5 posts tagged

Career

Backstory series. Part 2

First local gigs as a DJ

Previously in backstory series I wrote about the Psychedelic community I created, and today I’ll tell how it affected my career.

Let’s get back in 2006. Psyplanet became a quite large website and our team grew up to twelve members. As a community founder, I had to do a lot of coordination, negotiation, and all in all it gave me a huge experience.

Psyplanet helped me to know the scene inside-out: I knew pretty much every professional and enthusiast involved, such DJs, artists, promoters, agents, deco designers, flyer designers, photographers, street teams. And to be fair, the Psytrance scene in Moscow was quite big at the time.

But it wasn’t just that. It also helped to build a trust. I didn’t have ambitions of being a professional DJ back then, but due to relationship with the party promoters, I played as a DJ too.

Flyers of the Psytrance party series in Rotonda Club, organized by Syntex Lab. The big flyer on the right is one of the first parties where I played as a DJ. It was July 6, 2006. See also Psytrance flyers 2005—2007

Here some are of the tunes I played at that time just for you to feel the mood:

For various reasons — mostly, financial — I had to shut the website down. Psyplanet didn’t make me rich, but it doesn’t matter because it gave much more than that — a priceless experience, networking, and industry insights from which I learnt a lot from.

Advice: playing local gigs is a good way to start a career, but don’t just come to promoters saying “Hey, I’m a DJ, do you want me to play at your party?” because the answer is most certainly will be no. Go to their parties a few times first, find out who is the main person in charge for artists, have a little chat. Ask if they need some help, perhaps volunteers or a street team to promote an upcoming event. Slowly but surely, you build a trust. And now compare it to that random guy who came up and said “Hey, I’m a DJ”, — who do you think have more chances to be a warm-up DJ at the next event? The answer is clear.

Bonus reading: The importance of proper opening DJs

“Should I quit job?”

Hi Daniel, I inspired a lot by many music producers and thinking to start a music career too, but my day-job is holding me back. Should I quit? I have some savings which would allow me to sustain life for a bit, not much but I guess half a year or so. Do you think it’ll be enough to make an album and make some progression?

Adam K.

“I’ll quit the job and will be free! I could make an album and quickly become a successful artist!”... No.

Adam, the short answer would be “no”, you shouldn’t quit your day-job just for sake of starting a music career unless you have some other source of income to pay your bills. And here is why.

I don’t know whether you already have some experience in music production or not, but I’ll assume you don’t. In this case, you’ll have to spend at least two-three years just learning the basics and getting your skills to a decent quality level. I spoke to dozens of producers and for none of them the learning process was fast. Even if you see some new name with great music appearing out of the blue, it always turns out he or she had years of music background prior to that release.

Another thing you have to keep in mind is that income in the music industry may be very indirect and not always match your expectations. Music sales give pennies, and it might take years before you’ll start touring on a regular basis. Just like in any business or entrepreneurship, you have to invest both time and money first and there is always a risk to never return it back. 

The truth about music sales

At last but not least, what are going to do with the free time? You see, there is a catch: the more of something we have, the less we appreciate it. There are some wisdom phrase for that, I don’t remember exactly but it’s something like this: “If you want something to get done, give to the busiest person”. The truth is you probably don’t need 12 hours a day to make it, because if you do have all days long available for doing something, at some point you’ll find yourself sitting on the couch watching the fifth season of “Lost”.

Re-energizing for music production after 9-6 work

What you need, however, is to be consistent. Be sure to learn stuff, to make small but frequent steps. And while you still have a day-job to back you up financially, keep music production as a hobby. 

John 00 Fleming recent Q&A where, in particular, he also advised to treat music as a hobby

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2017   Advice   Career

Backstory series. Part 1

Psyplanet, the Russian Psychedelic community

I remember back in the days when I was a teenager deeply passioned about music, I was always wondering how did artists reach out their milestones, such as the first local gig, the first international gig, the first studio album etc. That curious and passionate music lover guy still lives inside me, but now being also a music producer, I have experienced all these milestones myself.

So, I decided to write a kind of “backstory series” with behind the scenes of my past career goals and how I managed to achieve them, and with some career advice along the way.

***

To really understand where I coming from, I have to begin my story with the Psychedelic community I created almost 13 years ago, which probably not many of my nowadays’ followers know about.

The year of 2004. At the time I just graduated the high school and, as most teenagers, I was thinking what should I do next. After some time, I came up to learning HTML and CSS and building a website. I was one of the few lucky ones who got the very first PC earlier around 1999, so learning the web and these languages in particular came naturally to me.

So, armed with the “HTML for noobs” book I started making my own website. I never hesitated what the website should be all about, because the answer was clear — about Psychedelic culture, of course! At the raves I was one those guys with white gloves and fluorescent clothes, so making a website about Psytrance was also naturally to me.

Slowly but surely, in 2005 I launched “Psyplanet”, the Russian Psychedelic trance community. We had a forum board, events announcements, party photos, artist profiles, free download music (oops!) and more goodies. Quickly it became one of the leading Psytrance websites in Russia.

Keep in mind the Internet was very different from today’s, it was a time before Facebook opened registrations and before Steve Jobs introduced the very first iPhone.

Here are some of the screenshots I found on my disk:

Psyplanet.ru final look before it was shut down in 2008

Advice: when thinking of what you suppose to do in your life, always trust your gut instinct, no matter what is currently trending or what your parents say. Doing what love to do is always pays off.

In the next instalment, I’ll tell how Psyplanet affected on my career.

2017   Behind the scenes   Career

To non-native speakers: learn English

cover black

If you are a non-native English speaker and you want to make a career as an international artist touring around the world, my ultimate advice is this: learn English.

Some people think “I’m a producer, let my music speak for itself”, but it’s not always true. Being understand by other people is crucial, it’s even much more important that having a nice kick in your track.

I’m Russian and I’m not hiding that English is not my native language. Heck, I know that my English is bad, I’m surely doing a lot of mistakes. Not mentioning the accent which sucks. But once I’ve reached a certain level allowing to understand English more or less, it boosted my learning curve in music career tremendously.

Why you need it

When you can read and speak English, a whole new world of possibilities opens to you.

You can learn music production much more efficiently. According to researchers, roughly 53% of the internet websites are in English. This mean whether you’re searching for some tutorials, insights, blogs, discussions etc, most likely you’ll find it in English.

Languages used on the Internet. Wikipedia 

You can read and understand contracts you signing up: with labels, publishers, agencies and so on. Most contracts are written a “lawyers language” that only themselves can understand, but still knowing the basics will potentially save you from some bad deals.  

Label re-released a track without my consent

You can tour and travel easily. I know a guy who had a gig in the UK while he couldn’t say a simple even a few words in English. It was a pain to both sides, organizers included. Do you think they invited him again? No.

You can have a reliable public and business communication. Whether you negotiate with a label, or sending a remix request, or just announcing your next release on social media, it has to be a clear message. And I’m not saying about some misspelling, but about the right meaning.

How to learn

First things first, rule number one: don’t rely on Google Translate. It’s fine to translate some particular word, but don’t trust it translating the entire sentences — it can mess up the meaning and led to some misunderstanding or even hurt someone. 

Google Translate error sees Spanish town advertise clitoris festival. The Guardian

The obvious way of learning is... well, study in a college, or find some courses, or hire a teacher. But let’s assume you’re too busy or can’t afford it. Here is what you still can do:

  1. Watch films and TV series, perhaps with the subtitles. It’s not only great to hear the actual actors voices, but also important to listen how English words sound like in dialogues. I’d suggest to start off with the American films, shows, or even cartoons — usually, for non-native speakers, it’s easier to understand American English rather than British.
  2. Read blogs and magazines. Unlike of classic literature written in an old-fashioned way, blogs and websites typically have simpler text that easier to understand. Also start following persons you like on social media, see what and how they write. I’d suggest reading John 00 Fleming notes on Facebook, it’s always a win-win combination of great profession insights with a nice Brit slang, I learn some new words from his blogs all the time.
  3. Run a blog. Don’t worry about being imperfect and making mistakes, all of us do. It could a personal blog, a travel blog, a professional blog — whatever you’re up to. The point is to write something. Sooner or later you’ll get used to it and start seeing your own mistakes, which is always an indicator of growth. Read also: 9 reasons why should run a blog.

Speaking of writings, I recommend checking out Grammarly, a web-service that checks grammar and spelling. Don’t rely on this too much as its algorithms aren’t perfect, but it’s a good way to finding some common mistakes that many non-native speakers do. It also explains why something is wrong, which is very helpful for studying.

Grammarly helps to eliminate typical mistakes

You’re welcome.

On cover image: a scene from “The Pink Panther” movie where Inspector Clouseau has tried to learn how to speak with an American accent. Some funny and awkward things happen if you aren’t able to speak clearly.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   Career

Music producers mental fatigue is real

And what to do about it

As a music producer, I feel like I have too many things to do, production, promotion etc. I work 16 hours a day and still feel behind and running out of time, the world is just moving too fast! How to not being mentally exhausted in the pursuit of happiness?

Michael J

This is a great question with no simple answer. Such overall mental exhaustion is definitely an issue, especially for bedroom producers who trying to break through. Let’s try to find out the reasons of this fatigue and what we can do about it.

Why it happens

Back in the days, a music band would need a drummer, vocalist, and a guitar player just to write a song. Then they’d need a recording studio and engineer to record and mix the song, and a mastering engineer to prepare it for release.

Now you can program drums, chop vocals, synthesize leads, record, arrange, mix, and master all by yourself within a DAW. And even share it to the audience right away just in few clicks. Music producers are now one-man’s orchestra; it certainly has some benefits yet giving a double-edged effect.

As a modern music producer, you expected to have all of these skills and knowledge by default:

  • Digital audio fundamentals, music theory basic, synthesis, sound design, drums programming, DAW, MIDI, processing devices, routing, arrangement, structure, plugins, mixing and psycho-acoustic model , mastering basics, Djing, performance

We’re all know that having just great music alone won’t make you a career. To get an audience and do the business side of things, most likely you do the following:

  • Post at least on four major social networks, manage your website, run a podcast and record guest mixes, write blogs and guest articles, send newsletters, negotiate with labels, negotiate with booking agents, deal with press, bloggers, reviewers; plan ahead your promo campaigns

Besides, we’re living in a fast-paced world, gear and technologies are changing very rapidly. To keep yourself up-to-date, you probably:

  • Read magazines, articles, blogs and newsletters; attend seminars, tech fairs, shows; follow tastemakers on social media; study online courses; learn about management, marketing, and even laws
Sometimes I feel like a Swiss army knife, doing everything

The lists goes on. And that’s taking into account that most bedroom producers have full-time jobs to pay the bills, so realistically there are only a few hours a day available for all of these activities! Well, no surprise most producers who live like that not only feel fatigued, but also look like Earthworm Jim... without his suit (myself included).

But before you start to pity yourself, thinking to quit tough, unfair, and overcomplicated music industry for the sake of some ‘easier’ profession, think of the following.

You don’t have to be great

Yes, the music business is tough, confusing, and complicated, that’s for sure. But in reality, the reason of your mental exhaustion is not the profession you chose, it’s because you are trying to achieve something great.

Being great at something is extremely tough not only in music: ask any successful designer, lawyer, developer, scientist, surgeon, entrepreneur. It requires full commitment to what you doing regardless of what it is, whether you make music, write code, or run a business.

But the point is — you don’t have to. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just as fine. Look around, there are plenty of mediocre workers (95% I’d say) in every shop, in every service profession, and many of those are happy people!

Even in music, ask yourself why you are doing this in the first place. Perhaps, just making music is what you need, without trying to climb to the top of the hill? Remember: you don’t have to. It’s your call, your life.

However, if you have serious ambitions in music as a career, then prepare to some sacrifices. There is no easy way. Here is what John 00 Fleming writes about it:

“This career comes at a heavy price, the sacrifice being the social aspect of my personal life. My life clashes with the regular World. [...] I spend most weekends in airports, hotels and clubs. The last thing I want to do if I manage to grab a sneaky week off is fly abroad and spend my time in yet another hotel. I associate airports and hotels with going to work. There’s no way I can relax in either of those places, my heads goes into work/DJ mode. So family holidays are out the question, as they wait all year for that annual vacation abroad.”

Cut the unnecessary

I don’t know a magic trick that would suddenly make your music producer’s life easier, and I doubt there any shortcuts. But I use a technique I call ‘cut the unnecessary’ which helps me to keep focused on what’s really important.

Every time you dig into new fancy plugins or read a review of a new DJ controller, ask yourself — “does it help me to progress toward my goals?”. Is it something you really need at the moment or it is your tired brain just needs some procrastination?

Re-energizing for music production after 9-6 work

We all are content consumers, we absorb new information through social networks and news media all the time. But sometimes (or most of the time?) this information gives nothing but a feeling of doing or learning something new whilst in reality it’s a junk ‘food’. It’s like if you would eat potato chips thinking you’re getting a protein.

Sometimes it’s good to have an informational ‘diet’ for your mind. If you cut the unnecessary, it might turn out that things are a little bit easier than you thought.

Recap

I know this blog might be confusing, so let me highlight three main points I was trying to say:

  1. Music business is tough and complicated. But there is no shortcut to success in any profession.
  2. You don’t have to be great, being ‘normal’ is just fine as long as you are happy with it.
  3. Focus on what really helps your progression.

On cover image: an illustration of Renton, a character of Irvine Welsh’s novel “Trainspotting” played by Ewan McGregor. His famous “Choose life” narration sums it up nicely.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2016   Advice   Career   Music industry