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.


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.

Hidden Markets for Music, and How Culture Cyles

Today I observed Wolfgang Gartner and Mat Zo having similar problems with some fans.

It’s a common thing for a musician of any kind to have fans who liked their previous work more than their current stuff.

An artist’s style changes and evolves. It happens. They learn new skills, new habits, or simply like new sounds, and move on. It leaves some fans wishing for more of their old stuff.

And that gap is an opportunity for new producers.

An artist’s old style does not change. It is history, set in stone. That means you have ample time to craft a few tracks with a similar sound and release them, catering to that artist’s old fans.

You can think whatever you like about an artist who does this. I’m not even guaranteeing that it would work. I’m just saying, if you’re looking for an angle, here you go.

To dig a bit deeper, watch this.

Fans associate positive feelings with particular sounds. It literally changes the architecture of your brain, forming new associations between good feelings and a style of music.

That’s why old trance fans are still around bitching about how things aren’t as good as they used to be, and why new genres take time to grow from the underground. There’s some luck involved, so time is an important factor (compounding these chance occurrences of a new fan being born).

That may also be why culture appears to cycle.

The memories of positive experiences remain, even after the mainstream shifts somewhere new.

Then in ten or twenty years, after people have mostly forgotten about their old tastes, someone reignites them by combining something old with something new. It’s familiar, but different.

This thought will hopefully come back to me later in a more evolved form.

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.