Creative Strategies for Music Production w/ Shadetek: Don’t Should Your Music

In this new series directed at the motivational side of music creation, Dubspot Logic instructor and course designer Matt Shadetek offers some creative strategies that will help you be more productive in the studio and more effective in promoting your music.

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 HOWTO: 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 musicmaking 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.

- Matt Shadetek


Matt Shadetek is a DJ, producer and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. He runs the Dutty Artz label with DJ/Rupture and will be releasing his second solo album The Empire Never Ended on March 26th, 2013. Hear his music at mattshadetek.com

For further exploration of Logic check out Dubspot’s six-level Logic Pro Producer program, designed by Matt Shadetek:

Master Logic with our complete program of courses culminating in a four-track EP ready for release. In addition to achieving a complete overview of the composition process in Logic you’ll also earn the Dubspot Producer’s Certificate in Logic Pro. After completing this program, you will leave with a new EP, a remix entered in an active remix contest, and a scored commercial to widen your scope.

What’s Included

  • Logic Pro Level 1: Shake Hands with Logic
  • Logic Pro Level 2: Completing Your First Track
  • Logic Pro Level 3: Mixing Essentials
  • Logic Pro Level 4: Sound Design & Instrumentation
  • Logic Pro Level 5: Advanced Composition & Production
  • Logic Pro Level 6: Taking Your EP Global

Music Production with Logic Pro classes are starting now, sign up today!

The week of February 27th in NYC – Wednesdays & Fridays, 6:15-9:00pm
The week of April 21st DUBSPOT ONLINE

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