I love getting questions from you about singing, sound design, music production, writing, DJ’ing, anything that I can offer my experience to help YOU in your own endeavors. Like this question from Josh that I got a few years ago:
“I need help producing. Do you have any tips? I work with Logic Pro X. I have been doing it for over a year now. I love producing and would like to DJ sometime soon. I work hard. It’s frustrating at times. I’m trying not to give up on it.”
Thanks for your e-mail. Where to begin…
First off, let’s address the DJ thang: I started on cassette decks and turntables at the young age of 14. You’re lucky in that DJ tools are abundant today in a variety of technologies, and you can roll out a night’s set using a DJ app and one iPad if you don’t have wheelz o’ steel or CDJ’s. Most DJ’s start mobile before they can get into a club. The best way to do this is to call around to DJ companies in your area and let them know you are willing to intern for free to learn the ropes. I have trained many DJ’s this way. Be sure to keep cool, don’t get cocky, and always be polite and eager to learn. Don’t forget to say “thanks!” to those who take their time to show you some skills! If you can prove your worthiness, you’ll be working your way into a club in no time and then headlining your own acts and making millions while wearing a cat head or something.
When DJ’ing, make sure you read the crowd. If ever they are not digging the tune you are playing, quickly move on to something else and DO NOT FINISH THE TRACK. Be wise to play a track that you are sure will get people interested again. Usually it’s the most current chart slammer. Keep with the vibe that appears to be keeping them happy. That vibe will depend on music style/genre, the chord progressions (dark or light) and overall mood that music is setting. If this doesn’t make sense yet, it will… you’ll learn.
Producing music can be extremely daunting, as I’m sure you’ve quickly learned. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance, not to mention trial and error. The more familiar you are with your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), the quicker it will get out of the way so you can create. I use Ableton Live, which I can use for both DJing and producing. That’s one of the main reasons I chose it, and I love working with it. I wish I could help you with Logic but that is not a DAW that I’m familiar with, I’m sorry.
Now, getting to your question about knowing any tips… I have lots of tips, but the best ones I can give you at this time in your life are these: I learn something almost every time I produce a track and that’s how it’s been for decades. I mean it sincerely when I say that I started out making some pretty craptastic tunes. That’s OK, most of us are NOT born as Beethoven. If I can tell you anything it’s this: Lots of synths, plug-ins, software, etc. is not a recipe for becoming a good producer. In fact, if you are just starting out, having lots and lots of tools can actually make the process more frustrating and slow. Why? Because of what I like to call ‘option overkill’. The creative process should be spontaneous and your tools shouldn’t prohibit your flow. For example, I used to have racks of synths and noticed that I would spend waaaay (yep 4 a’s) too much time finding that ‘right’ sound. Creative inspiration, as I mentioned before is like a spontaneous combustion that loses fuel very quickly if you are unable to keep up with the ‘mojo flow’. Thus, for the beginner I highly recommend you limit your choices so you can focus on just capturing those moments of inspiration. Push the envelope on one hardware synth or virtual instrument. Learn every aspect of it including how to make your own sounds. The more you know your tools, the easier it will become and you can build from there. Remember too that you can always revisit those sonic scribblings later and make them sound better!
Something Taylor Swift admitted to doing is something I too have done for years now since the advent of portable digital recording. I always get inspiration at the most inopportune times and in the past would lose those ideas. Now I can pull out my phone and record a melody by singing it, and then later when I have a moment I can play that melody back and BANG, I’m making a song, man! If you don’t get inspiration this way, try learning a formula by making a template as a way to teach you song structure. If for example you want to do something that sounds like a tune from Zed, drop your favorite Zed tune into your DAW and make observations. Most DAWs give you the ability to drop markers and label them into things like “intro”, “verse”, “build”, “chorus”, “drop”, etc. and pay close attention to exactly what makes the song so special. Is there a melody or hook? A particular bass sound that drives it? Drum programming? What about the layers? How many different sounds are going at any given time? What are each of the layers’ (individual sounds) frequencies and why do they work so well together? How does the track ebb and flow to stay interesting? Observe, dissect, and analyze. After some time with this, you’ll start really understanding the why and you’ll be able to do it yourself without a template. You’ll fail a few times. But if you persevere and figure out what is failing and figure out how to fix things that aren’t working, eventually you will develop your own sonic fingerprint. And you’ll be awesome!
And one more tip, don’t put all your eggs in this basket, but definitely pursue it with every fiber of your being. If you work really hard, stay positive, be outgoing, patient, professional, cool-headed, and learn how to ‘brand’ yourself… you’ll do just fine