patch where they press it and it makes their music. You can hate their aesthetic and think it’s cheesy, but they are amazing at what they do and they clearly love it and feel it. There’s no other way to do it and be successful.

So you have to evaluate with yourself — what do I do and love, as well as, what am I good at? If its not the thing that’s popular, then maybe you should focus on whatever it is and build it up. If you like it, there will be someone else who does.

There’s like, what, 7 billion people in the world? There’s gotta be… I don’t know, at least 50 people who feel the same way as you haha.

6). You don’t know where to go next — you find yourself stuck after writing an 8 bar loop. Not sure where to take or bring your track.

Why you shouldn’t care: Because you’ve done the hardest part! Writing an 8 bar loop that you’re excited about is harder than finishing a track once you grasp how to move forward.

How to deal with it: I’ve written about a technique that you can use before.

Check that out and this video.

In fact I have an entire course written on how to deal with this.

7). You don’t think you have enough time.

Why you shouldn’t care: This is a meta concern. I’ve recently been struggling with this. It seems the older we get, the faster time moves and more we want to get done. That’s pretty unfortunate, right?

How to deal with it: For a day (or a week, to be most effective) either write down how you spend your time, or take mental notes and actually acknowledge what you’re doing. Sitting on Reddit for 2 hours procrastinating something? Watching an hour of half of TV after dinner? Well there’s a thing you might want to do less of!

This requires stepping and back and realizing how you actually spend your time. It means being extremely deliberate with how you spend your time. It means begin intentional, and allowing yourself to do nothing when you need to. It means asking yourself if you really even want to make music. It means reducing scope on what you want to achieve, or allowing yourself more time.

Furthermore, you may want to be extremely concrete with goals and a timeline. Would you be able to finish one song each month? If you did that this year, you’d have that album you’ve always wanted to make. And that’s 30 days per track. Trust me, you can nail that on the head… but you have to commit to it.

Further-Further-more, you may want to reconsider your goals. As just mentioned, a track a month sounds easy and stressless because, well, it is.

If your goal is to \”make an album\” or \”release a track on a label\” then it’s abstractly ambitious and scary. This inherently intimidates us and causes us to resist taking action.

So reword, refocus, and get on it!

8). You find yourself getting hit by creative blocks and are not sure how to get past them.

Why you shouldn’t care: Creative blocks happen. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. But I’ll let you know they happen less when you find a method/process/formula/workflow/style that you produce easily in.

For instance, I find making progressive house (my electronic music of choice) is demanding of me.

On the other hand, give me an electric guitar and I’ll have you a solid track recorded in a half hour.

In fact, I’ve yet to run out of steam with my new rock set-up. Why? Because rock music comes easier to me. Because I can express myself with ease through a guitar.

Creative blocks do happen, though. And I could write a lot more on them, but this hint is a big one to chew on… so chew away.

9). You think your music is trash. You think your music is bad. You find yourself doubting if you have the ability to make something good.

Why you shouldn’t care: I’m speaking to men with this — Men have an innate desire to show we are capable. (Women will relate, but this is a much deeper issue with men).

Men need to be capable. It’s how our brains work. It’s a way we prove our worth to the world. When we feel incapable, it subtly hints that we’re not worthy of whatever it is we’re aiming to do/be.

You ever have someone offer you directions or advice and find yourself offended? It’s because these acts subtly imply you don’t know how to do something.

If you think your music is bad, you are admitting you are incapable and you are resisting the idea that you are, in fact, incapable.

Or, even worse, you are capable but are so convinced your music is bad through self comparisons or significant self doubt.

How to deal with it: Some of us will need to admit we aren’t capable yet. We still have to learn. The best thing here is to admit and accept that you need to learn. That you need to try more. Then, you need to understand that you’re capable.

If you’re sitting in front of a computer, a DAW, or a guitar, or anything and you’re determined to make something amazing, you’re capable. I believe in you. When you feel doubtful, just remember — Zencha knows you can do it. I believe in you!

For the second group here, you need to find positive approval for your music. You need to find people who appreciate the work you’ve done. If it’s actually good, sharing it with friends, forums, Facebook, etc, is a strategy. You need people to let you know that, yes, you can make something good. External validation can be a good thing!

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