Music Tips From My Dad

Like I’m sure a lot of fathers do, over the years my dad used to repeat a lot of different phrases that he liked.  And while he never originally intended any of them to be about music-making at the time, none the less I’ve recently come to realize how many of these I’ve inadvertently adopted myself over the years.

So, in honor of his birthday today, I’d like to pass on some of the more important nuggets of wisdom he passed on to me, and explain how I think they relate to music production.  I’m not claiming any of these are things he made up, but I think they definitely can apply to all of us.


1. A moment of inconvenience is better than a lifetime of regret.

At the time I first heard this, I believe we were actually discussing the need to lock up our motorcycles every night (I was more of crotch-rocket type, my dad’s a Harley guy).  The basic premise is pretty obvious, mainly that it’s better to take a couple of seconds to secure what means the most to you, or else you risk spending the rest of you life wishing you would have when something goes wrong.

Now, I’m not saying you need to lock up your synthesizers and drum machines every night, but it’s definitely worth it to take some simple precautionary steps to make sure you don’t lose important data at the very least.   I’m sure many of us have been told again and again to back up our projects, samples, and anything else we’re working on in the studio, but how many of you make it a daily part of your routine?

I had this point driven home to me early on in my music making, when I had a memory card in my MC505 get corrupted, and I lost pretty much all of my work from the previous year.  I knew I should have been backing it up, but I was always busy or in a hurry, and honestly how often does something go wrong anyway?  At least, those were the excuses I used to use.

These days I’m in the habit of backing things up every day when I finish writing.  If it’s hardware, I do sysex dumps and save the data with the date in the file name. If it’s a DAW project, then it gets backed up to an external hard drive, sometimes even two.  Heck, if you’re on OSX you can do this without even needing to think about it just by turning on Time Machine.

Regardless of the method you use, get in the habit of frequently saving and backing up your work or you run the risk of losing it forever.


2. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about when this came up, probably me whining about a job I didn’t get back when I was younger.  It’s pretty easy at times to fall into the trap of feeling like we’ve worked hard and “deserve” reward.  Or that perhaps we feel that we’re better than someone else at a task and people will one day realize it on their own.  I know a lot of producers who think that just by writing good songs, they’ll some day get famous without having to do anything else.

The reality of course is much different.  It doesn’t matter how good you are at something, if you want to succeed at it you need to constantly be looking at how you can improve, and what else you can work on to get the recognition you desire.  Especially in the music industry, where there are thousands of other people just as hungry as you for that reward.

The truth is, no one is going magically knock on your door and offer you a dream gig or job.  You need to be out there all the time pushing your sound, networking with others, and actively WORKING to make it happen.  Because if you don’t, there’s a line of people behind you who will.


3. It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Again, I heard this so many times growing up that I don’t remember the original reference.   For me this kind of ties in the data back up above, but it applies more to when you leave the house for gigs.  If you’re a live act, bring extra MIDI, audio, USB cables.  If you’re a DJ you bring more records, CDs, or tracks than you think you might need.  Do you have extra adaptors in case you need to plug into a mixer input you don’t use at home?  Do you have a back up of your set, either on a flash drive or burned to DVDr?

You get the idea.

Take a couple seconds when packing for an important event, and make sure you have some kind of back up.  Redundancies might be a pain to carry, but it looks a heck a lot more professional than having to tell a promoter you can’t play because you forgot your power cord at home.  It even applies to things like extra demo CDs or business cards to pass out should the opportunity arise.  Or bringing a small flashlight in case it’s darker on stage than you imagined when you need to set up.

Think ahead, plan ahead.


4. It is what it is.

Seems like this one is making a come back these days, but I’ve been hearing it for awhile.  Some people might take interpret it as just leaving things up to fate (see above point).  But I’ve always taken this to mean that sometimes things happen that out of our control, and we need to recognize that and just deal with it as best we can.

Let’s face it, in this business you’re going to have a LOT of failures before you start achieving success.  Heck, even once you do start succeeding at some goals, there’s still going to be times you just don’t achieve something you set out to do.  You don’t land that perfect gig, a record deal falls through, and life and work commitments will at times get in the ways of our dreams.

But if you focus on the negative things and let it get you down, you’re never going to develop the mental toughness to see things through, and brush off these setbacks as nothing more than small bumps on the road to your goals.

Things happen to everyone that we have no control over it, the trick is to just accept that, and move on as best you can no matter what.


Hopefully some of these ideas will stick with you like they have me, because I think they’re important no matter what your hobby or profession is.  Feel free to share your own in the comments, either phrases passed on my your parents or friends, or even just some you’ve always found helpful in your own music making.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Dad!

(see, I wasn’t just twirling screwdrivers all those times)


10 Replies to “Music Tips From My Dad”

  1. What does your workflow look like for taking nightly sysex dumps? Which is to say, what software to do you use, how do you organize the dumps (are they dumps of the whole machine or just certain banks?), do you use any kind of version control software with them? I feel like this is something I should be doing.

  2. My Machinedrum is permanently connected to the TM-1 interface, so each night I just dump “All” sysex from it to the C6 application. With turbomidi on the TM-1, takes maybe 20 seconds. Then I just save that file with the name “Tarekith MD Back up 02-10-12a.syx” in a folder for such purpose.

    Good question though, I’ll probably do a post soon on my back up regime.

  3. I’ve never been a fan of “it is what it is” precisely because it can (and is) interpreted to allow oneself to be resigned to one’s condition.

    I much prefer your explanation of it. One must deal with things as they come, because all you can really change is yourself, and move on.

  4. Great post.

    My dad is always good for such phrases, and they do certainly stick with me. A few of my favorites:

    -“Figure it out.” My dad’s version of RTFM, except there usually wasn’t one.

    -“God is in the details.” Trying to get me to look at the immense amount of detail in creative projects (in this case, back in my architecture days) as a good thing rather than an annoyance. Sad to say I still haven’t assimilated this viewpoint. Details still piss me off.

    -“We don’t have problems, only solutions.” Again, one that I’m still working on but the essential key to accomplishing anything.

    -“The definition of an expert is ‘Someone from out of town’.” Probably my favorite. My spouse’s version of this is, “No one else knows what they’re doing so I might as well do it my way and get paid for it.”

  5. My father told me:

    “Before you start a project or commission any work, agree plans and terms. If you don’t you are bound to have trouble later.”

    True enough when I have neglected this advice I always had problems.

  6. Good post man!
    Last 2 gigs really prove point 3 to me…well to others anyway. Because I always through a small kit of extra stuff in the car whenever I go to a gig.
    The last 2 gigs saw this kit be used to get the sound system up and running for one gig and help out a fellow artist hook up some gear at another. A great thing 🙂

  7. Great post! “The world doesn’t owe you anything” is a great motivator–it turns the idea that some amount of work is enough into the idea that NO amount of work is enough, which can be very helpful if you don’t go crazy with it.

    In the realm of music business advice, my dad most recently told me, “No one is going to pay you more money without some prompting.” It wasn’t exactly that, but that was the point he was making. I have a tendency not to ask promoters how much I’m going to get paid (I’m still at a local level, the promoters are my friends, etc) but my dad’s point was that it’s still a business thing and you have to start bringing it up, especially if you want to make a living from it. Obviously in a small local scene you don’t want to seem like you’re just playing for the money, but if the end goal is to support yourself from playing/making music, at some point you have to make that clear to your business partners, even if they’re your friends.

    A promoter/label owner friend also recently told me that the business side of music exists even if you want to pretend it doesn’t. I definitely pretend it doesn’t, so it was good to be called out that way. If you’re like me then it’s probably good to remember…

  8. Great post, indeed! I can see I’m going to have to come back and read some of the comments here, which I am sure are quite interesting, too. Great advice, and a nice tribute to your father — good on you, mate!

Leave a Reply