What South Park Can Teach Us About Music Production

This is a guest post from Noah Lloyd aka Haterade.

I know what you’re thinking – how can South Park relate to music production?

But hold up – there’s a lot that can be learned here.

In the documentary 6 Days To Air, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker allow the public a glimpse into their creative process.

The film takes us through the creation of an episode of South Park. They make every episode of South Park in 6 days. From nothing to finished TV episode in less than a week. 

“I always feel like I wish I had another day with this show. That’s the reason why there are so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done because there is a deadline and you can’t keep going.”

Trey Parker tells the film crew.

“There would be so many shows where I would say ‘it’s not ready yet, it’s not ready yet’ and I would have spent 4 weeks on one show. All you do is start second-guessing yourself and re-writing stuff. It gets over-thought to maybe get 5% better.”

In hindsight, we all know South Park is the second longest-running animated series after 23 seasons (second only to The Simpsons with 31 seasons).

So if the quality of the art is the most important aspect of the creative process, how could South Park survive let alone thrive for over 2 decades?

It’s because they have mastered their craft through repetition and understand that no work of art is perfect.

A Mindset of Repetition

This same mindset applies perfectly to producing music. We can stress over musical inadequacies for an eternity because we will never write anything perfect

Which is more important to you? Writing 6 tracks in a month or one track in a month that is 5% better than the other 6 you would have made?

You’re not making music for other producers, you’re making it for people. The people enjoying your work don’t expect it to be perfect, they just expect it to be good.

How good? Good enough. 

So does that mean the quality means nothing and you shouldn’t care about how your mix/master sounds? Not at all.

Those things are very important to creating a polished piece, but they’re not everything. In fact, they are much less important than we have been led to believe.

We can all point to music we think is mixed horribly, poorly written, or so simple it’s almost insulting to even consider it a musical achievement. (I’m sure you’re thinking of several right now).

Yet, we are talking about it. Why? Because that song or songs have struck a chord with people. If it was a bad song that no one has heard of we wouldn’t give it the time of day.

So if poorly mixed, written, and overly simplistic songs can gain momentum and become massive world-wide hits then it’s clear that there’s only one thing that truly matters above all other elements, the feeling that song creates.

Recommended: What Makes A Good Song

Avoiding Perfectionism

Since season 1, South Park has consistently taken harsh criticism as being a ‘low brow’, ‘over-the-top vulgar’, and ‘tasteless’, but it works. It’s not a perfect show and the creators know that. It’s ok because it isn’t made for everyone. It is made for the people who would enjoy a show like South Park. 

Focusing on the details so much that you lose precious time (free time for most of us) to write the next project is a hidden cost that is lost on far too many producers.

In 2018 I started teaching newer producers one on one. Since then, I’ve encountered so many artists that spend weeks and sometimes months on one song.

In one case I worked with a producer who spent an entire year on that one track. No matter how many times I encouraged him to move on, he wouldn’t, because it had to be perfect.

The mentality that you have to work until every flaw is removed from each track is poison to your output and your output is what will ultimately make you a better producer.

Yes, learning new techniques and methods will improve your skill but not nearly as much as real world application of the skills you already have.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Bruce Lee

Applying These Principles

Ok, so what do you do now? How do you apply this philosophy to your studio time?

  1. Set a hard deadline. Use the South Park method! Set your deadline before you even start writing. The first time I tried this I finished an entire song in a day and signed it to Lowly Palace and got an upload on Trap Nation. You will surprise yourself at what you are able to do when you’re up against the clock.
  1. Limit your feedback resources. This one is the hardest for me because I always want to show my friends my music right after it’s done. However, I have come to learn that this is not conducive to my optimal workflow. 

If I get feedback from too many different ears all with differing opinions and it ends up casting doubt on my work.

Instead, I only seek out feedback when I have a clear problem I need to solve during the creative process.

I enlist the help of at max 3 trusted producers that I believe might be able to give me some insight on how to resolve them. 

  1. Set a personal revision cap. This is something I picked up doing remixing and ghost production for clients. I have instituted a revision cap in my process. When a client hires me for production work, I let them know before we start that they get 3 rounds of revisions built into their initial quote. After that, they will have to pay extra for each round of revisions after that.

 Before, I spent weeks revising tracks for clients who had a constant barrage of meticulous notes. Projects took forever and I never left happy with those clients. Once I instituted that policy, not a single client exceeded the revision cap. 

This works the same for your own work in the studio. Your time is valuable! Don’t let yourself be a nightmare client. Instead of constantly exporting, testing, and tweaking during the mixing process.

  • Sit back with a notepad (or your phone if you promise not to get distracted) and take notes on the mix as you listen.
  • Make an agreement with yourself not to exceed a set amount of time polishing your track.
  • Don’t cheat yourself out of valuable time working on the next one.

Quality vs Quantity

You might be thinking at this point:

“If I sacrifice quality for quantity, I will never make music like (fill in the blank with artist you think is the best ever).”

Here’s the thing…

You’re not perfect, nor is your favorite artist. Neither of you can write a perfect song.

I can almost guarantee your favorite artist doesn’t set out to write the perfect song each time he or she sits down in the studio.

The truth is, your favorite artist writes A LOT and you will most likely never hear the majority of the music they make.

Just like social media, you only get the best of the best work from your favorite artists. 

Next time you’re in the studio, don’t ask “is it perfect?” Ask yourself, “based on my ability, is it good enough” If it is, move on to the next one. Get your reps in.

That’s the key to longevity, success, and joy in your work.

Acceptance.

Acceptance of your skill level, your connections, and the resources you have to create.

Now stop reading this preachy long-winded article and go write some music!

About the Author

Noah Lloyd

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Haterade is a veteran trap music producer from Southern California. With over 10 years experience in the industry he has had support from outlets like Trap Nation and many top tier DJs. He also runs an educational Youtube channel called The Productive Producer where he shares production hacks and producer lifestyle tips to promote longevity in your music career.