This step-by-step guide will help you achieve the success you really want with your music production in 2021.
The beginning of a new year is an exciting time…no doubt. There’s always a certain tingling anticipation about what we’re about to embark on, and rightly so...
I don’t know exactly why, but I suspect it’s the feeling that we have the power to make some changes, and start a fresh page for the year.
There’s so much possibility (always more than we think), and a shitload can be achieved in 12 months.
I’m assuming you want more success in your music production career by the very fact you’re here and reading this article. Nice! You’ve come to the right place. By the end of this guide, you should have a clear path for success in 2021.
Now don’t get me wrong…this isn’t a magic, cure-all silver bullet that can replace hard work, but it should help give you an idea of what to focus on to get the most “bang-for-your-buck”. After all…Number 1 reason for failure: focussing on the wrong thing at the wrong time. This guide will help you avoid the pitfalls that most new producers make.
OK, let’s crack on…
Some people like to say that producing music is an art (and I used to think like that), but after having done it for a living, I will tell you that the “art” is just one part of it.
There are other actions that are absolutely essential if you are to succeed with your music this year.
Here’s a bullet-point rundown of the steps to take for success this year, followed by some examples that should relate to where you might be in your career (or hobby):
Step 1. Define what “success” means to you.
1st and foremost, decide and define what music production success in 2021 means to you, otherwise you won’t be able to monitor your progress.
Success means different things to different people, and depending on who you are – and how long you’ve been producing – your idea of success will shift and change. Here are some examples of what success can mean to people:
1. Success might be finishing a track that you are really proud of, and love listening to or playing to your friends.
2. It might be getting a particular gig, or winning a remix competition.
3. It might be making a living from your music, so you can do it full time and support yourself and your family.
Only you can decide. Write it down somewhere you can see it regularly.
2. Set a goal (or goals) that ties in with your idea of success.
Once you know what success mean to you, set a goal (or goals) that tie in with that idea. Make them bigger than you’re comfortable with, but not so big that a) you don’t believe they’re possible, or b) they’re just crazily unlikely. For instance, if you’ve just started producing, don’t set a goal of “playing Burning Man festival within 6 months”.
Similarly, don’t set a goal of touring the world just because that’s the “pinnacle of music production success” for a lot of people. It’s hard work, and comes with it’s own downsides and sacrifices. Again, your goals should tie in with your idea of success.
1. If you are just starting out and have written loads of 8-bar loops, you might set a goal of finishing your first track.
2. If you have been producing music for a while, you might set a goal of finishing a whole E.P or album.
3. You might set a goal of working with a particular high-profile artist in your chosen genre, or having a release on a particular label.
Again, write down your goal (or goals), daily if possible (soon after waking up). I’ve found time and time again that the fewer goals I have (ideally one), the more likely I am to succeed.
3. Create a very strong incentive. A “why”.
You will get haters, you will get criticism (from other people AND yourself), whether you’re really good or bad. It can be tiring and disheartening, but having a strong “why” will keep you going through the hard times. It doesn't matter if it's selfish...just be completely honest with yourself.
1. I want to reach my goal because I love music and want to share it with as many people as possible.
2. I want to reach my goal because I love music and can’t bear the thought of having to get a “proper” job.
3. I want to reach my goal because I love music and want to be able to support my family through it.
HINT: Each incentive involves loving music! I’ve never met anyone with any kind of success as a musician who doesn’t first and foremost absolutely love music.
You don’t need to show people your ideas of success, goals or incentives, but I recommend writing them all down, and looking at them often – especially when you get despondent.
4. Practise, practise, practise, work, work, work!
Easy to say, harder to do. The best intentions can fizzle out after a few months, weeks or days. How to stick this? Plan your work, and work your plan. Timetable production time into your calendar. Timetable education time into your calendar. Timetable networking time. To create a bullet-proof timetable, routine and workflow, check out my book “Becoming a Music Making Machine”.
Example: Yes, sometimes you’ll need to be flexible as life happens, but look at it this way: If you’ve planned eight 4-hour sessions over the next month, and you stick to six of them, that’s 24 hours of pure production-time. At least one fully finished track, but probably two. That’s at least twelve tracks a year. Not bad.
MYTH: You need to be “in-the-mood” the work. Sometimes, that just ain’t gonna happen until you START work (and even then, not always). So develop discipline to keep pushing on even when you don’t feel like it.
5. Creative stimulation (this is the “art” bit)
Not much to say about this, other than if you are going to hit your music production goals this year, you will need to have regular doses of inspiration and stimulation to keep excitement and enjoyment up. So listen to lots different types of music, check out other forms of art, live, love, get out and have fun! Sitting in front of your screen 24/7 scrolling through 326 hi-hat samples won’t get those creative juices flowing. Keeping a finger on the pulse of your music genre will also give you creative ideas.
1. Ask you friends what music they are loving at the moment and check it out.
2. Go out to nightclubs, or listen to radio shows you don’t usually (www.mixcloud.com)
3. Do something each month you’ve always wanted to do, but always put off. Don’t think about it too much…just do it. Go-karting, yoga, joining the gym, going to an art gallery…whatever flicks your switch. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone! 🙂
Pro EDMtip: Even better, if you go to places where you are likely to meet other creative people (like music conferences or gigs), you’ll stimulate your creativity AND build relationships.
6. Collation of raw materials.
As with any art, you need the raw materials to start with. What are the raw materials of EDM production? A computer, a DAW, samples, soft-synths, time and creativity.
Stock DAW plugins can create some incredible sounds. Whilst having really shitty samples will make life very difficult, you don’t need the latest sample pack to create world-class, mind-blowing music.
Sure, grab some fresh new samples or patches for inspiration, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking you need a new DAW / plugin / sample pack before you can turn out something “good”. You just need to learn how to get the best from what you have (see number 7).
1. Grab some fresh samples from sites like cymatics.fm, www.loopmasters.com or splice.com.
2. Make your OWN samples or learn an instrument. There are so many cheap but good microphones nowadays. Here are a couple of ideas.
3. Organise your sample library and - above all - your time, so you can get to work and create when you need to.
Whether you’re trying to find out how to make a particular sound or effect on YouTube, learning how to market yourself, or signing up for a specialist music production course, setting aside regular time to learn new skills is essential for achieving success this year.
If you don’t need new skills to reach your goals, your goals aren’t big enough!
Constant learning has the dual bonus of keeping interest levels up. If you are not improving and learning new skills, you will plateau, and eventually tire of music production. Trust me. This has happened to me, and it happens to most producers at some point or another. Luckily it’s curable. Commit to getting better and educate yourself!
Here are some key areas worth educating yourself on (HINT: Some are not so obvious):
i: Music theory (often overlooked, but SO useful).
ii: Mixing & mastering.
iii: Marketing (email marketing, building an audience).
iv: How the music industry works.
v: How to be a positive, productive, helpful person in general.
If you are completely new to EDM production, this article should help.
Suggestion: Block out some regular time each week for improving your skills; even just an hour or two is better than nothing.
8. Develop and maintain relationships.
If your idea of success involves more than just creating music that you enjoy (which is just as valid as any other measurable factor), the success you achieve WILL involve other people. This could be your audience, collaborators, friends, musicians, singers, songwriters, managers, agents, label bosses, etc.
Developing and maintaining relationships is a skill, and sometimes it means going out of our comfort zone.
There are two types of relationships you can nurture; online and in-person, and both are important. In-person can be harder if you live in the middle of nowhere, but it’s worth making the effort – even if it’s just going out to your local nightclub now and again.
Online is much easier, but there’s a lot of noise out there, so the key is basically treating people how you would like to be treated, i.e. No spamming. Don’t be a dick or a troll. Offer to help. Be genuine and authentic. You might be surprised at how receptive people are if you’re not out to “get something from them”.
Even if nothing comes initially from reaching out to someone, one, two or three years down the line, that person (or people) might pop-up somewhere and you’ll be glad you made the effort in the first place. It’s happened to me many times.
1. Get involved in online communities, such as on Reddit, Facebook and Slack. Answer questions. Ask questions. Share some goodies. Help people out. Don’t just post links to your stuff willy nilly, though. I’ve done this before. Mistake!
2. Reach out directly to other producers or artists you admire. Let them know. Be specific about what you love about their work. Sure, you might not get a reply – especially if they’re crazy busy – but that’s not the point. If you then reach out for a collab in a few months, and you’ve been posting on their Soundcloud and getting involved, you’ll stick out in their mind. Even if not, it’s always an amazing feeling to receive a genuine compliment, and they’ll appreciate it.
3. Check out some local bands in your area. Ping them a message on Facebook beforehand. Have a chat with them before or after the gig. I’ve met and worked with several amazing singers through doing this.
9. Develop a brand and reputation.
Whilst I don’t think brand new producers should be working on a website / logo rather than learning their craft, developing a brand from the get-go is a good idea. Brand is SO MUCH MORE than the style of music or logo. It’s how you interact with people. It’s your reputation. It’s how you show up.
1. Be honest about what you love, and what you don’t. You’ll attract the right people and discourage the wrong.
2. Show up regularly. Create music regularly. Let people know you’re here to stay.
3. Depending on where you are in your musical journey, you may want to start creating a musical persona (e.g. Deadmau5, Marshmello, Pryda). Many producers have two (or more) pseudonyms so they can create different styles of music without diluting their separate brands. These are all secondary to you, though; the person behind the work. THAT brand carries with you in every project, so make it good.
10. Be humble, professional, disciplined, eager to learn AND help others.
Yeah, it’s kind of summing up everything so far, and might sound a bit “rah rah”, but really having the right mind-set is what will help you achieve your music production success this year.
Set goals. Work. Reach out. Learn. Offer value. Drop any negativity. You might be surprised at what you achieve this year.
1. You become what you think about, so start feeding your mind. Check out books like this.
2. If you don’t like reading so much, there are some great podcasts like Tim Ferriss and the EDMprodcast.
3. Get involved with the production community. Start today by leaving a comment below!
Good luck! Remember, you can do it; you’re taking action, so trust in the plan, work it, enjoy it and smile!
Just fill it in and stick it up in your home studio!
Cheers, and here’s to 2021...the best year for music production yet!