Each month on musicconnection.com and in its venerable print edition you’ll find a treasure trove of career tips from artists and music industry pros who generously share their hard-won knowledge. To help you benefit from the past year’s advice, we’ve picked out the cream of the 2015 crop and organized each quote in neat, quick-hit categories that apply to all music makers. Whether you’re a performer or a behind-the-scenes talent, the following tips will help you to improve in the new year and beyond. Every quoted tip cites the month it first appeared in, so you can locate the original interview.
SONGWRITING & COMPOSING
Don’t get stuck in the traps of chasing hits. It’s like a drug––once you have one and then don’t have another for six months, you start feeling like you’re not hot. It takes time and energy to create hits. –Alex da Kid, producer, owner, KIDinaKORNER, Feb.
If you have a microphone handy, or a voice recorder, you can record and remember [an idea]. As an artist you don’t really control moments like that. It’s like catching lightning in a bottle. –B.o.B, artist, producer, Oct.
Leave your songs to interpretation and let fans decide what it means to them, because that’s what music is about. It’s about connecting with the listener. Write for yourself, but [also] write for those listening, too. –Sydney Sierota, Echosmith, March
[When scoring for film and TV] the trap is going with what you see. Instead, get into the characters’ minds and deal with what they feel, what they’re about to feel or what they’ve felt in the past. Go with the movie’s arc. The music needs to grow with the story; it needs to represent the [dramatic] drop and climb. –C.J. Vanston, producer, composer, Nov.
With every record, every session and every creative process, you have to push yourself and go beyond what you did last time. I don’t think it’s ever good to write the same thing over and over and over again. –Alex Gaskarth, All Time Low, April
Don’t write for what you think other people might want. Once it turns into work, it’s not fun. Write what you want to write and the song will come into itself. –Julia Michaels, songwriter, vocalist, March
If you want to cut through, you need to be great. You can’t be good anymore—you have to be great. If an artist has spare time and there’s a choice between putting a different photo on Facebook or writing a better song, pick up your guitar. –Simon Perry, Chief Creative Officer, Head of A&R, ReverbNation, Oct.
IN THE STUDIO
— Producers —
Get the band into a room where you’re not spending money. Make your mistakes there. Try all the crazy ideas you have…Turn songs inside out. –Rob Kirwan, producer, Feb.
Get to the honesty quickly. Make artists feel as small as possible so that they get in touch with their real feelings. Cut away all the layers of the superstar, because that can often get in the way. –Alex da Kid, producer, owner, KIDinaKORNER, Feb.
A lot of tracks start with a drum idea. That gives me a groove, a tempo, a world to write the song in. Then add basic chords. That’ll be the skeleton and I’ll cut full vocals to it. I strive to leave the bed for the vocal because that’s the most important thing. Whatever else I do to the track is in support of that. –Frequency, producer, June
I was brought up on tape. I started with a linear recording process of start to finish, which made me focus on getting proper takes. Kids these days miss out on that aspect. It’s all fake. Trying to understand what music actually is might be their biggest challenge. –Dan Korneff, producer, Jan.
[When creating demos] do not make the mistake of getting a singer to sing like the artist you’re pitching to. Obviously, stylistically you want them to sell the song, but you don’t want to be off-putting to the artist either. –Holly Knight, songwriter, June
I hate looking at music. The more you look at the sound waves, the less you hear them. It causes you to dissect what you’re looking at and not what you’re hearing. –Justin Collins, producer, Aug.
I’ll stop at nothing. I’ll wait forever until I get the right snare sound. At the same time, I try not to get too stuck on one thing. If I’m hitting a wall, I’m not afraid to leave the studio. A huge weapon for me is knowing when to stop and take a break. –Aaron Bruno (a.k.a. AWOLNATION), June
When a song is too processed and the humanity has been taken out, you lose something. It might be a hit for a short time. But the classics that get played over and over? There’s an energy and simplicity—something that people connect and relate to. –Jake Gosling, producer, March
Keep the creative atmosphere positive and upbeat. The best way to do this is to make sure there is a constant sense of progress. –Michael Beinhorn, producer, Aug.
Don’t fall back on things that you think work, things that you’ve done in the past. I challenge myself to break a comfort mold. –Yoav Goren, composer, producer, Sept.