Random but Useful Music Production Tips: Round 2!

I’ve been publishing random daily tips on my Facebook page lately, then aggregating them into a blog post at the end of the week.  There’s no rhyme or reason to them, just interesting musings that occur to me each day that I feel are valuable to pass on and hopefully inspire some discussion.  In case you missed them, here’s this weeks tid bits and randomness from my brain to yours!

Power Time: Find when your “power time” is.  Power time is when you find yourself at the peak of inspiration, it’s when you are able to achieve the most focus, when you feel the most “on” and “in the zone”.  During your power time music flows easily and effortlessly.  Every person will be different with respect to when that time is and under what conditions it occurs.  My power time is in the morning.  Right after I wake up, have my green juice and do some yoga…when I hit the studio then, I get more accomplished in 2 hours then if I spent 8 hours at night.  Find your power time :)

Off Time: Be aware of your “off time”. Off time is when you feel uninspired. It’s times that you find yourself with lower energy, less focus, and you generall feel “off”. For me, it’s the late afternoon and evening. During your off time, you can still be effective in the studio. Just dont try and produce during this time. Use it, instead, for things that support your effectiveness when you’re in your power time. Things like organizing your tracks and samples. Doing sound design. Watching tutorials and learning new software. Keeping up with social media comments on your music. Making new connections with other producers and labels. Setting up collaborations. There is so much you can do in this time, yet many people waste it in front of the TV or mindlessly browsing the internet. The successful producers in the world are masters of utilizing off time.

Haters: If you’re putting yourself out there, putting your music online, playing gigs, or pursuing your passion in any way, shape or form, you will attract haters.  Don’t let haters get to you down.  Haters are a actually sign you’re becoming successful.  Nobody kicks a dead dog.  See, haters are just confused fans.  They could be hating on anyone…but they’re hating on you.  Take it as a compliment.  They’re spending their precious hate time focused on little old you.  Why?  95% of the time it’s that they wish they could be like you, have accomplished what you have, do what you do.  But, sadly, they have fallen short.  They are frustrated with their lives and instead of focusing that energy on improving themselves, they see fit to use it to try to cut you down a peg or two so they don’t feel so inferior.  Once you realize this, they won’t feel like such a big deal.  In fact, you may even develop some sympathy and compassion for these confused souls and wish them a better day.


Dealing with Haters: Some practical tips for how to handle them.  When you have someone hating on you, your first instinct will likely be to defend yourself, or to strike back in some way.  I urge you to restrain yourself from that.  See, when you react and lash back at a hater, you’re just throwing fuel on the fire.  You’re feeding them energy, validating them, giving them more ammunition.  What you focus on expands.  The best route to take is to not respond at all.  This is also the most difficult, as it requires you to step away from your ego.  It’s the ego that feels threatened, the ego that needs to defend itself.  If you can let the ego be diminished, and just sit with that, you are steping towards the high road; the road of enlightenment.  The cool thing about this place is that when you derive your satisfaction from internal sources, versus external sources, haters can never shake you.  Your self esteem will cease to be swayed by compliments or criticisms, and will instead be internally funded by your own self love.

Ableton Compressor tip: The Lookahead parameter.  What is it?  What does it do?  When a hardware analog compressor reacts to an audio input, it’s always a little bit behind.  It takes time to react.  Digital software compressors have the upper hand though.  By delaying the input signal slightly, they can “pre-read” the audio coming into them and react more quickly.  It’s kind of like anti-skip technology that CD players use.  They do this with the Lookahead parameter.  The Ableton Compressor has 3 Lookahead modes, 0 ms, 1 ms, and 10 ms.  0 ms would simulate the reaction of an analog compressor, whereas 1 ms and 10 ms scan ahead and allow the Compressor to react more quickly.  Each mode will have a different characteristic, so make sure you try them out and see which one fits best for your music.

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Ableton Compressor tip: Model types.  The Compressor has three Model types, FF1, FF2, and FB.  FF1 and 2 are feed forward models based on the legacy Compressor 1 and 2 devices from past versions.  FF2 lets more bass through than FF1, and I find that FF1 is superior for sidechaining bass and sub bass material as it produces less clicks and pops.  FB is a feedback Model that analyses the output signal of the Compressor versus the input signal like the other two.  It looks at the output signal after gain reduction and optimizes based on that information.  It tends to sound more smooth and produce less artifacts, but yields less overall gain reduction.  Many sought after analog compressors from pro studios are feedback models.  Also keep in mind that Lookahead and Sidechain are disabled in FB, as they require reading an input signal.

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How a Teacher and Mentor Can Help You Excel

This video is on the value of having teachers in our lives.  I was recently reminded of this after taking saxophone lessons again.  I’ve been playing saxophone since I was in the 6th grade and for the longest time I practiced and played on my own. I had reached a point of stagnation, and I started to seek out a teacher.  

About a month ago I started taking lessons, which was very humbling because I needed to relearn how to play the instrument from the ground up. This was also very empowering because for years I’d been hitting these blocks and trying to build upon a foundation of bad habits.  I had to go backwards to go forward and I wasn’t able to identify these things myself because I was too close to them. Whereas my teacher was able to spot these things in a matter of seconds.

As we write electronic music, I think there’s massive value in seeking out teachers you can meet with in person.  One of the ways I do that with music is to always surround myself with people who are doing something different or know more than I do in a particular area.  When talented producers come to town, I seek them out to connect, and even film interviews when possible to share with you all.

Some of the other interviews I’ve done include:

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Zen and the Art of Music Production

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In this video we discuss Zen as it applies to the process of music production.  Recently, I’ve been researching Zen, and in particular a book called Zen and the Art of Archery.  I’ve found many parallels between the concepts of this book, and the art of music production, providing inspiration for this video.  I myself have been studying the art of archery since I was a kid.  From about 12 years old, I’ve been target shooting.  Something about it was always soothing, meditative almost.  I used to shoot before exams at school to calm my mind.  I never looked at it as meditation before reading Zen and the Art of Archery.

But let’s get to the point here and discuss how it applies to music production:

1) Ritualization.  Before the archer even draws the bow, there is a whole process to be followed.  A ritual, if you will.  Every movement is meticulous (I love this type of precision that is everpresent in Japanese culture).  This preparatory phase ensures that when the archer does, finally, draw the bow, he or she has reached a state of presence.  This state of a clear and focused mind empowers a spiritual connection with the shot.  Try turning your attention to how you approach time in the studio.  Do you rush in, frantically with a cup of coffee?  Is your cell phone constantly buzzing?  Are you on Facebook?  Or are you focused, clear, present and prepared to create something special.  Perhaps there is a ritual you can use to prepare for your studio time?

2) The goal is not to hit the target.  Interestingly, the archer’s mind is not focused on the target at all.  It is focused on everything BUT the target.  On the breath, on having a clear mind, on the stance.  When the archer’s attention is on these things, then there is no other result that can occur OTHER than to hit the target.  For music producers, these things are sound design, synthesis, mixing skills, song arrangement etc.  If you are doing all of these things well, and with meticulous precision, you cannot do anything BUT create an excellent piece of music.

3) Taking the shot.  In Zen archery, the archer does not “take” the shot.  The shot is said to happen all on it’s own.  It is the archer’s duty to get out of the way, wait at the state of highest tension, and release attachment.  In music, if we pressure ourselves to write a banger of a tune then we run the risk of placing undue stress on ourselves and taking us out of creative flow.

Hope you enjoy it!

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How to increase your productivity in the studio

How to increase your productivity in the studio

Some things all artists struggle with, at one time or another, are focus, productivity and completion of projects they are satisfied with.  In this blog post, I would like to address some tips to help you increase your productivity in the studio.

Over my time as a musician and entrepreneur, I’ve invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into personal development.  Many of the courses I’ve attended have been oriented towards focus and productivity.  I’d like to highlight some of the key lessons that personally had the most impact on my focus and productivity and how they can be applied to increase your productivity in the studio.

One caveat: Unfortunately, most of you are likely to read this, nod your heads, and think many of these tips are great ideas, but never actually implement them effectively in your daily routine.  Such is life and human nature.  However, those of you who choose to take this seriously and powerfully bring this system into existence in your life will experience nothing short of an epic transformation in your productivity and artistic output.  This I can promise.

Here are a series of simple, and highly effective tips:

  1. Create a morning routinecontaining physical activity, hydration and nutrition that will support you being in a productive state of mind.  Here’s my morning routine:
    • Hydrate: I start the day with a big glass of water and a green juice (celery, cucumber, kale, cilantro, kiwi, ginger).  We lose a bunch of water while we sleep, so hydrating is very important.  Green juice also alkalizes the body and provides an abundance of wonderful nutrients that work so much better for your long-term health than caffeine.
    • Stretch and breathe: I do 15 minutes of stretches.  This could be tai chi, qi gong, or yoga.  Something that combines movement with deep breathing.  90% of our energy comes from oxygen and most of us are compulsive shallow breathers, using only the top 10% of our lungs.  Deep breathing is an amazing way to awaken the body and bring alertness to the mind.
    • Meditate: I do 20 minutes of meditation.  Meditation strengthens your mind’s ability to focus, which is essential in the studio.  Just as you go to the gym and lift weights to strengthen your muscles, meditation develops your brain’s “focus muscle”.
    • Nourish: I like to start my day with a superfood smoothie.  90% of the average person’s energy is burned by digestion of heavy foods.  When you start your day with dense, cooked food like bagels, eggs, meats, cereals etc., it diverts blood flow to your stomach and makes you lethargic.  I start my day with a smoothie because the blender takes care of most of that digestive process for me, speeding the nutrients into my body with much less energy.  My smoothies consist of mainly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and other superfoods.
  2. Front load your most important activities into your morning.  If writing music is really that important to you, make time for it FIRST.  Most people start their day by checking their e-mail or Facebook.  This will immediately put you into “reaction mode” where you will start responding to all the randomness that hits your inbox.
  3. Eliminate distractions.  While you are working on your music, eliminate all distractions.  The average person is distracted once every 11 minutes, yet it takes us much longer than that(approx 20 minutes) to regain a deep level of concentration.  So many of us live in a perpetual state of distraction.  The worst offenders are our technological gadgets.  I suggest the following:
    • Turn off your cell phone and put it in a different room, far away from you.
    • Physically unplug your internet (modem, router etc.)
    • If you have other people in your home, tell them you are working on music and you are not to be disturbed unless the building is buring down.  They will, invariably, test your conviction with this request and you will have to reaffirm this boundary when they try to interrupt you with “just a quick question”.  Be polite, but firm, as many times as it takes to train them that you are serious about what you say.
    • Turn off all electronic notifications on your computer (e-mail pop ups, Growl, software updates, calendar reminders etc.).  Computers are great tools for productivity, but they are also infinite pools of possible distractions.  Be ruthless.
    • If you have a landline, unplug it.
  4. Work for a focused period, then take a break.  I’ve heard that we work best in 90 minute sessions.  Just like you need rest in between sets of weights at the gym, give your mind a break between intense sessions of focus.  I jet outside on my sun deck to get some fresh air, or take a brief walk, then head back into the studio and re-engage with my session.  When I limit the duration of my work sessions, I find I work with much greater intensity and purpose.
  5. Exercise.  I make sure that I do something active and vigorous once a day.  After a solid morning in the studio, I’m usually ready for a larger break.  In the afternoon, I find I start to lose energy, so rather than drinking a coffee, I head out for a workout.  It could be a ride on my bike, a yoga class, a session in the gym, a run, a swim.  Some form of cardio or resistance training.  This gets your endorphins going, oxygenates the body, and renews your ability to focus and exert mental and creative energy.  For anyone who’s “anti-gym” keep this in mind.  After the age of 25, your body will lose 1 pound of muscle per year if you don’t engage in regular resistance training.  I see far too many pale, sickly looking producers who look like they’ve been holed up in the studio drinking Jolt for days on end.  It’s difficult to be creative and productive if you’re not looking after your body.
  6. Batch your repetitive tasks.  For anything consistent and administrative in nature, create several times per week for doing them.  Examples of this are e-mail, responding to voicemails, paying bills, cleaning, laundry etc.  By batching these tasks together and doing them all at once, you will tap into the power of getting “into the zone”, rather than multi-tasking and doing them piecemeal when they pop up.
  7. Get up earlier.  My goal is to get up a 5am.  Morning time is different from evening time.  In the early morning, the rest of the world is sleeping and can’t interrupt you.  There are no phones ringing.  No one inviting you out for dinner, drinks, coffee, whatever.  The early morning is peaceful, serene and precious for producitivty.  Many people say they are not “morning people” and wake up to be lethargic and unproductive.  This is merely a MINDSET; not a fact.  If you follow a solid morning routine, like the one above, when you wake, you will be alert and ready to unleash your creativity on the world.  I wrote my Ableton e-book- a tool that has been invaluable in building the community of music producers who I have the pleasure of supporting – by getting up 1 hour earlier and spending that time to write a little bit each day.  I finished the book in 30 days, rather than the 6 months or a year it would have taken me if I’d tried to “fit it in” to my regular schedule.
  8. Work from a plan.  I plan my entire week on Sunday.  If that seems like too much all at once, plan each day the night before.  When you do this, life becomes so much simpler and more streamlined.  When you wake up, you don’t have to deliberate and choose what to do and when to do it, you simply look at your plan and execute.  Being a successful music producer requires a set of other supporting activities, such as sound design (creating synth patches, creating audio samples, building effects chains), learning (reading manuals, watching tutorials, taking courses), organizing your library of presets and samples, writing music, mixing music, marketing yourself etc.  Planning these activities will empower you to accomplish all of them.  Just like having written goals is an essential trait of a successful person, working from a written plan is an essential trait of a productive person.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and find value in the information summarized for you.  Here’s to your increased productivity!  <3 Vespers

* turns on cell phone, plugs in internet, heads out for a workout ;) *

Additional Recommended Research

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