In this tutorial, producer and engineer 5PiECE breaks down what’s in a DJ service pack. He also shows you an example of a DJ pack he’s created for one of his own records.
SONG USED IN TUTORIAL
In this tutorial, producer and engineer 5PiECE breaks down what’s in a DJ service pack. He also shows you an example of a DJ pack he’s created for one of his own records.
SONG USED IN TUTORIAL
If you’re wondering how to make a clean version of a song, you found the right tutorial.
Watch as producer and engineer 5PiECE shows you his various techniques for creating a clean radio edit of a song in Pro Tools. These techniques and approaches are not limited to the DAW, and can be executed in other programs like Logic, Cubase and more.
SONGS USED IN TUTORIAL
Toronto music producer and audio engineer 5PiECE shows you how to make a keyboard sound warmer using a key technique in this tutorial.
This tutorial was shot at 5PiECE’s Producer Mixing Workshop that takes place in Toronto, Canada.
SONG USED IN THIS TUTORIAL
Sometimes by Jonah Cruzz (Prod. 5PiECE x SLWJMZ)
When getting a song mixed, your engineer will likely ask you if you want other versions, such as a radio edit, DJ service pack and performance version.
Artists are often confused by these different versions, struggling to differentiate them or even understand if they need them at all.
After working with a (good) engineer, you will receive your final mix and master of course – but what other versions of your song will you need to help promote the record and get it played?
What is a DJ service pack and why should I create one?
What does a DJ pack consist of?
Do I really need a clean radio edit of my song?
What’s in a performance or TV version?
In this article, I hope to explain the difference between each of these, and help you understand what versions of your song you may need when handling mixing and mastering.
A radio edit is an edited version of the song that is intended to make it more suitable for radio and television by adjusting or removing things like profanity, subject matter, length, instrumentation or form.
Typically, artists create radio edits to remove profanity and explicit subject matter such as sexual or drug references. Many will also adjust the arrangement of a song in a radio edit, removing long intros, breakdowns and outros where appropriate.
A performance version, also known as a TV version, is a version of the song that has all of the elements in with the main vocal muted, or lowered in volume.
This version is used when an artist performing live, as they will fill in the void left by the main vocal while still preserving other vocals like backgrounds, adlibs, delay throws, and more.
A DJ service pack consists of several versions of your song, including the final master. Typically, when I create a DJ service pack for a client, I provide the following:
Explicit Master – the mastered version of the song with all swearing and other explicit content that would otherwise need to be censored
Radio Edit Master – the mastered version of the song that has all of the swearing and other explicit content muted, or made inaudible so it can be played on radio, television, and elsewhere without issue.
Explicit Acapella – a version of just the vocals with the instrumental muted. Because a DJ pack usually contains a radio edit and an explicit edit, each version’s acapella will be rendered out individually.
Radio Edit Acapella – this is the same as above except unlike the above version, this will be the clean radio edit acapella, featuring no swearing or other explicit content.
Instrumental – the composed beat or instrumental backing track on it’s own with the vocals muted.
If you have a song that features explicit content and you want to get it played on television and radio, you will need to get a radio edit of it.
These platforms can offer mass exposure to a larger audience, as well as credibility for branding purposes. However, in order to get them to play your music, you need to provide it to them in a format that works for their platform.
Additionally, you may want to create a radio edit if your song has a long intro, outro or breakdown section that takes the focus away from the hook of the song.
This pack would be used to send and promote your music to DJs, who will then play your music to other people when they are performing.
Providing DJs with these files is extremely important and valuable for a number of reasons.
First – some DJs may not be able to play explicit music, such as those who play music on the radio, or at public events where children are present such as basketball games. Providing these DJs with a radio edit enables and encourages them to play your music in their specific format.
Second – many deejays are also involved in remixing. By providing them with the instrumental and acapella of the song, you’ll enable them to create remixes, which they will blend, and share with their audience online and/or while performing. This can lead to more people discovering your song, which is a good thing.
Third – giving deejays the instrumental is important as many will use the instrumental to create transitions and what’s known as a DJ intro. A DJ intro is usually an 8 bar loop of a key instrumental section of the song with no vocals intended to transition from the previous song into your own.
Sometimes I create a DJ intro by request, but often deejays create their own based on their taste for the song and how they spin.
In order to determine which versions you will need, you will need to decide by asking yourself key questions, such as…
For a radio edit…
Is there any explicit content on this song such as swearing?
Can I see this song being played on television or radio?
Are there other places I can see this song being played that would require a clean version (ie, online content, sponsored posts, brand partnerships)?
If the answer is yes to one or more of these, you should probably create a radio edit of your song.
For a DJ pack…
Can I see a DJ playing this song at a venue with people dancing to it?
Can I see a DJ playing this song at a sporting event, or other public event?
Is the song up-tempo enough to be played in these situations?
If the answer is yes to one or more of these, you should probably get a DJ pack created to service to DJs.
For a performance version…
Can I see myself performing this song live to an audience?
If yes, you should probably create a performance version of your song so you’re ready when it comes time to rock the crowd.
Hopefully this article has helped clarify each of these versions you may need when getting a song mixed.
If you’re ever unclear, have a conversation with your engineer to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting, and if you even need it in the first place.
For example, you may not need a radio edit if your song contains no profanity or other explicit content. The only reason why you may need one in such a case is because you want to adjust the actual structure and arrangement of the song to make it more radio friendly.
If you’re looking for a mixing engineer for your next project, feel free to get in touch so we can talk about how I can help.
This is a game-changing technique that will alter your mixes when used correctly because of how it focuses on specific, problematic frequencies.
SONG USED IN THIS TUTORIAL
Sometimes by Jonah Cruzz (Prod. 5PiECE x SLWJMZ)
If you live in Canada, or another country that subsidizes the arts, you are in a good place.
Despite having access to these resources, many people choose not to apply to grants and exploit them for their own benefit. Chalk it up to laziness, disorganization or perhaps lack of confidence in being able to secure funding for their projects.
As people make their first (and usually only attempt) to apply to a grant, some create bullshit reasons as to why their project didn’t get funded when they are rejected.
This is normal behavior – but the problem is sometimes these people are sharing their incorrect opinion with hopeful grant applicants. This can deter someone from applying altogether, and hold people back in their careers if one is not careful with what they say.
I wanted to outline some of these reasons, or myths as I call them. My real hope is to encourage you to apply to grants, not accept the excuses from others who fell short, and teach you how to win a grant of your own.
As a disclaimer, I believed each of these at one point or another in my career, until I sought out the truth.
Let’s explore these myths together.
Grants cannot only fund their friends – in fact, it’s hard to even do so because of the way grants are reviewed and approved.
Most grant organizations operate with a jury system. This is a group of people from varying backgrounds and disciplines that review and grade all hopeful grant applications.
Individual jurors do not decide which applications get funded. Instead, each application is graded multiple times by multiple jurors and given an average score. This is very reminiscent of grading a homework assignment from our high school days.
Based on how much funding is available for that deadline, the top percentile of grants will be funded. One deadline may fund grants that achieve an 85% or higher, while the next deadline may only be funding programs with a 93% or higher. If you fall short of this score, your project wont be funded.
Therefore, in order for an organization to fund their friends, that artist must be friends with the many jurors who are reviewing their application. The likelihood of that is still possible – but much less likely, as applicants don’t know who their exact jurors will be.
Furthermore, most grant organizations have a policy where a juror cannot grade the application of someone they know, as it will be a conflict of interest. This helps avoid bias, and leads to a fairer assessment of all applications.
“Grants don’t want to fund hip hop”
“Grants only like folk music”
“Grants only want to fund French music”
These are some gripes and quotables I’ve encountered along my grant writing journey, and I’ve realized that they’re all incorrect.
First, there is a major distinction here – grants don’t fund artists or individuals, they fund projects. A project can range from recording and producing an album, to shooting a music video, to releasing and marketing a single, or a combination of them all.
Artists can’t just apply for grant funding saying they need $10,000 and get it based solely on clout or because they make a certain style of music.
Instead, the artist must have a specific project and goal in mind, and must clearly communicate how the funding will help them accomplish that goal. This means outlining a plan that covers what the money is for, how it will be used, and why their project is more viable than another artists’.
Grant organizations look at this project and evaluate the likelihood of the artist completing it, as well as potential impact this project may have on the community it’s coming from. The artist’s track record will be evaluated during the application process as well. An artist applying for a type of project they’ve never completed in the past is less likely to win a grant.
If you don’t clearly communicate the above, then your application may get passed up on. Many will say its favouritism – “they like folk music more than rap” – but the truth is, maybe your plan (or your music) stank.
This is because the jury system allows jurors to select the styles of music they want to review. So if you make hip hop, a juror who likes and wants to review hip hop applications will be reviewing yours. This helps remove the bias of a negative review from a juror who doesn’t like or listen to hip hop at all.
If an application is successful, this will result in the artist getting funded, technically yes. But the focus is funding specific projects. Grant organizations don’t look at the artist or genre alone when it comes to giving away funding. The plan and the music itself are the most important components.
Most new producers and artists get excited thinking about grants and how they can use the funding to buy the newest gadget or software they need to make music and build out their studio.
Unfortunately, most grants won’t allow you to spend the funding on buying equipment.
The funding is meant to complete a project while stimulating the local economy. Buying a piece of equipment made in China may prevent you from ever booking local studio time again, and not paying a local studio owner hurts the economy more than it helps it.
Ironically – you can take the funding and rent a piece of equipment for the duration of your project, whether it’s a high-end microphone or synth. You can also take the funding and rent a studio space with it (which is what I do with my private studio space). The key here is to rent items, rather than purchase them outright.
Some examples of acceptable ways to spend your grant funding:
False. You do not need a grant writer to get a grant – you just need to understand the application process and how to formulate a winning grant proposal.
Some grant organizations actually frown upon the use of a grant writer, as they don’t want their funding to be spent on paying someone to write and complete your application. They would rather see that money re-invested into the Canadian music industry and professional service providers within it.
I’ve never applied to a grant using a grant writer. I’ve applied to all of my grants completely on my own, with no help from anyone. While I didn’t win every time, I was successful on certain applications and received my funding. The times where I wasn’t successful – I learned a lot.
Grant writers do not guarantee you will be awarded a grant. They are up against the same odds as you would be if you applied on your own. Competition can be fierce between applications, and the application itself is only one component; the quality of the demo music can greatly influence the results of a grant also.
Grant writers can make the process easier due to their familiarity with applying, and they will handle all of the logistics of formulating and submitting the application. This may be enticing if you aren’t a strong writer, or don’t care to learn about the grant process.
However, a grant writer comes with a fee – and that fee has to be paid regardless of if your application is successful or not.
I can’t speak on every grant organization, but many actually can give funding away to artists that aren’t from the same country. But how?
In Canada, grant organizations exclusively fund projects that are Canadian content, or CANCON for short.
CANCON has 4 criteria, known as the MAPL criteria:
M – Music is entirely composed by a Canadian
A – The performing artist on the song is a Canadian
P – The music consists of a performance that was recorded in Canada
L – The lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian
In order for something to be considered CANCON, it must be at least 50% of the above criteria.
For example, a song can be produced and recorded in Canada (M & P criteria) but have an American artist on it performing his or her own lyrics (A & L criteria).
Therefore, technically speaking, an American (or other national) can apply for a Canadian music grant, so long as they use that money in the local Canadian economy, and as long as their music checks off 2 out of the 4 MAPL criteria.
These are 5 myths that I personally believed at one point or another. After applying to many grants on my own, learning first hand and having direct conversations with both jurors and grant organizations, I realize that I was misled.
Like anything, do your research and get the facts before you believe what someone else has to say. Impossible is nothing once you do it.
Learn more about music grants in Canada by reading my other articles such as Music Grants: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started
Once a music grant is awarded, it is paid out to and controlled by the artist. Grants can be spent on a number of activities around a project, ranging from production and recording to video production, touring and marketing.
The main goal of a music grant is to stimulate the arts sector that they fund. Music grants often have to be spent in the geography they originate from which has the benefit of stimulating the local economy as well. For example, a FACTOR Artist Development grant may only be spent on expenses originating from Canada.
Grants therefore have a double benefit: 1) they help the artist build a career and generate more income, while 2) distributing the money back into the local economy.
Grants vary at every level – ranging from local, to provincial, to national.
For example, some cities have their own governments that give away grants at a local level. I’m based in Toronto – so an example of that would be the Toronto Arts Council. Only Torontonians may apply to grants from this organization.
A step up from that would be provincial grants. Many provinces in Canada have their own agencies that reward grants to creators. An example of this is the Ontario Arts Council.
As both a Torontonian, and therefore an Ontarian, I can apply to this grant organization’s funding programs, as can others from across the province in places like Ottawa and Thunder Bay. Someone from British Columbia, however, is not eligible to apply for funding from the OAC.
Another level up is the national grants. This is funding available to creators across the whole country, regardless of their exact location. Only a handful of organizations do this, such as FACTOR and Canada Council for the Arts. Because these grants fund an entire nation, getting the funding can be more competitive.
Grants can fund a number of projects and relevant activities such as:
Depending on the program, an artist that is awarded a music grant can use the funding to:
Before spending any money on a project, confirm what you are eligible to spend it on based on the grant program. Some grants are particular and may not allow for spending related to certain activities such as production/recording, or travel.
Remember – music grants must be spent within the local economy depending on where you are located and what the organization allows.
For example, FACTOR funds projects across Canada and allows for expenses to originate anywhere in Canada exclusively. Ontario Arts Council, however, only allows for expenses from Ontario. Therefore, with an OAC grant, I couldn’t hire someone in British Columbia to work on my project. However, if I used a FACTOR grant instead, I could.
In general, successful applicants can’t pay individuals or service providers that are non-Canadians with grant funding unless given permission by the organization (which is rare).
For example, you could hire and pay myself, a fellow Canadian, to produce your project – but you couldn’t hire an American producer to do the same using the grant funding.
You could still technically hire a non-Canadian – but organizations won’t recognize that expense as eligible and it would therefore have to come out of your own pocket.
Music grants are actually not hard to find – but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to win.
Your results will vary based on your location as some places have more funding available than others. Certain geographies also have pop-up grants – that is funding that isn’t consistently or regularly available.
I generally spend time doing online research before applying to grants, especially around search terms such as:
[YOUR CITY] MUSIC GRANTS
[YOUR STATE/PROVINCE] MUSIC GRANTS
[YOUR COUNTRY] MUSIC GRANTS
By doing your own research around the above, you can compile a list of grant organizations and potential funding programs that you are qualified for.
Once you have brainstormed a master list, you can dig deeper and begin applying to each funding program.
Some grants can provide a few hundred dollars to attend a songwriting workshop, while others can go into well over $100,000 if you are a more established artist looking for additional support. Average recording project grants range from $2,000 to $25,000 depending on album length.
Sometimes, yes. Many grant organizations want the artists they are funding to contribute a certain percentage of a grant’s total in order to reward them with funding.
For example, FACTOR’s Artist Development program will fund up to 75% of a project, up to a total of $2,000.
This means FACTOR will give you a maximum of $2,000 which represents 75% of a project’s budget, leaving the other 25% (or $667 according to FACTOR) to be spent out of an artist’s own pocket. This is to ensure the artist is also invested in their own project and will see it through to the end.
Keeping the above example – a project’s total spend should be at least $2,667- with $2,000 coming from FACTOR, the other $667 coming from the artist. You would display this during the completion part of a grant (more on completing grants later).
Every grant organization handles applications differently. Some are as simple as creating a profile and applying instantly – others may require multiple profiles, organization approval and longer wait-times before applying.
Every grant organization will require proof of citizenship or residency to ensure they are funding the projects that they’re supposed to be geographically.
Read the eligibility of a grant program before applying to better understand what you need in order to proceed with the application.
If you win a grant, organizations will request your social insurance number before depositing the money into your account as a grant is considered taxable income. After being awarded one, you will receive a T4A document to file with your annual tax return.
Most grant organizations operate with a jury system.
This means there are many people from the music industry who work with the organization to review and grade grant applications. They listen to the music, they read the plan, and if they like what you show them, they’ll give you a good rating.
After an application has been reviewed multiple times by a number of jurors, a grant will be awarded an average score. Once all grants are reviewed, the top percentile of grants will be funded based on how much money is available.
The number of grants, and the necessary score to be funded varies based on the season. Sometimes you may need to score 90% or higher to get funded. Other times you may only need a 75%. Much of it boils down to competition and how much funding is available for that deadline.
Absolutely. It’s free money that has actually been created to invest in and help further your career.
Grant organizations want to fund creators and help them make better music while reaching more people. They ultimately want success stories to come from their funding.
Furthermore, a grant can help so many different areas of your career based on what you need.
Have a lot of music but no music videos? Get funding for a music video.
Have a lot of songs written and demos recorded but finally need to track the whole album properly? Get funding to record an album.
Recorded a whole album but can’t afford the mixing and mastering yet? Apply for funding to hire a dope mixing and mastering engineer.
Project done but need some marketing dollars to push it out to the masses? Get a grant and get those ads out there.
Plus- if you have this opportunity, you should seize it. Many countries don’t even have running water, let alone free funding for the arts.
Yes – I talk about some of these programs at length in a recent YouTube video called Grant Programs That Pay You To Make Music:
Getting a grant is a two-part process.
The first part is applying and actually securing the funding. This is what we tend to focus on when it comes to getting grants. During this step, you would outline how you’d spend the money if your application is successful.
The second part is completing the grant and actually being able to keep it.
If you fail to do the second part, your grant becomes a loan that you have to pay back to the organization. That defeats the purpose of getting the grant in the first place – we could’ve just gone to the bank if we wanted to pay interest.
Completing a grant happens after you’ve done everything you set out to do in your project. During this stage you’ll turn in the materials you’ve created (album audio, photos, videos, artwork, branding), a written report and supporting financial documents of how you spent the money you were awarded. Financial documents are typically invoices and proof-of-payment receipts to service providers you used during the project.
If you didn’t spend the money like you said you would during the first part, and don’t properly account for it with proof– you can be in trouble. It’s important to be organized and responsible throughout the entire process for that reason.
Maybe. But maybe not. Working with a grant writer does not guarantee you will get funded.
While grant writers are experienced with the grant writing process, they are also up against the fierce competition of other applications and the limitations of how many projects an organization will be able to fund in a given period.
Writing grant applications requires a number of skills such as copywriting, project management and meticulous organization, but still requires talent on the artist’s behalf as the music that’s submitted decides the fate of the application.
You can have an amazing grant application but a mediocre song will result in the application getting rejected. A good song with a mediocre application unfortunately wont fare much better. You need both the application and music to be strong in order to secure funding.
Another consideration is that a grant writer will want to be compensated up-front regardless of the outcome.
If the application is rejected, the money you paid to the grant writer doesn’t magically come back. They put time and energy into your application so it’s understandable that they would keep it.
It’s more important to manage personal expectations when working with a grant writer. First time applicants who are early on in their career should tread very carefully. It will likely be better that you learn how to apply on your own.
However, if you’re an established artist with a proven track record and a lot going on, a grant writer may be a worthy investment to save you time and win you money in the long run.
If you are a music creator in Canada, you should take advantage of this amazing funding opportunity that’s available to us.
If you want to learn how to apply to a Canadian music grant step-by-step while seeing a bunch of winning grant application examples from FACTOR and Ontario Arts Council, you should check out our online grant writing course.
In the course I walk you through the overall grant writing process, show you every possible example of support materials you’ll need, and even show you grant applications that won over $10,000 in funding as examples. There is nothing else like it on the market and I’m offering a money-back guarantee to prove it.
Taking the course once could get you funded for life. Click below to learn more or register today.
Understanding creativity and what makes us creative is a tricky thing. It’s hard to quantify how to be creative, especially to those that aren’t. Often, unless we’re really in tune with ourselves, we have no real idea of how we make things happen. We just sort of…do it.
Every creator is unique and different in the way they express themselves. We all have our own approaches, guidelines and rituals that we explore when we sit down to make something. Recently, after reading Steal Like An Artist, I began to really think about this more deeply and decided to note some strategies that I personally live by when it comes to creating music.
I’ve kept these pretty open so that my other creative friends can find value here. There are likely many more than what you will read here, however, I find this to be a great starting point to build upon later.
If you’re a creator who needs some inspiration, or wants a gentle kick in the ass – I hope this article is exactly that for you. Take what you find useful and leave the rest.
REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF OPTIONS AVAILABLE IN ORDER TO MAXIMIZE CREATIVITY.
Too many options often leads to indecision, and decisions are what ultimately gets us to a finished product. To make it easier on ourselves, we can create limitations. These limitations often force creativity, as you have to find creative ways to do things within the self-imposed box you’ve put yourself in.
Don’t believe me? Ask Dr. Seuss. He wrote one of his most successful books “Green Eggs and Ham” after making a bet with an editor that he couldn’t write a book with 50 unique words or less. He managed to do so in exactly 50 words, and that bet went on to being one of his most successful creations.
I will personally use a few varieties of limitations to my advantage, such as time limits – for example, giving myself a 30 minute time limit to compose a beat.
In other situations, I will limit how many sounds I can utilize in my production session. For example, I may tell myself “OK – we need to make a beat with 3 sounds: drums, bass, one instrument. How do we make it so it sounds full?”.
BORROW IDEAS WHERE APPLICABLE.
Rick: “Going to museums and looking at great art can help you write better songs. Reading great novels…seeing a great movie…reading poetry…The only way to use the inspiration of other artists is if you submerge yourself in the greatest works of all time.”
The other benefit of familiarizing yourself with the greatest works of all time is that it allows you to develop taste – being able to sense and discern what’s good vs. what’s bad, and more importantly what people like.
I agree with this whole-heartedly. Inspiration is out there for you to discover and lift from different places. In Steal Like an Artist, author Austin Kleon encourages the reader to steal inspiration from their influences – not blatantly rip them off, but take the parts they like and dispose of the rest, and create something entirely new. Even 40 admitted to finding inspiration in Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreak before making “So Far Gone” with Drake.
Other forms of art can also inspire the creative process. I utilize other mediums a lot when making music – constantly finding inspiration in comic book movie adaptations. I even have a video of myself watching the trailer for VENOM and scoring my own soundtrack to it. Watch below.
THIS WILL LIKELY INSPIRE NEW AND BETTER IDEAS.
Any artist that has worked directly with me on production knows that I’ll usually start making a beat, and once the foundational elements are there, I’ll try to “break” it.
I’ll change the tempo. I’ll transpose the pitch. I’ll throw an audio effect on the master that shouldn’t be there and just totally mangle it.
Most of the time when I do this – I discover something awesome. This ultimately changes the course of the beat and leads me to creating something better.
Don’t be afraid to do something unorthodox to your creation. Switch things around. Do things that don’t make sense and just see what happens. You’ll often push the creative boundaries to somewhere you never thought you’d go.
In a worst case, assuming you’re using a digital medium, you can always hit undo and revert back to how it was.
LEARN FROM OTHERS AND FIND INSPIRATION IN THE PROCESS.
1 + 1 = 3
That’s not what we were taught in school, but that is the formula when it comes to collaboration.
Something magical happens when multiple people come together to work on a project. Many of today’s hit records feature multiple producers and songwriters contributing to a song, such as “Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott featuring over 30 writers. This is because different skill-sets, perspectives and tastes all add up and take you somewhere you normally wouldn’t go alone.
I always think of my collaborations with DJ XP and SLWJMZ. I’m an engineer, XP is a DJ and SLWJMZ is a musician. All three of us also happen to be producers. When we get together, there are three different perspectives and skill-sets combining together to create something dope, like Staasia Daniels’ single “Nowhere“
Working with others will cause you to learn from others too. People may approach situations differently – and unique perspectives can add to your own knowledge.
Whenever I connect with another producer, I’ll notice they’ll approach problems differently than I normally would. Maybe its an unlikely effect or plugin that they used, or a strategy around placing snares, or how they create melodies. Sometimes their approach may not even make sense, but often I’ll be inspired and take that learning with me into my own production later. Every collaboration I’ve done has somehow made me a better producer.
OR BE OVERLY-CONCEPTUAL. JUST START AND SEE WHERE YOU END UP. YOU CAN BE MORE SPECIFIC LATER.
I think all artists are hard on themselves. What we do is subjective, and depending on how we feel that day, our art can be the best or worst thing ever. This can be effectively summarized via the graphic below:
Sometimes we have this urge to be very specific with our vision. “The song has to be about this” or “this video must compete with that”. This is not good – in fact, it just mounts the pressure and can lead to paralyzing fear to do anything at all (see: writer’s block).
I believe its far better to be loose with your ideas. When you sit down to create, see it as exploring and try just about everything. Don’t limit yourself – just do whatever comes to you and tighten it up later. I think many people seem to forget that the world doesn’t hear your art until you release it. Chances are you aren’t releasing it the day you’re creating it – so there should be no expectations.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
Work through your creative process bird by bird and don’t let expectations overwhelm or frustrate you. I find the best albums just “come together” organically. Stack music, meditate on it and decide later what makes the album when you have built up a catalogue.
FIND A RHYTHM OR ROUTINE – DAILY IF POSSIBLE.
I make it a point to create regularly – not just because it’s my livelihood but also to keep myself sharp. I compare making beats daily to shooting free throws in the gym. It’s practice for game day.
I often make a joke about this saying I’m preparing for when Jay-Z calls me for a session. I’ve routinely made so many beats that it’s become second nature. Even with Jay in the room I should be able to crank one out simply because I have a point of reference and have done it over and over again. This should give me a significant advantage over another producer who only makes beats when they “feel like it” with no consistency. Put that producer into the same situation and they would likely crumble under the pressure.
Human beings are creatures of habit. Habits make it possible for us to do things without requiring motivation, saving us a lot of mental energy and time. They allow us to run on auto-pilot so to speak. The key is we have to program ourselves to do so with the right habits.
If your goal is to be a successful creator who gets paid for their work, whether its in music, film, art, or writing, make sure your habits support this vision.
“Show me your habits and I’ll show you your future.” – Mark Batterson
“The key to your future is hidden in your daily routine.” – Jim Kwik
MORE IMPORTANTLY, COMMIT TO THEM.
The only way to make progress in anything in life is to make decisions to get there. Decisions propel us from moment to moment, and opportunity to opportunity. Can you imagine what would happen if we never made decisions? We would never leave the house. We wouldn’t eat. We would just rot.
Similarly, with creating, we must make decisions to get us to our end product. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be curious and explore ideas in order to see where you can take them. However, after doing some exploring, it’s important to figure out which direction you are going to pursue and see it through.
For example, a common problem in the music production community is that we have a lot of unfinished beats sitting on our hard drives. Often, these beats go unfinished because we are struggling to make decisions to complete them. We don’t know if we should keep this loop in, or remove this melody, or add a new drum sound. By not committing in either direction, we are stuck. So we decide to shelf it until we feel inspired for another day. This can go on for years at a time.
So how do we make good decisions? This ties into our next point…
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS WHILE CREATING TO HELP YOU MAKE DECISIONS.
Think of questions as creative prompts. You ask a question, and it helps you decide the direction you should go in.
I implement this into my creative routine in every session, asking questions as I go like “what if I did X?” or “how would this sound if I did Y?” Curiosity is often your friend when it comes to creativity.
This can help determine what you are doing stylistically, or help you figure out what you are creating for the end listener. Asking yourself a question like “what type of song am I trying to make?” (love song, trap song, etc.) can help you get somewhere faster. This also ties into the first point – create limitations.
I will admit, however, it does work against another point – don’t think too much or be overly conceptual. There is clearly a happy medium between the two.
I’ve already explored the Power of Asking Good Questions in another blog article so check that out if you want some more ideas on how to implement questions into your creativity.
DON’T CONSUME CONTENT, TAKE BREAKS & REST.
According to studies, the average American checks their phone 80 times per day. Millennials are worse, checking their phones upwards of 150 times per day.
We live in a very over-stimulated world thanks to technology. The smartphone has become an extension of ourselves, allowing us to have access to infinite information and seamlessly connecting us to people around the world at any given moment.
We are constantly being bombarded by input – information, online opinions, stimuli. Before smart phones and the internet, we could easily disconnect (we weren’t connected in the first place). Now, its not so easy.
All of this stimulation has caused us to forget about the importance of solitude. Solitude is the state or situation of being alone. I discovered this after listening to an incredible podcast featuring Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism where he discussed the importance of solitude in our lives.
Why do we need solitude? Multiple reasons – such as:
This is why breaks and rest periods are so important when it comes to creating. I think of this like going to the gym. Muscles aren’t built in the gym working out, but rather when you are resting and recovering.
The same goes for creation. We need to take creative breaks in order to gather ourselves, our thoughts and ideas in order to make progress in our work. We also need to live our lives in order to find inspiration.
We can take this a step further and consider minimizing outside influence on our work. Many successful producers and artists have acknowledged that not listening to music has helped them create some of their greatest works. Some of your favourite rappers say they don’t listen to rap music to avoid being influenced.
I personally go through listening “seasons” as well. When creating or working on a specific project, I will exclusively listen to my own music. Once the project I’m working on is complete, however, I will go back and listen to all of the music from other artists that I’ve missed out on during that period and catch-up.
These are a few key principles that I live by – and there are likely to be many more that I will add to this list over the years. This is not the end of our journey – but rather the beginning.
Below are some important books that I recommend you check out to continue learning and honing your craft. Some have been mentioned in this article, and each one has helped me personally.
GOOD BOOKS ON CREATING
GOOD BOOKS ON FOCUS & DECISION-MAKING
GOOD BOOKS ON HABITS
GOOD ALL AROUND BOOKS
HOW THIS POST CAME TOGETHER.
This article started off in my journal as a brainstorm, which I’ve included below (some didn’t make the cut or got amalgamated with another point):
The journal then turned into an Instagram post on my profile which later evolved once again into this blog post you are reading.
-Tony Robbins, Awaken The Giant Within
I’m amazed at how often having the right question in a situation can literally change an outcome. The right question can save you time, money, energy and stress, and can put you on an entirely different trajectory in life.
I have found many examples of this throughout my own travels, so lets explore one
I was in Atlanta this past October and met with an A&R from Warner Chappell Publishing. I played him some of my music and videos and, impressed after taking in my content, he asked me what I was doing later that evening. I told him that I had already committed to an artist session at Patchwerk Studios (which was the truth- I did). But – because I knew the power of questions, I followed up with one: “Why do you ask?”
“T.I. is having a listening party tonight. I was going to tell you to come.”
And just like that, my entire evening changed. It went from going to Patchwerk Studios for a session, to stopping by the Trap Museum to private party with T.I. and the Grand Hustle family and then hitting the studio.
I didn’t see that one coming. What really impressed me was that if I had not asked that question, I wouldn’t have ended up at T.I’s Dime Trap listening party at all. One question changed a whole series of events that followed.
5PiECE jokingly making use of the jail facilities
located in the Trap Museum during T.I’s Dime Trap listening party
I’ve come to realize that us humans are constantly having conversations with ourselves. During these moments, we are subconsciously asking ourselves questions, gathering information to answer them and ultimately making decisions.
For example, usually when you are hungry, you eat or find a way to eat. This is just natural behaviour in the first world. However, on a subconscious level, what we’re actually doing is asking and answering the following questions to ourselves:
After answering these questions – we’ll determine pretty quickly what happens next. If we’re hungry, and we feel like eating, then we’ll proceed to another set of questions – this time branching out from a simple yes or no into a more intricate answer such as the type of food we want, where we will get the food from, etc. Some questions might be:
These questions then get answered (subconsciously again) and then another set of questions come up until we’ve gathered enough information to make a decision, or move onto the next immediate concern – all within the blink of an eye.
What’s really interesting is that these conversations and questions don’t really happen consciously or out-loud. Our brain has automated this behaviour so most of our decision-making is on auto-pilot in the background. That is, until its challenged or presented with a unique scenario where there is no “protocol” to handle it subconsciously.
What I’ve learned to do is control the narrative by consciously asking myself specific questions that will move me in a direction of my choosing. The key is to understand how to formulate the right questions that will serve you.
For example, lets say you joined a gym and wanted to get in shape, you may ask yourself in the morning, “Do I want to go to the gym today?” The answer could be yes, but it could also be no. This question leaves room for you to be lazy, find an excuse, and get out of it if you feel compelled enough. It is flawed from the beginning.
So lets try it again. What happens if you ask yourself “What am I training at the gym today?” This is no longer a yes or no question – the yes is now implied. You’ve now committed to going to the gym subconsciously, so the next choice you make will be what to train when you get there.
5PiECE making music at his private recording studio in Toronto, Canada
Questions can be powerful when it comes to creating and being productive. I find most of my production and writing sessions begin with one of two questions:
Substitute X for whatever you feel like and you have a really potent recipe. What if I started this beat with bass? What if I sampled this record? What if I took this loop, pitched it down and added a filter, then cranked the reverb? “What if” inevitably becomes “let’s find out”.
The process of creating music is basically making a series of decisions and committing to them. The key to arriving at decisions is using questions to get you there.
Some questions I like to ask myself when trying to finish a beat:
Here’s a more in-depth look at the thought process behind the questions you may ask when dealing with a production that is too repetitive:
There are many other questions – or prompts as I see them – that can be used when it comes to creating music, but these are a few that I rely on regularly on my own and during collaborations with other creatives.
What’s great about questions is you can also use them to steer other people in a certain direction. This can be for better or for worse, depending on the person asking the question and the intent behind it.
For example, when recording with an artist, they may record a vocal take that I do not particularly like. Instead of expressing my negative opinion right away, I will play them what they just recorded and simply ask, “What do you think of this?”
If they like the take, I may ask a series of follow-up questions to make sure that they are making the best and most calculated choice. For example, I may point out a specific flaw in the delivery – “Do you think the way you said this word isn’t clear?” or I may point out a tuning issue “Do you like the way you sang this word despite it being out of key?” These are also usually reasons why I do not like the take.
More often than not, an artist will consider what I am asking and choose to do it over. All of this takes place without me ever actually stating my opinion, but rather asking carefully curated questions that help them arrive at an answer within my interest.
This can be used for better or for worse. In the above, it’s for the better. Artists tend to have a bias to the first thing they record and need a third-party to help push them in order to capture their best performance. Someone who is asking questions to challenge you in order to help you grow as a person is generally doing you a favor.
However, questions can also be manipulative. Slimy salespeople and door-to-door annoyances love to ask dumb questions that they know the answer to in order to advance their personal sales agenda:
“Would you like to save $X on your hydro bill?”
Of course you would– who doesn’t want to spend less money on bills? The problem is that they know the answer is an obvious one. By committing and saying yes, they are putting you in a tough spot to say no to their offer later.
“What do you mean you’re not interested? Didn’t you just tell me you want to save money on your hydro bill?”
These high-pressure questions centred on commitment and consistency are steering you into a position to feel obligated to purchase something you may not want, need or even consider had you not been approached on it. Robert Cialdini does a great job of breaking the psychology of this down in the “Commitment and Consistency” chapter of his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (highly recommend).
It’s obvious – I love questions. I unlocked the secret that questions help you in every way possible when used correctly – from creating opportunity, to helping you learn more, to making you more productive. The possibilities are endless once you embrace questions. The next step is to “collect” good ones and use them to empower yourself.