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11 posts tagged

Personal development

Learning music production for authentic results

Some thoughts on how to learn using a reference track but not ending up like a someone’s clone

Stormtroopers from Star Wars Episode VII. Sometimes, browsing Beatport new releases causes the same feeling

Hey Daniel, a lot of forums, tutorials and courses out there recommend learning by using reference tracks, deconstructing arrangements and rebuilding sounds/presets.

This sounds fine in principle, but in practice, I can’t help wondering if this has also created a lot of similar sounding music on Beatport, across all genres.

It may take longer and be more challenging to not use any form of reference but do you think that ultimately, it will lead the producer (over months and years) to more authentic results?

If not, how do you recommend reference tracks/sounds/arrangements are used to enhance learning but not limit creativity?


That’s a great question, Doron. I’m in a camp with those who suggest learning and training your ears using a reference track indeed, and I do agree that stores are flooded with similar music with a lack of originality. But I don’t think that using a reference whilst learning is what caused this. 

Train your ears using a reference track

You see, there is a different between analysing and trying to recreate certain sounds for educational purpose and deliberate copying someone’s else music. When you just starting out, you seek for answers for the questions that puzzling you: how is this bassline made? Is that a saw or a square wave? Does my lead sits well in the mix? And learning other producer’s music is a great way to answer them. Those who want to blindly copy other’s music will find a way, anyway.

When I started this blog, people often asked me something like “are you not afraid sharing your trade secrets so the others will steal your tricks?”, and I always said “no, I don’t”.

For example, I shared the way I made the robotic texture and atmospheric effects used in my tracks. There is nothing really fancy about it, it’s all basic stuff for anyone with a decent experience, but for beginners it might be a breakthrough. “Hm, so he made the texture using a simple noise oscillator and a filter... what if I’ll change it to a saw wave instead? And do this instead of that?” — that type of thinking I would advise to have when you read a tutorial or when you use a reference track. Think of a general concept, a method that can be implemented in so many ways rather than using any given tutorial or reference as it is. This is how the learning curve goes.

I would also like to talk about two more things: the format and the content.

Let’s take newspaper as an example. Typically, there are some current events printed on a low-grade paper, probably with some logo on the top and a big bold heading. You know it’s a newspaper just by looking at it. But I don’t think anyone accuses “The Guardian” of ripping off “The Time” or vice versa, or any other newspaper cloning each other. That’s because a newspaper is just a format of the production.

Now speaking about music, all those kicks, basses, mixdowns etc. are just a format of some particular genre. Let’s say, you know it’s a Psytrance when you hear a certain tempo and beat patterns. But you shouldn’t solely focus on that alone, and I think this is where many producers fall off.

Beginners forget that the content is what people listen to music for, same reason why they read the newspapers. And when I say content in terms of music, I’m don’t mean a fancy kick drum but rather a feeling, emotions that this track awakes in you; something that will make you want it to listen again and again. How to create an interesting music content is another huge topic, and it’s a talk for another time.

Fellow producers out there, I’m keen to know what do you guys think about it? The comments box below is open for you.

2017   Advice   Personal development

Time traveller’s archive — 13

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Eduardo Briceño talk at TEDx Manhattan Beach
  1. Eduardo Briceño: How to get better at the things you care about. I like how Eduardo separate activity between learning and performing, and funny enough, I’ve been using pretty much the same technique for quite some time. “Research shows that after the first couple of years working in a profession, performance usually plateaus. This has been shown to be true in teaching, general medicine, nursing and other fields, and it happens because once we think we have become good enough, adequate, then we stop spending time in the learning zone. We focus all our time on just doing our job, performing, which turns out not to be a great way to improve. But the people who continue to spend time in the learning zone do continue to always improve. The best salespeople at least once a week do activities with the goal of improvement. They read to extend their knowledge, consult with colleagues or domain experts, try out new strategies, solicit feedback and reflect. The best chess players spend a lot of time not playing games of chess, which would be their performance zone, but trying to predict the moves grand masters made and analyzing them. Each of us has probably spent many, many, many hours typing on a computer without getting faster, but if we spent 10 to 20 minutes each day fully concentrating on typing 10 to 20 percent faster than our current reliable speed, we would get faster, especially if we also identified what mistakes we’re making and practiced typing those words. That’s deliberate practice.”
  2. Research this music industry. Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. It’s posted in 2013 but its value hasn’t become any less since then: “Also look into the mechanics of how this industry works, many will have a track released and expect the label to get them bookings? The job of a label is to get your track (and name) marketed making sure it gets to the right DJ’s, into the right shops for sale, air play on radio shows and online and in magazines. Labels don’t have databases full of promoters and club owners, they have no need? The gig side of things falls to agents, its two completely different businesses that many think are one. A good label with assist an agent due to the marketing they provide, it makes the agent’s job easier to get gigs due to the exposure the label is giving the artist. ”
  3. Native Instruments: Making strummed acoustic 2. If you ever wondered how those guitar samples that you probably have in your library has been made of, this is gonna be interesting reading for you: “For the recording sessions, we teamed up with three different guitarists – each brought a fresh perspective and lots of great input. We focused on staying in the creative spirit as we wanted every recording to have the feel of a real take on a real track. So we would always warm up with a jam, and instead of recording to clicktrack, we used various drum tracks to help the guitarists perform each pattern with a distinct attitude. It makes sense that the more musicality goes into the recordings, the more comes out in the final product. Recording lasted around 6 months.”
2017   Music industry   Personal development   Sound design   Time traveller's archive

Time traveller’s archive — 10

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Millennium Falcon. I love this ship since I was a kid.
  1. Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive malfunction SFX. Nice and funny insights from sound designer Ben Burtt. It’s also a great example of the layering technique.
  2. The Truth About Popular Music. “The diversity of transitions between notes, chords, melodies, and other sounds has diminished over the last fifty years. [...] The study also found that producers are baking volume into songs at the production stage making them artificially louder. This over-compression has the effect of sucking all the dynamics out of a song. Everything is beginning to sound the same. [...] Now any stupid fucking bimbo or brain-dead twag can be dragged-off a reality show, chopped into a recording studio and have their shrill wobbling auto-tune for mass consumption.”
  3. The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves. Good points from Graham Cochrane on being lazy: whether you’re composing, doing arrangement or mixing, never say “I’ll make it better later”. It’s like taking a bad picture on a smartphone hoping that Photoshop will fix it. You got to get it right in the first place.
  4. If you want to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. This is something I have problems with: I want to achieve so many goals, so sometimes I feel like I’m going nowhere. This article shows why you should focus on only one big dream in a funny visual way.
2017   Music industry   Music production   Personal development   Sound design   Time traveller's archive

Don’t do shit

What principles do you use in your work?


In pretty much everything I do, I’m trying to use a principle that sounds very simple: don’t do shit.

Don’t do shit
Less is more
Vinyl vs. sync button

The definition of “shit” is very subjective, but basically, it means having a sort of inner quality control system that doesn’t allow you make a half-assed product.

I often heard a popular argument in the conversations like this, people say: “why should I do more if the outcome is the same?”. Indeed, why? Well, to me the answer is clear: because I can.

Never agree on “okay” result because this way you won’t get anything new out of it, you won’t learn. Pushing yourself to the limits is the only way to grow.

You’ve made a track but it doesn’t quite feel good to you? Well, it’s good you have that feeling because you are probably right. Now go ahead and tweak it, or make a new one from scratch, until you sure this is the best you can do. Because you can.

Same goes with design, copywriting, development, management, even the way you compose an email or help your spouse with the housekeeping. This principle applies to every aspect, both in career and personal life.

2016   Advice   I am   Personal development

Re-energizing for music production after 9-6 work

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Hi Daniel, do you have any advice on working a job from 9-6 everyday then re-energising for producing when you get home? I’m finding it difficult without tiring myself up as I have to be in bed at 10 to get my full nights sleep.

Gary Delaney

I’m not hiding the fact that at the moment I work at a 9 to 6 job too, so we’re in the same boat, Gary! And yes, I have a couple tricks that probably will work for you.

You don’t have to re-energize yourself literally, but having the right mindset is the key. A tired mind can come up with dozens of excuses why you shouldn’t do something, but don’t listen to that voice. Let’s see at some common excuses, and how we can trick ourselves for the good.

“This problem is too big”

“Make a new track after getting back home tired from work? Or an album? No way! There is too much work to do, and I’m too tired for that!” — that is how I was thinking until I realized that I actually don’t need to write the whole track or an album at once.

I recommend to divide big project (such making a new track) into smaller tasks and keep divide until it becomes an easy do-able thing. For instance, make a kick drum, or make a bassline, or EQ it. Or write a melody, or make a timbre for that lead. Or make a 16-bars progression, then another 16-bars progression. You get the point.

2×2 is better than 4

Even writing this very blog would be impossible for me if I’d tried to make it at once, so I’ve done it by doing smaller separate tasks: add basic headlines, write key points, find and edit illustrations, write down one paragraph, then another one. Then structure all text together, clean it, check spelling, re-write it again, publish and share.

You see, although formally you doing the same things, it’s totally different mindset, and it works great for a tired mind: “Make a kick drum? — yeah, I can do it tonight!”.

“I’ll just quickly check the Facebook”

Okay, finally you put yourself in the chair, you open DAW, load project and press the play button. “Oh wait, someone mentioned me on Twitter, I have to reply ASAP”. “A new friend request on Facebook? Let’s check who is that”. “Wow John shared a nice blog, I have to read it”. Eventually, you end up with surfing some random article on Wikipedia about emperor penguins. Does it sound familiar?

Tim Urban’s TED Talk on procrastination

Well, no surprise. The more tired you feel, the harder to focus on doing only one particular thing. And here comes the procrastination. I found the best way to dealing with procrastination is using Pomodoro Technique Francesco Cirillo. After using it for almost 2 years now I... well, still procrastinate, but definitely much less :-) Really recommend to check this technique out.

Dealing with procrastination using Pomodoro Technique

“Wait, what? Penguins? How did I end up here?!”

“I can do it tomorrow, no need to rush”

Ah, this is probably the worst excuse! You see, it’s relatively easy to do some things when you have a deadline given for these tasks. Let’s say, a label that you dream on offers you a release if you’ll manage to deliver an EP within the next two weeks. And it works; tired and exhausted, but eventually you made it. That’s the magic power of deadlines (or social factor, I would say).

But what happens when you’re the boss? You have no one in charge up there, that’s your own project. No pressure, no deadline. Here comes the worst excuse: “I can do it tomorrow”.

Based on my own skin, I advise having two things that are crucial: internal deadline and release schedule. I won’t go deeper into details now otherwise this blog will be as twice as long, but the titles themselves are pretty self-explanatory.

Having internal deadlines and release schedule are not only keeps you in good rhythm and shape but also motivates to actually do things, rather than just dream about your success lying on a couch.

I’ll write about it in details someday

And a little bonus.

A “year” sounds long, right? But let’s make a simple calculation, assuming that you can afford 2 hours per day for the music. That’s 14 hours per week or 56 hours per month. Multiply it for 12 months and then divide for 24 hours per day, and you’ll get 28 days of total time per year. Think about it. You have only 28 days per year to make something great, how do you’re gonna spend it?

I hope it helps.

2016   Advice   Personal development

Getting out of comfort zone

Or how to overcome writer’s block

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Please tell us more about «out of comfort zone» technique you mentioned in one of your previous posts. What does it mean, exactly?


Our brain seems loves patterns and keep everything under control. As a music producer, you know all of your tools, devices, knobs. But eventually your workflow becomes a sort of habit: you open a DAW, add certain plugins, choose some of your favorite presets, and draw the same MIDI-patterns. Or probably just copy and paste some project files from your previous tracks that worked for you well. That’s your “comfort zone”, everything is safe because you used to work this way.

Generally speaking, it’s not bad: you can speed up your routine and predict the result. If you use the same sounds or patterns from track to track, it becomes associated with your name and that is what some people calls a “trademark sound”, or “signature sound”.

And that’s fine as long as you keep your music fresh and interesting. But from my observations, most likely if you’ll make 10, 20, 30 same tracks, eventually they become dull and boring. Some producers call it a “writer’s block”, or simply crisis.

The solution is quite simple: rather that go with well-tried way, start with a totally blank project. Rather than do scientific approach, try to go creative way. Just to give an example:

  • Do you always start off your project with a kick and bass? Try to start with some melodies!
  • Do you always use Sylenth1 for your basslines? Try in some other synthesizer, preferably the one you have never used before!
  • Do you make music within some certain tempo range? Try to add ±5 BPM, or even make a track in totally new genre!

I guess you get the idea.

Obviously, working in a new environment is much harder, that’s why I call it “out of comfort zone”. This approach forces you to experiment and try new things, and the outcome can be a pleasant surprise. My latest release on JOOF Recordings titled Surreal is a testament to this:

Such getting out of comfort zone experience works really well even beyond music production, like in many life situations. Don’t be afraid to try something new, be afraid not to try.

2016   Advice   Personal development

5 tips on how to finish tracks

When you get stuck and about to give up

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I keep getting stuck in drafts and can’t finish tracks. I do some basic arrangement, then I do some tweaks over and over again, but it seems I physically can’t finish tracks, you know? Then I start a new project and it happens again, I get stuck and eventually give up on the track completely. Do you have some tips on how to finish tracks?

Simon Stone

Simon, I’m sure every music producer out there feels your pain! Indeed, getting stuck on unfinished tracks is probably one of the most common issues, I see people write about it all the time. Luckily, I know few tips that might help.

Aim for results

First of all, ask yourself: do you really set your goal to finish the track? I know some producers who enjoy the process more than results, they can tweak synthesizers for hours and days! And that’s totally fine, as long as you enjoy it and not worrying too much if this work will be ever released or not. However, if you’re not happy with this, then stop playing around with the synths, presets, samples, and stuff. Change your mindset, and aim for the results.

Embrace the limits

Can you draw a picture? The good answer should be the question “what picture?”, but what if I tell you to draw just some picture, with no more details — could you? I bet not. Same happens with music production. Having no limitations you can create anything, but most likely it turns into nothing. It’s like if you would sit with a blank paper trying to write a novel, having no ideas behind it. You should create a context of what and where will be happening.

Now let’s say you’d like to make a 138 BPM track, with no triples or swings, just a straight driving bassline, with a key bass note at D#m, with long progressions and not many breakdowns, with a strong lead what will be revealed in the main breakdown, with a mysterious female vocal samples, and heavy atmospheric pads. Now we have a more specific talk, right? Such boundaries don’t limit your creativity but help and guide you through the process to the final result.

Looking at the description above, these are exactly the limits I’ve set myself when I made Enuma Elish:

Get inspired

One more reason why you probably get stuck is because you get bored. It especially can be true if you go the same route over and over again, copy-pasting presets from one project to another one. Don’t forget why do you write music in the first place, you should be very excited about every project you working on.

How to build up a track

I realized that the tracks of mine that I like the most were made in one breath when you completely immersed into it. Try to get inspired by whatever inspires you to feel that excitement again.

Keep it simple, do it quickly

Try to make it as simple as possible: get idea → write it down → arrange a track → finalize the project. Stop thinking «maybe I should change or add something else?», and don’t “marinate” your ideas for months, just let it go. Don’t overthink, write music quickly. Remember, one finished track worth more than hundred of drafts because you gain experience and growth.

Less is more

2016   Advice   Personal development

How to find time for music

Having a full-time job, study, and family

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Daniel, please advise. I study, have a full-time job and family duties. At same time I’m a beginner producer, I love music and would like to make a career as a DJ and producer. The problem seems I don’t have enough time for music, I can’t just sit all weekend long locked in the studio to write new tracks. How to find time for music when it’s not what you do for a living?

John Y.

I understand your pain very well. In fact, we are in the same boat: I have a bunch of non-musical projects, family, and other activities too. No surprise, I guess most people have the same. There are few myths around this topic that I’d like to dispel, and a method that works for me which I’d like to share.

The truth is you will never have more “free time” than you have now. Let’s say, today you have a job, tomorrow you’ll decide to start learning a foreign language, and on the day after tomorrow, you have a family event. This is called a routine, and eventually, it will not be less. Even if you succeed in a music career, most likely you will be busy traveling and playing on a gigs. Don’t expect to have more free time in the future, it’s a myth.

Another myth says that you have to spend all days long to make a track. What you really need is to do it regularly, small but frequent steps that will move your progress forward. Imagine a training in a gym, you don’t get benefits by doing exercises eight hours in a row, right? In order to build muscle, you have to keep training on a regular basis.

So when it comes to music production, I came up with the method which I call:

2×2 is better than 4

To give an example, rather than trying to find a fully free weekend on your schedule (which is nearly impossible), split your production into few smaller sessions. In this case, two days for 2 hours each is better than one 4-four long session, hence the name. 

Less is more

In fact, even 30-minutes sessions give huge progression, if you do it several times per week. Half an hour is the time that every busy person can afford, so excuses are not accepted :-) Also, frequent sessions helps to keep connected with the idea of the track, you know exactly what you have done last time, and what you should do next. As the result, small but frequent sessions helps to finish tracks easier.

Be a doer, not a dreamer.

2016   Advice   Personal development

Frustration. How to move forward

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Daniel, I need your advice. I’m a music producer and for the last few years I had a couple of successful releases on various labels, if getting into Top-100 charts counts as a success. But being honest the only thing I got is some “likes” on my social profiles, I mean, I don’t feel a “real” success. 

Meantime I look at the other producers, and they have that real success, tours etc. I feel jealous, and realizing the fact that I’m jealous makes me feel even worse. You know, I release music and stuff, but all my efforts seem meaningless, and it’s depressing. I’m stuck on progress and don’t know how to move forward.


I understand you perfectly Jovan, I’ve been in the same boat. Perhaps, this depends on a type of personality, but I assume that everyone went through this. After self-analysis and study a little bit of human social behavior, I’ve come up with the understanding of three problems that cause such frustration. And three solutions.

Firstly, the problem is that we compare ourselves with the others through the prism of their success. Social media as a looking glass shows only positive sides: when you look at the other artists, you see their successful tours, releases that hit top charts, and so on. You set high expectations, like if I’ll do this → I’ll get this. And eventually it makes you upset, because after such hard work you expect to get no less success than the others, but for some reason you didn’t. The reality looks unfair to you. 

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy by Tim Urban

However, not many people seems realizes that success of the others is like a tip of the iceberg: you see only 10% of the whole picture, while the rest major part is hidden. You don’t know how many efforts other people put to reach the point where they are at this moment. Or maybe they just get lucky, or maybe they have the right connections. Either way, you don’t know it. So here is the tip #1: stop comparing yourself with the others, it’s toxic. Don’t look around, just do what you do.

Secondly, like at every negotiation, you cannot force someone to make a decision (unless you have a gun), your opponent always has a right to say “no” regardless of how good your proposal is. Will label release your track? Will you get that particular gig? The right answer is: you don’t know.

Imagine a running competition with hundreds of participants. Regardless of how good you are, you cannot be sure that you win the race. Will you win the race? Well, you don’t know. But if you gonna run and think about the other runners, you lose attention, time, focus, nerves, it all makes your mind literally heavy, slowing down your progress. So here comes the tip #2: stop worrying and being upset of the things you cannot control, and start to focus and do your best on the things you can — your own thoughts and actions.

Thirdly, sometimes we feel busy like a bee, and being completely captured by routine it’s easy to miss important things out of your sight. It’s not easy to get out of the circle, so it might be a  good idea to make some break, take a vacation. Try to get above to look at the entire picture of your career. Let’s say, you might be obsessed with writing more and more tracks, but release of music is just one of the many ways to get an audience, there is much more. Hence why it is so important to work and grow in all directions simultaneously: production, marketing, management skills, and so on. 

Getting audience

The key here is to think global, act local. Keep in mind the whole picture, but split it into small, do-able actions. Keep divide projects and goals until you get easy-doable tasks, for example: Write an album → Write track number one → Day 1. Record a melody; Day 2. Record drum section.


  1. Don’t compare yourself with the others, it’s toxic. Just do what you love to do.
  2. Don’t try to control things that you cannot control, it’s a waste of energy. Instead, focus on what you can control — yourself.
  3. Don’t fall intro trap of routine, it blurs your vision. Take a break, look at the whole picture, and follow the plan by small steps.

I believe in a “Zen” way, as I call it: work hard and do it daily, be honest and open-minded, keep growing as a person and professional, enjoy everything you do, and sooner or later you’ll reach the success.

On cover image: Zen monk at Wenshu temple. The path to enlightenment is made of hard work, but slowly and surely he moving forward. Photo © moniqca

2015   Advice   Personal development

A neighbor’s conflict. Headphones or monitors

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Seems my neighbors are not quite happy that I’m a music producer. Should I use headphones for production rather than monitors?

Alan Cohen

Alan, I can understand your neighbors’ feelings. A man been worked all day, came home tired and want to relax, but instead he has to listen to “boom-boom-boom”.

Answering your question — no, I wouldn’t recommend writing music in headphones all the time at least for two reasons.

First, I suggest using headphones either for the very beginning of a track composing, when you just transmit initial idea from your head into DAW, either for the very last details and balance polishing. Some music producers may not agree with this, but headphones are not the replacement of monitors. In headphones, your perception of sound is very different due to the relatively close position of speakers to your ears. So use monitors most of the time.

Secondly, think of this “neighbor’s situation” as a first barrier you’ve met on your path. Switching to headphones means step back — you go for a compromise, but not solve the problem. And it’s directly affecting your production’s quality. Such things come deeper from human’s psychology and it’s very important for personal growth. Probably you’ll find much bigger barriers on your way later, so it’s better to start learning how to solve problems on such small things.

But at the same time, using monitors is actually brings us back to the initial source of conflict. This can be solved very easy. First, go to your neighbor and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. Then gently ask at what time he is at home — perhaps, he’s working at a 2-2 shift, which means you could use monitors on the other 2-2 days?

Either way, ask him to come to your place. Playback a track on some certain volume level. Then go together to his place and check if such level is not too loud. If it does — repeat from the previous step, this time with a quieter sound. The goal: to measure sound level that would make it loud enough for your, while not too disturbing to your neighbor. And once you’ll find such limit, do not go over it. That’s it. And by the way, you absolutely don’t need loud sound for production, unless you want to feel the vibrations like in a club. In fact, it’s the opposite: too loud sound might be harmful to your production’s quality. If your track is not good enough when you hear it quiet, then you’re doing something wrong.

You’ll not only prove yourself as a good person in your neighbor’s eyes, but also you’ll get a level-up in social communication skills, which are very important to music producers as well.

On cover image: concerned neighbor seems not quite happy. Photo by Ryan McGuire.

2015   Advice   Music production   Personal development
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