Everybody’s path is a little bit different. When pursuing a dream, it’s best to look inward rather than compare one’s achievements to those of others. However, as an individual who has gone through his teen years and early twenties pursuing dreams of a music career, I understand the value of hearing stories of success and of failure.
My objective with this post is to provide an honest account of my personal development as an artist. From my early days working out of my bedroom on a four-track tape recorder to working in big-name recording studios, I’ll try to leave no stone unturned.
I first became infatuated with creating music in kind of a funny way. A long time ago, in the early 2000s, there existed a website called cokemusic.com. It was a sort of Club-Penguin-style Internet chat room/community where users could create songs using pre-made loops and then show those songs off to be voted on by the masses. The looping interface was incredibly limited and the samples were a little cheesy, but I fell in love with beat making and couldn’t wait to expand my toolkit.
A year later I fell in love with guitar and realized I could give myself more control over my music if I was actively writing and performing it at its most basic level.
I asked for a 4-track tape recorder for my next birthday and immediately started trying to create mash-ups by plugging the headphone jack of a CD player into the recorder’s input. I didn’t have much success with this workflow, considering my limited knowledge of tempo and key, but it was a great way to get my feet wet.
A year later I fell in love with guitar and realized I could give myself more control over my music if I was actively writing and performing it at its most basic level. At 12 years old, I got my first guitar and have been playing ever since. I started writing and recording my own songs, out-of-time and out-of-key monstrosities that will never again see the light of day. But I was always looking to improve my skills.
The Move to Digital
Eventually, I met some friends who were just as passionate about recording. They introduced me to the world of digitally recorded music. Again my perspective broadened and I suddenly realized how much more I could accomplish by using my computer as part of my music production process.
I discovered FL Studio and began learning it by creating covers of songs from video games that I liked. I started out by making note-for-note copies of songs from Chrono Cross. This process taught me the ins and outs of the software and gave me a strong foundation to begin making my own music.
Music became my favorite thing to work on. I’d think about melodies and lyrics all day while at school and then come home and either practice guitar or start composing new songs on the computer. I was obsessed! No part of the process felt tedious to me. I loved practicing, writing, recording and mixing. To this day I feel the same. Every part of the songwriting process allows you to put a little more of yourself into the finished product.
Between middle school and the end of high school I’d written more than a hundred songs. I single this chapter of my life out as being one of the most pivotal. I wasn’t trying to please anyone with my output and, as a result, I learned to write for myself and self-edit. I worked at and acknowledged my deficiencies without judgment and without getting frustrated, laying a strong foundation going forward.
There’s still time to learn music production this summer at DMA!
In college I decided that I didn’t want to be a music major. I’d considered the possibility, but ultimately decided that turning my passion into an obligation would be a bad move for me. I’d already developed a creative workflow that fit in with my personality and goals and I didn’t want to jeopardize that by allowing myself to be externally pressured to create my art. Instead, I decided to pursue a major in digital arts.
Meanwhile, I was always creating new music. In high school I’d discovered a balance which allowed me to pursue my obligations as well as my passion for creating music and I implemented a similar schedule to continue to do so. I wasn’t always able to commit to music as much as I might have liked, but by keeping it on my mind and making effective use of the time I was given, I was able to continue to develop my skills.
Your goal should not be to get in with a huge manager or get your new mixtape tweeted by Kanye. Your goal should be to create the best version of your art.
During summer breaks, I would go on tour with my band The Speed of Sound in Seawater. We’d tour for a few weeks at a time through the Pacific Northwest or out to Texas and back. This was a formative time for me to discover what it meant to be a performer. I could write a whole other blog post about that process, but the biggest take-away I got from touring was discovering how much other peoples’ interactions with my music meant to me. I came away from these tours encouraged to write songs that would allow me to connect with people.
I, like many millennials, went through a major slump after graduating. I didn’t know what I could do to make money. I knew I wanted to keep making music, but I knew that it would be a long time before I could rely on that income to feed and house myself.
I bounced around different jobs, creating music all the while. Eventually, I put together a demo that I felt happy with and sent it off to a number of record labels. This is the part of the story where a little luck comes into play. Somehow, my demo ended up on the desk of the label manager at ANTI- Records, one of my favorite labels growing up. The manager loved what he heard and several months later I was signed to the label’s roster.
If you like this blog, check out Damien’s fantastic DMA How-To videos!
Very quickly, my whole perspective of what I’d been doing changed. Suddenly a whole team of people were just as excited about my songs as I had been my whole life. What’s more, they were willing to spend real money on ensuring I was able to record those songs in big glamorous studios that I’d only seen in recording magazines. The entire process was, and still is, very surreal.
What Really Matters
The biggest take-away I can offer from my experience in music production is that, when it comes down to it, the only thing that really matters is your art. Your goal should not be to get in with a huge manager or get your new mixtape tweeted by Kanye. Your goal should be to create the best version of your art. The more you grow as a person, the more that fact will be reflected in your music.
I’d also like to convey that I in no way consider myself to be done on my own path. I hear music all the time that inspires me and that I hope to be able to match one day. The process never stops! As long as you’re enjoying the process, you’re doing it right.