13 September 2020

On Learning and Creativity

Creativity is something that I feel I’ve never really understood as a concept, I really viewed a “creative” as somebody who knows how to create works of art through various mediums, whether it is music, film, photography, artwork, dancing, or even theatre. As somebody who really never excelled at “creative” things, I never really viewed myself as a creative person. Who really is a “creative”? I have a lot of friends who are talented musicians, artists, designers, photographers, you name it. Before, I thought these folks as being a gold standard of “creative”. But quite frankly, my feelings have started to shift because I do not think that being creative stems from the proficiency of what you creating, but merely the regular act of creating.

So I decided to take a stab at improving my creativity.

My adventure into discovering my creative side began with the pandemic. Back in March when the entirety of New York City closed down and the quarantine started, I decided to seriously start learning how to make music. I used to use Ableton in college to chop samples / make music mixes, but I never really produced any tracks seriously or tried to really learn how it works. During the quarantine, Ableton was having a 30% sale on their software, so I decided to pull the trigger and get both Ableton Live Suite and a Push 2, a MIDI controller that integrates with Ableton. Little did I know that this would trigger something inside of me. As I started this new hobby, I really had this internal fear of “failure”. Even though it was just a casual hobby, I still thought I could fail at being a producer with my music not being good enough or the songs not sounding like the type of producer I wanted to be. I was expecting to be as good as J Dilla, Kanye West, or Madlib from the jump, which is unrealistic. But, then I remembered a wise quote by Jake from Adventure Time.

Jake from Adventure Time

The irony of learning how to produce music is that it has taught me a variety of things that aren’t necessarily music-related, but stemming from this journey in growing creatively.

It taught me patience, because I’ve had to sit and chop samples and arrange them to sound just right, and adding various layers onto a song. It taught me how to be nicer to myself, because I had to recognize that I was still learning and the growing that I was doing and that I am still learning.

It taught me delayed gratification, especially as I stuck with it and listened to songs from the beginning of the journey as I kept on growing and noticing the elements that have gotten better. Seriously, take a listen to these two songs below and see for yourself. Here’s the first beat I made back in March:

bodega milk · (w)aiting

And here’s one from last month:

bodega milk · i.love.you

It taught me self-compassion, because it’s normal not to be good at something immediately, that’s the first step in the growing process.

It taught me community, as I started a Discord community for music producers, where we push each other to grow, offer feedback, and collaborate on things together.

It taught me curiosity. Music has so many layers to it, the software is just one layer. It becomes more involved with music theory and piano theory, but I’m happily going down the rabbithole of learning so many new things.

And lastly, it taught me creativity. I did not think I was really a creative person before, and while I don’t feel I’m as creative as my other friends, I do know that I have a creative part of my brain that can produce things other than just software.

If you’re thinking about exploring your creative side and started something, whether it’s music, painting, writing, photography, cooking, fashion, whatever it is, do not let the fear of “being bad” hold you back. Even your favorite musicians started from somewhere, nobody is born immediately knowing how to play an instrument. Do not be afraid to take that first step. And if you do take that step into finding your creativity, here are a few tips that I have for you to get the most out of your learning:

  1. Document your growth. This allows you to have an objective point of reference for when you are doubting yourself and think you aren’t improving. After awhile, you will start to see the improvements.
  2. Practice regularly. When I first started, I was practicing regularly. When I say regularly, I literally mean I was chopping a sample and flipping a track pretty much every single day, or at least working on one every day. This regularity for 3 months helped my growth a lot. I kind of get the dedication that Kanye put into growing himself as a producer when he rapped about “5 beats a day for 3 summers”.
  3. Be patient and kind with yourself. A lot of people, myself included, are used to having external validation from their jobs/careers and may not be used to not being proficient at something. It’s okay to suck. There’s nowhere to go but up from here.
  4. Ask for feedback from friends. If you’re comfortable with it, ask for feedback from your friends that have the creative skills you’re trying to improve. That feedback will allow you to refine your focus and know what areas you can grow with, while also allowing you to know which areas are your strongest parts. I realized the weakest part of my songs were basslines and also drums, so I focused a lot more of time into that. But when it comes to sampling, I have been really good at that from the jump.
  5. Have fun. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This is a hobby and it should be low-stakes. Don’t view “being the best” as the means to the end, but rather letting the learning and enjoyment be enough. I guarantee that so long as you enjoy it, you will stick with it.

If you’re thinking about learning a new skill, especially something creative, or you just want to talk about music production, feel free to shoot me a message on Twitter. I wish you the best of luck in your creative journey and I hope that you can discover or grow your creative side!

Thanks to Justin Duke for reading over a draft of this blog post and providing feedback!

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