Making Trash Music is Progress
Why Making the Worse Music of Your Life Should Be Celebrated
After my third trip to the bodega downstairs right around the corner in the middle of the afternoon I decided I was going to try to make something I could at least want to listen to for the twelfth time. I just bought the new Rob Papen plug-in Blue II with the deposit I got from a rap artist in Detroit who hired me to work on his next single. I already had everything I needed to make exactly what he requested. Three reference tracks, the BPM, and three possible keys the beat could be in but for some reason everything I made was well below subpar. “Is it because it’s a new synth?” I kept asking myself becoming more and more frustrated at the fact that I spent this money on a tool I can’t even utilize. Just like I did in sports in high school I decided to push forward and make another beat. I begrudgingly bounced out the track knowing that I was never going to listen to it ever again. I closed my laptop, turned off my monitors and headed to the gym.
The next morning, surprisingly, the artist texted me saying he wasn’t going into work that day and was headed to the studio. He then asked me how production was going and to send him something. I thought I had at least a week before before doing that but this was less than 24 hours. Of course, I had to answer as he deserved one since he had paid me for a service. “Ehh, I need more time. I really wanna cook up some fire for you.” “Nah,” he said. “Send what you have now.” I got out of bed, turned on my laptop, opened gmail and sent him what I believed to be a disaster believing he would be asking for his money back. Three hours later I’m wrapping up my session at the gym and pulled my phone out of my backpack. “N — -a! This is hard af! You the (goat emoji).” Super confused I sat down on a bench and looked in my sent folder thinking I must’ve sent him another beat by accident. I’ve always been pretty organized but maybe I slipped and made a mistake. Nope, that was the exact beat I made the day before. Except this time after listening to it I actually liked it. The very Mp3 that was causing so much dismay actually got the job done. In retrospect looking back at the whole situation I see where I made the mistake in assessing the track. In my mind, I thought that the 12th beat was the worse when in fact it was the best one. I went through the other sketches (demos) I made and heard how horrible the first one was. However, I could hear the progress by the tenth one. That’s when it dawned on me. Making bad music [even for awhile] isn’t stagnation, it’s actually progress.
I’ll break it down like this. Let’s say you are working on learning a new classical piece on the piano. At first, you’re having a hard time jumping from note to note because you don’t know the piece. Your fingers aren’t used to it, your eyes sometimes go to the keys, and there are long pauses. If you were to do this live, you’ve had a pretty bad performance. Fast forward 4 months into the future and now all of sudden you almost don’t even need the sheet music. You’re playing at your own pace and even catching your own mistakes. If you were to then play live, you would have a pretty decent performance. Nothing anyone would write about but you could walk away knowing you gave a good effort. Now fast forward two additional months. You’re playing the piece at an incredible pace and even improvising along the way. You can’t wait to get on stage and show everyone what you can do.
Using the example above you can clearly see that writing bad music, making horrible beats, trash top lines, or even terrible mixes is actually part of the process. The problem that most artists, producers, and engineers have is that the minute they make something bad they quit in the middle of it. This actually hinders your growth. The best course of action, outside of getting an outside opinion to analyze what you could do better, is to keep working out the kinks until you see improvement. You’re not looking to repeat the same mistakes but discover what the problem is through repetition. Much like a basketball player who’s had a series of low scores the obvious remedy is to practice shooting the ball more. The same approach can be taken when making music. Inspiration may motivate you to create but it’s not addressing the problem. You have to find out what’s working and what’s not by experimenting.
They call the studio the’ lab’ for a reason…