Four years ago, my girlfriend at the time and now wife, convinced some friends of ours to chip in and buy an Ableton Push for my 32nd birthday. It had been years since I had played any instruments and got hooked straight away. A few weeks in, I had recorded my first track using nothing but an old laptop and a shitty microphone. The sound was terrible, the lyrics embarrassing, but it was kinda catchy and turned music production into an obsession of mine.
In Norway we get something called “feriepenger”, or Holiday money from the state every June or July. It’s not a gift but instead a form of mandatory saving. Now that I think of it, it’s very strange. Anyhow, since my birthday is in July I had extra cash lying around and got some proper monitors, a keyboard and a mac, since that’s what all the cool kids were using. I was ready to up my game.
Turns out, producing quality music is hard. Really hard. You’ve probably heard rants about electronic music, and its inferiority to rock, blues, jazz whatever - how it’s just button-pushing and not real music. This might be true for some DJ’s, but in order to produce a good sounding track, you need to push a lot of buttons in the correct order. In this sense it is not much different than learning to play the piano or any other instrument. Producing a track usually involves coming up with melodies, harmonies, lyrics, recording, designing sounds, orchestrating, mixing and mastering. Doing all these well requires a large variety of skills, many of which are complex enough to warrant being professions. For example mixing, which is the art and science of combining sounds to create a coherent whole, is a large industry in and of itself, and can even win you a Grammy. I wanted to do everything myself. Partly to save costs, but also because I was quite interested in the technical aspects of production. If nothing else, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for a well-produced track, and admiration for producers that are able to both be highly creative and technical.
After about two years of pretty much daily work, I released an album on a Norwegian indie label called Aquavit Beat. These days releasing an album usually means a purely digital release which you can easily do yourself, but I decided early on that I wanted to try and make something good enough that not only my wife and mom approved of.
I would judge it a success if one of the tracks got more than 1000 listens on Spotify. Yeah I know, it’s not exactly reaching for the stars. But given that the music I was making was not necessarily radio-friendly, and keeping in mind how saturated the music industry is, I thought getting 1000 stream would be hard enough. Turns out I was partly right. Two years after being released on Spotify, my albums biggest hit has 2104 streams. Tracks from the album have appeared on about 20 mix compilations, and the most popular track got remixed by the owners of the label. One guy from Japan even bought a track through Bandcamp for $1! At this stage, I would characterize music production as a hobby for people with money to spare. You could do like Skrillex and produce everything on just a laptop, but in my experience most people end up spending substantial amounts on gear.
All in all, this project was extremely educational, fun, and at times very frustrating. If you are on the lookout for a deep rabbit hole, music production might just be it.