Curiosity Killed The Cat – But It Will Save Your Music!
Can I be honest with you for a moment?
I’m talking completely, brutally, hopefully-not-too-offensive honest?
So honest, in fact, that I’ve been putting off publishing this post for at least a month.
See, I’ve been observing the process new producers go through for quite some time now.
Heck, having gone through the same exact process you are going through right now, I think I know a thing or two about learning to produce on your own. I know about going down this whole producing rabbit hole. About making mistakes and bouncing right back.
Do you know what I’ve found?
Do you know what the one consistent attribute is that I’ve stumbled on time and time again in someone who’s learning how to produce great music, including myself?
Here goes… It’s not fun to have to say this but it needs to be said:
You are incredibly stubborn!
Pardon my French, I don’t mean to offend. But seriously, as a producer, once you reach a certain threshold of knowledge, it’s as if you don’t allow anything else to slip through.
At one point, you think you know it all.
I don’t know why it happens, but at one point, it’s as if the newfound producer’s brain simply decides that everything it knows about producing music is now the absolute, irrevocable and undeniable truth.
And when that happens, your might as well kiss your future in music goodbye.
Why? You just lost your curiosity, baby.
Why is that bad? Let me explain.
The problem is real
Before you go bang your fist on the table, start shouting at me, take out your pitchforks and proclaim:
That’s not true, to hell with this article!
…,let me tell you about recent events that persuaded me into writing this.
If you follow the blog, you know that I love to teach mixing. Right? OK. So let’s talk mixing.
Now, I can’t figure out why, but so many people producing music this day and age insist on doing everything from composing and recording, to producing, mixing and god forbid mastering … At the same time.
All that, maybe even more, in one and the same music making session.
I don’t get that. In my book, this is a very bad idea if you want to be somewhat productive.
The point is, I’ve told you this before. A couple of times in fact. I’ve even written an entire article about the need to split workflows in the past and shared it on several production related forums and subreddits.
I guess you could say that I’m pretty passionate about it.
The response to the article was great – well at least in that it was a big response. A lot of people blindly disagreed. Maybe even without reading the article.
Their response was a bunch of claims that doing it all at once just… “works” for them so they wouldn’t even consider changing their methods to a split workflow.
They wouldn’t even dare to suggest that they would ever think to dream about changing the way they work.
Now, I’m not going to go into the details of why I want you to start morphing into split workflow mode like a madman, because that’s not what I want to talk about today.
I just want to use the example to illustrate how stubborn and averse to trying something new you can be when you’re no longer a true beginner and have developed your production habits already.
I know this, because I regularly have to remind myself of the fact that I can be just as stubborn.
And here’s the deal:
Not being open to learn new things will make you fail as a producer.
If there’s one thing that you absolutely can’t do in this industry, it’s calling quits on expanding your knowledge. If you stop learning, you’ll only ever be able to put out the same old, boring music.
And that’s when you become obsolete. Because in a world of hundreds of thousand producers, you really need to keep an edge.
As a soundcoach, I believe it’s my duty to teach you how to become better at making music. But without knowing why you can become stuck in your old ways, allow me to dig into the psychology of change.
So let’s look at the why.
Why you are stubborn and adverse to trying new things
Alright, it’s clear that becoming stubborn is symptomatic in a lot of producers.
But why? Why do so many people lose their ability to be curious about new ways of working, new sounds, new styles…?
On a certain level, I think I understand.
Something has always more or less worked in the past and so you don’t want to change anything. That’s normal. It’s what humans do: we rely on what we know and have a tendency to show a lot of risk aversion when dealing with new ideas.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is behind this phenomenon, but a couple of smart psychologists got it down. The following list is not exhaustive, but they are the main reasons why you can get completely stuck in your own beliefs and refuse to even listen to anything that challenges your old ways.
1. Belief perseverance
Belief perseverance is a phenomenon in which we commit to an initial position and stubbornly hold onto our belief despite evidence that suggests the belief is incorrect
It’s crazy, but we see it everywhere. Take political beliefs for example. Ever tried to convince anyone that their politics might be wrong?
Difficult, isn’t it?
According to Robert Cialdini, this is because once we make a choice we experience personal pressure to behave consistently with that prior commitment. In fact we become more confident in our choices once we make them.
It’s simply called commitment, and that is a great mechanism to make sure you keep on your game.
But it becomes a problem when you are faced with the necessity to learn new ways of working.
2. Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is the notion of looking for evidence that we already believe and completely ignoring everything that might challenge that belief.
It’s closely related to commitment and it’s a great explanation of why a lot of people simply don’t want to hear about splitting workflow when producing music.
See, there’s always a couple of outliers. Going back to this example, there’s always a couple of great producers that do everything at once. It’s just a fact – for some people this just works.
But that doesn’t mean that it is the BEST way to produce.
3. The notion of sunk costs
The notion of sunk costs means that even though you might know that you made a bad investment, you just keep going forward with your initial decision.
After all, you’ve made the investment already – and changing it sometimes means you have to go back to the drawing board.
That’s just scary.
Taking in new information more often than not means altering something in your workflow. And I really understand why you wouldn’t want to do that. It’s just too much work – and you’re not even entirely sure the new way of working will be better.
But again… it’s not really rational if you want to improve!
4. Psychological threats to the ‘self’
One last phenomenon that keeps you from accepting a necessary change is that change always represents a psychological threat to your ‘self’.
Not going into too much detail about the Id, Ego and Super-ego (go read Freud if you want to know more), disruptive change usually triggers an inner alarm that arouses vigilance and the motive to reaffirm the self.
You see, we have a positive image of ourselves. And we’ll be damned if we let anyone touch that. Now, this might seem a little bit abstract in the context of producing, but I think it’s actually quite pertinent.
After all, the music we make is a representation of our soul. It’s our art. It’s how we feel. It’s how we express ourselves.
Doing anything to change the way we make music, isn’t very much fun. I mean… don’t we all want to be unique? Don’t we want to make music no one has made before? Don’t we want to WOW our audiences?
So again, I understand why you wouldn’t want anyone to tell you how exactly you should work on your art.
But you need to get over this. You need to open your mind!
You can learn to open your mind to new ideas
Well, it’s pretty easy for me to point out that you’re stubborn, that it’s bad and then explain why it’s happening. It’s one of the privileges of owning a blog to be honest. I can express myself freely.
But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t also shine my light on the right way to approach learning new production techniques and mixing workflows.
One thing should be clear by now:
The most important thing when learning music (or anything else for that matter), is curiosity.
It is the art of being open to new ideas and vigorously giving them a try.
The art of learning.
But just knowing that you should keep an open mind and keep learning every day is easier said than done. After all, it takes a humble man to know that no matter how advanced his craft has become – he will always be a student.
If you’re cursed with an inborn stubbornness, you’re going to have to work on changing that.
What I want you to do today is go through some of my articles on music production.
No, silly, you don’t have to read all of them right this instant. I just want you to just skim through a couple. Skim through until you find one idea that you completely disagree with.
One idea that lights your inner fire.
One idea that has you thinking that I’m a complete, idiotic buffoon for spreading it.
Then, I want you to take a step back. Take the idea, and just try it out, despite any predispositions you might have.
Try it out for at least a couple of days. Then report back.
I’m not saying you’ll automagically agree with me once you tried it out. There’s a good chance you won’t. But you WILL have learned a valuable lesson in the process:
You will have opened your mind to new ideas.
And if you’re open to new ideas, you are ready to become even better than you are today.
As producers, musicians, artists, should we not be advocates of change and innovation? Should we not walk a path of trying to better ourselves, our craft, every day?
Or should we remain stubborn, believing we are Godsent and look down upon those that keep learning?
If you ask me, we should always keep trying new things, if only to simply check them out. To simply see whether or not it might be a better way of working.
To be able to learn and become better at what we do. No matter how adverse to change we might be.
So when someone comes along and tells you that what you are doing right now might not be the best way,… why not at least give it a shot?
Why not check it out?
If there’s one message I want you to remember it’s this:
Stubbornness to try new things will impair your learning process – and ultimately be detrimental to your career.
As artists, producers, musicians, as people,… we can improve only by learning.
So while I’m certainly not here to tell you that you should take every idea, every principle that I teach here as an evangelic truth, I do ask that you give it a try.
Even if you’re extremely skeptical, it can never hurt to try, can it?