Genre X, Genre Y

Music is built solidly on EXPECTATION.
 
If we went on a field trip to Africa, none of us would “get” the music nomadic tribes play. Weird meters with prime numbers, vocals in languages that don’t even sound phonetically similar. We wouldn’t understand it, we wouldn’t know what to *expect*.
 
But the TRIBE would love it, because they grew up around it. Some would know nothing else.
 
My own story: last night I went to Markus Schulz. It was like being kicked in the head over and over until I realized (only part of the reason) why.
 
Markus Schulz plays music that BUILDS into the breakdown, often really hard. That’s not what I expect.
 
My expectation is that when tension is building hard, the release will be a drop, or a chill deep drop… not a breakdown. Not not not a breakdown. Not a synth stack either. It FEELS wrong because I’m not expecting it.
 
But other people love it, so I know I can learn to love it too.
 
I almost quit listening to dance music once. Trance was dying a slow death. Everyone trying something new was shouted down by a million cries of, “That’s Not Trance.” Miserable. These people didn’t know how to like something new.
 
So I went off silently for a few years. It was like I’d forgotten that I love something, just because it changed a little.
 
Then I went into a two day festival with the intent of seeing one or two artists perform. I met people chilling hard to Cashmere Cat. I saw girls shaking it HARD to Diplo. And I realized I could like a bunch of new things, but only if I figured out HOW to like them.
 
So that’s my secret to being diverse in musical tastes. I learn to love it. I’ve done it half a dozen times by now. You go in, you figure out what’s going on, and learn to be excited at the right time.
 
I remember my mom was telling me about her former love of soccer. She said to me, “I used to know when to cheer.” It sounded funny, but she’s right. There’s definitely a right time to cheer, and a wrong time to cheer. If you get lost watching the teams, you can end up cheering for the wrong team. I bet someone reading this has done that. (I have.)
 
So how do you know when to cheer?
 
A good clue is: When is everyone else cheering? When are the people around me getting excited? Surely the whole crowd isn’t pretending — so how are they feeling to accomplish that?
 
So the people who love x genre but don’t like y genre haven’t learned: a) what to expect and b) when the enjoyable part comes. And you can learn to like anything — clearly, if other people can do it, probably you can too.
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Kid Rock’s Senate Speech

If you told me two years ago that a rock star would replace Elizabeth Warren as Senator of Michigan, I would have laughed at you. After today, I’m not so sure.

Jack Posobiec posted a tweet of Kid Rock’s first speech of his campaign early this morning. I knew as soon from the first frame that nobody would forget this speech. I’ll tell you why after we talk a little bit about Kid Rock’s talent stack.

Without even watching the speech, I know Kid Rock has an impressive talent for reading crowds. As a professional musician, Kid Rock has been reading crowds for years. Even as an inexperienced DJ, I can keep track of where the energy of a crowd has been, and anticipate how a crowd will react to changes in energy. I assume that a musician with over 20 years of experience on a stage, standing in front of masses of people, knows how to read a crowd’s energy. And more importantly, he can probably move it up and down like a thermostat. He can warm them up or chill them out when he wants to.

Kid Rock also has a great, expressive voice. He knows how to sing and speaks with charisma. He can drive a lot more feeling through his words than a regular political candidate could ever dream of. And you’ll hear that his speech is actually musical. It rhymes.

Another thing that Kid Rock has going for him is his brand. People are used to seeing him as an American’s American. And because Kid Rock is generally likeable, most people already have good feelings about him, even if they don’t listen to his music.

The stage itself is a reflection of Kid Rock’s performance experience. Bright red and blue lighting, with American flags on either side of him — and another draped over his neck. No one else does this. It’s memorable and comment-worthy. People who sees the video will react, remember, and even share it.

He walks up to the microphone with American music playing, in front of an American background, and shouts hello, drawing in crowd engagement. I’ll assess what he says in a moment. For now, try to watch the video without him grabbing your whole attention. It’s tough.

This attention-grabbing factor will be pulling for him throughout the race. As long as he keeps doing things, people will talk about the “Kid Rock senate run”. And as they talk about it, it will start to seem plausible, and then likely. His biggest problem close to the election might even be that his supporters assume he will win, and then stay home.

After greeting the crowd, Rock goes straight into his stance on healthcare. But pay attention to the words he uses. It’s everyday language. Simple. Everyone can relate. And notice how he gives the Democrat voters who are listening a moment to get on his side.

“What’s going on in the world today? It seems the government wants to give everyone health insurance, but wants us all to pay. And to be very frank, I really don’t have a problem with that [pause] since God has blessed me, and made my pockets fat.”

In this case, the way he says it is more important than what he said. Listen to the speech. It sounds like he really means it. He leaves enough time for a liberal voter to imagine that he is on your side before continuing on to the part about God. The God part doesn’t match most liberals experiences, but the part about fat pockets does, since they believe the rich should pay more.

Then Kid Rock goes on to agree with Republican voters really hard:

“But redistribution of wealth seems more like their plan. And I don’t believe that you should save, sacrifice, do things by the book, and then have to take care of some deadbeat milkin’ the system motherfuckin’ man.”

His swearing ensures you’ll remember it because it is unexpected. He speaks with emphasis. And you can probably tell while listening, the speech actually rhymes. That makes it more enjoyable to listen to, and harder to forget. It’s as if he’s saying, “The soundbyte ends here.”

Then on family issues, Kid Rock goes after irresponsible mothers and absent fathers with a musical bent, calling them the dads “gangster wannabes”. He ends it by slamming his fists to a guitar riff. That’s candy for conversation. People will spread their reviews. This begins his campaign with a head start, stirring up good feelings and trust among his potential voters early on.

He begins his next issue by gently places the flag over the podium, addressing the appearance of racial divide in America. This pre-empts his opposition attempting to label him a racist. His first move is to denounce sitting for the national anthem, but he pivots immediately to saying, “You don’t have to remind me. Black lives matter.” He actually goes through the whole list of disavowals that the media could ask him to make, but with stronger language (and a guitar riff). That actually makes him a leader among the non-racists.

Kid Rock finishes the speech by appealing to everyone to share blame and close the divide. The final image is the silhouette of people lifting their arms up with American flags.

At the end, the viewer might not have words for what they watched, but I think “Michigan’s next senator” would be a pretty good description.

Producer Problems: Resetting Your Ears

Music producers listen to the same track for hours at a time while adding and editing their way to the final render.

Losing the ability to even hear your track’s problems is a common occurrence. I am proposing my own solution. It will be new to some of you.

My intent with this solution is to get your ears, body and mind recharged as much as possible, as quickly as possible. First I’ll mention a commonly used solution as contrast.

That solution is to walk away for a while. Go do something else. Literally anything else. Exercise. Visit a quiet place. Whatever. Let your ears have a break from the music world.

My solution turns that concept of quiet escape on its head.

While your music is unique, you probably want it to sound a bit like someone else’s too. I mean this in the sense that all tracks receive a mixdown and have reverb.

When you get ear fatigue, you’ve been listening to unprocessed material for at least a while. Your body might want to move around, even if you don’t realize it.

This solution will immediately seem really obvious, but some people won’t have had the idea yet. Ready?

Load up tracks you like with a similar sound and listen to ’em. Get your body into it. This serves two purposes.

First, ear fatigue happens when you become used to whatever your work-in-progress sounds like. You want your ears to hear something else for a while. But instead of quiet, you can use whatever you listen to as a frame of reference for quality. That way when you go back to producing, your errors will stand out more. And supposing your fatigue is caused by repetition of the same sounds instead of volume, the change will feel really good.

Second, sit for long enough and your body’s kinesthetic response to sounds will fall off. It’s the same as when you sit down on a couch and notice your body becoming unresponsive. But you need responsiveness to experience the sounds in your track. So it can be a good idea to move around and wake your body up.

With this method, you should be able to get fired up and ready to start again within half an hour.

This is only a suggestion, and it won’t always be the right choice. Sometimes walking around outside for a while will be the better option. But sometimes this strategy will get you back to your DAW the fastest.

Kayzo’s Facebook Persuasion Game

Today I received a message from Kayzo’s Facebook account. I want to highlight how well the message’s persuasion is crafted.

For those of you who do not know of Kayzo, he is a music producer and DJ who has had a successful few years in dance music. I doubt he will slow down anytime soon. His music is great, but any artist who succeeds also has great marketing. I’ll dig into a piece of that here.

First, it’s unusual to receive a Facebook message from a well known artist. Even if you know it’s bullshit sent by a bot, everyone harbors a small hope that the artist sent the message themselves. So when the notification pops up on your phone, that’s exciting.

Kayzo’s direct-mail advertising is immediately different from other artists’. The usual format is:

“Hey! My new track is now available. Check it out here and let me know what you think! [link]”

That’s standard, and boring. I even avoid clicking those messages when it’s from an artist I like. Now look what Kayzo’s message said:

“Hey Roland. i dropped something new. do you wanna check it out?” and then a “YES!” button below the message.

This is great persuasion. The question at the end gets your curiosity. The track’s name isn’t even mentioned. You have one way to find out, which is committing a big, bold “YES!” By giving you only one choice, and a positive one, you get a peek into a reality where you are super, super excited about this track. Would you love to read more of this blog? YES!

Then when you click “YES!”, it actually pastes it in chat. At which point you are prompted with this message:

“Whistle Wars finally is out and on Spotify! Check it out and add to your playlists!” [Spotify link]

Now I didn’t click the link. I just waited because I was busy watching a Periscope. But that didn’t matter, apparently, because Kayzo sent me another message right after asking me what I think of it.

The genius is that I was only given two options.

“Like it?” or “Love it?”

In either case, they use commitment and consistency to funnel me into liking the track. If I like the experience enough to click a button, I’m set. Note that the word “Like” can point to anything from Kayzo to his music. The result is the same.

I did eventually click “Like it?” and received an automatic “Thanks for your feedback” response. But because it was interactive, Kayzo has me locked in to liking his music a little bit more.

There was some room for improvement by the way. “I like it!” or “I love it!” would have been more affirmative than the question formats I was presented with. But that’s ok. It still works.

Awaken the Giant Within, Unfinished

This post may turn out a bit hard to follow. But the idea has so much potential to reduce or eliminate creative blocks, if it works like I think it will, that it could revolutionize the way producers (and writers, and painters, and designers) do their jobs. Unfortunately it is a new and incomplete thought, so my only option is to brain dump and hope for the best. It might come back to me later in a more complete form.

If the idea in this post seems like it would be useful to you in its complete form, you can message me questions about why I think this or wrote that. That will help me understand the idea better.

Recently, I picked up Tony Robbins’s national bestseller, “Awaken the Giant Within”. This book is a great read for anyone who wants to improve their lives. I am getting some of that benefit too, but in my case, I am reading to learn a better understanding of persuasion. With my background, I see a world in the text that is completely invisible to you.

I only just finished chapter 3, “The Force That Shapes Your Life,” which is about how emotions drive behavior. When you imagine that either the action or the outcome (or both) will be rewarding, your body moves towards it on its own. Likewise, you move away from painful things. Robbins reteaches us (since most of us knew this power when we were young, but have been trained out of it over time) that we can choose how we feel about things, associating different feelings with different outcomes, thus rewiring our behavior.

I was driving in my car through a tunnel when the idea hit me. I have often had the experience of sitting in front of my computer, sometimes for an hour on end, wondering what the hell to do next in my dance track. A wealth of possibilities and damn it, none of them come to me. Frustration or despair mounts until I give up and quit.

In The Force That Shapes Us, Robbins teaches us to imagine the outcome you want, and the rewarding feeling you will get from achieving that outcome. Want to brush your teeth every day? Imagine avoiding the pain of tooth decay, and gaining the feeling of fresh breath. Take this idea into the studio.

I have a breakdown open in front of me. There is one instrument laid down and I’m sure I will change it before the track is done. The drop does not exist yet. The drop before the breakdown does not exist yet. I only know what sections of the arrangement are going where. This is the blank canvas all creatives fear. But here comes Robbins.

As I was driving down the highway, I decided in my imagination that this particular section will feel “calm”. Then the build after it will have more energy. Now my imagination can work backwards: What can I use to complement the work I already have which contributes to “calm”? If I continue with the first part of the break, I can build until it is “calm” and adding more doesn’t seem to help. Or I can move on to the buildup, and when it feels like the energy is increasing, work backwards to go from “calm” to “tension” (which is probably a matter of making my loops longer the earlier I am in the track).

That last paragraph, after typing it, looks like nothing special. If there is something worth looking at, it’s the process of deciding in your imagination what this part of the arrangement will be like, taking time to imagine the good outcome you get from finishing it, and then using your creativity to bridge the gap between where you are now and a finished track. You notice how I have, in parentheses, a method of moving my imagined track from calm to a state of tension? That came to me as I imagined the rewarding feeling of progress I get from bridging the gap between two parts of an arrangement.

And it is rewarding. You feel good when your creativity is flowing. The feel good flow of creativity is definitely incompatible with the anxious or generally “negative” feeling of creative block.

Another route would be to imagine how you want the person absorbing your track (book, blog post, whatever) to feel, think, understand, when giving your work their attention. Work backwards from there. If you understand your craft, and have a starting point for what this work will be about, ideas should come.

I’m not sure how this idea concludes. How to really apply it. Do you sit in a certain position? There were some sparks while I was driving. I hope for more.

How Altruism Gets Ahead

My observation of DJs is that the ones who help others are the ones who succeed.

Most producers think of it as a game to produce the best product, release it, and repeat until fans catch on that “Hey, this guy is pretty good.” They think of it this way because it is all they see. Stories of “Yeah, I worked hard on my music for years before anyone noticed me.” Or YouTube videos where a producer shows off his latest synth patch.

What their imagination doesn’t show them is the key friendships that helped them along the way. Their imagination does not see how reciprocation compelled someone at a label or YouTube channel to host the rising star’s initial music. Or how word of mouth traveled about this guy’s incredible track… because his visuals were memorable.

Many DJs and producers are oblivious to opportunities to help each other out. Their perceptual filters are literally not attuned to the signal. Meanwhile, the others who prowl around looking for chances to help get ahead.

The punchline is that when your friends do well, your chances of success improve. And if you can be a part of their success, they’ll want to pay back the favor in the future.

By the way, have a look at DJ Snake’s career. I have only observed him through Twitter, but I know he helps a lot of musicians with production work. That earns him reputation as a helpful guy and a valuable friend. Where is he now?

There’s great news here too. Humans are wired to receive a reward by helping each other out. When you help a friend, it feels good. That makes you want to do it again.

Right now, I’m helping the producers and DJs who read my blog by changing how they see the world, for their own benefit. That makes me feel good. As a side effect, I want to keep writing, and will be more likely to help again next time. (You can increase the likelihood by sharing this post. Or lying to me and saying you did. Either one works.)

Allow me to help you by showing you a deeper look through the persuasion filter.

According to neuroscience, socializing is the most stimulating activity a person can do. Listening to music is the second most stimulating. So collaborating on music is the first and second most stimulating activity combined into one. That’s a lot of potential to form great memories.

Picture sitting with a friend while you both jam out a musical idea. It might take one hour, ten hours or two weeks. But so long as you are both find it rewarding, you’ll remember it as a good experience and want to do it again. You can remember how heavy the weight of producing can be. It’s nice to have someone else along to share the load.

As an aside, I suspect that “more stimulation” roughly equates to “greater focus of attention on the task.” People who have their entire bodies focused on one task do not get distracted, so long as the reward keeps up.

And even if your collaborator doesn’t remember the specifics, they will still associate a good feeling by working with you. It’s like installing a steel beam between the neuron that holds “Fun, trust, excitement” and “you”. That memory isn’t going anywhere.

Now the persuasion really kicks into high gear.

When someone has a good feeling associated with you, they literally hallucinate that you have good qualities. It’s likely that you really do have good qualities, but having someone associate good feelings with you goes the extra mile.

If you get some good work done, and can post it publicly, your collaborator will have a reminder of your usefulness and the good memories every time they see it.

The memories will last for years, and the people you work with now will want to work with you again later. Along the way, they will say good things about you to others, adding to your social proof.

You can develop a sense for what might help other producers by imagining the world from their perspective. Some entrepreneurial creativity helps. But generally it’s enough to keep your friends’ wants and needs in mind while you pass through your day. Your brain will pick up the right signals if you care enough to concentrate on your friends’ needs, even for a few minutes.

If you can’t figure out what they might want, you can always ask them.

****

 

I’ll be collaborating with a special guest from the Vancouver Trance Family this Thursday to record a podcast.

We both get to help promote a community we love. The community gets to find out a bit about him. And DJs and producers will learn about what happens when they help their community! Big wins!

I would like to hear more from the readers of this blog. You can reach me by tweeting me at “rolypolyistaken”, through Facebook or via comments in the blog.

By the way…

If you go to raves: How could you contribute next time you go to a rave?

If you are a DJ or producer: How could you help out your fellow artists? Effort goes a long way.

The Anjunabeats Remix Machine

Today I am going to highlight something about how Above & Beyond maintains their popularity. People have probably noticed this in the past, but not all of it.

First, they have their own label. It gives them the opportunity to give other artists success, and receive their support in return. This is obvious.

What is less obvious is that because Above & Beyond have produced quality tracks this whole time, and have a radio show, they have effectively become a central node for favors. It’s nothing that anybody is counting, but humans have a strong urge to reciprocate. When Above & Beyond plays your track, you want to play theirs in return. It’s much easier if the track is already good.

Let me say that again:

Above & Beyond keep themselves at the front of your mind by making sure they have lots of artists out there playing their tracks. They’ve been doing this for years and it works great.

What is less obvious is the benefits of writing remixable music.

Above & Beyond start by stacking their label with talent. They invite talented producers and DJs onto the label. A&B always has remixable vocals, which they then cycle through the producers on their label. Try counting how many times their tracks have been remixed, just by their own label’s members. It’s hard.

This means they have a fresh version of a familiar, pleasant song to play in front of fans. They do this over and over and it works every time because the producing is good. But the strategy of it is genius.

 

Your brain formed new associations the first time it heard an original Above & Beyond track. They were positive and probably made you a bit mushy inside. They played the track a few more times, and then when you saw another artist from their label, he played it, too. As he played it, he associated himself with those original positive associations, and strengthened them through repetition.

Here comes the remix.

Anjunabeats releases a remix of an original A&B track by another artist. Now ABGT plays the remix, they play the remix in their live show, and the remixer plays it in their live show. Both Above & Beyond and the remixer add emotional associations and strengthen old ones.

It’s genius.