It’s not ‘amateur’, it’s just undeveloped

Sometimes I work with amateur artists.

No, it’s fine. It really is. They’ve often got some very interesting ideas about music (in a good way). Their fresh approach is fun.

Obviously, there are the downsides – less experience in performance, limited music theory knowledge, weaker work ethic, unrealistic expectations, etc. These are the kinds of aspects that separate a amateur artist from a more experienced artist. But this post is not about the artists. It’s about the music.

Music is different. The difference between amateur music and more refined’ music is production. Not sound quality – but old-fashioned production. Artist development. Compositional analysis. Creative direction. When I hear music from an amateur artist, it’s usually quite obvious. It’s not the sound quality that gives it away, it’s the music itself. The difference is in the crafting of the song.

An amateur song usually sounds like a collection of good ideas. Sometimes arranged in a structure that makes sense.

A more refined song sounds like a piece of work. Well-crafted. Integrated.  Clear creative direction and execution. With character. With finesse. This kind of song has every second of sound – every note – deliberately supporting the creative direction, with not excess fat.

This difference is development. Amateur songs are usually called ‘finished’ when all the musical ideas have been arranged into some kind of structure. To rise to the next level, the song must be developed and refined. This is where a good producer adds value, and this is a large part of the work I do.

Often amateur music requires more focus and coherence with regard to main themes. Development and momentum are lacking. There’s not enough contrast or dynamics. The contour is not clear. The balance between stability and instability can be improved.

It’s not that amateur artists are ‘bad composers’. It takes skill and experience to know how to hear (let alone control) all these different aspects of composition. They’re subtle – more subtle than mix engineering in many cases. But they are as subtle as they are powerful. And it’s this difference that sets the more refined music apart.


    • Dangerrat
    • August 9th, 2010

    Hi Kim,
    thanks again for this great post, I find this extremely interesting. Is there a book you can recommend on the subject?
    On Amazon I found “The art of music production” by Richard Burgess, can you say anything about it?
    Btw, if you should ever run out of ideas for posts(which I highly doubt ;-)), I’d love to hear your thoughts on pre-production.
    Take care.

  1. Hi Dangerrat,

    I haven’t read that book, so I can’t really say how useful it is. I’d suggest you go to a bookstore and have a look for yourself.

    I’ve come across many books on music production that had the wrong focus – either on recording techniques without much material on composition or songwriting, or focussing on the music industry within a certain geographic area (which may not be particularly relevant elsewhere). Many have also been too low level – pitched as a professional guide, but focussed on getting started. And that’s before we start counting the books I’ve read on digital recording technologies that are obsolete within five years.

    If you want to learn more about production as I’ve described it (as distinct from recording or post-production), the best thing to do with to work with a seasoned composer or songwriter. As a tutor or mentor, that person can identify your own personal weaknesses and needs, and provide you with the most appropriate assistance.

    I actually offer a service like this (as a tutor/mentor), in the form of a project called The Kitchen. It’s a small private group of people who I help with composition, production and engineering. It’s personal and tailored to their own projects (not just walking through my projects). Email me if you’re interested (kitchen-at-kimlajoie-dot-com) and I’ll tell you more.


    • Dangerrat
    • August 11th, 2010

    Thnaks, I recieved your email about “the kitchen” and it sounds very interesting. I’ll think about it.

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