Getting Back Into Making Music

Sometimes we all need a break

So music is your passion, but you’ve lost that loving feeling? Well then, consider this a paean to you. Here’s how I got back into making music.

From playing my dad’s old Hendrix tapes and getting my first record (Guns n’ Roses, since you asked), through to the hours and hours spent listening to and watching bands, music has always been at the front of my thoughts. Naturally, as a teenager, this led me to want to make it myself. How hard could it be? I got my first proper guitar, a Squier Telecaster, and set about learning the chords that would form the basis of my own band’s first few tunes.

As I got older, I wanted to learn the secrets of the recording studio. While my friends all wanted to know the chords to their favourite songs, I was more interested in how a producer achieved a specific sound or what caused the band to insert ‘that’ random passage midway through the album.

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Passion killer

Back then, there weren’t any laptop recording studios. You couldn’t get Ableton or Logic on your computer. To record anything, you needed a basic 4-track tape recorder, and the results weren’t exactly stellar. But that love of the studio led me to work as a broadcast audio producer, and the love affair continued unabated.

Fast forward though to age 33. For the first time in my life I had zero interest in playing or recording music. I had a home studio chock full of high quality recording gear, yet the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a guitar and start playing.

Perhaps it was the fact I had all the gear, but I wasn’t any good. Perhaps I’d got too caught up in the relentless pursuit of more/better equipment and had forgotten what it was I loved about it in the first place. Maybe I was just fed up.

Whatever the trigger was, the studio gear was sold, and I lived a near music-free life for a year. In this time I was more productive; I completed a Masters degree, brought up my two children and improved other areas of life. Funny how you can find ‘real’ things to do when you aren’t obsessing over how to get a usable tone out of an esoteric delay pedal. But then, slowly but surely, I began to actually miss playing. I’d hear a passage of music and that old spidey-sense would begin to tingle.

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Getting Back Into Music

Almost completely gear-free, I started thinking about what equipment I needed to buy, and began thinking more critically about music, recording, production and creativity. Ignoring the equipment, where were my strengths and weaknesses? How could I develop as a player and a producer?

This new thinking reawakened something. I realised I’d half-completed around 70 tunes in Ableton and a hard drive 30 second snippets of tracks. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the right equipment, or that I wasn’t good at production. It was that I’d got into an almighty, stinking rut.

I was now motivated to set up a small studio. Nothing too expensive, or too fancy. I had a laptop and a decent DAW anyway. I bought a basic audio interface, some entry-level monitors and started creating. Solving problems. Finding ways to transfer the sounds in your head onto tape.

I know, for example, that pre-listening to 5 snare drum samples will probably result in you choosing the same one than if you listened to 500 samples. I know how to get an amp to sound in the right ballpark. Instead of obsessing over detail, I challenged myself to finish songs. I didn’t always like the songs I ended up with – some of them were frankly terrible – but by doing that I had overcome a significant barrier and learnt some new skills along the way.

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Conclusion

What I’ve learnt is that sometimes it takes stripping away the excess noise to make you understand what it is you love about a hobby, pursuit or process. Starting fresh and having time away from music has helped immensely. Now, armed with the experience and know-how, it’s almost like I’ve started again, only this time I know my way around the equipment and have the ability to know when to stop. Sometimes you need to take time away from something to assess what it is you liked about it in the first place.

It’s so easy nowadays to fall into the trap of constantly lusting after new equipment, when the real joy comes from knowing how to extract the magic from it. You have to think of music creation as a long term investment, not something you can achieve with shortcuts.