Execution Above Everything
I’ve been making music on Ableton for years, and I got really serious about it a couple of years ago. I’ve learned loads of stuff off my own back that’s helped me to be more productive.
On reflection, I’ve also learned about how many bad practices I was engaging in that stopped me finishing music and releasing stuff!
One such thing was the quest for perfection when I was composing music. The first problem I ran into was spending ages trying to get my sounds right and ending up with nothing but a 16 bar loop to show for it.
I’d almost always abandon it in favour of starting something new. This toxic cycle left me with hundreds and hundreds of Ableton projects on my hard drive, just gathering dust. Sound familiar?
The Wrong Workflow
This is where the perfectionist in me really got the better of me. I didn’t have the sound design chops to achieve the desired outcome, but I would still try any amount of plugins to try and get there.
So, I’d find I’d spent 5 hours working on a 16 bar loop. I wanted it to sound good, after all. But the better idea was to try and craft another 16 bars of music, just so I had a longer sketch of an idea.
It took so long for me to realise that a badly hashed 64 bars was better than 16 bars. One was an idea, and another was the formative works of a song.
Flipping the Process
Once I got to a place where I was able to make 16 bars of music sound good, I needed to develop a new skill, which was to do this for a passable amount of time to create an actual song.
This came with its own set of challenges. But after a couple of years, I learned which songs I was able to successfully finish. It was those where I’d sketched enough ideas to draw from.
It took hundreds of files on my laptop and a snowball of releases to figure out how to finish more music — I had to work on my execution. 16 bars wasn’t enough to give me impetus to keep working on those tracks.
Instead, it was projects where I messed around and been playful, jamming any old idea that came to me. At a later date, I was able to reference all of these different 8 or 16 bar ideas and figure out which of those concepts might hang together in a song.
I started thinking differently. I’d worked hard on a melody. Could I create a counter melody? Could I make variations of this melody? What would happen if I inverted the melody or reversed it? What if I only used the second half of the melody at the beginning of the next 16 bar phrase?
Being an electronic music producer, I soon learned that these variations would be the things that would hold just enough interest for a listener. If I could create a blueprint for similar idea with my pads, bass and drums, I’d be 90% of the way there.
What this Process Looks like Now
I am prolific at music production, whilst still being extremely mindful of quality. When it comes to any elements in a track, I come up with loads of ideas first and sketch them out, record them in, whatever. It doesn’t matter how bad they are.
When I come back to a project with fresh ears, I analyse the bits i’m enjoying the most, then I’m able to use them. I delete huge amounts of my initial ideas if I end up not using them, but it’s fine. Because I’ve been playful and composing in a very exploratory way, I don’t hold on to these ideas. I am executing, and making any kind of music first, then crafting the finished product once I’ve got enough cool stuff to work with.