The key to finding your musical identity

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Music, like any other creative discipline, features an endless array of techniques, rules, concepts, and tools that can take years to understand, let alone master. Beyond that, you start to learn through self-experimentation; taking alternative approaches to tasks, discovering new tricks and finding out how you work best. The deeper you get into your craft, the more you realize there is to learn. The best way to learn something is to give it a purpose. While learning something for the sake of learning something is fine, when you need to apply what you’re learning to a project, you tend to be more committed to learning, and you’re also likely to pay more attention to what you’re learning. For example, you study up on jazz chord progressions because you want to incorporate a jazz-like bridge in your next track.

How to find your identity

Finding your why is important. Not only does it help with staying motivated, but it keeps you focused on where you want to be as a producer. Are you producing music because it relaxes you? Simply because you enjoy it? Because you want to become world-class? If you’re in this for the long haul, then you need to build up passion. There will be times where you feel like quitting; that music isn’t really for you, or you weren’t cut out for it. Listen to other artists. Music that inspires you, music that makes you want to produce.

Mentors are important

You need to get help from people that are above you in terms of skill and knowledge. There’s no real substitute for having a direct mentor, but mentors also come in the form of books, tutorials, and other music. Most people are too scared to find a direct mentor. The truth is, producers love to help each other out. Don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t take the cold call approach either. Build relationships, help them out, and then ask for advice in return. Music production takes time, but if you’re serious about music production, then you’ll find the time.

Where can I find inspiration?

When it comes to tutorials, 5 of the best YouTube channels around right now are:

Ill Gates
Tom Cosm
Sonic Academy

These channels can all help you locate your creative spark, which will, in turn, help you find your musical identity. If you start eating healthy and going to the gym, you won’t notice progress every day. The same goes with production, you may not see progress rapidly, but when you look back on your work in a couple of month’s time you’ll notice the improvement (only if you’re learning and focusing on improvement). When it comes to production, you only need a computer, DAW, and a decent pair of headphones. Anything beyond that is helpful but not a necessity. Gear isn’t going to help you improve, but it may make life easier.

Having a pair of monitors, for example, may allow you to hear things you wouldn’t normally, and owning a MIDI keyboard may help you get ideas down more quickly. Learn basic music theory if you don’t know any, and then focus on making as many songs as possible. You aren’t going to create a masterpiece after 2 weeks or even 6 months of producing music. All the data shows that quantity beats quality, so get busy. If you already know basic music theory, learn how to arrange. Learning mixing, mastering, or sound design is pointless if you don’t know how to properly structure a piece of music.   The best way to learn how to arrange is by copying other music. Drag songs into your DAW and place markers where things happen (e.g. intro, build-up, breakdown). Do this 20 times and you’ll start to see recurring patterns. Additionally, try remaking tracks. This is rather difficult as a new producer but highly rewarding.

Getting over the line

Sometimes the last 10% is the hardest. It’s easy to get stuck in the non-finishing trap, starting a new project every day but not following through with it. Produce something basic and see it through to the end. Work as fast as possible, then repeat. Build the habit of finishing. Conversely, know when not to finish. Some ideas just aren’t worth the effort. Be as objective as possible when judging whether a track has potential or not.

There’ll be times where you can’t produce because you either don’t have headphones on you or don’t have a computer around. Maybe you’re on vacation. If you do have a computer, but no headphones: Organize your sample and plugin library, create a template with all your routing and channels sorted to speed up workflow later on, and read articles. You’ll naturally have to work harder on your weaknesses in order for them to catch up to your strengths. For example, if you’re great at mixing down a track but lack competence when it comes to sound design, then your mixing efforts aren’t going to cover that up.

There’s a debate here on what’s best. However, it depends on your goals. If you want to be known as a sound designer, and sound design is one of your strengths, then push that to its limit. By focusing on the above elements, you’ll soon learn more about yourself than anybody else will, and in turn will find your unique style and sound. Once you have these, you have made your own musical identity; a footprint and legacy that will stay with you forever.