Music Production Mindset Tips

Posted by James Cullen on

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how important your attitude towards your music is. I see post after post on Reddit and other social media in which producers are asking for advice on things like constantly swinging between loving and hating their music, how to break out of the trap of trying to emulate other artists, how to grow their confidence in recording themselves singing.

These are just a few examples, in fact I’d say at least half of the posts I see are people asking questions that don’t directly pertain to music production, but lean more towards being about the personal and professional attitudes that help with that process.


For as many posts asking these kinds of questions, there are an equal amount offering advice and tips, and I think this is a good place to start today. 


Your attitude and your mentality around music is so important. Many of us may not realise just how important it is, and how crucial it is to go into your process with the best possible mindset. This will be harder to achieve for some people than it is for others, but I’m hoping we can unpack this topic here today and have a deep dive into some concepts around your attitude towards your music making.


So let’s jump right on in.

Make Music you want to listen to.


This is a super common point I see raised in forums. It comes in either the form of someone giving this advice, and in people asking if that’s what they should be doing. After all, it can be quite difficult to put your finger on exactly why you’re making music, and I’ve found that spending some time asking yourself that question and reflecting on the answer is really useful.


We all got into music making because we were inspired by musicians, right? Whether it’s being in high school and picking up a guitar and forming a band with your friends (perhaps I’m showing my age a bit there) or picking up a copy of a free or cheap DAW and learning how to produce electronic music. Each and every one of us will have discovered this desire within ourselves from listening to other musicians and feeling that bond and that desire to create.


So is there anything wrong with making music intentionally to sound like someone else?

Should you make music you want to listen to, or should you make music that you think will be popular?

These are all valid questions. 

I think it’s inevitable that we all start out making music trying to emulate those artists that inspired us to begin creating. I would argue that this is a crucial stage in the development of anyone’s music making process. We each begin our musical journey by hearing some artists we love, and wishing we could do the same. So learning to make music that sounds like our idols and inspirations is not only a good practice because it allows us to validate those desires to become a musician, but it is also a great starting point to learn what production or compositional techniques go into making the type of music we love.


An important distinction to make here though is that I think this is a stepping stone. It’s important to make music that you yourself want to listen to, so if your inspirations are all in the same genre as the music you’ll be making, that’s fine, but learning how to do exactly what they do and then stopping is not enough. There are millions of young producers out there who learn how to make a trap beat with an 808 and then use simple melody loops and stick a beat underneath it. They all want to be the next Metro Boomin but they stop at learning how to make a booming 808.

The point I’m trying to illustrate here, is that there is a fine line between making music like the music you listen to, and making your own music that just so happens to fall into that same style. Of course, you should always be your number one fan. You should love the music you make, but you should love it because it’s yours. It’s unique to you. Sure, it might be the same genre as all the other music you listen to, but it still has to have your unique spin on things otherwise it just gets lost in the noise.


The Importance of Cultivating confidence.

 

This leads me on to a hugely important weapon in your arsenal, and that’s simply having self confidence. Now, if things were as easy as me telling you to go and be confident, and then you going off and being so, I wouldn’t need to write this section, would I? However, I hope there are some tips I can give you to help grow your confidence in yourself.


One of the hardest things to do as a music producer is to settle on “your sound”. There are so many factors that can affect this; genre conventions, social pressures and you guessed it, confidence.


As you learn production, you will get to a stage where you know, from a logical standpoint, that you are talented and you have the knowledge and skills to produce music. However, if it were this simple, we’d all be fully self assured, and we know that even the best of us lacks confidence at times.


So, how can you cultivate this confidence in your own music? There’s no clear cut answer, but there are several ideas you can use.

The first suggestion is to keep creating. If you keep a consistent schedule of creating music, you will not only be improving your practical skills, but you’ll be developing confidence as you do so. I’ve discussed recently about the importance of making “bad music” before you can make good music, you can check that article out HERE. The point there is, as you progress and make more music, your confidence will grow in tandem with your production skills set.


Another great method for building confidence is sharing your music with others. It’s so tempting to be super self critical and to keep your music private because you “don’t think it’s good enough”. But unless you share this with others, you won’t be able to get some impartial feedback, and we are often our own worst critic. I’ve had tracks that I’m really not keen on, but when I’ve shown them to other people and they like them, it’s made me realise that perhaps I’m a bit too harsh on myself.


You’re Better than you think.

The way modern music production equipment has changed music is profound. People can create entire albums in their bedroom, completely isolated from others. Sure, some of these reclusive bedroom producers end up creating phenomenal chart topping tunes, but what about the rest of us?


The trap of keeping yourself to yourself, and keeping your music private is an easy one to fall prey to. As I mentioned above, sharing your music with others and seeking constructive feedback is a great way to get a real snapshot of your skills as a music producer, without your own internal biases coming into play. 


This is especially important because more often than not, you’re so much better than you think you are! 


This is another hugely important part of growing your attitude towards your music production. Knowing how talented you are, being able to be honest with yourself about what you know and what you’ve yet to learn, is a very healthy mindset to cultivate. After all, we can never know anything, and there’s always going to be some technique we’ve yet to master, but at the same time, it’s all too easy to take ourselves for granted. We can overlook all the work we’ve put in and the skills we’ve developed. 


This links back to my first point about making music you want to listen to, as well. Because there’s no better feeling than creating a tune that you really love! I’m the first to admit that the primary listener of my music is me; I make tunes so I have something cool to listen to in my car when I’m driving around, and if others like them too, then great! I can have this mindset because I’ve taken the time to cultivate confidence in my abilities. I know my worth as a producer, and I’ve seen some recognition because of it. Things often come full circle as well, because people are naturally drawn to confident individuals. So if you learn to have confidence in yourself, others will too!


Listening to yourself.

We all reach a point in our production journey where we notice the little voice in our head telling us what to do. Or maybe it isn’t a little voice, maybe it’s a gut feeling, an intuition, a feeling of discovery rather than creation. I’ve heard many producers use the metaphor of feeling like they’re “discovering” their track rather than creating it.


There’s a caveat to this though, and it assumes you’re at a proficient level with the mechanics of making music. You know what a Compressor is, you know how to mix and use EQ, you know how to program drums or create melodies or chord progressions. All these foundational tools that form the basis of a music producer’s skill set.


Once you reach this point, it’s usually when you’ll notice that you’ve stopped trying to emulate other artists and you’re starting to trust your gut with the choices you make in your productions. Don’t worry if you’re not there yet though, because it comes to all of us in time.


A good exercise to set you down this path though is to start creating an idea in your DAW, and use the first idea that comes to your head. Don’t spend ages debating with yourself about whether that idea works or not, just trust that you came up with it because you like it, and turn it into a track. 


Now this may not be a track you go on to do anything with, but the exercise is a really good one for learning to let your instincts guide you. We can get so bogged down doing and redoing that 4 bar chord progression that we lose sight of the bigger picture. I’ve had plenty of occasions where I’ve created a short melody loop, built some drums around it, thrown in some samples and a bassline, and then by the time I’ve added all these ideas, I find that that original melody loop, the one I started the entire track with, isn’t even necessary anymore. So maybe I take it out completely, or just tweak it a little bit and see how that sounds.


See how good you are at creating music “by accident”. It’s a real world skill you can cultivate, and this is building on your inner voice, your instinct as a musician, helping you to go from a naive producer who just wants to sound like everyone else, to a self assured and confident musician who has their own musical identity and stamp they put onto their productions.


The other side of the coin.


As with all things, there are huge negatives that can come with being a producer. This is why I think it’s so important to have this ongoing reflection on your attitudes towards your craft. I will often have periods of days or weeks (there was even a couple of years in my early twenties) where I just was not happy with any music I was making, and so this lack of enthusiasm turned into a lack of motivation, and I found myself not making anything.


This is real, and it happens to all of us. We can’t be at our best all of the time, so learning to be kind to yourself when you’re not feeling productive is an essential skill to cultivate. If you’ve ever opened up your DAW and found that you just aren’t liking whatever you’re making, you’re not alone. 

It makes you want to quit doesn’t it? Just close your laptop, put it in a cupboard and leave it for weeks. But this is something we’re tricked into believing in this day and age; if you’re not being productive 100% of the time, you’re failing. And let’s be honest, this is just ridiculous. We are, all of us, human beings, and what are human beings if not flawed, susceptible to ups and downs, ebbs and flows and feelings of super motivation balanced with zero motivation at all.


The important point to take away from this is, if for whatever reason you’re not feeling productive with your music, that is okay. It’s absolutely fine to take a break and ignore your music for a couple days, or weeks, if that helps you. Often having breaks can make you way more productive than trying to force musical fusion every single day. 


There’s a reason this is so important. The whole point of this article is to give you tools to help your mindset. Yes, there is very little in the way of DAW tutorials or tips, but they can only get you so far. Because as music producers what we want to be able to do most of all is produce music consistently for as long as we’re able to, right? I don’t have an age where I think “once I get to that age, I’m going to stop” so I recognise the importance of remaining balanced, focused and most importantly kind to myself. So what if you take a break for a few weeks to get your head straight? You can come back to your workstation feeling more productive than ever, and in the grand scheme of things, 10 years down the line when you’re still making music, will you think of your 3 weeks of no music making as a bad thing, or as a necessary step on your journey?

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Hopefully you got something out of this article, it’s a bit conceptual but that is the stuff that’s just as important as the technical side of producing. As always, thanks so much for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts, and make sure to check out the rest of our site for more help with your production!






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