Recently, a thread came up over at the GearSlutz electronic music forum that I think posed an interesting question, but sadly was met with little fanfare. I think in a lot of ways, what we think about we are doing, is just as important as what we are doing and the brief discussion that ensued from the above question was an important exploration of the topic.
The conversation essentially boiled down to examining the premise that in simply being able to log onto the internet, ask a question and get a response in return, is actually damaging the learning and exploration processes that have been the foundation of well, just about every form of creativity since before the age of the internet. Now think about this for a minute, when you sit down an open a manual or a book, you find and read other things as you flip through the material to find what you were originally looking for. These new things you accidentally found may spark new ideas and new questions within you, which may in turn lead to new works of art, fiction, musical compositions, technological advancements and well, you get the idea. Imagine now, how the one invention that was supposed to have leveled the playing field by providing equal access to all knowledge, has essentially erased an innate process that has driven humanity on it’s course for that last upteen millennia.
Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but now that music making is becoming more and more virtual along with it’s learning curve, how are we supposed to make mistakes and learn from them? How are we supposed to have these happy accidents that inspire new ways of thinking? Unfortunately, I think the answer is easier said than done as it requires a good does of self discipline to apply the techniques from yesteryear in today’s virtual world.
Back then, it was easy to have self discipline. Provided you had the drive to want to accomplish something, it was easy, relatively speaking. You had to break down your idea into smaller, manageable parts. Then you had to go down to the library and get some books, do some research and formulate some questions. And then maybe you’d also find someone to ask for help along the way. Once you had your game plan down, you’d have to save some money and scrutinize your purchases to make sure you were getting what you needed and spending your money wisely. And then finally, you’d have to sit down and learn your gear and keep practicing until you got the results you wanted.
These days we seem to have the opposite problem. Anyone with about 500$ and a decent computer can get a virtual studio together and sit just sit there like a cave man and utter “ugh” or “how do I sound like Skrillex?” onto some internet forum. See, way back when there was one thing that was easier: learning. Synths and computers were the domain of nerds and they *gasp* enjoyed learning, it was natural for them and easy. The difference today is that the same tools those nerds used, are now being handed out to anyone that wants them, on a silver platter. The result is that many, many more people are finding their way to them and in turn, the desire to accomplish and learn is diminishing (or being watered down depending on how you want to look at it.)
So what can you do to save yourself from this pit of post omnipresent, internet access despair? Well, as I said, it’s easier said than done. What worked before the internet, still works now and in fact, I do it all time, so I know it can be done. But, for those of you that aren’t natural learners or haven’t been exposed to anything other than Q&A on the internet, it’s going to take some work. But the upside is, is that learning is a natrual process that once you get the hang of it, you can apply it to just about anything in your life that you want to.
So now let’s get started with some tips to help you along your way….
Research things you don’t know.
This one is pretty easy.. You’re reading a webpage and you see a word you don’t know. Left click with your mouse and drag the cursor over the word. Right click and select “search Google” or whatever search engine you have as an option. If you don’t see a search option, highlight the word again and on a Windows computer, press Ctrl + C (copy), go to the search engine of your choice and click in the search bar and press Crtl + V (paste). You should at the least either get a wikkipedia or dictionary reference for the selected term. I imagine on a Mac it works much the same way.
But there you go, that’s your first step on the road to higher learning. The trick though, is to overcome your natural instinct to ignore things you don’t understand. True nerds see this as a challenge, but for the layman, it presents an uncharted voyage out of safe waters. The thing to keep in mind here to help you get over your fear (or indifference) is to visualize information as tools. Each new fact you learn goes into a tool box and much like a tool box in your garage, you may need it one day so it’s good to have around.
Research the things you like.
This is another one the nerds have the advantage on. Everyone loves sausage, but nobody wants to know how it’s made, but boy, the nerds sure do! This single fact has been behind the success of collectible card games, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books and everything else for decades. Nerds have to know it all, from a character’s stats and origin stories, to the author’s wife’s maiden name.
This can work to your advantage too. Take an album that really speaks to you and research it. Research the artist and production crew from the liner notes. Make the internet work for you and turn it from a passive experience into an active learning one.
Learning about others that have done what you want to do accomplishes two things. First, it can help you understand the steps that someone else took that is on a similar path to your own. And secondly, it exposes you to different approaches and concepts that you may not have encountered otherwise. Numerous times over the years, I’ve found gear I’ve never heard of simply by reading interviews with musicians that I like along with picking up inspiration along the way.
Engage with others.
Engage, not ask! Find a music production forum online for the style of music you do and start posting. But don’t just post anything! Compose your question carefully by explaining what you’ve done, what style of music you’re working on and the problem you’re having.
Learning to turn your question from “bro my kick sounds flat! help!” to “I’m working on a hard house track and I can’t seem to get my kicks to sound boomy and long. Instead they sound flat and short. I just got FL Studio and I’m not quite sure what the problem is. Can you help?” will quickly make your forum experience more positive and will save you from remarks such as “RTFM”.
When you’re on forums, be sure to contribute as well. Try answering other’s questions by sharing your own knowledge and expertise. Over many years online I’ve seen the complaint that forums are stale and boring over and over. Well of course they are because they tend to be the same handful of people doing all the posting! A good rule of thumb in the forums is “take a penny, leave a penny” and in doing so, everyone will have the benefit of learning from each other.
One other thing you can do, which may or may not be a long shot, is to try and track down the website or Facebook page of an artist and just ask them yourselves. Many indie musicians I’ve heard about from online radio have been happy to talk to me about gear and composing by simply my asking. But again, make sure you’re asking a good question and not wasting their time! When the person you’re asking can see that you put some thought and consideration into your question, you’ll get a better answer.
Just do it.
You can only learn so much from reading manuals and watching videos online! So at one point or another you’ll have to get out there and try it for yourself! At the most basic level, you can just jump in and start creating. But if you’re a little more up to speed, you’re in luck as there are many free things out there to help you out! There’s free VST instruments and effects, free sampler content and patches for your VSTs with the bonus that many of them are from the top names in the industry!
Chances are, if you look around you can find plenty of content for your DAW too in the form of tutorials online and project presets that you can download and open within your DAW to illustrate the concepts being taught. In fact many DAWS come with tutorials built right in!
But regardless, if you’ve got, use it! Turn things, twist things, push and pull them! Experience is the best teacher when it comes to this! Whatever it is, just do it!
The worst you could do is not to and all the difference is, is just doing it. So what are you waiting for?