10 Takeaways from 50 Episodes

In August 2015, I started the Prodcast.

Why?

Because there wasn’t anything decent out there for producers.

And also because it sounded like a fun thing to do.

I talked to my friend Levi Whalen and he came on as co-host. The plan was to do one episode with him, and then another episode as an interview with a guest, and alternate them.

It started off strong and we got a lot of traction. Unfortunately, Levi had other commitments (but I appreciate him for helping out in those early stages!)

At the time of writing this, it’s March 2017. I should have reached episode 50 by August 2016, but one episode a week has been difficult to keep up, especially when you have time management skills that aren’t spectacular.

But we’re here now, so why not celebrate?

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A big thank you

First of all, I never expected the Prodcast to get to the point it’s at now. It grew very quickly, and I only have you guys, the listeners, to thank for that. So thank you. Thank you for listening, for sharing on social media, for telling your friends. And I’m sure I can thank you on the behalf of the guests who’ve been on. I’ve had so many of them tell me about the support and kind words they’ve received as a result of coming on the show.

A big shoutout to Levi Whalen for helping get this project off the ground. As I’m sure many of you know, Levi was co-host on the earlier “discussion-oriented/non-interview” episodes. He had other commitments and had to leave, but dude, thanks for helping out early on. I really appreciate it!

Finally, a big thank you to all the guests who’ve been on the show. If you came on the show, it means you’re a busy person by default. Pretty much all artists and industry people are. So thank you for taking the time to share insight and wisdom. Thank you for adding value to the lives of the listeners. You have had a huge impact on many of the people that listen to this podcast. I’ve heard many stories.

What’s this episode about?

It would have been easy to just set up another interview for episode 50. To do a couple hours research, come up with some questions, and Skype call an artist or industry expert.

But 50 episodes is a big deal.

So I’ve decided to do something different.

In this episode, you’re pretty much stuck with me. If you hate listening to a kiwi accent, then I suggest you stop listening now.

I’m going to share 10 things that I’ve learned from running the Prodcast which I believe artists need to hear. Some of these are production-specific, and others are more industry/career-focused.

After that, I’m going to share another 4 personal takeaways that may or may not be relevant to you as an artist (I’ve had requests for this).

Finally, I’m going to end the episode with a bunch of my favorite excerpts.

Sound good? Let’s get into it.

#1 – There’s no “one size fits all” approach to production

The beauty of music production is that it’s unstructured and allows for almost unparalleled levels of creativity.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t rules or guidelines—you can’t add 20 sub basses in your song and expect it to sound good—but it’s far less rigid than, say, playing an instrument is.

And because of this, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to production. If you hear someone telling you that you should start a song by writing the melody. Or you shouldn’t use ideas from a previous song, then you can ignore them.

Rico & Miella said that they like to start by coming up with ideas on a piano.

Karanda tends to do a lot of experimentation and sound design.

And Noah Neiman, who’s been on twice, likes to start from a previous song he’s made and use it as a template.

The key here is to find out what works for you. Don’t conform to one workflow straight away. Experiment. Try different things out. At the end of the day, if what comes out the other end sounds good, then it works.

#2 – It takes a lot of time to become good

I already held this belief before starting the Prodcast, but I think it was just solidified through interviewing artists and hearing their stories.

Most of the guests who’ve come on the show have been producing for well over 5 years. And many of them said that they sucked during the first few years.

As a listener, you might find this comforting or you might find it daunting.

If you find it daunting, it’s probably because you’re too focused on externalities: When will I start making money from my music? How many plays will my next track get? Etc.

When your reason for producing is simply that you love making music, the time it takes to become good is less important to you. You know that you’re improving. You know that eventually your music will sound good. But you’re not in a rush.

If you listen to these interviews, you’ll notice that a lot of artists didn’t start out expecting to get where they are today. They focused on their craft with intensity, and, over time, things started to fall into place.

And that leads me to a bonus takeaway: focusing on the craft is the most important thing you can do.

You will not hear one guest say that as a producer, you should spend more time on marketing yourself than actually making music. Because that’s not how it works. High quality music is the minimum. The cost of entry. And if you don’t have it, then spending time on other stuff is not effective.

Make music.

Make a lot of music. Don’t split your focus.

#3 – You need to view yourself as a professional

One shared trait among successful producers—especially those that have come on the show—is professionalism.

Jaytech talked about the importance of having a professional mindset in episode 19, but this is something that’s permeated almost every interview.

You need to view yourself as a professional. What does that mean?

First, it means having self-discipline and working day in and day out. Even when you don’t necessarily feel like it.

It means working on music every day. It means working on sound design or something else if you don’t feel inspired to work on a track. It means working towards your goals and vision, consistently, bit by bit, being patient.

Secondly, it means acting as a professional towards others. Especially those above you.

If you’re blindly spamming your Soundcloud link across social media, then you need to stop that, because it’s not professional. Professionalism is being real. It’s developing relationships. It’s adding value and being respectful of other people’s time.

Third, being a professional means taking ownership of all aspects of your music career, if a career is what you truly want.

You’re not sitting around hoping that a manager will come and take care of everything for you. Instead, you’re taking initiative. You’re working on your branding. You’re booking your own shows. You’re learning the business. You know that you eventually you’ll have someone to do this all for you, but for now, you’re handling it.

And you’re handling it for two reasons: First, because you want a manager to come to you. Second, because you want to have the experience and skills to judge the competency of that manager. If he can’t do what he’s supposed to do better than you can, why would you work with him?

#4 – It doesn’t need to be so complicated

I’m quite a systematic person. I have a tendency to overcomplicate things so they sound and look cooler.

I do this especially with music production.

Through running the Prodcast, I’ve learned to appreciate simplicity.

Music production is complex, but it can be simple. In fact, many of the guests that have been on the show view music production as a relatively simple thing.

WRLD is a great example of this. His episode was the most popular, and I also think it’s the most awkward (my fault not his).

Why?

Because I wasn’t prepared for how simple his answers were.

His answers were always some variation of “I don’t know, just make music.”

And I really like that. I think it’s easy to make things more complicated so we can avoid doing them. In a way, overcomplication is a great form of procrastination. We feel more justified to not do something if it’s complicated.

But what if we view music production as simple? We just have to come up with an idea, arrange it, find the right sounds, and then mix them all together in a way that sounds good.

If we think of it like that, it’s not as daunting.

Figure out how you can simplify, even if it’s just a simplification of your perspective.

#5 – Humility is common among successful artists

I don’t think there’s been a producer on the show that has a massive ego.

Many of the producers who’ve been on talking about artists they look up to. They say that they’re constantly amazed and admit that they’ll probably never reach that point.

This is humility. And when you possess this kind of humility, you stay hungry and you learn more.

Another example is Zac Waters. In episode 32, we were talking about how his drops sound massive but are quite simple, and he said he uses less elements because he doesn’t have as much experience as some of the other guys who can make their tracks sound massive using a lot more stuff. He basically just admitted that he wasn’t as good at mixing as these other producers.

Overconfidence and ego are the opposite of humility, and should be avoided if you want to improve.

#6 – Everyone has something to offer

This is kind of a small takeaway, but I wanted to add it.

I get a lot of people recommending guests for the podcast. It’s really great that this happens, because so many great discussions have taken place as a result.

But if I’m honest, sometimes I’ll check out a recommendation and kind of just pass over ‘em. Maybe I don’t like the music, maybe I feel like they’re not well-known enough… Or maybe I’m just tired and can’t be bothered.

When someone recommended that I have Audiofreq on the show, I had a look into him. I’d never heard of him or his music, but he had a pretty large fanbase and his music was spectacular.

Well, my interview with Audiofreq is by far one of my favorite. I would have never guessed it.

My point? When you’re talking to another artist, or even just considering talking to one, be of the mindset that they’re interesting. That they have something great to offer you. Chances are, they probably do.

#7 – Artists are more approachable than you think

As long as you do it right though.

Early on, I was nervous about pitching guests, and even more nervous about having them on the show.

Three things helped me get over this.

The first was just manning up and not being scared. Let’s not underrate how powerful this is.

The second was realizing that they’re just normal people like I am. Ilan Bluestone gave me this advice after I interviewed him for Freshly Squeezed Samples (the company I used to work for). He just said that these well-known producers are just normal people, so just have a normal conversation with them and don’t feel starstruck.

And the third thing was having something to offer. In my case, it was the podcast and the audience. Producers want to come on the podcast for two main reasons:

  1. So they can add value and talk about what they love
  2. So they can gain lifelong fans

What does this mean for you as an artist?

First, it means that you shouldn’t be afraid to approach artists, especially in person.

Second, you need to have something to offer. I’m not a big artist, but I do run a reasonably-sized website, and if someone emails me and it’s all ASK ASK ASK, then I’m really unlikely to respond in length.

What do you have to offer? Sometimes, it’s as simple as just sharing their music and leaving nice comments. I recommend doing this before actually asking them a question or messaging them. Hang around their socials and support ‘em. They’ll see your name pop up more and more, and they’ll begin to recognize it. When you message them, they’ll be more inclined to respond.

#8 – The Industry is Complex

Before starting the podcast I didn’t know much at all about the music industry.

I knew there was a lot to it, but wow.

Interviewing industry people, and becoming good friends with Budi Voogt (manager of San Holo, WRLD, Droeloe and co-founder of Heroic) opened my eyes to how complex the music industry is.

I’m not going to go into why it’s complex, as that would take too long.

But the unfortunate truth is that there’s a lot of bureaucracy. A lot of middle men. A fair amount of corruption, and a lot of money-hungry individuals.

Because of this, you have to be on guard, and you also need someone you trust to help navigate it. A good manager, in other words.

A bad manager can make your life really stressful.

Budi and I talk about how to find a good manager in episode 36, so listen to that if you’re interested.

And the music industry is not all bad. Don’t let what I said put you off. It’s in a better place now than it’s ever been. And it’s becoming more and more transparent. For more info on the industry, listen to episodes 42 and 44.

#9 – Adapt or Die

One reason the music industry is complex is that it changes so damn quickly.

Because of this, you have to keep on top of everything.

If you’re still focused on getting signed to a label so you can release on Beatport, you’re WAY behind. That is not what you should be focusing on.

It’s not comfortable to do new things. It’s easy to follow the traditional route. But it won’t work.

Listen to episode 42 with Austin Kramer, 44 with Sebastien Lintz, and 47 with Louie La Vella. Those interviews will give you a new perspective.

#10 – FOCUS ON THE CRAFT

Despite all the changes in the industry, one thing is clear—the quality and originality of your music is what matters most.

All industry guests and label managers have said this and continue to say this. They report that there is a lack of good quality and original music. They’re hungry for it.

But Sam, it’s HARD to make good quality, original music!

Of course it’s hard. Why is it such a bad thing that it’s hard? Doing hard things is satisfying, and when you commit to working on your craft with unprecedented intensity and focus, you will feel great about yourself.

And it’s the best thing you can do if you want to build a career.

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