Creative Strategies for Producers w/ Matt Shadetek: The Power of Limitations

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains that limitations in your workflow can lead to a more prolific output of work. 

Creative Strategies with Matt Shadetek

Get Back in the Box: The Power of Limitations

Today, we have more creative power, choice, and opportunity than anyone in history. The combination of affordable, easily available digital tools, and instant, free global publishing via the Internet gives everyone an unprecedented chance to create art and share it with the world. With so much choice available, the question becomes: what will we do?

I recently listened to an interesting TED talk by Phil Hansen, called “Embrace the Shake.” In the talk, he discusses challenges in his visual art making, including a feeling of scarcity regarding art materials. There was a time when he felt that he couldn’t create the art he wanted to, because he didn’t have the right tools or materials, and didn’t have the money to buy them. This is a common idea among people who fail to produce work. The story we tell ourselves goes like this: producing work is hard, and the work isn’t meeting our standards. Other people are producing more work, and better work. They must have better tools. When I can get better tools, I’ll also produce more and better work! I need to get better tools.

In Hansen’s case he actually stopped making art for three years, got a job, earned money, and acquired the materials he wanted. Finally, he sat down to work with his beautiful new materials, faced his beautiful blank canvas and produced…nothing. Eventually, he realized what was stopping him from putting brush to canvas: the feeling of infinite possibility. He had a whole range of colors, brushes, and choices–too many for him in that moment. When there is open space all around you, it can be difficult to find the path.

Anyone who makes music with software can see where I am going with this. We live in a world of unlimited undo, in which any choice we make can instantly be swapped out and fiddled with endlessly. Everything can be manipulated, changed, and rapidly reconfigured in real time at no cost. This feeling of infinite choice can lead to a feeling of infinite paralysis.

We have to ask ourselves: what are we here to do? Are we here to remain in a state of endless flexibility, scratching pictures in the sand, erasing them and drawing new ones? If we’re here to produce something concrete that can be recorded, packaged, and distributed, it’s important to understand that each one of these stages requires commitment. You make a recording and say this is the one. You create some artwork and choose this design, not that one. You put your energy into getting the work to the audience, and tell them: “This is my work. I want you to engage with it.”

When Hansen compared what  he produced with all his new choices (nothing), and what he had produced with his limited, imperfect choices (something), he realized the power of limitation. He recognized that infinite choice is the enemy of commitment, which is fundamental to creating anything. He then set out to create a series of artworks, using extreme limitations as the starting point for each one. I won’t outline them here, because you should listen to the talk and hear his descriptions of them. In limitation, he found the freedom to make choices and move forward. I challenge you to do the same. Embrace your limitations and commit to make some work.


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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