Support In The Early Stage

A common point of debate in dance music: Does it matter why someone supports your work?

Ask someone in the industry this question and I bet they’ll bring out an opinion. You can observe artists debating this on Twitter anytime you like. (@TheFPIA is a good place to look if you’re keen to find a debate going down.)

In this post, I am going to present my case for one angle on the debate. My case focuses only on the early stage of an artist because their situation is different than a made professional’s. I define this period as the moment they start learning to a less defined point where their career is secure. For now I’ll define the end as the time when an artist begins moving up from the bottom of the ticket.

Because you do not know me and you cannot tell yet if I am credible, use your own judgement. I invite you to disagree if you would like to and explain why in the comments or on Twitter.

When an artist is in the early stages of their career, it is important to gain momentum. I mean this in multiple ways.

You will say that a producer/DJs musical talent is more important than the size of their fan base, their professional network, or their income. I agree that it feels that way. And you can continue to feel that way while understanding that reality is a separate entity.

The way you feel about your odds of success is a kind of momentum. Many people do not succeed only because they quit too soon. If you see lots of support from others, that feels like momentum.

An artist’s fan base grows via momentum. In this case I will start by stating what never happens: Artists just starting out never decide they want their fan base to shrink. Sometimes you want to grow at a different rate, but the direction is always up.

For an independent professional, income is momentum. A manager must believe the artist they support can pay them. So an old adage applies, “You must spend money to make money.” I can go on.

If you can accept any of the three premises above, you might change your mind when you realize the meaning of what I write next:

People are influenced by other people, even indirectly by observing what people say to other people. So arguing against accepting most (but not all) forms of early momentum can actually damage an early artist’s odds of success. If you want to explain your position on this topic, try inventing a positive way to state your message, so the feeling leads them forward instead of holding them back.

The good news is that support is really easy to get right because it comes in so many forms. There are many low effort, high yield things you can do to help.

For instance, writing kind comments on their social media or saying them in person is always helpful. It’s extra helpful if you take time to identify a detail to authentically appreciate. But a general compliment is great.

You can always share an artist’s post to help them, because mere exposure helps. This is actually a hidden benefit of haters. While they believe they are taking an artist down a notch, they actually do their advertising for them, for free. Isn’t that nice?

And obviously, a track or ticket purchase helps the most.

But it can be so easy, so so easy. Even looking at an artist’s advertising helps because it makes you more likely to support them later.

Now if you can still raise an objection to the idea that most forms of support are definitively okay, I encourage you to leave a comment.

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The Empty Space in Dubstep

As a creative person, I look for what is not there. The negative space. The thing that could be, but isn’t.

In the past, Deadmau5 used this strategy to choose his sound.

Deadmau5 says in his masterclass videos that he noticed there was no one doing a sound like his in house music before he decided on what his sound would be. It was an empty space in music. He had the talent to recognize that if he went and made the Deadmau5 sound to fill the space, it would sell because the demand was there but unrecognized.

I’m about to tell you about one of those empty spaces.

A few months ago I went to an Excision tour with four or five supporting dubstep acts. From the moment the opener pressed play, it was hard in your face bass music. The show didn’t start with a slower, less energetic style. It didn’t start low energy and build up over the next few hours. Nope. They just slammed the reds and went to town.

I was bored. And so was everyone else in my group.

I imagine all of the DJs involved have enough talent to recognize that starting at crowd hype level 10 is a bad way to go. The energy needs to progress in some way, even if its only to another form of level 10 hype hype.

I know it is possible for a bass music lineup to handle this issue because I’ve heard the Bassrush Massive kill it with their lineup. I think it started with one genre of drum n bass, went to some dubstep, then to more drum n bass, then more dubstep. All that mattered is that the style changed.

Now here’s the empty space.

In a dubstep only lineup, the opening acts would love to start with lower energy music, but they can’t because… it doesn’t exist yet. Openers all know that just like any other set, whether its at a club or a festival, they don’t want to outpace the headliner. But when all dubstep has the same energy and sound, they have no options. So if someone were to make music that “fit” in that opening space, DJs and fans would be all over it.

Do note that this doesn’t mean the quality can be lower. It still has to be high quality. But if the energy is lower and the feel is different while still sounding like dubstep, it’ll work.

I’m not going to suggest what the music might sound like. While I have some ideas, that job is for someone else. I’m only here to point out the empty space where I see it.

I also might be wrong about this music not existing. I don’t listen to a lot of dubstep. So I invite anyone who knows of music that would fill this space to link it to me. But I bet it doesn’t exist, because if it did, bass music DJs would be playing it — at least for the warmup.

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.

Talking To Beginners

I have been producing dance music for about five years now. In that time I have spent countless solitary hours watching tutorials, throwing ideas at my DAW, and trying to figure out: What works?

What I haven’t done much of is explain to someone else how to do things.

And I don’t mean how to use a compressor. Someone else can explain that.

What I haven’t explained is how Eric Prydz and Lane 8’s slow rise and falls of tension are obviously the result of slow changes in things like reverb, EQ, and volume. It’s obvious to me when I think about it for a minute. Completely.

But I only became conscious of it when I focused my mind on the track (it was something by Lane 8) to figure it out and explain it to someone else.

Of course, I’m sure there’s more to the slow builds of Lane 8 and Prydz. But I bet slow automation curves making small, small adjustments are everywhere in their tracks.

The thing to recognize here is that there are countless other patterns I haven’t yet noticed in dance music — because I’ve never had to. The situation has never come up.

If you’ve ever taken a course on learning, “learning how to learn”, then you might recall that explaining to someone else what you know is a great way to learn it better. You can also reinforce your learning by taking notes. But explaining things to someone else is incredible for learning. Back to this in a moment.

If you’ve been producing music for a few years, there are parts in your brain that literally do not exist in the average person’s. You can focus your hearing on subtle parts of sound that, as far as I can tell, some people literally can’t notice.

Read that again. It’s not that they don’t notice some of the subtleties that an experienced producer could. It’s that they can’t notice because their brains are not wired to hear the differences yet. Crazy, right?

Now what happens when you explain how a track works to somebody else?

In order to understand a track and turn that understanding into words, your brain has to engage parts it wouldn’t use together otherwise. Your language centers have to get involved to translate the parts of the music you are focusing on into words. Then another part has to move your mouth to speak.

If you try this with a friend, you’ll be amazed at what kind of realizations you experience.

This is the importance of talking to beginners.

Part of why this works is that the process of explaining to someone new will raise things you know but don’t usually think about into conscious awareness.

Your musician’s brain has some understanding that it feels “tension” rising before an important change in the track, like the movement from the drop to the breakdown. It isn’t magic. The tension is coming from something changing in the music. The average listener has no idea what that something might be. But you do!

It might be the pitch of something rising in the background.

It might be the low end being filtered out.

It might be the volume of an instrument going up — or it might just be part of the frequencies in the instrument.

I repeat that explaining this to another person will do something for you that replicating the pattern in your DAW will not do.

Try explaining what is happening while the track playing. By directing your friend’s attention from sound to sound, narrating how things work, you’ll make your own subconscious understanding from an ambiguous blob into an explicit, well defined form.

You’ll suddenly understand things differently, and you will remember the understanding because human to human communication heavily engages the brain.

Try that with a friend who likes dance music or with a newer producer.

And if you know someone who is a more experienced producer than you are, you should definitely try this with them. They’ll point out things you never would have noticed.

But to be honest, this is some basic bitch shit so far.

Let’s use this exercise to do something incredible. You won’t believe what you can do with it.

Try to explain the difference between one track and another track, even to yourself. But get a friend involved for best results. (Probably another music producer for this one since it’s more advanced.)

What is the difference between the way Ilan Bluestone sounds and Grum?

What is the difference between the way Grum sounds and Eric Prydz?

Ilan Bluestone and Grum are on the same label. In a way, their tracks are very similar. Certainly Ilan Bluestone and Grum are more similar sonically than Ilan Bluestone and Spor.

If you dig into this challenge, you might notice that Ilan Bluestone’s kicks sound long (like they fill an 1/8th note?), with a big punch, while Grum tends to be shorter with less mid and high end. Grum’s sit further back in the mix, while still being in the front.

This is also a great way to figure out if your producer friends think “Bright” or “Punchy” mean the same thing.

Let me know if you try this out. Talk to some non-musicians and explain a part of the music to them. Try to explain it so well that you see understanding show on their faces. That gives you a challenge while maybe doing something useful for them.

I’ll write about another form of this exercise later, maybe.

Cheers.

The Artist and Energy: A Note for Vancouver Producers

In Los Angeles, or the Netherlands, or the UK, a music producer can pursue music by quitting his day job and taking any work he can find. The three figure payouts here and there keeps him fed until his skills and reputation have enough momentum to break through into a tour schedule or better paying ghost production gigs. Along the way he picks up management, marketing buzz, and social media presence. A musician wakes up as his true self for the first time.

This is a story that we are familiar with. It’s how KSHMR and Cash Cash made it from nothing to the festival lineup, and probably hundreds more I haven’t heard of. The cities I listed probably isn’t comprehensive. But they certainly have more energy than Vancouver. Let me explain using Los Angeles as the example.

In Los Angeles, there are musicians trying to make it everywhere. But the energy we need to start a career is also more concentrated. There are dozens of major music labels (both mainstream and dance). There are thousands and thousands of other musicians to work with. Living in California gives you access to every festival and nightlife promoter in America, not just the west coast. So the resistance to getting your first gigs is smaller; you have a greater number of shots at hitting a mark.

You are probably thinking that the Internet happened twenty years ago, and the rules are not the same. I agree. It’s easier to get your name out there with social media and other attention-grabbing tools. But the competition increased there too. Cities exist on a more local level. Build momentum locally as a catalyst to your Internet presence.

Music spreads by the same rules as a meme. When you want to launch a career, you need people to notice your initial work. That’s easier in a place with more energy. The first people to hear about you might like your stuff enough to share it with ten people, one, or none.

It is a game of rinsing your luck over and over. You build your raw talent with repetitions in the studio. Produce, produce, produce. But you can be as great as you want in the studio and still have no career if there’s no one out there to hear it.

In Vancouver, we have a handful of nightclubs, music promoters, and perhaps one big music label (Monstercat). If I lived in Los Angeles, I could network my ass off and have more potential clients than I’d know what to do with, regardless of my skill level. In Vancouver, face to face networking opportunities are relatively scarce. Monstercat might be attracting international attention, but it doesn’t benefit the rest of us in Vancouver unless you go to them for help.

Instead, what if the energy came to us?

I recently heard of a concept called Team Supreme, down in Los Angeles. The jist is that musicians get together every week or two to jam, share ideas, and perform for an audience. To me, it’s a new idea. I’ve seen similar stuff but never like this.

The idea of Team Supreme has enormous potential. This is just a starter idea. I’m sure someone reading this has another idea they’ll think of later. For now consider all the things a group like Team Supreme would have access to by bringing the energy to them:

  • Humans trade favors. When you know a buddy needs help finding a label for his new weird house track, he has only one set of ears to find a good fit. In a tribe of thirty people, there would be thirty pairs. Simplified, every artist’s opportunity for success increases when another member is added.
  • Different people have different talents. I have no idea how to make a professional looking video. But I do know what to film to attract attention like a magnet, what to say, and where to post it. Suppose one of the musicians in our new squad had those talents as well. (We could always hire someone.)
  • A group of people can become noteworthy more easily than one person. Dance music has room for new ideas. The good ones grab attention, which benefits everyone involved. All we need to do is try out different ideas until something sticks.

Before AirBnB was invented, nobody knew there was a 30 billion dollar company to be made out of rooms people weren’t using. The potential was sitting there the whole time.

Thoughts?

Producer Groupthink

I am writing this post for a select few people. If I tagged you or somehow directed your attention here, the post is for you. Music music music. Follow along.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought doing job-related work outside of work hours was bullshit. Doing work-related tasks outside of work hours for free wasn’t just stepping in it. That was wading through it knee deep.

If I was anyone else, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this belief slipping away. But it has. I just sat down to study work material for twenty minutes completely by choice (actually I was jiu jitsuing nervousness away).

In part my beliefs are changing because of groupthink.

It is subtle, but everyone in my company has a desire to succeed. The ambitions aren’t spoken, but I presume everyone else has an image of a better future burned into their mind. Everyone has their own ambition reinforced when they feel like their peer is trying about as hard as they are, or harder.

We all behave within a certain subset of human behaviors. We show up, we fuel ourselves with positive feelings, and we do a good job. In short, we try.

I’d like to bring the power of groupthink to music producers. I’m certain most of us who haven’t “made it” yet fall into two categories. Either…

A) You produce, but if you tried, you could produce a lot more, and you sometimes feel down about your work or your odds of success.

B) You put a lot of time towards producing, and usually have positive feelings about it, but you’d appreciate having a source of motivation outside of yourself.

I assert that I know how to produce motivating feelings in a group of people, and link the motivation to the regular music activities you do at home. I was suspicious I could do it for a while, but the same techniques were used at my workplace. So I know. The result might be subtle for some, but others would find their net output goes up drastically.

The plan’s tl;dr is tribal bonding, commitments, imagination exercises, and some group chants (“Hoorah”). It works.

The long version is that when you have a group of people who you like, you have access to people who want you to succeed. (I can design the culture that way. Easy.) You might not realize it, but disappointing your friends might hurt even more than disappointing yourself. These friends can hold you accountable to your own progress. And it’s surprisingly easy to get your imagination fired up when you have other people doing the exercise beside you. Sometimes imagination is used as a demotivator — to bring your mood down. I can show you how to use it to fire you up. As for the group chants, I’ll get back to that.

I personally feel like the motivation alone would make regular attendance worthwhile for other producers, musicians, DJs, etc. It would create other opportunities for us as we expand. I have things up my sleeve, but use your imagination for now.

Lastly, forget the chants if you’re reading this at home. If you love this idea, stop and pump your fist in the air for me right now.

Then share the post with a friend. Thanks.

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.