I am impatient. I believe that I can do anything, right now, immediately. But contrary to my parent’s belief – I wasn’t born gifted. If I ever become a successful producer/musician/singer/anything, it certainly won’t be because I have natural talent! So – I need to learn.
Before I start, I want to share something I have learned about myself. This is important because I am particularly interested in the subject of mental health and wellbeing in the music industry, which is becoming less of a taboo now (quite rightly so) and part of that is sharing how things affect us so that we can support and guide each other through our experiences.
My impatience and resistance to learning causes a large degree of dissatisfaction in myself because I haven’t quite got all the skills I need to create the music I am trying to. This led to a lack of self-belief. Which impacts my capability. Which results in me giving up quickly. Which ultimately leaves me feeling a lack of self-worth. You see the pattern here. Perhaps I am the only one – but I would bet my last pennies that I’m not!
So what am I doing about it?
I have decided to become my own teacher. And while I am working out strategies to help myself, I thought it might be nice to share what is and isn’t working. I am learning to love learning…
First of all – becoming great at something doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience. It takes hours of practice and learning. It takes mistakes and wrong turnings – all of which will lead to the greatness you are trying to achieve.
Here is some of my advice on how to embrace learning, particularly if you are a novice music producer like me!
START WITH A PAUSE
One thing that really helps you start learning with intent is to press pause on what you were doing before. Treat it like a tiny meditation or mindfulness session – take a few minutes to just sit back, in silence, closing your eyes and just breath. You can use this time to let go of anything that might be causing you anxiety or stress, do a little stretch to release any tension and tune in so that you can enter your learning zone with a clear mind.
DESIGN YOUR OWN CLASSES
Be your own teacher! There is a whole world wide web of resources out there for you to use, for free, in the comfort of your own home. Here are some tips on how to do this:
Set specific time slots on a regular basis
Imagine you are doing a part time college course in your chosen topic. Maybe every Tuesday evening between 7-9 is your dedicated learning time. Or perhaps you are a morning person and prefer to get up early on a Saturday. Either way – set aside the time in a structured way to help you dedicate yourself to the cause. It’s like going to the gym – but for your brain. Ooooh – a brain gym!
Plan your classes in advance
Imagine you are your own teacher and set aside some time for planning – think about the things that you are struggling the most with. What is the weakest element of your music? You could design a trio of lessons just focusing on that topic. Literally don’t do anything else in that lesson. For example, I am trying to learn how to sing a song I wrote recently. I need to focus on 3 core things: Projection, Breathing and Articulation so I have created a trio of workshops to help me learn these things. (If you are interested in seeing how I structure my classes, get in touch, I would be happy to give some guidance and share a template I created).
Make your classes structured
Think about how you will structure your classes. Say you do a one-hour class – you could break it down into 3-4 bitesize components that include watching/reading a tutorial, a practical application of what you have learned and then some fun time to practice your new skill in a live environment.
If you are a producer you could design a class around a specific topic (like how to EQ drums for example) or focused on a plug-in that you have recently installed; spending an entire hour learning everything there is to know about it. It will make you a better producer and will result in a better-quality mix when you are done.
Set yourself some homework
Be realistic with your time but setting some homework in-between lessons is a good way to practice what you are trying to learn. You could spend as little as 15 minutes a day practicing – you will be surprised at how much this helps you. And do it in drills – the same thing over and over again for 15 minutes. I sometimes drill the same 4 bars of vocal in a song for 5-10 minutes so that I can pay attention to how I project and articulate my voice. You might be learning to play piano or keyboard – go over your newly learning chord progression over and over until it becomes second nature.
ORGANISE YOUR LEARNING
Never before have we lived in a time where you can literally learn anything from the internet. But sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming and we often end up down a YouTube rabbit hole.
So, create yourself a little learning zone on your laptop or, better yet, use Google Drive because it’s free and accessible anywhere, from any device. You could create a spreadsheet for different topics and every time you come across a video tutorial, blog piece or whitepaper on that topic – pop the link in your spreadsheet until it is time to use it. This is a perfect place for you to assign your favourite tutorials to the classes you have planned.
LEARN THROUGH PLAY
This is my favourite. Learning through play has been researched for decades and is proven to be one of the most highly effective methods to developing skills. This is synonymous with how I work because I am the kind of producer who just opens a project and plays around with stuff until a song happens – but not all producers work like that. I have friends who absolutely dumbfound me with their ability to come up with a fully formed idea in their head that they can replicate pretty much exactly into their DAW.
But you know what? Take it easy and create something for no reason at all. Not all of your music needs to have an end goal or a reason. You don’t need to work towards a release everytime you start a project.
If you are a producer – set yourself a plug-in challenge. Find one of your projects and save it down separately with a new name – I actually have a folder called ‘The F8ck it right up Files’. Now, take off all the existing plugins and go explore some new ones. Look at plugins you never used before – and just play with them. It doesn’t just stop at plugins either – use your samples in ways that you never thought to before – chop them up, reverse them, layer them with different instruments.
Record your own samples! The best part of this is that your song will be entirely unique and will always belong to you. Just record stuff – on your mic, on your phone – doesn’t matter how good or bad the quality is – you can create something out of it. Bang a spoon on a pan, drop some seeds on a plate, throw an egg at the window, record you cat purring – whatever, just get playing and make some magic happen with it!
If you play an instrument, do away with your sheet music, ignore that chords app and just tinker. I have a guitar that I don’t know how to play AT ALL. But sometimes I just pick it up, sit in front of the TV and play stuff just for the sheer fun of it. You never know what you might come up with!
LEARN BY TEACHING OTHERS
OK so this is where I am at right now. I am not a professional producer, writer or mental health specialist – I have so much to learn! But by sharing my progress, I am hoping to provide some guidance and support whilst learning my craft.
Say you are a novice producer but you play guitar – why not give guitar lessons to another producer who could teach you some things in return? Maybe you just spent a month learning how to mix drums? Do an online tutorial to help other people learn what you just did.
It will drive you to become better at your craft, help you build professional relationships in the industry and give you some confidence in your ability.
I love time hacking. If I can make as many moments as possible useful then I’m happy (I mean, OK, I also love a good Netflix binge – we all gotta have chill time while we are evolving honey). Here are some things you can do to get the most out of your ‘inbetweeny’ time (yes, I made up a word, so what…):
- On a train somewhere? Look through YouTube and find some tutorials that you can drop into your spreadsheet for later.
- Watching TV? Why not sort through your samples, tidy up your files and free up some space on your hard drive with your latest binge-fest on in the background…
- Walking to work? Listen to your latest project – this is where a lot of people will listen to your music; so it is the perfect opportunity to get an idea of what it sounds like in the real world and make some mental notes if you hear something that needs editing.
- Washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom? Listen to your music – how does it sound through your phone/Bluetooth speaker?
These last two points may help you gain an outsiders perspective on your music, away from the screen, away from your actual instrument – just listening to music like you would listen to any other artist. It will also help you develop a critical ear. Not having a visual representation of your music will fine tune your ability to understand how chords work together, how to mix properly, how to arrange better.
RECOGNISE THAT LEARNING IS PRODUCTIVE
Don’t always feel that creating something sellable is the most productive use of your time. The world does not have the right to have any expectations of you. You might have expectations of yourself and probably bills to pay, but once you recognise that putting time aside purely just for learning is just as productive, you will feel less anxious.
It is productive because it is making you better at your craft. It can also be a great time for self-reflection, taking a step back and looking at where you could improve. Nobody is perfect – doesn’t matter how accomplished you are. By learning your craft implicitly, you will become quicker at the fundamentals giving you more time and energy to explore, innovate, do things differently and eventually stand out from the crowd.
FORGET WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING
We often rush into things, find the quickest possible route to the answer and feel the need to get stuff done quickly just in case somebody else gets there first. You know what? Forget what everybody else is doing – this is your journey and theirs is theirs. You may not know how long it took them to reach their dreams – that’s the bit we don’t often get to see, but I guarantee you it wasn’t overnight.
If you genuinely want to learn your craft, allow yourself the time and embrace it. Life is not about the destination, the end result or the accomplishment – it is about enjoying the journey it takes to get there.
It’s easy to say this, but in practice it is harder than people realise and I am going to do a bigger blog piece about the topic later down the line; but please – be patient with yourself.
We live in a world of such immediacy where expectation and demand is higher than ever before. It pains me when I see fans tweeting their favourite artists with comments like ‘when’s the new album?’ ‘new music please!’ etc etc – no wonder we have such a big problem with mental health in the industry. Music is not a commodity and neither are you. Making music (or any artform) should be an enjoyable experience without pressure or demand. So f*ck what everybody else thinks and just allow yourself to be you in your own time at your own pace.
I would like to recommend an amazing book that my dad let me borrow (he’s not getting it back…!), a book that I am only a quarter of the way through but has given me so much perspective on patience.
It is called ‘Songwriters on Songwriting’ by Paul Zollo (there are a couple of editions, I am reading the expanded 4th edition). It really shows you just how long some of the greatest songs of our time have taken to come to light.
Another great read is ‘Outliers – The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell – it gives a lot of perspective on the learning process and how much you can achieve by truly learning your craft.
SOME EXTRA QUICK TIPS!
Focus – when you are in the learning zone, switch your phone on silent, ban social media for an hour and just focus.
Be inspired – not envious. All those successful people you look up to worked hard to get where they are now. Be inspired by that and let their success light a fire under you instead of making you feel incapable or unworthy.
Give procrastination the boot and in the words of a famous sportswear brand – just do it!
Have fun – making art is meant to be fun. It is for you – not for anybody else. It is your journey, a way to express yourself, somewhere to pour all your emotions. So just enjoy it for what it is – the success will come eventually.
Don’t rush – take your time and do it properly.
Trust in your process – this is so crucial. Just let your intuition guide you and believe that you are on the path to achieving your dreams.
This is your time to enjoy what you are doing. There’s no rush – be brilliant by putting the time in.