In addition to design, I compose music under that name Glass Hand. I find it to be a creative outlet that complements my design work. It’s like using a different language to solve a similar creative problem and is a great escape after spending time in the visual world. I think all designers should work on side projects in other mediums, it helps give a larger creative perspective.
I recently joined EDM production’s August Loop Challenge. The premise is simple; create an 8-bar loop of music every day for a month. Eight bars may not seem like a lot, but the exercise forces you to produce every day under tight time constraints. My music tends to be on the more electronic ambient/cinematic side and not ‘dance’ music, but the same creative challenges apply to any musician.
Here are a few thoughts on what I learned during the challenge, these apply mainly to music production, but there are certainly parallels to visual and other artistic endeavors.
CREATIVITY NEEDS CONSTRAINTS
I set a timer to limit myself to no more than an hour of work per day. In music, that means sound design, filters, composition, mixing and mastering. Even for something as short as 8 bars, this is not very much time. It meant I had to work through my first idea and developing it into something.. Some musicians call this finding the “face” of a song. In the past, without these constraints, I would often abandon and idea or mull on it for hours/days/weeks to try to get it “perfect”. With only an hour, I was committed to the idea after about 10 minutes and didn’t have time to start over or dick around with variations.
TRUST THE MUSE
Many times, I would be 30 minutes into production and feel like I had nothing. Several times I thought “Today is the day I don’t finish the loop”. Slowly, I learned to trust the muse and just go with it. Focusing on completion and trusting that the idea will come together changed everything. Several times during the month the idea came together in the last 15 minutes. I’m not saying every loop was a winner, but I found that some of the tracks where I struggled at the beginning ended up being the better songs.
COMPETITION IS HELPFUL
Hearing some of the tracks that other artists uploaded, especially some of the work from TeleStereo and Chief Thomson, really helped to push me. Music is so personal that wasn’t so much that I wanted to make a better track, more that I could hear their style and theme coming through and I wanted to make sure I pushed myself as well.
LET YOURSELF EVOLVE
For the first few loops, I had a basic idea of a theme. That quickly ran out during the relentless pace of putting something out every day. I stopped caring after the first few days of how my music would be categorized. It naturally evolved over the course of that 30 days from more downtempo to more cinematic/score work. I just let it happen and didn’t worry about genres or styles. I just made music for myself.
SETUP YOUR TOOLS
Working fast means creating shortcuts. After a couple of days, I quickly setup a master Ableton template with returns for effects I use a lot (obviously, delay and echos) as well as a basic mastering bus. I also started a spreadsheet of the tracks I completed, their key and tempo as well as some information on the sound design of the synths and bass. This helped me when I need a sound and could edit the filters instead of starting over and wasting time. I also made sure that my Push, hardware effects and synths were all setup and cabled correctly as to not waste time searching for a patch cable.
The 30 day music challenge was a great motivator to get in the production mindset. As musicians, it’s easy to get stuck in sound design, cleaning up presets, editing samples, looking at new hardware online and never actually getting music. It’s deceptive and fun. Forcing yourself to put out something every day quickly breaks these habits.
I also now have several ideas that I will finishing into songs. The focus now will be to find the truth in each one and to finish them.