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Editorial: The Value is in the Rep


When you're learning to produce music, it's easy to think that taking your time is the best approach to create the best possible track. Giving yourself the extra time to do, what in your mind may be fleshing out the details, might not be as straightforward as you believe.

See if this sounds familiar to you. You create a new project and start messing around with some sounds and some notes. At some point, it all clicks and you sit back and say, "Damn. That's cool." Then you're hit by a flood of inspiration and manically start building the rest of the track. In one night, you complete 80 percent of the song's composition and production. It feels great.

But then comes a long period of not feeling so great. You spend the next four days, weeks, or month endlessly tweaking the composition looking for that edge that will make it perfect. You might change some automation here, or add some frivolous EQ there, but never do you actually finish and release it. Eventually, you get so frustrated that one day, you sit down and create a new project...

Much in life benefits from being slow and methodical but learning how to create art is not one of them. 

Crave the Cycle

Your creative muscle is exactly like that: a muscle. You must work it out to strengthen it. In bodybuilding and creativity, it never is enough to do one repetition of the motion. Instead, you achieve maximum results comes from doing repeated sets of multiple reps. It does little good to perform only a single, slow bicep curl over the space of an hour. Likewise, it does not serve you to be hung up on one project for any longer than you need to.

You will always learn more by finishing a project and getting feedback than allowing yourself ungodly amounts of time to perfect it. It might make sense to spend a few weeks perfecting a tune, when in reality, it's in your best interest to quickly finish it to send it to a handful of trusted producer friends, or if you're comfortable enough, release it into the public.

Feedback is vital for tackling the learning curve of a new skill.  The process of feedback does two things. First, it illuminates the things that you don't know about producing music. Secondly, it reinforces the ideas that you had but passed on, teaching you to follow your gut and lean into flow.

This feedback process is important because it allows you to improve via an iterative process. Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek introduced many into using testing and feedback as a way to gauge the viability of a business idea. Your music? That's a product. Your creative process? That's a business idea. So optimize them. Do the reps.

Note: If you're the type to always start new projects in new genresbecausee you get bored, ponder this quote. "The essence of boredom is the search for novelty. Satisfaction lies mindful repetition." - George Leonard, Mastery

Find Your Flow

If you look at ICON Collective's course list, you'll find some standard classes. Keyboard Techniques, Ableton, Music Business, Studio Tech, Songwriting. But then in the third quarter, students take the mysterious Art of Flow. If you ask anyone who took the class, they'll say something along the lines that it's equal parts black magic and pragmatic strategies to becoming a professional artist.

So what's flow?

Entering a state of flow is the most efficient way to get in your creative reps. It unlocks greater creative problem solving

Think about that first session where you created 80% of your track in a single day. How did it feel? You might have noticed time went by extremely quickly. Instead of thinking about every move, you just made them. For whatever reason, it just came naturally.

That's flow. When we're concentrated on creative work for long periods of time, we can dip into a creative flow state. In a flow state, creative effort becomes effortless. We can glide through our process of creation without the usual barriers or distractions we encounter. Something in our mind just clicks. 

Not only are we more efficient in a state of flow, but we have access to greater creativity inside of flow states. The explanations here get esoteric. The Ancient Greeks believed immortal Muses handed creatives inspiration from the heavens. Modern New Age authors (even the contemporary ones like Jen Sincero of You Are a Badass fame) believe that accessing this state of flow is tapping into the energies of the universe.

Former University of Chicago psychology head Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues against this esoteric frame. His seminal book Flow states that these models while making colloquial sense, may be missing the point. He firmly states, "Consciousness cannot be expanded; all we can do is shuffle its content." In other words: what we are doing when we access flow is not receiving inspiration from the gods, but rather, finding it from within ourselves.

So why flow?

In a bygone Team Supreme video, Djemba Djemba mentioned that he produced most of his songs in a matter of hours. Sometimes it would only take him 90 minutes to finish a tune. His secret was leaning into the flow: largely removing the analytical cueing or mixing process until he was done with his composition. In the video, fellow Team Supreme member DOT expressed she was trying to do the same reduce the number of times she listened over her track while composing to focus purely on getting the idea on the screen.

By streamlining the process of flow, you diminish the time it takes to get good, because as you'll see, the secret to improving is not finessing, but rather, finishing.

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Books Mentioned in this Post (In order of appearance)

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss. 

Amazon | Non-affiliate

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

Amazon Non-affiliate

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Amazon Non-affiliate

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard

Amazon Non-affiliate