Google has become such an integral facet of life that it’s easy to forget what it actually provides, and what skill sets it renders more important than others. What’s amazing is that anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can start producing by watching videos online. SoundCloud had 272 million users as of 2019. Steve Lacy makes songs on his iPhone using the Garageband app. TikTok has inspired a new wave of music producers and content creators, filling entertainment roles that didn’t previously exist. I couldn’t have produced “Write Your Ticket” without countless random YouTubers guiding me along the way with bits of industry knowhow. Up until recently, everything I’d learnt about music production and mixing has either come from the internet or personal practice. It really is such a fun time to learn digital arts because there’s such a wealth of information online, and so many other young minds are trying to do the same.
Sometimes, though, it feels like this ocean of information comes with the price of irrelevance and distraction. Most educational videos come in bite-sized packages of 7 minutes that promise “the one trick that will transform your mixes!” or “this new compressor plugin works magic on vocals!”. Everything seems so accessible until I realize that almost all online educational content creators are (rightfully) abriging concepts to retain the attention span of viewers like me — impatient, hyper-online teens and twenty-somethings. Also, no one is moderating the quality of instructional content online. A lot of it is either irrelevant, distracting, or just plain old bad advice. It has become increasingly easier to run in an hour-long circle online and accomplish nothing, or run your production into the ground.
So, when I set out to finalize production on “Write Your Ticket” and other songs this past winter break, I set a goal for each session and made sure I stuck to it as I worked. Maybe I wasn’t happy with the drum compression, or I felt that the vocal was too harsh, or the chorus guitars were too busy. I’d make a note of whatever goals I wanted to accomplish before I started my sessions, and periodically checked in to see if my mix moves were meeting those goals. Part of the reason I started livestreaming my sessions was to prevent me from getting distracted online. In the same way that I’ve heard people take time-lapses of themselves while they work, it felt like an invisible eye was keeping me in check, even if no one happened to be watching… and it worked! It sounds so blatantly obvious: don’t get distracted, and you will produce better results, faster. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to Google well is such an incredibly valuable skill today, but the internet really has a way of spinning you into circles you never knew existed. I love spending time aimlessly playing with knobs to see what sounds I like, but there are times when it’s better for the song (and for my time) to just think, do, and commit. Since the progression of analog tape into digital, there are many more options to select from. This allows mix engineers to become overwhelmed with choice and it’s sometimes counterproductive to keep working. “Write Your Ticket” was the first time I really employed this way of thinking every time I opened the project, and I’m truly glad that I did. I think creating a product from the feeling Gus and I felt as we listened to the demos and imagined what the song would be (rather than from Youtube tidbit suggestions) helped us to better realize the sound of the song like we first heard it in our heads.
Jack beautifully described how the internet, coupled with the most recent software developments in digital audio workstations and plugins, has opened the floodgates to a new generation of independent musicians seeking to expand their technical knowledge and emulate their favorite artists. It is truly astonishing how easy it is for someone with a propensity for creative expression and a dash of cleverness to become a skilled musician with the resources available today. However, as access to music technology continues to increase, competition grows ever more fierce, and green musicians with dreams of stardom face the harsh reality that the bottomless reservoir of content out there could easily render their time, effort, and passion inconsequential. The world of contemporary music production is a present day wild west of sorts, and we musicians are bandits hoping to maximize our takings.
Like Jack, I’ve often found myself paralyzed before the sea of information (and misinformation) on how to progress technically, distribute my music, and market myself as an artist, especially as I prepared for my first release, Write your Ticket. I have also realized that to most effectively accomplish these goals, I must somehow ground myself— I must find, or create, order in a world where entropy is always increasing. For me, this means seeking out and utilizing the sources I know I can trust: friends and family members (and every so often the industry professional) whose experiences allow them to possess greater expertise than I on the inner workings of the music industry. I’m lucky enough to have a few contacts that have provided invaluable advice, saving me countless hours of poring over misinformed sources on how to plan for a release, connect with listeners, and increase streams. I’ve often heard the Paredo Principle, stating artists should devote 20% of their effort to content creation and 80% to promotion, being applied to other musicians’ content marketing strategies. Any musical purist, including myself, would scoff at the idea of dedicating the majority of their time to anything other than honing their artistic craft, but indie musicians today are forced into navigating an ever so convoluted promotional process which infringes on their creative time. I’ve found that having friends and mentors who guide me through this process allows me to inflate the 20% and spend more time doing what I love: making music. Despite the wealth of information available online, my experience suggests that face to face interaction continues to rule over web “experts”.
This is not to say that there aren’t incredibly powerful and useful tools online. In fact, many of my mentors have directed me to specific sites that have allowed me to realize my artistic goals without the additional expense. For example, a songwriting teacher of mine introduced me to DistroKid: the music distributing service that allows me to put my music on streaming services and music platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, TikTok and Tidal without going through a record label. This means that for $20 a year, I retain all the rights to my music and keep 100% of the revenue it generates. A friend of mine also introduced me to a website called SubmitHub, which allows me to submit my music to playlist curators, content creators, and influencers for review. If they like it, they feature it on their respective platforms, thereby generating listens from audiences who otherwise would have never heard my music without giving a manager or promoter a cut. Other resources, like Spotify for Artists, allow me to keep up with statistics on who my listeners are, how my songs are performing, and what artistic decisions are most advantageous. This allows me to monitor the pulse of my artist profile and helps inform future marketing and release strategies.
While it can be a frustrating process to create and share music in the digital age, we can still appreciate how easy and accessible it has become. Overall, the technological advancements of the past few decades have encouraged artistic expression, facilitated and expedited the exchange of new artistic ideas, and quickened the pace at which music evolves— not to mention making music available to a wider and more global audience. I see all of these developments as a good thing for the music industry, artists, and listeners alike, and I am excited to see how music continues to advance in this increasingly digital era.