Creative Strategies for Music Production w/ Matt Shadetek: How to Be More Productive

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek offers his insight on how be more productive in the studio and more effective in promoting your music.

Creative Strategies


As is the case with a lot of my articles, I wrote this one after reading some good writing by someone else. In this case it was HOW TO: Be More Productive by Aaron Swartz (the recently-deceased computer programmer and Internet activist).

The piece was sent to me by a good friend who is supposed to be in the middle of writing a book, or trying to, but who is instead reading and sharing online articles about not procrastinating. Now you might ask, why is he doing that instead of working on his book? It’s his own book, he picked the subject, and very likely it’s going to be great and everyone will love it.  The reason, I would guess, is that his book is what he should be working on.  And as we all know on some level, whatever we should be working on is very rarely what we are actually, currently working on at this very moment.

I experienced this when I lived in Berlin. For the first time, I had nothing to do but DJ and write music, the two things I love to do more than anything. However, as soon as DJing and music making rose to the top of my should list, they fell to the bottom of my things I’m actually getting done list. Everyday I woke up and thought I should write a new song, but instead found one of many other things to do: I started a blog, played long complicated video games, wrote endless journal entries, remodeled my rented apartment (including sanding the floors myself), sent and received long emails, hiked across the city to random distant locations and read Anna Karenina. When I think back, the main appeal of many of these things was that they were not what I should have been doing at any given moment, the thing I love most: making music.

When I moved back to New York City and resumed this city’s frenetic pace, I suddenly had much less free time. But then something funny happened: I actually started finishing more music. Lots more. Music slipped out of the should category and into the ‘things I do when I should be doing something else’ category, and my productivity took off like a rocket.

My album Flowers happened this way. I was working on various collaborative projects and doing some freelance work for other people, and I felt a strong need to have a project where I wasn’t taking input from anyone else. The album was completed very quickly because I thought of it as a personal project separate from the other projects that I should have been working on. I also enjoyed the process very much.

I think that this is why so many people enjoy hobbies, which are by definition activities that take up time but don’t contribute to making a living. There’s something innately relaxing and enjoyable about doing something which we haven’t been should-ed to do (to coin a word).

I think that avoiding this feeling of obligation, of should-ness, is actually one of the great secrets of success, and one which I’m still searching to fully uncover and harness. No one likes to feel obligated to do something, by other people or by themselves. In my case having a separate personal album project was a way that I could spend time working on music for the sheer enjoyment of it, apart from my collaborative projects where other people were should-ing me to do different things.  Not only that, but for me this also turned out for the best because when some of those collaborative projects didn’t work out, I still had my ‘fun’ project to release.

An alternative scenario (which I have experienced an embarrassing number of times) is deciding that I suddenly want to learn about some very interesting and difficult new subject quite different than making music and pouring all my energy into this new direction instead. I have had months when I have spent large amounts of time working on a novel, programming iPhone games, mastering Internet business or learning about radical sustainable living technologies. None of these were things I should have been working on, and in retrospect that’s exactly why they were all I wanted to think about for extended periods of time.

The problem here is that these other things distracted me almost completely from my main work, making music!  I have sincerely wondered at times how I could get so powerfully, deeply distracted. Thinking about this pattern through these ideas of should-ness and obligation though, I feel I understand it better now and I hope that maybe next time I’ll be able to act more rationally.

Here is my advice, and I think you’ll understand me even if it sounds a bit weird: don’t should your music. Find a way to preserve that fun, exploratory, guilt-free feeling in your creative process. Maybe that means keeping a wacky side project that you work on when you don’t want to work on your primary ‘serious’ project. Maybe it means giving yourself obligations in other areas of life (exercise, maybe!) and then procrastinate by making music instead. Or maybe it’s just understanding the pattern of your behavior and that it’s not helping, and diving into your work guilt free.


About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website


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