Straight From The Rut? Beating the Production Blues with Brown!

What happens when your monster track, your soon to be #1, your epic Mau5killer, becomes a victim of the rut, aka the sticky blues, aka what the f@ck happened?

You know how it goes, this track is huge, it’s epic, seriously large, monstrous even madam. Then, weeks later, you’re either still struggling to finish it, hate it outright, or have condemned it to the dreaded Miscellaneous folder. What happened?

  • Your tune turned into the Never Ending Story. No track should take more than a week to finish. Any longer, and you risk losing perspective. It starts to get harder and harder to maintain objectivity after your nine hundredth listen.
  • You decided to go with the flow. The ‘let’s see where this goes’ approach can sometimes be a refreshing, liberating experience. Usually though, you just hit a dead end after about an hour, and wonder why you started the track in the first place. Ask yourself what you are attempting to achieve with the track. Are you trying to make the next Exceeder (please don’t)? Is it going to be a peak time club anthem, a moody introspective piece, or a filthy underground beast? Knowing the answers makes for a more productive production.
  • Your track had a beginning and a middle, but no real end. Always have a time limit in mind. Knowing that your track is going to be 5:30, for instance, with a minute each of intro and outro, means that the ‘meat’ of the track will be around 3 minutes. Establishing that before you hit the studio gives you direction, focus and confidence;  3 minutes looks achievable as opposed to that 9 minute ‘epic’ you will inevitably end up with.

So what should you do to beat the sticky blues?

  • Stop! Step away from the computer, and do anything for an hour. Anything at all. Go for a run, call your mum (using that antiquated device known as a telephone), play an old school shoot em up (R-Type), read a book, go for a drive (put that book down before you do), eat a burger (but don’t go to the pub-for obvious reasons), have a cuppa, anything at all. In my experience, the further away you are from the studio, the more you want to return to it.
  • What don’t you like about this tune? What’s the hold up here? Be specific and honest with yourself. Is the beat too flabby? Is the bassline not quite right? Is the tune crying out for a hook? Is it in desperate need of da funk? Do you have too much going on? In my experience, it’s usually not the entire track that’s at fault, just a couple of lazy players letting the side down. Find ’em, and eliminate. Be ruthless.
  • You know that epic outro melody you had in mind at around the 5 minute mark. Dump it! Sure, it’s a killer riff, and the crowd’s gonna go nuts, but it’s a bit too late to be bringing in a new element around the time the DJ will be mixing out of your track. Besides, having spent all that time on 5 minutes of tunage, do you really want to have to come up with yet another part? Leave it for a future anthem, and move on.
  • Need inspiration? Listen to some of your favorite dance tracks. Don’t compare and/or moan about how yours doesn’t sound as good. Just listen with non-technical ears. It can be a real joy. Watch some superstar DJs in action. Read some interviews from your favorite producers. Make fun of their accents/haircuts/wardrobes.
  • Stuck in the breakdown? Don’t over think it, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Listen to similar tracks in your genre, and make a note of the elements. Snare roll? Modulated noise wave? Vocal cut ups? Filtered madness? All of the above? What would work best for your track?
  • Have a play with your favorite synth, hard or soft, twiddle those knobs and caress those keys. You in the back, stop grinning.
  • Remember, the best dance tunes rarely have more than 4 elements and one main hook. Identify your ‘money shot’ and then run with it!
  • Also remember that even the biggest names in production occasionally experience the ‘stickies’ (that’s the industry term), and they have an army of assistants/butt-scratchers to bail them out should they bawl. If you’re an ‘underground’ guy, then you’re probably all you have, so go easy on yourself, eat some pizza, and watch some Seinfeld re-runs. Then go back and put that puppy to bed.

Production Diary-Firefly remake/mutation Part 2

In last week’s Production Diary, I had expressed a great fondness for Commodore 64 game music, and a desire to remix a tune from one of its most obscure ‘classics’. Well, as it turns out, the original bassline morphed into something completely different, so I ditched the remix idea and decided to focus on the mutation. A certain ‘cheeky’ sample was added (the tune wasn’t based around the sample, it just seemed to fit so perfectly it had to go in there), and voila:

Compare this to the original idea:

You’ll agree that the ‘update’ is quite remarkable (and a bit of a stomper if I do say so myself)! I am well pleased with how it turned out, and glad I rescued it from the recycle bin.

It’s also a reminder that if a particular track doesn’t seem to be working, you don’t have to end it, delay it, delete it, or change your line of work. Sometimes, a particular mutation is essential for the survival of the species. This is definitely getting a major release soon! All it needs now is some hats.

Goat Hat

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