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Stop Learning About Music. Start Making It.

Mar 02, 2024
 
About 4 years ago I decided that if I was going to call myself an independent artist, I should start acting like one and actually build my own audience.
 
I chose Instagram (it was a different time then and you could get decent organic reach there).
I made the decision to create one hardware synth improvisation every day for a year and post each little experiment the following day.
It kind of worked - within a year my following had 5x'd and I was reaching more people than ever.
But this consistency had a valuable side effect. That side effect was much more valuable than IG followers. By using my creative muscles every day, I ended up with a lot of music I really liked.
It may seem like an obvious conclusion. But, before this, I always viewed making an album as a very serious process. It required intensive planning and flawless execution.
Turns out, the best thing I could do was simply to do MORE. Create MORE.
My outlook changed from writing a set number of pieces and refining them, to making a lot of pieces and then choosing my favorites to develop.
Out of that time of intensive experimentation came my electronic album, "Signals."
It wasn't meticulously constructed like my previous albums. It was a collection of the best ideas from a much larger pool of ideas.
When the first lockdown happened, I took the same approach with my album "Somewhat the Same." I packed up some gear and took it to an empty church, recorded a bunch of experiments, and kept my favorites.
Not all the music I made was very good (by my own standards). But I made more that I DID like simply through the law of averages.
Even in today's world of algorithmic pressure, I still believe in quality over quantity. But often, the highest level of quality comes through quantity paired with the taste to recognize your own best work.
 
Quantity Creates Quality
 
In this newsletter, we talk a lot about the craft of composition. I'm passionate about it and it's really important to me.
But what I don't want is to create anxiety for any of you. When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, that can happen.
We're always searching for tactics. But, tactics are useless if you aren't actually doing the thing.
Let's take my YouTube channel for example:
I spent far too much time trying to figure out the best times to post videos. Or the best way to edit for retention. Or the best thumbnail tricks to get clicks on my videos.
If you want to grow, these are things you have to think about, but there was one problem - I wasn't even making any videos yet...
Once I did start making videos consistently, I realized the questions I should focus on. Questions like, "how do I pick a topic people care about? How do I help people solve a problem? How do I convey my point of view in an interesting way?"
Before you begin, you don't even know which questions to ask. They reveal themselves over time if you're actively doing the thing. Action beats tactics every time.
 
Finding the Right Questions
 
The most powerful teacher is failure. It's a cliche for a reason. It's the truth.
Michael Jordan said "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
If you've ever learned an instrument, you know that the most important factor to improving is repetition.
As we fail, we discover the areas that need the most improvement and can focus on those things.
We try, we fail, we discover a deficiency, we focus, we try again, that reveals another deficiency, we try again....
This cycle repeats until we have a clear picture of the whole process. This makes it easier to repeat it the next time.
Why would we assume that MAKING music would be any different? It takes reps. The more reps you take, the sooner you fail. The sooner you fail, the faster you learn.
 
How do I know when something is finished?
 
How do we know when we've made something great?
This requires us to develop our own taste and be honest with ourselves to admit when something doesn't meet our own standard.
Taste is difficult to define because it's highly personal. It comes from our unique mix of our influences. It also comes from what we've learned from our own musical experiments.
The more experiments you run, the more refined your taste becomes.
As we dial in our taste, we develop the ability to judge our own work more honestly and accurately. We can better determine whether it accomplishes whatever we set out to do.
Not everything I make gets heard by anyone but me....and maybe a close circle of friends whose ears I trust.
Friends might encourage me to release certain things. But, I must be the final judge of whether a thing deserves to live. I have to be honest enough to put my ego aside and look at it more critically.
Johannes Brahms was notorious for burning his own scores if he didn't feel they were up to his standard. This frustrated the people around him, and continues to frustrate those of us who love his work centuries later.
But it was Brahms' decision that those works didn't represent the body of work that he wanted.
 
Practicing in Public
 
Today, we feel we have to build an audience by constantly publishing stuff. That's true.
Over the years, I've spent a lot of time complaining about this. There are certainly problems with the system, and I've talked about some of those problems in other newsletters and in my videos.
But let's see if we can reframe it to serve us as artists.
Why not use that to solve two problems at once?
We can use it to push us to create more. More reps, more practice, more skill at our craft.
While we're improving through consistent practice, we're also documenting our progress for those interested and inspired by it.
The more we do, the better we get. And let's be honest, few people will see the earliest of our experiments anyway. Most of the pressure is internal, not external.
We can create daily and share the snippets while also saving our best for our "releases."
 
When to Slow Down
 
There will come a time when you’ve been consistently getting on base and you feel like it’s time to take a home run swing.
But that comes AFTER you’ve put in the reps necessary to get to that point. You start to recognize when it’s time to do that.
The most effective path is to do stuff, then research/learn as problems arise once you’ve started doing stuff. Then continue this process until you feel you can step back and take a bigger swing with a good chance of contact.
Start before you're ready.
Learn which questions to ask.
Research as you go.
Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

1. Composition Concepts for Artists - an in-depth look at the process of composition with step-by-step examples SHOWING how and WHY I make decisions. You'll learn to take an initial idea and DEVELOP it into a finished project.

2. Understanding Synthesis - learn to design your own sounds starting with the basics of subtractive synthesis and progressing to more advanced sound design  with semi-modular and various forms of digital synthesis.

3. YouTube Membership - monthly livestreams featuring music making and sound design in real time. Q&As and exclusive videos only available to channel members.

4. One to One Coaching (coming soon) - work with me on YOUR own music. I'll help you take your track from idea to finished product, so you'll come out with a polished track or EP and any knowledge gained from walking through the process with me.