Sorry for the lack of posts the last couple weeks! I’ve had tunnel vision trying to plow through all the commitments on my to-do list.
And a huge to-do on my list has been to finish the mixes for a personal project I started about 18 months ago:
Write and produce a hip hop record (in Logic, of course.)
The project started simply enough. My goal was to produce a couple of songs for my friend who’s a rapper.
But shortly into our working relationship the experience was so positive that we decided to write a full length record.
So over the last 18 months (!!!) we’ve been hard at work writing, recording, producing and scaling our own Mt Olympus.
Logic Pro rules, but it’s really just a means to an end, right?
The goal isn’t to be fluent in Logic for the sake of being really efficient in Logic. It’s about being able to make great sounding music!
How the heck do you find the patience and gumption to push through 18 months of writing a record?
Well, I might be a bit of a perfectionist (I can admit that). But we also chose to embrace some key ideas and strategies.
With the mixes *almost* done, I’d love to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last year and a half.
The following 3 lessons have sustained my songwriting partner and I for the entire time. And the following strategies are all VERY purposeful in approach and execution.
How the heck do you manage your expectations, enthusiasm and creativity over such a long stretch of time?
Well, there’s many ways to tackle it. Here’s how we did it:
1. Accept That You Don’t Have a Ton of Time – & Then Work Around It
If there’s anything to be said of the 21st century, it’s that we’re all strapped for time.
I bet you and I are very much alike in that we both have A TON to do every dang day:
- Hanging Out
- Making music (?)
And many of us are hustling to make music work for our lifestyles (and mental happiness).
So who the heck has time to just hang out and make music???
Not having enough time for music can be a real sore spot for us creatives. That’s why I decided to accept my lack of time, instead of getting upset about it.
How did I accept it?
My writing partner and I decided to stick to a light schedule for the first 8 months:
- Wednesday nights, 8 pm – 11 pm
Between client work, WLPR, my girlfriend, and all the stuff listed above – I just don’t have much time!
And our goal was to have fun making music together.
But it’s kinda hard to have fun when you’re stressing about it.
Our light schedule then turned into 2 nights a week. And now we’re getting together even more as we finish up the record.
But if we tried to bang out a record in a couple weeks? That idea would’ve fallen apart shortly after.
Sticking to a light but consistent schedule kept us motivated to create.
And you know what else? The very limited schedule also helped the creative juices flow!
Walking away from a song can be just as valuable as working hard producing it.
Because we had so much time in-between sessions, we couldn’t help but dream up new ideas for each riff.
So by the time we met up again we had fresh perspective and ideas to dig into.
2. Keep Expectation Low By Focusing on the First 30 Seconds
Remember when making music was fun?
You know what I’m talking about. That time you picked up a guitar for the first time, or started messing around with a sampler.
The room for error was huge – because you were just starting out!
And once you began to wrap your head around playing or singing, the real fun started when you were able to write your own songs.
But when the pressure is high to create something brilliant out of thin air – that’s when things can go off the rails.
Music is primarily about feeling. The way music makes us feel is the guiding light to a great song.
And sometimes that guiding light might lead you down some dead end streets.
Which is totally fine! It’s all in how you manage your expectations.
That’s why we made a concerted effort to start off writing only 30 second riffs.
30 seconds?!?! Huh?!
Look – like I said, I don’t have a ton of time. Some people can crank out a hit song in half an hour. But I’m not one of those people.
For me trying to write the best song ever in one shot is like trying to swallow a whale in one gulp. It ain’t gonna happen!
So instead we gave ourselves an easy goal – write the best 30 second riffs we could (to start off).
How great can a 30 second riff be you ask?:
1. 30 seconds is an easy goal – meaning we had to be freaking terrible to not succeed.
2. 30 seconds kept us focused on vibe and feeling – our 30 second goal was light and breezy. Which helped us focus on the vibe of a riff.
3. 30 seconds makes it easy to trash bad riffs – you ever notice how hard it is to throw out a song you’ve been working on for months? That’s cause your ego is all wrapped up in the work. It’s way easier to let go of a bad riff when you’ve only spent an hour or 2 on it.
(In fact in the latest issue of Sound on Sound, they interviewed one of Britain’s top production teams, TMS LDN. And in the article the production team said they focus on 15 second riffs. Oh, and they’re Logic users. How about that?)
3. Embrace Collaboration (& Avoid the Word NO)
Way back when I played in bands, the songwriting usually worked like this:
- One bandmate wrote all the songs.
- Everyone else learned the songs.
- And once everyone wanted to contribute to the writing process, our band exploded in a fiery mess.
Why? Because songwriter guy usually didn’t trust the rest of the band to write good music. Or it wouldn’t fit in with his songs. Or whatever.
I definitely used to be one of those songwriter guys. Then I decided for a while to write music by myself. (Who needs those guys anyways???)
Lemme tell you – writing music with other people is FAR more fun than writing by myself.
You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to share the writing process with anyone else. But!
This go around I decided to do 2 things:
- Embrace collaboration, and
- AVOID the word “no.”
Obviously I chose to write with my friend. So the experience was going to suck if I couldn’t get my ego behind me. But I also wanted some of my other friends to contribute to this record as well.
But for this whole thing to work, I knew I had to give everyone the same amount of room to succeed (and fail).
That’s why I chose to avoid using the word “no.”
Does everyone have a brilliant idea all the time? Of course not. But it’s hard to stumble on the gems if I didn’t allow people to throw not-so-good ideas against the wall.
And since my partner and I were at the helm of the project, I knew the buck stopped with us.
So if someone wants to try something that sounds dumb in theory – who cares? We can nix it later.
We literally gave our friends free reign to lay down any ideas they had.
And you know what?
The amount of amazing, brilliant contributions they made FAR outweighed anything we didn’t enjoy.
Thanks so much for sticking with WLPR! Many of my obligations are now completed and off my plate.
And for the big one – my white whale if you will – is almost complete as well.
This record we’re releasing is by far the most satisfying musical experience I’ve ever had. And it’s thanks to the strategies we adopted:
- Accept That You Don’t Have a Ton of Time & Then Work Around It
- Keep Expectation Low By Focusing on the First 30 Seconds
- Embrace Collaboration (& Avoid the Word NO)
(P.S. I’ll be sure to share the record with you when it comes out 🙂
Leigh Warren says
Great article as per usual and definitely one to think about especially the solo songwriting part and band exploding – been there done that.
Time management to work on your songs is my downfall… life gets in the way and my songs I recorded and haven’t mixed and taken further feel like a noose around my neck because as I am going to start its… can you do this for me or that and well… you get my drift.
Again excellent article just need to make time and stick to it without outside interference.
Thanks, Chris. Super practical, insightful, and relatable. My wife and I are working musicians, teaching Mon-Weds and gigging Thurs-Sun as a indie duo. Time management tools have been pretty helpful for us, but the truth is that there is always more that we need to/could be/should be doing. The biggest thing for us, then, is to try and set our priorities and be sure we are scheduling time for those things first. The other things just have to wait until there is time, or deadlines draw nearer. It’s a hard balancing act and more often than not we feel more like admin,/web designer/marketing specialists then musicians.
I just love the thirty second riff idea. That’s how my songs typically start, and I’m looking forward to trying to just write another catchy riff for each additional part of the song.
Congrats on the album. Best of luck with the finishing touches.
Alwyn Baptiste says
Great Great Article 👊🏽
First, congrats on the success of your project. Sticking with it and seeing it through to the end isn’t as easy as we sometimes think it should be.
Second, well done on this post as usual. You have a knack for choosing topics that are relevant and providing useful info and ideas others can apply.
Putting the work down long enough for new ideas to surface: Check.
Limiting yourself to one specific segment or passage for improvement: Check.
Note posted next to my workstation. “Have a specific goal for each work session. Break down large tasks into smaller, individual tasks (a checklist) and bang ’em off one by one.”
The value of collaboration: Check Check. My weakest area. Another Note to Self reads: “Music is meant to be shared.”
Another comment Re: collaboration follows separately so as not to pollute this response. 🙂
As always: Thank you Chris, and keep up the good work!
Don’t know if his will interest anyone, but as a follow-up to my earlier Reply, related to collaboration and avoiding saying No is the practice of letting go.
When I worked in advertising I would come up with a great concept that checked all the boxes: marketing objectives; memorable; appealed to target audience; solved client’s problem (the jazzed/pumped feeling of a great idea is similar in advt. and music). In the ad agency, if my idea wasn’t used, I didn’t let it bother me. More on this later.
Of course creating advertising is rather different than creating music. You have a client with specific sales and marketing goals and a no-room-for-failure attitude. Yes there are parallels, but there are important differences as well.
In creative collaborative endeavors it’s understandable that individuals will push their idea. It’s less common for someone to let go of a good idea (esp. when it is theirs). I had an easy way to let go: If my concept was strong and met my personal standards, I was happy with that. I could let it go whether or not it was ultimately chosen for the final solution. So being happy with your idea, approach, or contribution as an end in itself can make it easier to avoiding saying No in a collaborative setting.
In music, there might be times when you have to write to spec (remember, deadlines are good!), but I suspect it’s more likely that you’re writing to please yourself and/or your immediate collaborators. I suppose the same principle applies here — if I wrote a great melody-and-chord progression that wasn’t used, I could put it aside in favor of a collaborator’s preference. The nice thing is, it’s not a one-shot deal as with a client’s marketing initiative. You can always develop the idea as a separate project.
Finally, if something’s not working, you can just let it go and it’s no big deal. Music creation is essentially infinite so most often there’s always another direction you can go, another approach you can try. On Madison Avenue, not so much. 😉
Keep creating! Cheers
Shawn Upadhyaya says
need ghost notes to truly up my composing game in logic when it comes to manual note inputting which I find is more user-friendly on FL…. yet these logic updates have been blowing me away I truly believe logic is the dominate DAW but will there ever be access to ghost notes
Hi. Thanks for your enthusiastic and informative posts. I have somewhat off topic question. I’m going to purchase LPX and am wondering why I see it for sale on Amazon, on a disk, for 75.00 when the going rate seems to be 200.00. Do you know why there’s such a big price difference?
Hey Ken, thanks for checking out the website! The official (and most up-to-date) version of Logic is available through Apple’s App Store. Anything you find that’s:
– On a disc
– Not through the App Store
I would consider highly suspect. Apple stopped producing disc versions of Logic with the introduction of Logic Pro X.