This is How Music Producers Can Keep Their Work Fresh, Feat. Sebastian TorresPosted by Mike Schuck
If you're a professional athlete, it's pretty easy to tell whether or not you're in shape. You can either play the game or you can't; you can keep up with the competition or you can't.
But for music industry professionals, everything is way more abstract. It depends so much on how you're feeling and what you've been listening to.
You might be in the middle of a great project and feel like you're treading old ground. Or you might be rehashing old ideas and feel like you're on top of the world.
If we had to guess, we'd say that most music pros want to feel like they're keeping things fresh, like they know what's big right now while also taking notes from decades and decades of rich musical history.
Well, we're here to help you figure this out. This article is about keeping your music game strong while also keeping a healthy work-life balance.
Here to help us out is the top-tier producer and songwriter Sebastian Torres, who knows a lot about working with artists from all kinds of genres. Torres has credits with artists like NCT-127, Marco Mares, Samantha Sanchez, Pol Granch, Kiiara, Lita, and Naïka.
Just this small selection of artists represents a slew of genres, from Latin to pop to R&B, and the combined listens on his tracks (Ciao Ciao, MOVE!, Mala Mana, Don't Get Confused, Ride, Oh Mama, and Belle Belle, just to name a handful) are in the tens of millions.
So here's the plan: we're going to share some of Torres's thoughts on how to keep your work fresh as a producer, but a lot of what we'll be talking about here also applies to working as a songwriter, engineer, or even an instrumentalist.
Pushing outside the box
Torres talked to us about how basically every producer has genres that they feel safe with. These are probably genres that they listen to casually, based on their personal taste.
For Torres, these genres include Latin and pop. He's very familiar with these genres and finds himself returning to them naturally on a regular basis.
It's pretty easy for a producer to do work in their most comfortable genres. They know the sounds and the rhythms super well. But taking things to the next level means traveling outside the comfort zone.
That's not something that happens naturally. A producer has to make the decision to try new things. Sure, it can be intimidating, but the rewards are real.
"Instead of boxing themselves into one genre or another, I think producers should always be looking for ways to challenge themselves and expand their arsenal. Diving into different genres is an amazing way to learn. You can learn different patterns, rules, sounds, ideas, and techniques that will make you a better producer."
Knowing your way around a bunch of different genres is its own reward, of course, since it lets you work with artists in all of those genres, but as Torres was right to point out, you can also go cross-genre on a project, taking tools and methods common in one genre and apply them to something completely different.
Refresh your listening
A producer's musical education never really stops. Now, that doesn't mean you'll forever be trapped in some music theory classroom where the room temp is always just a bit too warm. We just mean that you'll always be coming across new music and learning a lot by listening to as much of it as possible.
If that sounds like a chore, it's really not. Both listening to a wide range of musical styles and working across a wide range of musical styles can be a breath of fresh air.
Chances are every one of you out there has had an experience where you were working on an album or maybe just a single track for so long that you started to get sick of it.
That fatigue isn't necessarily a sign that the work you're doing is bad, just that you've been focusing on the same thing and the same sounds for a long time.
Listening to or making tracks in a different genre can give your ears a much-needed change of pace, and it will probably get you thinking in a different way.
Torres is a big fan of this approach, and as he says here, producers are in a lucky position, one where they can switch genres without messing with their career.
"One big advantage that producers have that artists don't is that we can do any genre we want. We can dive into different sounds since we're behind the scenes. A huge pop artist may not choose to make hip hop or Latin music because they have to maintain some consistency, but producers can glide between genres if they want."
Think of this like sonic tourism. Have you ever found a new appreciation for your home base after spending a couple of weeks somewhere else? It's the same idea here, and it can give your work new and interesting flavors.
The great genre fusion
Playing around with all these different genres isn't just about self-improvement, either. The need for range and versatility is becoming a much bigger deal, and that has a lot to do with how popular music is changing.
Genre fusions of some kind have been around for a long time, but these days, genres are mixing very casually, getting tangled up with each other to create brand new combinations.
So knowing your way around as many genres as possible is a creative tool, too.
"With the way that genres overlap with each other and the way music is evolving, I think versatility is an amazing tool to have. More and more you're seeing 'crossovers,' or artists stepping out of their comfort zone and collaborating with other artists from very different genres. This is a testament to how listeners today are more open-minded."
These crossovers can easily hit it big, and there's a good chance that audiences will want to hear more of this kind of work.
Is all this fusion caused by the internet or a sense of shared global culture? We'll let the music historians work that one out, but the important thing for producers to understand is that knowing how to handle genre combos is a big asset right now.
Knowing when to pull back
Now that we've covered how you can take your professional game to the next level, we'd like to balance things out here at the end by discussing how to take breaks and appreciate music not just as a professional but as a person.
Have you ever heard of the Tetris Effect? At a basic level, if you play Tetris for too long, too often, you'll probably start to see the world differently, trying to find elements of the game in everyday objects.
But the concept applies to just about any activity. If you're devoting most of your time to doing just one thing, it can be really hard to pull away from it and stop it from invading other experiences.
We've all had moments where we just worked too hard at something. You can get a lot done by sinking tons of time into it, but after a certain point, the negative effects start creeping in, and you can be sure that this can happen with music, too.
Torres talked to us about how his years of professional experience in production and songwriting can sometimes get in the way of just enjoying music.
"I'm able to pick things out that the average listener wouldn't. This can really enhance my listening experience, but at the same time, I struggle to just simply listen to a song without analyzing it or judging it. I'm grateful that I can listen to music in a more elevated way, but sometimes it's hard to turn my brain off and just listen to a song in its most basic form."
If your work is getting in the way of the passion that got you involved in the first place, that's a red flag, and it might even be a sign that you should take a step back.
That could mean going back to some of your all-time favorite music or looking for something new. It could mean going to more live shows and getting involved with other artists and industry professionals.
Heck, it might even mean stepping away from music altogether for a bit.
Keeping yourself from working too hard ends up benefiting your work in the long run, and it's the same when it comes to scheduling, too.
Torres makes an effort to space out the work when needed, as a way to keep his own sense of creativity healthy and vibrant.
"I'm usually pretty busy, but I also pause and schedule days where I don't have a session or work with artists. I think it's important for music creators to understand that what we do isn't a 9-5 job. It's a job that requires a lot of creative processes and it's very easy to exhaust those muscles. Taking creative breaks and refreshing your mind by having hobbies and doing activities that don't have anything to do with music is incredibly important."
All of this comes down to balance. There will be days when you need to push harder and days when you need to go easy, and you're the only person who can make those calls. You know what will make you a better producer, and paying attention to those signals is just part of working in the music business.
When everything's balanced just right, that's when the magic happens.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
If you have any questions or concerns or just want to drop us a line, don't hesitate to contact us! We always appreciate the feedback.