When you open your "Projects" folder, do you see a long list of unfinished songs?
These all have great potential, of course, but they’re just not QUITE there; something’s missing. I know many artists (including myself) whose albums/beat tapes have taken YEARS because they just can’t get everything right.
In this multi-part series, let’s look at some of the causes of this. In later parts, we’ll examine some resolutions.
Cause #1: Too many options
When I first started making hip-hop music in 2003, here was my setup:
• A cheap SOTEC computer with 256 MB Ram/20 GB Hard Drive (anybody remember these laptops?)
• Fruityloops 3
• Cool Edit Pro for slicing samples
• About 20 different drum samples
Despite these limitations, I was making music at an extremely fast rate, and I was totally satisfied with my results.
Let’s compare this with now:
• A MUCH more powerful laptop
• Native Instruments Maschine
• several DAWs (Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Bitwig, etc.)
• hundreds of gigabytes of VST effects and sample banks
What’s the result? A folder full of unfinished projects.
In my opinion, the problem here is that there are just way too many choices available. It’s great to have some selection, of course, but there should be a limit to the amount that you have.
When I sit down to make a track, I always ask myself, "Which sound to use?" With so many kicks, snares, pianos, strings, which one? Once I’ve finally narrowed it down and chosen the sounds (which I’ll probably want to change later), I get to the mixing stage. Which compressor to use? Limiter? EQ? Eventually, I might just move on to another track or give up entirely because I can’t make up my mind.
What I find is that I’ve moved from being ACTIVE to REACTIVE. In other words, during active production, you take whatever you have and then mold it into what you want. If you’re reactive, you play all of the samples, or go through all of the presets, and just wait for something to “jump out at you”. Not only is this time-consuming, but it has an impact on your creativity.
Cause #2: Perfectionism
Related to the previous cause (Too many choices), some artists may think:
“Since I have so many options, there must be a better kick or snare than what I have now. Perhaps I should search for a better sound or buy some more sample packs?”
Although this might be a good idea if you are truly limited and don’t have good sounds, most of the time this second guessing does more harm than good.
I believe that the internet has fueled this problem. It's common knowledge that once something is uploaded to the internet, it’s there forever. This could cause you to wait until you have the PERFECT mix. The problem with this is that very few people get to this point.
Uploaders may also be afraid of receiving harsh criticism from strangers or their competition. Instead of only getting feedback from friends, family, or other trusted people you know, you're now uploading your music for the world to judge. The fear of criticism from strangers can cause you to save your music until it's "good enough."
Lastly, our perfectionism may stem from comparisons of our music to what we hear on the radio. If our mix doesn’t have the same quality, we think we need to wait until it does. It’s important to remember, however, that the first mix of these tracks on the radio didn’t sound like the final product. They were mixed, mastered, and fine-tuned by industry professionals. It’s tough to equal that if you just have a bedroom studio.
Don't feel like you're the only one feeling like this; here's a Rolling Stone article on Bruno Mars’ struggle with perfectionism: Click here
Cause 3: Impatience
You probably recognize this face...You've just heard a hot sample, and you rush to your MPC/laptop to get started making a soon-to-be classic.
As a music artist, one of the most exciting moments is at the beginning of the creative process. The thrill of creating something original is something we all find addictive. Once we get past that original spark, however, sometimes it’s difficult to continue. As you encounter roadblocks along the way, your excitement gradually shifts to despair.
After tweaking sounds, effects, and editing patterns for a while, you might think:
“This beat will never be good enough” or “I’ll never find the right sound.”
As a result, you start a new track, to regain that initial thrill, and forget about the old one.
Although it can be useful to take a break so you can “reset” your ears, it’s not a good habit to always abandon projects halfway through them so you can start new ones. If you do this often, before you know it you’ll have a long list of unfinished projects which will just cause you to feel even worse.
Have any of you had the same experience? Let me know in the comments section; I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In further parts, I’ll look at some resolutions to these three causes. Thanks for reading this, and stay tuned for more.