Posts Tagged ‘ Attitude ’

Developing work ethic

If you want to do big work, you’ll need a good work ethic.

I’ve touched on work ethic previously. It’s your ability to get things done. Having a good idea is a start, having a plan is great, but the real difference is in doing the work. That’s what separates the dreamers from the achievers. I see motivation as the combination of three things:

  • Motivation. This is the willingness to do the work. It’s the bright light that drives you forward and fuels you.
  • Commitment. This is the promise to do the work. It’s more than just saying it – commitment is the belief you have in yourself and in you ability to do the work. It’s also the courage to allocate the time and money and mindspace to make it happen.
  • Discipline. This is what gives you the power to follow through on your commitments. It is the stamina and mental strength to keep doing what you said you’d do – even if you don’t feel like it on the day.

It can be pretty frightening to see it spelled out like that. It can be confronting to think about the necessity for work ethic. It can be discouraged to think that if you haven’t done big work yet, it’s probably because you don’t have what it takes in the work ethic department.


Work ethic is – like most productive activities – not a talent. It’s a skill (or actually, a set of skills) that can be learned and practiced and developed over time. If you want to get better at it, just simply have to do it. Put your mind towards practicing it and developing a body of experience.

There will be setbacks. There will be discouraging moments. There will be times that you feel like it too hard and it’s better to give up… Don’t give up. Keep going. Keep doing it. Keep the faith. Expect the setbacks. Expect the failures. Look forward to them as learning experiences.

You can have your dream come true, but you’ll work harder for it than you ever imagined. Work ethic is how you get there.


Work quickly – capture the lightning!

It’s important to work quickly!

Not to rush, of course, but to know when to stop tweaking and move on to the next task.

You probably already know what happens when you work too slowly – you easily get get bogged down in the details. You start to lose focus and objectivity. In your mind, your job silently shifts from ‘making a song’ to ‘trying out all my compressors’ (or something like that). Time starts to lose meaning and you get lost in the tweakhole…

The other problem with working too slowly is that you’ll start to get sick of your own music. Listening to the same 8 bars over and over again will numb your sense of taste. Working on the same song for hours with little progress is demoralising.

On the other hand, working quickly will keep your ears fresh and your mind excited about the song. Making frequent measurable progress is motivating! The key here is momentum – not in the musical sense, but in the workflow sense. It’s important to recognise that spending extra time working a certain detail is not going to appreciably contribute to the final product. It’s important to know when to move on.

But move on to what?

If your production process blurs conception, composition, recording, mixing (and – hopefully not – mastering), you might not have a sense of the production process being a series of discrete steps. If this is the case, it might not be clear what the ‘next step’ is. When you’re done adjusting an EQ or compressor, do you adjust the next track? Or record another part? Or compose another part? How do you know when you’re finished?

On the other hand, if you have a clearly-defined workflow, you’ll know how much time to spend on each individual task. You’ll know when to move on. You’ll know when you’re finished.

I’ll be discussing workflow in more detail in future blog posts…


The relative importance of mixing tools

Not all mixing tools are made equal. Some tools have a greater effect on the mix than others. Sometimes it helps to consider four types of tools – volume, tone, dynamics and ambience.

Volume is the most powerful mixing tool – the humble channel fader. If you only had one tool to do a mix, it’d have to be volume. Even in a more complex mix, it’s the most critical tool. No amount of EQ or compression or reverb can help you if the basic relative volumes of each track are wrong. Volume control of each track is essential to achieving an effective balance between foreground sounds (the focus on the mix) and the background sounds (the filling and depth of the mix).

Tone is the next most powerful tool. The tone of each channel is usually adjusted using EQ or filters. Tone control can be used in two ways – correcting problems in the sound of a track (such as unwanted resonance or treble/bass tilt) and supporting the depth in the mix (helping sounds appear closer the the foreground or further in the background).

Dynamics are almost as powerful as tone – but not quite. The dynamics of a channel can be adjusted using compression (for controlling loud parts of a recording) and gating/expansion (for controlling quiet parts of a recording). While powerful, dynamics are less useful than tone. While compression in particular can be useful for shaping the transients and the ‘feel’ of a sound, it’s less effective than volume and tone for adjusting the relative balance between the tracks in a mix.

Ambience is the least powerful of the four – it is the ephemeral cloud and subtle reflections that we use as cues to tell us the shape and size of the ‘space’. Ambience is often added with reverb and delay, but can also be manipulated by using dynamics processing to emphasise or de-emphasise the natural ambience in the raw recordings. Even though ambience is at the end of this list, it is still a very powerful tool. Like compression, it can often have an influence on the ‘feel’ of a mix – affecting the emotions rather than the function of a mix.


My industry contacts won’t help you

Don’t ask me for my industry contacts. I’m not selling them.

I don’t do everything myself – I partner with other people and businesses in order to achieve more than I could on my own. Some of these partnerships are open and available to anyone – you or anyone else can partner with these people in the same way I do. You can also find them in the same way I did – they’re not secrets.

Other partnerships are based on a history of mutual trust and respect. These are partnerships that have been built over a number of years. Actually, it’s more accurate to refer to them as relationships. In these relationships both parties have demonstrated reliability, competence and good judgement.

If I recommend that they work with someone, that recommendation carries some weight. The ‘weight’ is my reputation and the trust that person has in me. You know it yourself – you’re much more likely to check out a website or online video if it comes from a trusted friend (rather than someone you don’t know).

My reputation influences the recommendation, but it works the other way too – the recommendation influences my reputation. Reputation and trust don’t come from nowhere, they are developed with consistent demonstration of good judgement. This is how reliability and trustworthiness are developed. Again, you know it yourself – you’re much likely to check out a band from someone with a track record for finding and recommending good bands, rather than someone with a track record for recommending anything regardless of quality (or someone with a track record of accepting payment for recommendations).

Knowing the right people is not a silver bullet. It’s important, but it’s not the difference between success and failure. It might have been in the pre-internet era, but these days anyone with a laptop and an internet connection has worldwide reach. The tools are out there. Even better, the knowledge is out there. ‘Industry contacts’ can help – either by guiding and advising you or by finding the right professional assistance. It speeds up the process and can make it easier, but it doesn’t make it possible.

The only thing that makes it possible is your own creativity, work ethic and resonance with your audience. If you have those things, career advancement is inevitable.


Develop complimentary skills

If everyone’s doing the same thing, you’ll all be competing against each other. Take a look around your musical community – whether it be your town, your group of friends or an online forum. Is everyone doing the same thing? What if, for example, you’re a guitarist in a town full of guitarists? Or if you’re a singer and all your friends are also singers? Chances are, there’s more supply than demand – meaning your skills won’t be valued as highly as you’d like (because there are so many other hungry people with the same skills).

When you do the same thing as your peers, they devalue your work and you devalue theirs. You might not see it at first if you’ve grown up with it. Consider, however, why managers and promoters and labels are in high demand, yet instrumentalists and bands are a dime a dozen. A good instrumentalist may have spent a couple of decades honing their craft, a band might have some great songs… but if there’s one promoter for every 200 bands in town, whose work is going to in greater demand?

Rather than trying to compete, try to support and assist. Rather than doing the same thing as your peers, find out what they can’t do for themselves – and become the person who can do that. By developing complimentary skills, you can create bigger work and achieve more. People who would otherwise be your competitors will instead be your clients and partners.

For example:

– If your town is full of guitarists like you but no bassists, why not learn bass?

– If your online community is full of people hell-bent on conquering mixing and mastering but couldn’t write a song if their sex life depended on it, why not become the person who is good at songwriting?

– If all your friends can play instruments and have lots of bands but don’t know how to manage their online presence, why not figure it out and help them?

Find out what people need, and become the person who can help.

Or take it a step further – what if, instead of trying to take opportunities, you become the person who creates opportunities? In other words, don’t be lining up for the jobs – create the jobs that others line up for…


The importance of getting it wrong

School trained you to fear failure.

You probably grew up with everyone around you saying there are two ways of doing things: the right way and the wrong way. And you’d better do the right way. If you do it wrong, you’ll fail and Bad Things will happen. And you’d better do whatever it takes to avoid failing. Even if that means not trying.

You need to unlearn this.

Stop worrying about success and failure. If you want to greater success, don’t bother trying to do better. You already did your best! Instead, focus on learning more. Improved knowledge will unlock your potential. And the best kind of knowledge is practical knowledge.

Explore! Try things out! Learn from experience!

Don’t worry about getting it wrong. In fact – embrace it. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the less you fail. In face, let’s redefine success. The greatest success isn’t measured by the quality of the thing you built. The greatest success is measured by how much you learned while you did it. Likewise, the greatest failure is the failure to learn from your experiences – even if you built a good thing.

There’s a brilliant quote by Samuel Beckett that has earned a permanent place in my brain:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Don’t fear failure. Indeed, seek it out. The challenge is not to avoid failure – the challenge is to learn as much as possible from it, so that next time you can fail a little less. Fail better.


Don’t make good music. Make amazing music.

Anyone can get sidetracked.

Sometimes it happens quite naturally. The distraction is easier, faster, more gratifying than putting in the hours of work to get a result.

When I speak to a musician or composer or producer, I can usually tell how connected they are to their work by how much they talk about gear.

The good ones don’t talk about gear.

If you make music, gear is a distraction. If you’re thinking about gear, you’re not thinking about music. Of course gear is necessary, but gear is like any technology – it’s working best when it stays out of the way.

When I meet some people who make music, the first thing they talk about is gear. It excites them. It challenges them. It gets their juices flowing. I’m sure it’s the same in other fields – there are probably plenty of photographers who endlessly compare lenses or lust after other gear but never think about taking breathtaking photographs. Or filmmakers who are more concerned with having the right equipment than telling a compelling story. Personally, I find a lot of gear boring. They’re tools. That’s all. Gear is important if you want to make good music.

But gear isn’t important if you want to make amazing music.

What’s important if you want to make amazing music?

Creativity. Hopefully this should be self-explanatory. You need the ability to generate new ideas. You need to be able to synthesise and combine ideas. It’s not important that what you create is necessarily different to everything else – the important part here is the act itself of creating. Without creativity, you’ll be stuck teaching high school kids and playing in cover bands.

Work Ethic. This is more important than most people realise. Work ethic is what gives you the ability to Get Things Done. I usually think of it as a combination of motivation, commitment and discipline. Motivation is the willingness to do the work. Commitment is the belief and courage that form the promise to do the work. Discipline is the stamina and mental strength to follow through on what you promised – to stick to the plan. Without work ethic, you’ll be known as that person who has high hopes but never achieves anything.

Resonance. This is the real magic. This is the ability to tell a story that connects with people. At one end of the scale, this could be as simple as making upbeat happy infectious songs that make people dance and feel good. At the other end of the scale, this can be music (and a persona) that taps into a collective subconscious – whether it be to tell us what we’re thinking but not saying, to expose our fears or to fill us with wonder and amazement. Without resonance, your music won’t move your listeners to support you and fall in love with you.

Some people are naturally good at one or two of these things. There are people who are extremely creative but are stuck in their own world and never get anything done. There are people who are high achievers but are more comfortable following the rules than writing their own. There are people who know how to make their audience laugh or cry but shrugged off any expectation of artistic integrity long ago.

Think about your own strengths and weaknesses in terms of creativity, work ethic and resonance. If you’re strong in some areas but weak in others, you might consider partnering with someone who has complimentary abilities. For example, a person with strong work ethic could partner with a person with song creativity and resonance. Or, a person with strong creativity and work ethic could partner with someone with strong resonance.

Also consider that your weaknesses aren’t fixed. You can become good at something that you were previously not very good at. Even though it might appear that some people are naturally good in some areas, they’re actually skills – you’re not stuck the way you are. Of course, like all skills, it takes a lot of hard work (years!). The improvements may seem unmeasurable at worst and incremental at best. But it can be done. Just remember – they’re not innate superpowers – they’re skills. And like all skills, they can be learned and acquired and developed.

No-one’s holding you back.