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F*ck Inspiration

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get the work done. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you’re not going to make an awful lot of work. – Chuck Close

I’ll share with you one of the most influential paradigm shifts / biggest breakthroughs for productivity (in all areas of my life) in recent years:

Don’t “wait for inspiration” to strike before you start working,

You get inspired by working.

Somehow this seems counter-intuitive. “Wait, shouldn’t I wait till I feel like writing music or creating a mix before I get started?” Simply put, no. Too often we wait idly for lighting to strike before we fire up our sequencer or tables. Of course, when an idea pops into your head, yes run (don’t walk) as fast as you can to get it down tangibly while your juices are flowing. I remember Max Ulis saying at his Producer’s Forum in Vancouver: Do whatever it takes to produce when creativity strikes. But what if you’re not feeling it? Do it anyways.

Honestly? How many great projects or works of art have taken place with no momentum whatsoever? It seems simple, but just going through the motions, regardless of how creative you feel, often provides the spark you needed to get the ball rolling. Here’s just a few ideas for going through the motions, even if you aren’t feeling particularly creative.

  • Going through tutorials (online or in books)
  • Revisiting old projects or tracks in progress
  • Spending time jamming with friends or throwing out ideas
  • Create patches or templates for instruments instead of building tracks
  • Sample, sample, sample whatever you can get your hands on when not writing.

Yes, it’s impossible to force creativity some times, but many times you just might anyways. Or at least, get something productive done in the meanwhile (see above list). Here’s a short list of ideas if you feel stuck.

While by no means am I the most prolific artist, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten incredibly stoked from just producing or practicing even when I didn’t feel like it at first. We’ve all experienced it at some point. Maybe I’m not so into practicing when I first start, but the right combination of tracks just sets me off and sends me in a whole new direction with a set. Yes inspiration is incredibly valuable, but you certainly can’t bank on it. Nike hit the nail on the head. Just do it.

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The Power of Social Proof

What is social proof?  Put simply, it’s the positive influence created when someone finds out that others are doing something.  – Aileen Lee

In his highly regarded and best-selling book Influence, Robert Cialdini outlines how to use (and defend yourself against) six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, authority, commitment & consistency, liking, scarcity, and social proof. This week we’re going to take a quick look at the latter in greater detail.

Facebook advertising has done spectacularly well, in part because it shows how many people you know already “like” a page. The more of your friends that like something, the more likely we are to check it out and like it as well. Re-posting on Facebook and Twitter is a great example of social proof – it shows we support something. Make sure any site you run has scripts that make it easily share-able (and in the right places – highly visible).

You may know, one of the main factors in weather someone decides to attend an event, is how many people they know are attending as well. Although the company may be flagrantly evil, McDonalds’ “Over 99 Billion Served” slogan certainly shows it has support. Another prominent example of social proof is the gigantic lineups outside Apple stores on launch days for new products. People love to advertise that they support the brand. Having a brand and product (music in this case) that is high-quality is definitely a pre-cursor to mass support.

Some consider social proof is to be “the new marketing“, and rightly so.  You can see here from this study by the Nielsen Company, that “recommendations from people known” ranked highest in trust-ability of all forms of advertising tested:

For me personally, when Skream gave a quote in support of a remix I had done, that quote went on to display major celebrity social proof. Think “If the pros are supporting this – maybe I should as well too, or at least have a look for myself.” Between that, and it charting on Beatport (also social proof), it created obvious support, and that support (think of a crowd gathering, and thus attracting a greater crowd) created even more support. Have a promo list that you regularly send you high-quality finished work to, and don’t be shy to ask prominent artists for quotes of support if they are playing your tunes (celebrity social proof). I even see some people using these on the right-hand side of their Soundloud pages.

Today a tweet from Royal-T had me looking at at Temple Run, an iPhone game. Even while writing this article, I still unconsciously looked at the customer rating (5 star avg. from 306312 Ratings) as a barometer for the value & quality of the game – essentially weather or not it’s worth downloading. Perhaps I am programmed to care if other people care.

A few more examples of social proof in the music industry to think about:

  • DJ’s playing your tracks, either live, on radio, or in mixes
  • Audience and other artists re-posting your music and activities
  • People attending your events in person is major social proof
  • (Also, a velvet rope outside a club with a line of people)
  • Pre-show posts on Facebook event walls
  • Tracks charting on online download sites
  • Blogs and music aggregate sites like Hype Machine
  • Being included in DJ charts
  • User-generated videos on Youtube etc for tunes, uploaded by fans
 If you have a great product waiting to be discovered, figure out how to build social proof around it by putting it in front of the right early influencers.  – Aileen Lee

The key here is to consciously understand how social proof works, start seeing how individuals and crowds respond to it, and prominently display it – use it to your own advantage. Do not underestimate the power of it. As you see in the above chart, it ranks as incredibly useful. Even if you are a beginner, start using every bit of support you have to build more and more of it – it builds its own momentum. When there’s a critical mass of people supporting something, there’s a certain tipping point where more and more people start supporting because the social proof is obvious.

  • Can you think of other ways that social proof influences the music industry?
  • How are you currently using it to your advantage?
  • How can you start using it to your advantage?

Please repost! Spread the word 😉

What are YOU going to do this year?

It’s the start of the new year.

Take a second and think, look or listen back to where you were with your music 365 days ago.

How far have you come? What did you accomplish over the last year?

Well it’s a new start, and you have that experience and knowledge to piggyback on.

Now, grab a piece of paper and take 10 minutes to yourself.

Brainstorm and write down all the things you would like to do and accomplish this year.

Be realistic but ambitious.

What are you going to do?

Now go tell some people that are close to you, and one day at a time, go do it.

 

 

A Formula for Viral Hits (Part 2)

Last week we spoke about the first half of an equation to get your music out to the world, “stickiness“. This means doing work that is memorable, and drives people to take action. It means people catch on to your sound then consciously pass it along to others because it had an impact on them. Let’s talk about the second half of this equation; f you want your music (or any idea) to spread to epidemic proportions, you also need connectors.

“Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [… for] making friends and acquaintances”. ” – Malcolm Gladwell

In other words, “connectors” are individuals that are very well connected socially. We all know people like this, and you may even be one. In any scene there are a select few that are extraordinarily social, usually extroverted, seem to know everyone and appear to be at every event. Their mode of being is with other people. These are the super-networkers of the world.

There are two ways that you can engage with these people – you find them or they find you. By doing what you are doing and putting it out into the world publicly and consistently – you are increasing the chances that you will be approached by people that want to circulate your work and further your efforts. The other way is to seek out people that you know to be in a position to help promote  your music. This may be more challenging – if you take this approach consider that you may need to give something in return if you have not established a relationship first.

In my experience, a massive factor for the explosion of the early dubstep scene in Victoria was connectors. In the beginning stages of the new movement the freshly formed Pacific Dubstep collective were close with a hand full of people that knew everyone and were really into supporting and spreading the word. Over the course of a few months, everyone those people knew had found out about it and were likely now taking part as well. They are the people that live to share and naturally connect the dots.

Stickiness
Connectors 
= A Message that Spreads

Create original projects. Make music that has an impact on people. Seek out those that love to involve others and be open to them if they approach you (that is what they do after all!). Nurture these relationships – take care of these people. Build with people that share your passions.

  • Both look for connectors to collaborate with, and be open to them if they approach you to help promote your work.
  • Give value to connectors. Guestlist them when you can, send them pre-release tracks. Find out what they are looking for and help them accomplish it. Help them feel ahead of the curve by including them.

A Formula for Viral Hits

Part 1 of 2

Who wants to know how to get your music out to the world? Most aspiring producers desire to make an impact and have that impact spread. In his book  The Tipping Point (highly recommended), Malcolm Gladwell covers many of the factors that tip the scales and cause “epidemics” to take place. Although there are many factors, we’re going to cover two important components over this week and next.  Let’s talk about the first part of an equation for viral hits, “the stickiness factor“:

“The stickiness factor says that messages must have a certain character which causes them to remain active in the recipients’ minds. Moreover, they must be deemed worthy of being passed on.” – Brad Hunter / http://www.stanford.edu

How sticky is your work?

This means your tracks, your mixes, your posts, your style, your work.  Does it “stick” with your audience when they hear or see it? Stickiness can be measured:  Is it memorable and does it move people to action?

1. Is it memorable?

  • Does it leave a lasting impression?
  • Do people find themselves
  • Is there a “timeless” quality to your mixes and tracks

2. Does it move people to action?

  • Do people buy the track after they hear it?
  • Do they buy tickets to your event after hearing your promo mix?
  • Do your posts and content get reposted?
We all know how some music stays with us and some fades away very quickly. We will remember some ads until we die, and there are some that don’t even register with us consciously. Stickiness is a big factor in whether ideas will spread. Give some conscious thought this week:

  • Look at 3 of your fav all time tracks – what is it about them that made them stick?
  • Start paying close attention to what “hooks” you in other people’s work

5 Quick Ideas to Overcome Writers Block

We’ve all suffered moments of lack of creativity – times where we just can’t seem to get anything worthwhile musically from our brains into the computer. I can’t remember who said it but this paradigm has been a big game changer for all areas of my life:

“Don’t wait to work until you feel inspired, you get inspired by working.”

Here’s five different ideas to try on to help get the ball rolling:

1. Write as if you were writing for someone specific

Consider writing a tune for your girlfriend you love, boss you hate, cat that sleeps on your synth, anyone. Try to convey something, some emotion to someone else. This might also help take the pressure off from “trying to produce something the electronic music community will like”. Screw em; put togetheran angry amen tune for your boss or a sexy slow jam for the lady. Heck even show it to her 😉

2. Don’t stick to one tempo/genre (work with what comes to you)

Experiment working in a different style or tempo then you usually do. If you always write dubstep, try sequencing some 125bpm house. If you’re trying to write drum and bass and nothing is coming to you, maybe even try writing in half time. Changing the tempo of a project already started and starting at an entirely new tempo can both be refreshing. Go with the flow, even if it is different.

3. Turn your computer/ screen off

Starring at a blank sequencer trying to make magic happen? We’ve all been there – it sucks. Personally sometimes I find writing on a computer a bit cold and disconnected. Taking a more interactive approach and getting anything going can be a useful shift.  Think about loading up a synth patch and playing some notes with your monitor off. Press record, turn off your screen and then play around until you find a hook that moves you. Alternatively, those of you with hardware synths will likely love ditching the computer all together and building some tasty patches separately. Although I know the brain’s functioning is much more complex, I’m assuming engaging in activities like this generally shift some activity from the “logical” left side of the brain to the more “creative” right.

4. Go for a jog / Get out of the house for a bit

Exercise is amazing for productivity. Entrepreneurial god/billionaire Richard Branson has stated that exercise (swimming in his case I believe) is one of the most productivity boosting activities available (doubling his own capabilities). If you’re stuck, even a walk around the block can be refreshing and help clear your mind. Taking breaks is key for writing good music consistently. It gives your brain a rest and redirects conscious attention while your subconscious mind can work on any situations you would like to create results for.

5. Use visual imagery to aid writing process

A more “right brained/creative” approach suggested from my good friend and producer Atma – imagine different environments and corresponding sounds or music. Try really getting into this. Mentally explore what a song would be like in a cave, forest, underwater, etc. Hear subtle sounds and include them in your work. What does music sound like in the forests of Japan? This approach may be more useful if you are writing atmospheric, tribal, or ambient music, but simply imagining an inspiring space may also bear fun or useful results.

  • Ask other people what they do to inspire themselves or break thorough writers block.
  • Bookmark this page, come back and try new ideas when you want to get momentum going.

Have Fun Up There

It’s contagious.

This weekend at Victoria’ 4th Rifflandia Festival I had the honour of playing alongside my fellow Big Reds (Gobe & Frame) at Phillips Brewery. I will be honest with you – it was a challenging set for me at first. Although I’ve had to deal with many different technical issues in the past, it can still be frustrating when things aren’t straightforward.

When I initially stepped up to the decks all I could think of was problems, but of course still went through the motions and did manage to get in my groove. Once properly set up, we started to throw down some fresh jams, hit our stride, the crowd picked up on it and the night proceeded to be a really good time.

After the performance I was met by many people that proceeded to exuberantly comment: “You guys looked like you were having a blast!” or “That was the most fun I’ve ever had at your shows!” I was amazed they didn’t notice any problems, only that we were having fun. Even after years of similar experiences I still need to keep reminding myself this.

Part of the reason I believe The Big Reds have done well is that we feed off of each other and genuinely get stoked on our music.  As Gobe put it eloquently, “Our sets are never flawless, but we always have a great time.”, and it shows from the crowd reaction.

Daniel Goleman, author of both Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence outlines that we have mirror neurons (watch this fascinating TED talk) that cause our brains to mimic the the behaviors of other people, as though the observer were itself taking action. This means that we actually feel like the people we observe. Emotions literally are infectious. Use this to your advantage, not detriment. Think of times when the crowd has been going hard and you, in turn, fed off of the crowd. This phenomenon works both ways.

At the very least, keep your game face on. Do not show that you are having technical difficulties or are nervous. Being uncomfortable makes others uncomfortable and conversely having a really good time helps others have a really good time too. Most people in the crowd will not notice any problems unless you show them you are having them. Your beatmatching might be off, your track sequencing could be short, you might be playing without pants on, but very few people will notice unless you are broadcasting these signals yourself. It may be a cliche but the practice of “fake it till you make it” actually works in developing confidence.

Prison Garde & Eames, Machinedrum and De La Soul are other examples from this weekend of performers having a really good time on stage. Why should the crowd have fun if you are not? Show your passion – get excited about your music.

 

  • Even if you’re nervous or are having difficulties – keep your composure no matter what.
  • If necessary, fake it till you “make it”.
  • Have fun – it’s catching.