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Dear users, I have decided to phase out the posting on the forums on this website and move any discussions over to this private facebook group. While the forums were great 10 years ago, they are now difficult to maintain due to constant spam. I spend most of my time just cleaning them up, rather than interacting. This, combined with finding it difficult to directly communicate with other users through several different social media platforms, I have decided to consolodate it all to one group where people can chat with me, ask questions and jibber jabber with other users on a regular basis. I will not make the forums offline as there is a wealth of content, but posting has now been disabled. Thanks to all those who have contributed over the years, and I'll see you over on the Facebook group! -Tom

Why Producing In-The-Box May Be Holding You Back Featured

Being able to make a fully-fledged song on nothing more than a consumer laptop and a decent pair of headphones is a truly amazing representation of how technology has progressed over the last two decades.

It’s cheaper, faster, and easier. The immense joy of musical creation is no longer a luxury reserved for those with money. Instead, it’s readily available for any person willing to dedicate the time and patience.

But this advancement and opportunity comes with a few caveats, one of which is that the music creation process in the eyes of a bedroom producer has been flipped upside down, chopped-up, and compressed into one holistic task.

Is this a bad thing? No. Not at first look, at least. Every producer has a different workflow, and in my opinion, anyone who stays in the game long enough climbs out of the ruts and moves past difficulties in that area. 

Despite this, there is a problem that many developing bedroom producers encounter. The problem of frustration: not being able to finish tracks, taking too long to finish them, or trying to grasp at the enjoyment that you once felt when creating music. This sense of frustration generally has more than one cause, and this article probably won’t fix it, but it may help some of you. 

Making Music: The Traditional vs. Bedroom Approach

Before the age of laptops and inexpensive software, the music creation process followed a fairly typical fashion:

  • Write
  • Record
  • Mix
  • Master

Everything was done in a dedicated studio. It was an expensive task, but it was logical. It made sense. This is the traditional process, and is still largely implemented by artists today.

But the electronic music producer tends to follow a much more complicated approach, even though it’s seemingly more simple at first. In fact, I can’t really describe the process, because it doesn’t follow any order. Some people will mix elements while composing parts, and design sounds sporadically in between, all while focusing on the arrangement and trying to make sure everything fits nicely.

Put simply, it’s a mess. 

The bedroom producer’s approach works for some, but for others it’s an ineffective approach that leads to nothing other than frustration and in some cases even giving up altogether. 

Three Reasons Why The Messy Approach Sucks

I’ve alluded to why I think that the bedroom producer’s approach to music creation is far from ideal as it’s unnecessarily complicated and illogical, but let me give you more of an insight into exactly why I think that trying to do everything at once is a bad approach.

#1 – We Lose Track of What’s Important

One of the main problems with modern DAWs (and it’s not the developer’s problem, it’s ours), is that we’re presented with an infinite range of possibilities and options. It’s enticing to switch from one thing to the next, especially because we have that luxury and it doesn’t seem to cause any harm.

What tends to happen though, all too much, is that we lose sight of what’s important. For many, this happens in the early stages of making a track, the composition stage. For example; you might be working on a chord progression or a melody to accompany it, maybe even a drum section to build the foundation for your track. All is going well until you reach for that EQ and start tweaking just to make your lead sit right, oh and you must chuck a mastering plugin on your master bus just to hear how it will sound when it’s finished.

It makes no sense to do extensive EQ work before you’ve got your main idea down, or anything else along those lines. Not only is it a slower way to work, it’s an approach that will probably result in either an unfinished track, a poorly finished track, or in the unlikely case that it does turn out well – lots of wasted time. 

TL;DR: The all-in-one approach makes us lose track of what’s important at each stage.

#2 – We Need Focused Mindsets

The way I see it, there are two main mindsets that come into play when producing music: the creative mindset, and the solution mindset. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive (there’s a lot of crossover), there are times in the production workflow that one or another is needed. 

The creative mindset, for instance, is more likely to be used during the early stages of your track – the “idea” stage. The creative mindset does not critique, analyze, or rationalize things. Mistakes are freely made and encouraged, and rules don’t exist. 

The solution mindset generally comes into play afterwards. You’ve got your ideas down, now you need to fix the problems. Does your breakdown lose too much energy? Is your bassline too flabby?

Of course, there is crossover like I mentioned. Sometimes you’ll need to employ your creative mindset in order to come up with a solution to a problem, and sometimes you need to think logically when coming up with ideas. When possible, though, they should be separated, which is simply impossible when you’re working on everything at once. 

TL;DR: The creative and solution mindset cannot be separated if you’re working on everything at the same time. E.g., fixing mix problems while generating ideas.

#3 – It’s Overwhelming

The third and final reason why I dislike the unorganized bedroom producer’s approach is because it can be overwhelming. 

If you start a production session with the mental burden of having to do everything from composition to sound design and mixing in between, the whole process becomes daunting, especially if you’ve got limited time.

When following the more traditional approach, however, you’ve got less on your plate. You’ve broken the process into smaller chunks. You sit down to produce and know that your job is to generate musical ideas, and that sound design and mixing can wait till later. This is similar to task-based music production, which I’ve written about before. 

TL;DR: Doing everything at once can be overwhelming.

How to Transform Your Production Workflow

You know that there are fundamental problems with the modern bedroom producer’s approach, and you’ve experienced these problems yourself.

So what can you do about it?

Start Small

Making changes to your workflow is not something that can be done in one big leap. Just like forming a habit, these changes take time. If you try to everything at once, you’ll fall back into your old ways and bask in the frustration that you’re so familiar with.

My recommendation is to start small. If you’re working on a project right now, then finish it how you normally would. With your next project, why not try something different? Maybe you do a final mixdown instead of mixing as you go (or in addition to mixing as you go), or maybe you start with a piano and form musical ideas before designing sounds or scrolling through presets. 

Not sure what to change? Here are some ideas:

  • Arrange your track first with blank MIDI clips
  • Start by composing your main musical idea
  • When you’ve composed and arranged your track, take all FX off and mix it down from scratch
  • Use an instrument to come up with ideas before opening your DAW
  • Write down an arrangement on paper before opening your DAW

Obviously there are far more little things you can implement. Be creative.

Experiment and Refine

While implementing these changes you’ll find that some just don’t work for you, no matter how hard you try. This is normal, as everyone works differently and has different preferences. Because of this, you’ll need to experiment.

After each production session, or more conveniently after each song you finish, write down a paragraph or two of how it all went. Did anything frustrate you? Was the change you implemented beneficial, and could it be more beneficial? 

By doing this, you’ll quickly figure out how you work, and what to implement as a result. Constant testing and refining will bring you to a point where your workflow is so streamlined that you’ll enter your DAW with a clear goal and the means to achieve it quickly and easily. 

A Final Word

As I stated in the beginning of this article, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to making music. My goal with this post was to make you think, to challenge your notions and help you find more enjoyment in what can sometimes become mundane and uninspiring. 

If you do relate to this article, then I encourage you to take action and start making changes to your workflow today. Most importantly though, don’t overcomplicate it. You have to enjoy what you’re doing.

 

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