This Summer, I started teaching guitar lessons. It’s been interesting learning guitar again through beginners’ eyes and hearing their perspectives. A variation of this question comes up again and again: “What’s the secret?” When they’re struggling, beginner’s tend to think that they’re doing something wrong; they want a quick tip or trick that’ll resolve everything.
The answer I give rarely satisfies them, but it’s the only answer that’s true. “There’s no secret. You just need to keep practicing.” Practicing new material can be frustrating because we’re constantly rubbing up against our own limitations: hitting wrong notes, missing rhythms, and having to work on the same parts again and again. It can be a daunting process, but it’s how we grow.
Audio production and mixing is one of those areas where it’s tempting to think you can just have someone explain it to you and you’ll be able to execute it perfectly. Afterall, mixing is more of a technical skill. You’re turning knobs; you just need to know what everything does and then you’re good to go, right? Wrong. It’s more of an art than people realize, and an ear for mixing needs to be developed just like a musical ear.
This concept also applies to genres. Someone can absolutely crush it at lofi, but when they try to make EDM, they struggle. This comes from a lack of experience in that genre. There’s definitely mixing and sound design skills that carry over from genre to genre, but when writing in an unfamiliar style, you’ll have a lot of new questions. I often hear people say that they are bad at a particular genre. They accept it as an unchangable fact about themselves, when in reality they probably just haven’t practiced it enough.
So whatever it is that you want to improve about yourself, there is no secret sauce that will make everything easier. I only have one tip to give you: it takes practice.
I’ve always considered myself a songwriter. It’s what excites me most about music! I love being creative and writing songs, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I started taking my craft seriously. I went from averaging one song a month to two a week. As I started writing more and more, I wanted to make a comprehensive list of my songs: a document listing the names and dates I wrote them.
What I did is simple, but effective. I used Google Sheets (which is free) and entered the names and dates of my recent songs. There were several open cells begging to be filled, so I included BPM, key, and genre.
Charting a song’s data was a great reward for finishing, and I never wanted to break my streak. Also, I noticed trends at a glance, like how much I loved writing in the key of C, that I wrote a ton of hip hop, and that I frequently used Bedroom Beats 2. These aren’t bad things, but if I felt like my sound wasn’t evolving or I wanted to do something new, I knew what changes to try.
Later on I started tracking what I offloaded, including where it was offloaded from, and the name of the sound if it came from a sample pack. You can go crazy with a list like this, adding chord progressions, modes, the alignment of the stars, and anything else you want to track.
If for no other benefit, I recommend keeping a list to hold yourself accountable. “Write more songs” is a hard goal to follow. “Write a song a month” is much better. You don’t have to quadruple your output, but you should challenge yourself and do more than you did yesterday. Going from a song a month to two songs a month is good progress. Don’t measure your progress against others, but only against yourself. Now working from a new list in 2021, I have a clear goal: write more songs than 2020.
I am in my final semester of college, and what a semester to go out on. I keep thinking that if I had graduated in the spring, I would have avoided a lot of hassle. At the same time, it’s a unique experience not everyone goes through. I have mixed feelings.
I’m a senior in the Music Industry program at MSU Mankato, and a lot has changed. Some classes are online, others in-person, but most are “Hyflex,” meaning students can decide whether to attend online or on campus. There are signs everywhere with slogans like “Maskup Mavs,” and reminders to social distance. It reminds me of propaganda from Fall Out or Bioshock (which makes it kind of fun).
Strangely enough, these guidelines are actually making my final semester easier. Because so many of my classes are online, I’m only on campus one day a week. This has allowed me to temporarily move back to Faribault. My expenses are down, so I can work less and focus on school.
While in Mankato I was working 30 hours a week and taking 17 credits. I didn’t have the time or energy for personal projects, so my creative pursuits took a backseat. Now that I have more free time, I can do well in classes and be creative. I know this year has been hard for most people, but for me it’s been a blessing in disguise. Since June, I have written more songs than I had in the past year, and this extra time has really forced me to prioritized what I want. There’s no excuses left for me, it’s either do the work or don’t.
I’m looking forward to what this final semester brings, and what adventures await me. I’m grateful to be where I am and I have a lot of hope for the future.