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.

Track Analysis: A Work In Progress

The human race has just achieved the new zenith of its accomplishments. The last round of ammunition is discarded; a relic of history. Peace flourishes worldwide.

And then the earth splits open.

There’s more to the story, but what does it sound like? It’s a question I’ve wanted to answer for a full year of my life. This is my best attempt so far.

It doesn’t really have a name yet, but I wanted to post it and analyze it. Other producers might learn something from what worked here.

I removed a lot of elements before the drop for focus purposes. But I’ll show you the MIDI and talk about why I think the notes came out sounding the way they do. Here’s a little look at a (cleaned up) version of the project file:


Now, the MIDIs!

The bassline is nothing special. Just a C note over and over again. The lengths of the notes matter a lot though. They’re actually a sliver shorter than 32rd notes. Lots of space between each hit. Any longer than this and they started to sound like one continuous note. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make that image bigger.)sm_bassline.png

These two notes play the distorted pad sound you can hear quite easily on the first beat of the drop. It changes every 2nd bar. The half step movement makes a creepy feeling.


These stabs are the brass sounding instrument that enters before the breakdown. It’s in green on the arrangement window. Mostly I use these to drive home which scale we’re in, since it was too ambiguous at one point.


This is another addition I made to drive home “what scale are we in?” since it sounded like F minor before. But you’ll note that this is in fact an F minor chord! So what the hell? Well, I wanted it to stay ambiguous. I figure this F minor chord — which is the iv chord of C — would reinforce the lead as well as the overall scale.


Now here’s the lead. It’s supposed to sound like the world is ending. Or more specifically, like something is ending the world! I figure sound design is a necessary component of that (I have about 9 layers in the lead right now), but the notes help too.

I have a special affinity for minor 2nds in melody. They sound downright unnerving in the right context, mysterious in others, and beautifully peaceful in others still. So that movement from Ab to G is doing a lot of work. The E note is technically borrowed, but it serves as a leading tone into the F, so while it’s “creepy”, it also sounds harmonic.


Even with all of these pieces present, there was still one thing missing…

Some creepy strings! These play an open 5th throughout the whole drop, contributing to the feeling of C minor, even though it’s fairly ambiguous on its own. (Remember there’s also a major third starting on the Eb note playing on the 1st beat of every 2nd bar near the end of the drop. They work together to drive the point home.)

Also they’re just a creepy sound. It’s the metallic sort of ring you hear near the start of the 1st and 2nd bar. The note starts early because it has a long attack.

I hope you learned something. Leave a comment if you have a question or want to see more.


Simple Data Collection Apparatus

I know computers are capable of determining how music affects human physiology and the brain. We just haven’t figured out how yet.

Computers can certainly generate music. It could be as simple as uploading common MIDI patterns, providing a selection of instruments and samples, and batch exporting full tracks. But the results would almost invariably be bad without training the computer first.

Where could we start the journey? I have some ideas. First we need a few tools:

  1. Basic music loops. If melodic or harmonic in content, then a layman’s perception should be that it’s all “one instrument”, even if the synths themselves are layered. If rhythmic content, drum loops might be sufficient, but some custom built loops would be more helpful. More on that in a moment.
  2. Full tracks by professional musicians, for comparison. I recommend grabbing 50-100 tracks from Anjunabeats, since they will have the same “sound” and fanbase.
  3. An apparatus to measure a participant’s physiological response to the music. Measure whatever possible: heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension. Researchers might find this article useful. Could measure more than one participant at a time.
  4. Participants. Could select randomly, or make a group of people who all like x, y and z type of music to test the responses people have to music they like.
  5. A computer to collect the data and search for trends.

Now I am not a scientist. But experiments will surely reveal commonalities. For instance, dance music producers commonly raise the pitch of a sound 1, 2 or 3 octaves over 4, 8, 16, etc. bars of music to direct the listener’s attention. I’d bet an entire paycheque it shows up in the heart rate of listeners, especially if they like the track.

The procedure would be:

  1. Prepare participant and apparatus.
  2. Play music (loop or full track).
  3. Record physiological results.
  4. Repeat one hundred or two thousand times (depends on budget).
  5. Use data science to find correlations between the music’s audio content and the listener’s physiological reaction.

No subjective reporting is necessary from the participants, though it could be useful. Frankly, the participant is not necessary, since the discography of music from a sufficiently large music label (e.g. Anjunabeats) or radio show (ABGT) should reveal trends on its own.

Presumably, some kind of function will be revealed in the data. I was bad at math so I can’t speculate what it might look like, except that: x ~= y where x is volume and y is physiological arousal. I’d also say that a sudden doubling of a one-note instrument’s timing (e.g. changing a snare from 8/4 to 16/4) never results in less excitement, though it might be boring on its own.

From there, instruct the computer program to generate music which also follows the patterns discovered previously, but does not necessarily replicate them exactly.

Boom. Music generated by a computer.




Someone who’s a better programmer than me could even go directly from Ableton project file –> Numpy data. At that point, you could mine project files from professional musicians to discover trends in music that was good enough for DJ support.