Thoughts on improving musically

Cross-posting this from the Lines monome forum.

How do you improve as an electronic musician?

  1. Use a notebook. Write down small “how do I…” investigations, little tricks, and big picture thinking about approach, arrangement, and ideas. Actually write this stuff with a pen on paper.
  2. Embrace constraints. This has been a rallying cry on every forum, book, and interview that I’ve come across.
  3. Be open to a bit of theory. I purchased Ray Harmony’s “hacking theory for electronic musicians” via warp academy (it goes on sale for super cheap every so often), and he subsequently released many free youtube videos with his partner; both are great teachers. Especially in combination with MIDI and other digital tools, basic theory principles can really provide shortcuts to music that sounds good or conveys one emotion or another.
  4. Listen actively. I have an ‘active listening’ playlist with favorites old and new across the artists and genres that inspire me. I try listening both analytically and emotionally to these songs to understand what’s going on. The next level is to have a go at ‘covering’ or recreating one as an exercise–may seem silly but it can teach you a lot!
  5. Use deadlines. The @disquiet junto is great for this–in addition to inspiring prompts and a built in feedback community!
  6. Think about form and arrangement. Depending on your genre of course. But for me this is the next level which will take good sounding ideas to the next level.
  7. Revisit your work. Like many people I’ve developed too many sketches and not enough finished songs this year. I think it’s important to force yourself to revisit and work on older ideas–even if they take dramatic left turns! I just inventoried my working folder for the year and self-assigned percentages of completion. I’m now going back to anything over 75% and trying to push out a few tracks by the end of the year.
  8. Consider a “prosody” (unity) of sound and vision within a work or an album. Some kind of guiding coherence.
  9. Think about your approach and workflow. Do you split sound design / experimental sessions apart from composing and arrangement? I’ve developed a little table to guide my approach, though to be honest my approach is usually more “screw around until something sounds cool and go from there” :wink: From left to right I try to consider: constraints, feeling/narrative, instrumentation, form & attributes, and any other conceptual framework. Filling these out can provide a scaffold within which to be creative without being overwhelmed by infinite possibilities.