Unlocking Your Creative Potential
In the world of music production, mastering your craft is a journey that combines artistry, dedication, and continuous growth. Whether you're a seasoned producer or just starting, this 10-step guide is designed to unlock your creative potential and elevate your music production skills. From the art of transcription to the power of setting goals, each step offers valuable insights and practical tips to help you not only produce better music but also navigate the creative process more effectively. Join us on this transformative journey as we delve into the essential steps that will empower you to reach new heights in your musical endeavors.\
Here are 10 steps you can take.
Listen and Transcribe!
Have you ever wondered how musicians manage to play songs on instruments other than the ones you're used to hearing them on? Or how a song originally played on guitar ends up being written for piano? Well, that's where music transcription comes into play!
In the world of music, transcription is like the magical bridge that allows us to take a piece of music, originally composed or performed in one form, and transform it into something entirely new. It’s basically what you see in a lot of hip hop tutorials. “Drums Like J Dilla”, “Bounce Like Timbaland”, “Melodies like X Producer or Artist”. Basically what the producer on the other side of that screen is doing is spending hours trying to understand the intricacies of the notes, grooves, and rhythms to be able to utilize them in a new and unique way not used before. By being able to analyze Dilla or Timberlands recordings and recreate them note by note, they are able to get those grooves extracted into their DNA for music production. That's the power of transcription!
At its core, music transcription is the art of notating music, converting the audible into the readable. It's akin to turning musical sounds into words, capturing every note, rhythm, and nuance so that anyone can recreate the magic. But it's not just about preserving music; it's about making it accessible and adaptable.
Musicians who are skilled in transcription often wear the hats of transcribers or arrangers. They meticulously listen to the original piece, breaking it down into its musical components and carefully writing it out in sheet music form, or in the case of hip hop, inside of a DAW like FL Studio, Logic, Ableton, or any other. It's like translating a beautiful language of notes, rests, and dynamics.
It’s also a way to make cover songs. Imagine learning the guitar part to a metal song, but then making it a hip-hop, pop, country, Afrobeat or reggaeton version. The possibilities are endless, but it all starts with transcribing. So how do you do it?
It requires a lot of time and patience. My advice to producers starting out doing this is to isolate 4-8 bars loops of a record that you want to learn from. It can be any record that inspires you. Here at the The Sample Guru, I spend my time recreating 4-8 bar loops of vintage records. I dig through records and find snippets. The only difference is that instead of sampling, I’m essentially creating my own stems of the parts of the song I actually like. How many times have you loved a sample, but thought, “man, I wish the vocals weren’t there”, or “oh if they only played this other chord I’m hearing in my head so I can loop it better”. Well that's the approach here at the The Sample Guru label. I take the parts of the record I love, learn them inside and out, then utilize the toolset I learned to create original samples that I know myself and other music producers would love.
I make it a daily habit to transcribe at least one 4 bar loop every day, before I work on any original music. Just to get the language down and understand music in a different way. There are hundreds of thousands of musicians that came before me and you, and they all have explored music in their own way. Why spend an hour of your day learning from them? The added advantage is that over time, you’ll be training your ears as well to hear notes, and hear melodies and chords in a different way than you may be used to. Sometimes I can figure out an entire 4 bar loop in 15-20 minutes nowadays.
- Transcription is recreating a song, melody, or drum break by listening and identifying each note and rhythm.
- Spend 30-45 minutes at least 3 times a week transcribing a 4-8 bar loop.
- Treat transcribing as practice, it will improve over time.
Learn Music Theory or An Instrument
While many music producers pride themselves in “not knowing” music theory or being self taught, the reality is that in some way, shape, or form, everyone who has ever made a melody knows music theory even subconsciously. You know what you want to hear, what sounds correct and what does not. Music theory is just the explanation for how music works, but the rules themselves are intrinsic to most humans.
Hip-hop music is all about rhythm, beats, and creativity. To take your hip-hop production game to the next level, consider this: learning music theory and picking up an instrument can be game-changers. Here are five compelling reasons why:
- Elevate Your Creativity
Every hip-hop producer dreams of crafting beats that stand out from the rest. Music theory equips you with the tools to compose melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions that are not only catchy but uniquely yours. It's the secret sauce for adding that creative edge to your tracks.
- Sample Magic
Sampling is a cornerstone of hip-hop, and knowing an instrument can transform the way you work with samples. Whether it's identifying the perfect sample or creating your own by playing, your sampling skills will be on another level, giving your beats a unique characteristic.
- Master the Rhythm
A crucial aspect of hip-hop is its infectious rhythm. Learning to play drums or percussion instruments will deepen your understanding of rhythm, groove, and percussion patterns. It's like having an expert sense of timing at your fingertips, making your beats irresistible.
Linking this back to transcribing, you can learn the intricacies of your favorite music producer and incorporate them into your style.
- Collaborate Like a Pro
Hip-hop often thrives on collaboration, and knowing music theory enables you to communicate more effectively with other musicians and vocalists. This opens doors to exciting partnerships and the incorporation of live instruments into your tracks.
- Structure Your Tracks
Structure is the backbone of a great hip-hop track. Music theory helps you create arrangements that build anticipation and maintain listener engagement throughout the song. It's the secret sauce for crafting dynamic and memorable hip-hop compositions.
As you can see, there are quite a number of advantages to taking your time and learning music theory or an instrument.
- Music theory and learning and instruments give you an edge as a musician and music producer. It will help your beats stand out.
- Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour practicing music theory or an instrument.
- Learn scales
- Learn guitar or piano, two very accessible instruments
- There are plenty of YouTube tutorials online to help you to play.’
- Have a specific goal for your practice sessions. Like learning to play on your left hand or learning to mute strings on a guitar while you play.
- Over time, things will get easier and you will be able to learn more advanced topics.
Learn your gear and read the manuals!
Manuals were written for your equipment for a reason. Especially in the age of digital technology, it’s easy to skip over the manual for a plugin or instrument.
Oftentimes, spending the time reading through the manual will help you learn the rules of the instrument, and how to break them more efficiently. The manual might even inspire you to use the instrument in a way no one else is.
I spend about 1 hour a day reading a manual for a synth in my collection. I try to read at least 10 pages a day, but it ends up turning into longer because I get so wrapped up in following the steps in the manual and trying to understand certain parameters and fields.
Chances are you won’t remember how to do everything the manual describes when you’re in your creative mode, but if you get stuck while creating, you have a mental reference to go back to and look up how to accomplish the specific effect you are looking for. This also makes understanding YouTube tutorials a lot easier, because you don’t have to spend time understanding how someone is navigating a plugin or piece of hardware.
- Manuals were written for a reason, they’re there for you to use and become a master at the instrument or plugin.
- Aim for reading 10 pages of a manual a day. Try to do this when you are in front of the instrument or have time to play around and be curious. It’s hard retaining the information if you can’t follow the steps at times.
Write it down!
Part of the process many underestimate is keeping a good journal and tracking progress. You hear this for every type of creative discipline as well as life in general. When you want to get in shape, keeping track of your progress in a journal helps your goals. When you want to become a better writer, you keep a journal of your progress. When you want to be a better artist, you doodle in a journal every day.
When you want to be better at making beats, you can track your progress every day. What did you accomplish? What are you hoping to do better the following week? By journaling about your journey, you’ll motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable to your growth.
I journal and keep track of the samples I’m re-creating. What instruments am I listening to, why do I like the record, what are the notes I’m learning from the bass, the piano, etc. What is the tempo of the track? All of these things I’m writing down, and I can revisit them at any time, and see patterns. Maybe the bass lines are very simple and don’t jump in notation too much. Maybe the melodies stick within a certain range. All of these things will help me in the future.
Personally, my journal dives into what’s happening in my life and things I’m overcoming, or trying to overcome. I use it to talk about my goals, what I want to see happen, and how I see things going.
At the end of the day, writing will also help take any doubt away, or at least bring it to the forefront so you can confront it. Some of us say we don’t have enough time for music, we work all day and have to come home and we don’t have time to sit down and practice, that we’re not good enough, that others are way ahead of us. These are all real things, and sometimes writing in a journal will expose the things we are afraid of the most. Then, when we sit at the computer or pick up a guitar, we’ve already faced those adversaries and are able to freely create.
- Keeping a journal is done in many disciplines, use one for music.
- Use the journal for keeping track of practice progress, sales, or anything that will motivate you.
- Feel free to write about your days in the journal, music comes from our experiences in the real world, and we can use the journal as inspiration.
What’s a good practice schedule look like?
This is one of the most asked questions. The best way to answer this is to first get a foundation for what practice actually looks like. Most people find practicing difficult because it's tedious, but really, practice is just another way to learn in bite-sized chunks.
A practice session should consist of a routine that you can implement day in and day out when you practice. Here are a couple of things I do every day in my practice sessions for guitar for example.
- Have a goal for the week
- Learn a new scale
- Learn a new song
- Learn a new strumming technique
- Warm up with scales
- A scale I know, or pick a new scale
- Focus on technique
- Am I muting the strings correctly? Am I getting buzzed? Am I picking the guitar correctly? Am I strumming correctly?
- Start at a slower tempo
- Sometimes I play at 50 bpm so that I have time to get to all the notes while focusing on technique.
- I can gradually increase my tempo over the course of many weeks as I feel comfortable with my playing.
- Practice a song
- I don’t have to learn the whole song in one practice session. Even getting through 1 bar of a song during a practice song efficiently is a win.
As you can see, it's important to pick a goal or else you’ll be sitting at a piano, a DAW, or with a guitar aimlessly wandering. That could be fun from time to time, to not be so rigid and enjoy the process of creating and practicing, but if you want to improve, there needs to be structure at some point.
- Have a goal for your practice session
- You don’t need to conquer the world in 1 practice session, break your goal down into smaller steps
- Slow down, focus on the technique, and your muscle memory will kick in over time to help you play faster in the future.
Create every day!
Creating something new every day is a great way to stay focused and improve your skills. What that creation looks like will differ from producer to producer or artist to artist.
In my opinion, even creating a 4 bar loop every day can be a big win for a musical career. It will be almost like keeping a journal for yourself and expressing how you were feeling that day or showcasing something that inspired you.
What I see as the most common reason for failure during this step (most people blame lack of time) is that people set their expectations for the creation too high. I used to approach these sessions like I had to have a Grammy nomination worthy production at the end of the session and that would stifle my creativity because of all the pressure that came with it. My recommendation would be to start slow. Approach the sessions as a way to get into a flow, and over time it will grow from creating 4 bar loops to 8 bar loops, to verses, to verses and hooks… you get the point.
This is known to work well in other disciplines as well, such as writing, or reading. You start off reading a couple of pages and before you know it, you’re reading entire books every couple of days. This is similar to what will happen to your music. By creating every day, you will avoid the pressure of finishing a masterpiece, and instead, over time, you will recognize when you are inspired and your sessions won’t end. You’ll just keep creating.
- Don’t worry about whether what you create is great or not, just focusing on starting and finishing an idea.
- An idea doesn’t have to be a full 3 minute track. It can be 4 bar loops to start and eventually work your way up to more.
- If you only have 10 minutes that day, it's more than enough. Challenge yourself to see how far you get in those 10 minutes.
Reading plays a vital role to success in any industry. Want to learn how to sell more? There are books on that. Want some self help to improve as a person, there are books for that. Want to become a better mixing engineer? a better user of your synth? There are books for that.
Reading triggers creativity. You can read fiction books to dive into worlds and be inspired by the end of it. Reading also is a very easy habit. It takes very minimal effort to learn or enjoy yourself doing it. And small habits lead to bigger habits.
What I like to do is chain habits together, and I’ve found that reading helps me feel like I’ve crossed something off my list and am able to move onto the next item in my list of things I want to accomplish.
In a world where we sit and watch YouTube videos, you’d be amazed at how effective product manuals can be at helping you become a more creative person. They are literally made to walk you step by step through each section of a product in order for you to master that product and utilize it any way you can imagine.
Here are a couple of my favorite books that I feel really changed the way that I think about creating and inspired me to take more risks as a professional.
- Reading is a good habit starter. Start with 10 pages a day and watch your appetite for more reading grow.
- Reading has added benefits for business, sales, and other parts of business that are necessary for setting up a successful business. Sometimes as musicians we forget that to master our craft AND make a living from it, we need to know about business topics.
Set a goal
Vision and direction is an underrated tool when thinking of how to be creative. Having a vision is a fine line, because oftentimes you’ll hear “dream big”, but the bigger you dream, the further you realistically are from accomplishing that goal. So there needs to be a balance. How do you make that “big dream” vision and then break it down into smaller pieces that are manageable and will keep you motivated.
For me, setting goals looks like this. I usually do
- daily goals
- weekly goals
- monthly goals
- yearly goals
I also break these goals down into the following
- Fitness goals
- Health goals
- Music Goals
- Business Goals
- Family Goals
By having this subdivision, you can bounce around your goals and hold yourself accountable across multiple disciplines. Inevitably, there will be days, weeks, months where some of your goals in one area are not being met, but you can fall back on goals for your other areas as a way to keep yourself motivated to keep going.
So set a goal that aligns with what you want to accomplish, but not one that will be so massive that it actually deters you from trying to accomplish it.
This goal will be your guiding star, so make sure you spend time on it. Try to avoid goals that revolve around money goals as your main driver. Try to find purpose in your goal.
For example, at the Sample Guru, our goal is to be a music producer’s guide to sample based production. That means how to sample, how to create samples, history of sampling, everything. That’s a very aggressive goal, but it’s something that aligns with our vision and mission as a company. Goals that will help me get there are doing research around sample creation, creating sample packs, connecting with the community, and guiding producers through their production journey. I also have a goal of getting producers and musicians who use my sample packs to 1M streams with the utilization of my packs, as well as guiding through some marketing/branding elements that can help expose the music to more people.
All of these goals are attainable, some will take more time than others, but overall, it will be a journey I am willing to go on and something I can truly believe in when the motivation is not always there. You can do the same, what are some of your goals?
- Set realistic goals while at the same time pursuing your major goal
- Have monetary goals, but don’t let that be your sole motivation. Goals that deal with helping others in some way give you more drive and passion when the monetary side isn’t working out.
- Set goals in small increments, set goals you know you can hit. This will help drive positive reinforcement that will help build momentum.
Finish a track every week
You don’t need to make insane amounts of music if you don’t want to, but in order to get better, you will need to commit to delivering quality products to your customers and listeners. That means you have to get in a habit of finishing your music and being comfortable with distributing and releasing it to the public.
By committing to finishing at least 1 track a week, you set yourself up for success and you don’t overwhelm yourself with pressure to finish a track every time you sit down. One thing that has been long standing in music that no one talks about, is that oftentimes it takes longer than a single session in order to lay down a track. Sometimes artists take weeks or months to actually have their final idea come to life. The difference is that they alway return to correct the tracks they’ve started vs just having a folder of unfinished music.
In hip-hop production, sometimes it is often expressed that you should make more than one beat a day, or a beat within an hour or 15 minutes even. The ideal time doesn’t matter, what people should be telling you is that you should follow your inspiration. If your inspiration and gut tells you a track is done in 15 minutes, great! But this doesn’t mean it's the normal thing to do or that it is even expected. Spend as much time as you need to develop the sound and vision you have for the track. This goes back to setting a goal for your music. You should sit down at the computer knowing what style of beat you want to create, or what feel, or sit down and know that you don’t have a direction, but you will experiment that day. Always have a goal in mind and it will help inspire you.
You can see examples of this in other industries as well. For example, in fitness, people who are health conscious workout 3 times a week to start, this is so their body can adjust and recover. Music is very similar as well. You can develop muscle memory by playing an instrument over time in a very similar way, or even become more proficient at a DAW by just slowing down and taking your time with it.
- Don’t make a song a day if you can’t feel inspired. Take your time and finish a single track or idea over the course of a week if you need to, or just come back to the idea later in time.
- Committing to one track a week is a great goal at the onset, and like previous steps, you’ll see that it generates momentum. Over time you can get used to creating more than one track a week and feeling comfortable.
- Take a look at other industries you’re into to identify patterns that might be similar which you can adapt to your music career.
Execute and Don’t stop
Get it done, over and over. There’s no other way around it. A lot of us stop before we even start, overthinking every step. I’ve never accomplished anything without at least starting and I don’t know anyone else who would dispute that.
Similar to the steps described, start with just one of these steps at a time. Keep adding the steps over time as you become comfortable and feel ready to take the next step. You don’t need to do all 10 steps in a week if you’re not ready for that. Start with step 1 and keep going from there when you’re ready. Maybe do 1 step a week so you can feel comfortable.
The journey is yours, just make sure to get started, and once you start, don’t stop, just adapt along the way.
- Get going!