The 5 hour challenge – Week 1

As part of an effort to get more efficient with my studio time and increase my ouput (and quality), I’ve decided to challenge myself to creating a tune in under 5 hours each week.

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In the past, I’ve had a tendency to endlessly tweak songs until they are “just right”.  Often heard are things like “I just need to EQ the kick drum a bit more” or “If I just compress the bass a bit more, then it will sit in the mix the way I want it to”, and so on. The excuses can be endless and they rarely will help you get the results you really want in the end. In fact, they will likely make things worse.

There’s a misconception a lot of people have about quantity vs. quality.  Some people believe that if they spend hours upon hours (or days upon days, or weeks up weeks…) on a single tune that they are increasing the quality of that tune they’re producing because of the amount of time they are putting into the details of it. I mean it makes sense, right? If I spend all day tweaking my kick drum into the most perfect kick drum ever heard, then it will completely light up the club and I will be launched into legendary musical status because of this one tune with the greatest kick drum of all time.   Or if I spend all week getting the break down just right by carefully aligning every synth stab and percussion hit to the exact nanosecond while penciling in the perfect filter sweep automation, I will then have the most spectacular breakdown ever created!   Perhaps… but very likely not.  As for quantity, if Im just churning out tune after tune like no tomorrow, then surely my “quality” will suffer because Im not paying enough attention to all the details that are going to make my music better than everything else that’s out there. Right!?

Here’s the other side of it and why I think quantity is more important than that perceived “quality”. Especially when you’re in the earlier stages of your music producing journey.  Let’s say that tune with the greatest kick drum of all time I was meticulously laboring over took me 4 weeks to finish. Perhaps that seems like a long time to some of you and maybe it’s a reasonable amount of time to others. I can say that in my early days of music producing, it wouldnt be rare for a track I was making to be kicking about on my hard drive unfinished for MONTHS. And as far as I can tell, there are a lot of music makers out there who have had the same experience.  But I digress… so let’s say 4 weeks to “finish” that single tune, then on to the next one.  Now instead let’s say we wrote one tune a week for those same 4 weeks. Now we have 4 completed tunes that were all likely comprised of different musical ideas (At least I hope so, or else your music may likely be boring!).  Those 4 distinct pieces of music all used different ideas, potentially different instruments, and potentially different DAW tools. At the very least, it was the same tools and instruments all being used in different ways.  As a result, we’ve now had to learn exponentially more about writing music and the tools involved than we would have had just making one song.  All in the same amount of time.  See how important that is? Especially to a budding music producer.

Another thought from my experience on endlessly tweaking a tune…  I often find that in endlessly adjusting a tune to get it “just right”, I will end up tweaking the life right out of it.  Mistakes and imperfections while recording give a peice of music character more times than not.  Much of the most respected music of all time was written before the days of fast processors and large hard drives, they didnt even have the option to endlessly tweak a song.  I cant even count how many times I’ve read an interview with an artist saying that XYZ tune came together in just a few hours. Most great tunes do.

Alright, let’s get the rambling over and back to the topic at hand.   I am aiming to make a tune a week in under 5 hours of studio time. I will declare the tune is done when I think it’s done or when the 5 hour threshold has been reached, which ever comes first.  I will then post it here via SoundCloud.  The goal here is mostly about practice, good habit forming, and just doing the work.  Some of the tunes I create may totally blow and some of them might be half decent, who knows? Im a big believer in books like The War of Art by Steven Pressfield whose basic idea revolves around just putting in the work and through repetition you will hone your skills and in turn continually up the quality of your art.  Read that book, if you haven’t. It’s a great quick read for any creative type. And feel free to join me in my studio challenge.


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