Work on your music not your excuses.

Today I read two interesting articles that I want to share with you. I like to constantly bombard myself with self help dribble whether it’s fluff or full on therapy. Part of my homework is to read Lifehacker every morning with my coffee. It’s a blog of self improvement tips with a strong does of tech mixed in to help with the taste. Today, one of the writers at Lifehacker, Kevin Purdy posted a piece titled, “Why Your Self-Handicapping Excuses Don’t Work (And How to Fix Them)“. It’s a short commentary on another article written by Benedict Carey in the NYTimes.com titled, “Some Protect the Ego by Working on Their Excuses Early“.

Basically both articles talk about how many times we create exuses in advance of something we want to avoid. We set ourselves up to fail and we have an excuse all packaged ready to open with the time comes. An example would be, “I stayed out too late last night so no real music making for me today.”.

“If you’re a regular self-handicapper, though, you can grow too attached to whatever you use without knowing it, whether it’s alcohol, rule-defying, sleep-deprivation, or whatever convenience you cling to.” – Lifehacker.com

“This is one reason that genuine excuse artisans — and there are millions of them — don’t wait until after choking to practice their craft. They hobble themselves, in earnest, before pursuing a goal or delivering a performance. Their excuses come preattached: I never went to class. I was hung over at the interview. I had no idea what the college application required.” – NYTimes.com

These two articles remind me of my most important music making tip. Many people ask me where I get my inspiration from. This question has a two part answer. The first answer is obvious: You have to get out an live a big life… Fall in love, fail, win, hurt, crash, run, etc… Only then will you have anything worth writing about. There are many incredible producers out there with nothing to say. The second answer relates more to the two articles I share above: Don’t ever wait for inspiration to start work. Get in the studio are start making music.

There are only rare moments where you will feel the fire of a great song coming on and get into the studio fast enough to get it down. However, all your great songs are inside you anyway. Whether or not you’re hot or cold they are there. You have to get into the studio and warm yourself up. Sit and make a crap dull song, erase it, get frustrated and then viola the good one starts to creep out.

I can’t tell you how many times I went into the studio with a sterile mind and came out with a song I was proud of only because I stayed long enough to make it happen. I also am ashamed to tell you I wasted too much time in life waiting for inspiration, full of self-handicapped exuses instead of sitting in front of Ableton Live.

photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

6 Comments

  1. A studio trick I always use:

    Set aside an hour to go into the studio just for making new sounds (as in synth/drum/sample sound presets). Pick a piece of gear and just start working it.

    The success (at worst): you’ll have spent some time honing in the craft of getting some new raw material to work with.

    The success (at best): it doesn’t take to long (or too many sessions) before you’re loading up a couple of sound presets and building out something interesting like a song stem, or a full out track.

    Either way, the secret is in making busy… even if you’re not inspired… when you are inspired, you’ll have all the elements ready to express exactly the sound / emotion / song you’ve got in your mind.

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  2. The Oblique Strategies card set is fun & useful as well!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies

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  3. I love lifehacker =) its a fantastic site!
    I have it in the rss thingy, so read it every day, usually first thing in the morning, with a cup of tea and a cigarette.
    I have decided, as part of my ‘new years revolution’ to make at least one attempt at a song, every day for the whole year. so far I have 6 pieces of crap. but I have found a few new ways of doing things! I have yet to rock out on the stylophone my brother got me for christmas – I’m saving that one for a few weeks untill I can no longer take it and just have to have a session =)
    I am also trying not to say no to anything that I want to do and not to say yes to anything I dont want to do. so far its working, but I dont know how long its going to last !!!

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  4. In a similar vein, I find myself struggling with finishing tracks. It’s easy to come up with a few bars or a stack of loops that sound great, but often the inspiration runs out and it becomes easy to come up with reasons not to keep working at it.

    As a hobbyist musician it’s not as if a film or a label is going to be giving me any deadlines that I need to adhere to, so it’s easy for me to put it aside and let the various bits and pieces collect virtual dust on my hard drive. I always find that finishing something, even if it’s not a stellar piece of work, really helps put me in a place where I feel less compelled to make excuses and often results in-gasp- me actually finishing a few songs, not just one!

    On the flip side, once I start choking myself (metaphorically speaking, of course) it often becomes self perpetuating. I make excuses, don’t finish any tracks, then, after a time, I look back on my lack of identifiable progress and have more fodder to keep me feeling uncreative…

    Long winded post, but there’s a group of musicians who started a project, or challenge if you will, for musicians to sign up and write and record an album in the month of feb.
    If it sounds appealing, check it out at http://www.rpmchallenge.com Full disclosure- I’m one of the people helping to organize it this year (it’s in it’s 4th year), but it is on the level, it’s not a cover for a big record label and it’s not a crass attempt to collect email addresses to spam you if you sign up. No spam at all! It was created by musicians and the local alternative weekly here in seacoast NH and it’s really become a cool phenomenon of sorts, last year we even had a guy at McMurdo research station in Antarctica sign up and send in an album. I’m happy to share more info if you like, but most of it can be found on the site. I think it ties in with your post in that this project was created precisely to break through many of the excuses that independent musicians often create for themselves.
    (If this sounds too much like a promotional spiel I understand totally if you hit the ‘delete’ key, but it seemed to be a relevant place to put in a good word…)

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  5. Great thoughts. Thank you!

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  6. I think persistency is the key to me achieving writing music. My own way “of spending a lot of time in the studio” is to carry it always with me. Basically because a) I don’t have a real music studio b) because when I’m home I’m distracted by millions of things, being developping stuff, spend time with my girl, going out or doing mindless shit like cooking and watching movie.

    I’ve been digging portable music for years and tried a lot of different things, all of them being failures because the units where either not really portable, either full of unsinspiring junk sounds, eating batteries like mad (thanks QY100) or just unsusable in situations (try booting a laptop in the queue of the post office and doing something).

    On day I discovered the world of 8bit gameboy music and one belgian artist called lo-bat doing quite interesting stuff with it, so I decided to give it a try. An important point here is that I found not hook to a retro vibe (although I had nothing against that really) but an excellent tracker (LSDj) that would allow me to do music and any awkward moment: in the bus, walking in the street, at the post office, waiting for planes: doing music when there’s is absolutely nothing else to do, which is exactly the best frame of mind for me to be able to lay down something. It is amazing how freaking fast you can lay down ideas with the combination of a joystick and a few knobs. I find it HUGELY faster than anything revolving around that stupid mouse.

    Since then, I got a little bored of the gameboy-only-sound but wouldn’t let go of the tracking music making abilities I had. So 3 years ago, I decided to roll up my sleeves and write my own tracker, using all of the gameboy paradigms but based on samples rather than on a sound chip. Littlegptracker (http://www.littlegptracker.com) was born.
    I can now walk around the streets with a portable 8 monophonic channel ministudio in my pocket and it’s a full blast.

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