Things I learnt about music production during the making of "Double Life"


emzae-in-the-studio

In December 2014 I started working on a new album. After the release of my first electronic EP, and an acoustic album four months previously, I decided to take it slow in order to let myself breathe a little. I knew I wanted to build upon my mixing skills, but I wasn't entirely sure which direction I wanted to travel in musically. 

I started with grand ideas, telling myself that this would be my masterpiece and I wouldn't leave my chair or let anyone hear a second of it until it was perfect. I soon realised that could make the process last approximately 1000 years and cause my skeleton to be found in 3014 with one hand on my trackpad editing some MIDI. So I lowered my expectations and got to work. Around 15 months later, I finally finished my album.

It was a pretty gruelling process, as far as creative projects go. I can't remember a day where I didn't work on or think about it. People around me could tell I had made some good progress in a mix when I was skipping around in a good mood, and spent the night trying to fix an out-of-time vocal take before scrapping the lot if I didn't speak for a bit.

When listening to the finished product, I am proud of what I achieved in my bedroom with my keyboard resting on a crushed Jammie Dodger for six months and a toppling mic stand. I still have room for improvement, but I know in my heart that this is the best possible album I could have made alone at 22. 

I will take the lessons I have learnt during the making of "double life" into future projects and hope to expand on my knowledge and skillset. On that CV-like note, here's what I learnt.

Stick with your projects till the bitter end

When making an album, you will want to give up. Multiple times. Ignore that voice in your head saying you could be having so much more fun watching Cowboy Builders though and stick with it - especially through the hard times when nothing is working. The only way you will progress with your craft is by seeing a project through to completion. Not only will you be able to step back and evaluate your work thoroughly as a finished product, but you'll also have something to be proud of and a motivation to continue. There's nothing worse than being the writer with a million unfinished novels that had potential. I know, because i've got a load of those myself. 

With each project, aim to learn something new

It can be easy to hear a song on the radio, or stare at the billions of settings on that plugin you don't know how to use and feel overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to learn. Like almost everything in my life however, i've learnt that over-excessive multi-tasking doesn't work too well. You think you're some slightly crazed superhero with a coffee in one hand, five assorted smart devices propped up on your desk next to your iMac and a book on music theory in your right hand, but then you realise after a while that it's a trick. You're skimming the surface of loads of things, yet never quite mastering one thing. Setting yourself a goal to achieve with each project is a good way of making sure you improve your skills in the most efficient way possible. With this album, my aim was to learn about automation. Which leads to my next lesson...

Automation isn't scary

It's really not! All of these times eh that I pretended the button wasn't there, and now I finally see it as a friend rather than foe. I automated volume and EQ settings on this album. It's okay, hold your applause.

Take criticism constructively where possible

When you do finally unleash your priceless possession on the world - the audio constructed from the broken fragments of your heart salvaged from the day you had a power cut in the middle of mixing - there's going to be someone who tells you it "sucks". And it's no big deal really. If I had one piece of advice it would be to ignore the people with one-line insults, because we all make flippant remarks about songs on the radio so we can't be hypocrites. It's slightly more difficult to ignore the people who try and dress up their "this sucks" comment with adjectives and paragraphs, but whatever, ignore them too. If however, a fellow producer (who isn't trying to sell you their services) tells you that your vocals aren't sitting properly in your mix, thank them politely for their advice and try and learn from it. 

There's a time to let go

I can basically sum this point up in the following sentence. Adele didn't release 21 at 40, did she?

It can get slightly lonely and frustrating

By the end when I was racing home from work, transferring my eyes from one iMac to another and getting sore ears from my headphones I felt like a snail in a shell. A musical shell. Weekends would be spent berating the lack of hours in a day and ignoring my friends and family (because mixing). It felt as though i'd been working on this project since FOREVEERRRRRR and everyone had forgotten about me. My family would ask me about my album, and I would mostly respond with a faint grunt. No, I will not tell you when it's coming out because I DON'T KNOW. 

But it's worth it

Now I listen to my album and I feel proud to have made it. Despite holding down my day job and dealing with the fluctuations in my various physical and mental health conditions, I achieved what I set out to. I put a little piece of my heart into a bubblegum pop album. And you can get it here.