I get to work on a lot of people’s music these days, and one of the things that strikes me sometimes, is how often people use a track they plan on releasing as a time to try and learn a new tool or technique. I hear something that sounds off, or just plain wrong. When I ask them about why they chose to keep it in the song or try and learn something new while writing a track, I basically get the reply “when else am I supposed to learn how to do it?”
I guess in many ways it’s not surprising, there’s a lot things about producing music these days that keeps people from just plain jamming. Most of us are using virtual tools in our DAWs as our main instruments, so any time you DO want to play, you’re already in an environment set up and ready to go for recording and writing. Very few plug-ins run as standalone instruments anymore, and most DAWs require you to go so far as to record arm a track before you can even make a sound. So right from the get go you’re pressured somewhat to record everything you do.
Add to that the fact that most producers these days are working alone, and there’s no real opportunity for getting together with your friends or other musicians and just jamming for fun. Pretty rare that people work in a ‘band’ situation anymore, where everyone has to learn to work together and prepare to work efficiently in a group. Instead you’re allowed to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, whether you know how to or not! 🙂 It’s not always bad thing, but on the other hand you don’t have 4 other people standing there giving you the evil eye while you waste valuable practice or session time trying to figure out the best settings for your new guitar pedal, or how to route LFO’s on your new synth.
Long story short, there’s not many readily apparent reasons to try and learn your techniques and tools before you start to craft a new song, so many producers end up doing it while in the song-writing process. Sometimes it leads to happy accidents sure, but sometimes it hurts the track too.
I know it’s a viewpoint that many will disagree with, but I have to say I’m not always a fan of the “record everything you do” mindset. You see this advice given a lot in magazines, to always be recording when you play, because you don’t want to miss anything magical that happens. For me though, music often times IS fleeting, to be heard once and enjoyed during the moment. Sure it can be frustrating at first having moments like that come and go, but soon you realize that there will always be others just as good in the future.
Taking time now and then to play just for fun without the pressure to constantly capture your ideas has some real benefits in my mind:
– It gives you time to practice and learn new skills. When the record button is off, you can do what you want and no one will ever know but you. It’s a great chance to try new things, and experiment as much as you want without feeling like you’re wasting time. It’s also a time to improve your chops and become a better musician. Think about how much time classical musicians train and practice to get better, in relation to how often they perform in public or record. It’s the complete opposite of “musicians” these days! We’re not classical musicians, sure, but getting better at any instrument is never going to hurt your music making.
– Often experimenting during times like this removes the pressure that might otherwise keep you from fully exploring new ideas. When in the back of your head you know that you only have an hour to yourself to do music when you get home from work, it’s very hard to not feel guilty that you’re wasting time by just messing around and having fun with an idea. Give yourself a day each week to have these sessions where you just play with new tools, or try something wacky that you know might never be good for a track you want to write.
– It keeps things fun. Sometimes it’s relaxing and cathartic to just make music for music’s sake. It’s one reason I love to play guitar still, it’s something I can just pick up and play for no other reason than it’s fun. I don’t have to be recording to noodle for an hour, and I become a better player in the process. Music making doesn’t always have to feel like work (even if it’s your job), you need time to yourself to just enjoy what you’re doing and not feel like there’s some deadline looming overhead. To remember WHY you liked making music in the first place.
And just to clarify, I’m not saying that ALL of your music making needs to be spent like this. There’s certainly times when you have a job to do that needs to get done. Or a point where endless noodling on a guitar really isn’t going anywhere. My point is more about how you need to find time now and then to play, just for the sake of playing, with no other goals involved. Whether it’s an instrument, a new plug ins, messing around with a feature on your DJ mixer that you don’t know much about, whatever. The principle is the same no matter what your preferred tool, you just need to remember that every once in awhile, it’s ok to play.
Peace and beats,