Experimentation: The Secret Key To Becoming A Great Producer
The reality is that only a small fraction of them actually become successful.
It’s not because they aren’t dedicated enough.
It’s just that a lot of them get pretty good, pretty fast and then plateau.
Most people get stuck in the plateau and find themselves progressing slower and slower.
The main reason this happens is because they forget one of the most important elements of the production process: EXPERIMENTING!
Experiments aren’t always going to yield amazing results.
To be honest, most of the experiments will lead nowhere. So why do it?
Because some of the things you try over the course of experimenting will eventually lead to an amazing discovery.
Whether it’s a new sound you’ve never heard before, or a technique you accidentally figured out.
You’ll almost always learn something new and get better at production.
A big reason many artists have a hard time experimenting is because they always stick to the same routine.
Producing music boils down to making decisions.
From when the DAW opens, to when the track is finished, the whole process is directed by the artists decisions.
If the artist’s path of decision making always stays the same, the end result will generally be the same.
That’s why people hit a plateau.
When someone is new at producing, they don’t have any boundaries.
No habits or go-to plugins and sounds.
No comfortable genres to produce and synths to use.
It’s all exploration and experimentation.
DO NOT LOSE THAT ELEMENT OF MUSIC PRODUCTION
Always try something new and don’t worry about the outcome.
Here are some ways to experiment:
Giving yourself exclusions is a great way to force yourself to produce differently, and experiment with different techniques.
Some exclusion examples might be:
- Exclude a synth that you use a lot.
- Exclude the same tools/samples you usually do.
- Exclude using mixing tricks you usually do.
- Exclude writing the same genre you usually do.
- Exclude using the same tempo you usually do.
- Exclude producing electronic music altogether, try something different (I learned a TON about songwriting because I randomly tried learning how to write film scores).
Try making a list of as many exclusions as possible.
The main point is to exclude the things you do on a regular basis, that way you will have to think differently and experiment with new ideas and techniques.
Remember, this is a creative practice, don’t worry about writing music for now. Just explore different ideas.
Sometimes it can be difficult to experiment because you might not be sure what to experiment with.
This is essentially the opposite of the exclusion technique.
Give yourself limits that you need to stick to (or at least start off with).
Write down some guidelines to follow.
Here are a few examples:
- Include ____ synth (something new).
- Work at ____ BPM (if you always produce at 150 BPM, try making a song at 100 BPM).
- Only allowed X amount of time (try to produce an entire song in an hour).
- Has to be a certain genre, or hybrid (if you make Dubstep, try making something like chill).
- Have to work in certain environment (library, coffee shop, etc..)
- Special technique to use (go crazy with this one).
- Strange sound to incorporate (I once made a snare I used in a song from a recording of my friend burping).
3. Experiment with variables
Experimenting can be a lengthy process of trial and error.
Many times, it can be discouraging because the results are usually unpleasant...
The bigger picture is to experiment with as many variables as possible and see what you can discover.
Here are some ideas of other things you can experiment with.
- Automation: Automate everything, the strangest things you might have never even considered automating. It most likely won’t sound great at first, but there’s a chance something amazing can happen during the process. Go through every single VST and effect you own (even all the DAW stock plugins) and experiment with them!
- Environment: Experiment with the environment you experiment in. Being in the same place can eventually become uninspiring. Try bringing your laptop and headphones (if that’s what you use) to a coffee shop, library, or even just somewhere outdoors (I have made some of my best music and sounds in Starbucks)!
- Resampling: Setup a channel to resample in Ableton, open your favorite synth and start recording. Change all the knobs and settings in the synth as rapidly as possible, experiment! Alternatively, scroll through some presets and adjust some knobs in between. Do this for at least 5 minutes or longer. If there were any intricate sounds during that experiment, you’ll have them recorded in the resample track.
- Learning Resources: Essentially the whole purpose of experimenting is to learn and make new discoveries. There are many different ways to learn something. The most obvious one is Youtube Tutorials, though they generally only focus on specific topics.
Here are some other great learning resources to experiment with:
- Collaborating: Learning from other people is one of the best ways to learn quickly and efficiently. It’s possible to learn from someone else's techniques and experiments. Think of it like this: collaborating with someone with a higher level of production than yours is like having a mentor. You can learn exactly what they are doing and what you can do to get your productions up to that level.
- Project Files: Though collaborating is a great way to learn, it’s not always easy to score a collab with someone better at production than you. You can download free project files for your DAW (Ableton, FL Studio, and Logic) from our Free Download Vault and experiment with the different elements! You can learn everything you need to know such as automation, sound design, arrangement, mixing, organization and much more.
- Sound Design: Learning advanced sound design techniques can lead to even crazier experimentation than you could ever imagine. Honestly, I wasn't that great of a producer until I learned sound design. If you want to level up, we wrote an Advanced Guide to Sound Design that you can download for free!
Essentially, every complete song is the result of an experiment.
If you look into the inner workings of these experiments, there is an abundance of information at your fingertips.
Every day, try to conduct at least one production experiment and you will notice yourself becoming more creative and a more diverse producer!
If you haven’t already, learn about “The 5 Skills Every Producer Needs to Master”.
Got any cool ways you like to experiment? Leave a comment below and let us know!