As music producers, we each develop our own set of processes when it comes to creating what we create. We might have developed something unique in terms of workflow, an alternative approach to sound design, or ways to keep the inspiration flowing constantly.
Everyone has different thoughts and ideas; thoughts and ideas we can all learn from. I reached out to 12 highly skilled producers asking them about their habits and what’s involved in the creative process for them.
1. Adam Szabo
Adam Szabo is an electronic music producer and sound designer signed to Enhanced Music who releases at a quality level like no other. Here’s what he has to say…
Before finishing a track, I give it a test run. I’ll put it on my MP3 player and listen to it when I walk or run. This way I can get a feel for it without concentrating on it too much and I might discover problems with it that I might have missed during sessions in the studio.
Often we can get caught up in the visuals of the track, or the environment we produce in. It can be helpful to get out of the studio and listen to your music in a different setting.
I think Adam’s shared something incredibly valuable here.
Perverse are a dubstep duo straight out of my home country, New Zealand. They’ve had releases on various labels such as Bassweight, Tribe 12, OG Recordings, and many more. Here’s a quick tip from them:
Don’t get stuck in the habit of using the same samples/plug-ins. While it may sound like you have a “theme” or “sound”, what you’re really doing is limiting yourself and not progressing.
Using different sounds and plug-ins allows us to break creative frontiers and learn, with that said – don’t go overboard. You do not need 100 synths. A producer’s style doesn’t come from the plugins he’s using, but rather their personal taste in music. It’s a combination of compositional technique, sound design, sample selection, and more.
3. Mikael Wills
If you’ve got an idea but you want to apply another idea to the mix you’re working on to see what it’s like, save the old idea as “version 1” before going ahead and destructively transforming it to try and fit the new idea.
Versioning is really important in production, because we’re humans, and humans make mistakes. Hitting Ctrl + S is easy, but you’re always overwriting the old file. If you’re making a big change – then save as a new version! You’ll thank yourself the next day when you realize that what you changed/added really wasn’t that good.
There have been many times where I’ve been making a synth (especially FM) and thought it could be better. I’d then spend a while messing with it only to realize it sounded worse than before. Always save/version what you have.
Again, re-iterating the importance of versioning on a micro-level.
Distantt is a young and incredibly talented producer who shows diversity and skill. He shares one of his habits…
A big habit of mine is remaking. Whenever I have spare time, I like to sit down and take a considerable amount of time remaking songs I enjoy. It’s good practice for getting new sounds and figuring out how to do different kinds of mixes.
If there’s one thing you remember from reading this article, it should be this. Remaking is eye-opening, it makes you listen to music critically and analyze everything that’s going on. It’s also a good way to keep improving when you’re lacking original ideas.
A habit I have is working with different styles. This helps me A LOT with workflow and the study of sound design and mixing as it allows me to know of and create different kinds of sounds and arrangements.
Regardless of whether you’re a trance producer or techno producer, branching out and trying out different styles can be an enjoyable learning experience.
6. River Accorsi
River Accorsi is a bass music producer with an extreme talent for sound design. Here are two tips from him:
Organize your sample library and know where all your best sounds are.
If you’re a newsletter subscriber, then you may have got a recent weekly tip stating how important it is to organize your sample library. It helps immensely with workflow and feels a lot nicer in general. Don’t put it off for too long!
It’s better to know your tools inside out and have a select few tools rather than all the plugins in the world.
If you’re constantly hoarding more and more plugins, you’ll spread yourself thin. You won’t have time to learn the plugins, find their hidden characteristics, their weaknesses and strong points. Focus on a few and learn them inside and out.
7. Alex H
Alex H is a progressive house producer from Australia. He’s recently released a beautiful EP on Progressive House Worldwide which I encourage you to check out.
I always upload my edits to Soundcloud as people like to hear my ideas. It also helps keep my profile active.
There’s a little controversy surrounding this. Should you upload unfinished work? Or should you wait until it’s finished?
I personally love seeing artists upload their WIPs, it’s nice to see the difference between the conceptual ideas, and the finished product. From the creator’s perspective, I think it can also be helpful. If you get good feedback on an edit or WIP, then you’ll feel more inclined to finish it.
8. Hazem Beltagui
Hazem Beltagui is a trance and progressive music producer as well as label owner and A & R manager at Fractal Digital Recordings. Here are two habits that he has:
I keep hitting Ctrl + S every minute or so.
Simple? Yes. But there’s nothing worse than losing your hard work, get into the habit of saving frequently, but remember to save as a new version if you’re making a big change.
I tend to mute/unmute the kick in session view to see if it has the impact I’m looking for
This is really cool habit and something I’ll be trying out more. In electronic dance music particularly, the kick needs to be the driving force. If it isn’t right, your song won’t be either.
Axis is a talented producer signed to Enhanced. If you’re a regular on the Anjuna forums you will have seen him helping out other producers and sharing some knowledge. Here’s his long list of tips!
Organize your samples and synth presets (either factory or self-made). Scrolling through hundreds of sounds when you’re working on a track can kill inspiration, especially considering that most of the sounds included in sample packs are useless anyway. Audition and choose the best sounds and organize them. Do this regularly and keep your library compact.
A huge sample and preset library is pointless if only 5% of it is usable.
Keep your project organized. It’s easier to work on a project where all parts are color-coded and where you don’t have a huge number of muted channels/regions scattered around taking up space.
This is a killer tip. Most of you know how important organization is, and the impact it has on workflow, but if you don’t – then start doing it! Color code and properly name all your tracks.
Add arrangement structure early. Copying arrangement markers from a released track is a good start, and it can be changed later. Having a rough arrangement layout right from the start can help with finishing tracks.
Don’t stay in the 8-bar loop trap for too long. Arrangement is something that should be sorted first and foremost, I’m sure many would agree.
Challenge yourself by re-creating sounds from released tracks. There are sounds that work and sounds that don’t work. It’s very important to learn how to make sounds that do work, and A/B comparison with released tracks is essential. The same principle applies to mixing.
One thing you learn from analysing other’s work is the chemistry between synths, basses, and everything else. You quickly pick up on sounds that don’t work together in your own productions. Using released tracks as a reference is also incredibly helpful.
Bounce everything to audio. Working with audio is easier and it frees up CPU and RAM. It also stops you from getting stuck tweaking MIDI and allows you to move forward with the track.
Some people do prefer to work with MIDI, but there are major benefits to working with audio. If you’re someone who spends hours tweaking a filter cutoff – then bouncing to audio might solve a few problems for you.
Optimize your workflow. Learn hot keys, create custom ones, etc. The faster you work, the higher the chances are that you won’t get bored with your track before you finish it.
Tygris is a talented producer residing in Australia with killer tracks. Here’s his tip.
Always try to experiment with new sounds and using different ways of processing sounds even if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll eventually learn something new that nobody else knows but you and it’ll help sculpt a new sound.
Originality is something a lot of us strive for. Where does it come from? Experimentation. Break the rules.
Fractal can’t be confined to one genre, so I won’t bother. He’s done exceptionally well in the world of electronic music and doesn’t take it lightly. Here’s what he has to say:
Whenever you become “stuck”, try seeing your piece as an arrangement of cement, that – importantly – has not yet hardened. Don’t be afraid to erase and change what’s already there in order to make room for what could be. Destruction is imperative for creation.
Read that again.
Destruction is imperative for creation.
We often become scared to erase something we’ve worked hard on. We justify it by thinking that it’s just our ears tricking it, when in most cases – it just doesn’t sound good. Don’t be timid, chop and change confidently.
Your ability to be productive in front of your DAW is heavily reliant on your state of mind. A peaceful, open mind allows a developing piece of music to be heard as it is – an ever-expanding canvas of infinite possibilities, remarkably similar to the universe itself. Upon pressing play, instead of hearing what it is, the expanded mind is able to hear the endless masterful symphonies of the sacred creative consciousness unravel before it, and thus is able to transcribe these visions of sound over time (with an accuracy based on skill level). Meditation is great for this, and peaceful ambient music can really help you achieve deeper mind states fast. Minimizing external light sources and keeping your eyes closed are also great tricks when you don’t have access to exceptionally inspiring environments. Have faith in your own creative intuition, and you’ll never be “stuck” again.
Just take that in.
You might think it’s a load of philosophical crap, but the fact is that creativity relies so heavily upon your state of mind that if the latter is suffering, the former will too.
Naden is another name you may have seen on EDMProd before. He did an awesome interview a while back. Here are some things he does.
Keep making more and more music. I make a lot of projects in between songs to rake out ideas I like the most and then use them in one track. Also, when I feel the beat and have something going, I try to finish it in that same sitting. There’s a huge chance I won’t finish it if I stop while “in the zone.”
Naden mentions two things here. The importance of quantity and putting time into your craft, and the state of flow. Both are important, and one is less controllable than the other.
The more work you create, the better you’ll become. That’s obvious.
As for the “the zone”, it comes at the best and worse of times. I’ve written an article about it, but the most important thing you should know is that if you do find yourself in the zone – you should see it through till the end!
What would you add to this list? Do you have any habits of your own that you think are unique?