“TOP 5 MISTAKES EVERY SELF-PRODUCING ARTIST IS MAKING (and how to avoid them)”
This is the 1st of a 5 part mini-series.
At some point or another, every producer/ beat maker makes mistakes. As an experienced producer who didn’t have much help on my come-up, I’m committed to helping new beat makers, like you, make great music instead of falling into common traps and confusion. Let’s explore the top 5 mistakes every new beat maker is making and give you the steps to demolish any hurdles along the way.
Mistake #1: Not Making Emotionally Compelling Music
This is the MOST crucial thing! All the other points can’t even hold a flame to this. If you’re not making emotionally compelling music, then you’re not making music… You’re making noise.
Now when I say “emotionally compelling”, I don’t necessarily mean sad & slow piano tunes. Remember, there are more emotions than being sad, and more instruments than the piano. Every good song has an attached emotion to it. This is necessary for music to function. When a J Dilla record comes on at a hipster get-together in Brooklyn (Echo park if you’re on the West Coast), you feel that intended emotion! It may not have all the technically correct elements like on-time drum hits and diatonic (or in key) notes that one might expect from a top-tier producer, but for some reason, his records still hit hard and have stood the test of time.
Let’s take a look at “Welcome To The Jungle” from Jay Z & Kanye West’s critically acclaimed, Watch the Throne, album. Produced by Swizz Beatz, this record makes you feel somber and angry. When I first heard it, I felt like I was at a community meeting protesting unfair treatment by the powers that be! Once I calmed down a bit, I also noticed that the drums are offbeat, and there was an annoying instrument repeating over and over, while other parts sound empty and “unfulfilled”. With that being, Swizz Beatz did an excellent job. That might sound a little confusing; after all, how can the beat have all these “errors” and still be a great production?
I came across the answer while studying Japanese culture. I learned of a concept called “Wabi-Sabi”. Simply put, it’s the theory that an object’s imperfections are what help to make it so beautiful. Supermodel Cindy Crawford fits this description. She is a world-famous model with a visible mole right on her face. It’s widely believed that this mark added to her beauty, not diminishing it. The idea is that allowing imperfection to be percieved connects the “real” with the “ideal”. Author Leonard Koren wrote, “wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success — wealth, status, power, and luxury — and enjoy the unencumbered life.” He continues, “[it’s about] the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom of things.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how offbeat the drums are or how out of key a sample is. As long as the piece conveys the emotion intended (or stumbled on) by the creator. It’s all context-dependent but offbeat elements may make the listener feel tense and unbalanced (rhythmic tension).
Repetitiveness within a record helps your audience to connect with your record. It tells them (typically in 4–8 bars) what to expect and how to nod their heads if they want to join in. Likewise, empty spaces give a feeling of longing and drama. If Kanye West & Jay-Z had filled those spaces on “Welcome to the Jungle” with an intense string section or some other instrument, the emotion of the song would’ve completely changed and the same message not conveyed. They must’ve done something right, after all, they did win a Grammy for that album…
SOLUTION: When you go to make a song, try to forget all the pressure to add instruments and sounds simply just because. I dealt with this almost 10 years ago when I signed my first record deal. I was trying to impress everyone and overloaded my tracks with sounds. Later I was told the tracks contained sounds “only dogs can hear”. It had the oppositely intended effect.
Leave space. Make things “unpretty”. Be creative and dare to be “ugly”.
If you do this, your music will stand out in the world and make your listeners glad they stumbled onto you.
through these speakers:
J-Dilla (he’s known for his “offbeat” drums — check out his instrumental album, Donuts)
Frank Ocean (open spaces and emotions skillfully conveyed — listen to“Thinking Bout You”)
Foreign Exchange (their album, Leave It All Behind, is a great example)
Odd Future (minimal production style and “offbeat” drums — check out “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator)
Jhené Aiko (emotionally driven music with sick beats and minimal things going on — “The Worst” is a fine example of this.)