How Audio Production Taught Me Self-Discipline

Many readers here know this, but for those who don’t – for more than 8 years, I’ve been producing/remixing/mashing up digital music.  It’s my hobby and the avenue that I focus idle brainpower when not working as an Internet marketing/PR professional or blogging.

My reasons for doing so are purely intrinsic, I openly share what I make under a creative commons license, and aside from selling one of my albums in 2007 as a CD and being in iTunes/Beatport for some selected productions, I don’t actively seek revenue for my work.  Over time, many have asked why I do not actively attempt to monetize my art, and the answer is simple – it provides me something far more valuable:  life balance.

It hit me the other day that while I’ve shared some of my experiences as a creative commons artist with you, I haven’t shared the back story to how I actually got into audio production, or how it has helped me achieve greater self-discipline in all my interests in life.

First, the back story of how I become involved in audio production…

Even before creating my own music, I had been active on the web as an avenue to learn more about what I was most interested in at that point, building computers/learning IT, which is actually how I first connected with two local artists also interested in technology, Corner and Devon, at about the age of 17 (I’m 26 now).  They noticed my passion for music and generously took the time to help me focus it, putting me on the path to become an artist.  What I didn’t realize then but I see now is they didn’t just help point me in the direction to develop skills to write music, they put me on path to achieve self-discipline at levels I was previously unable to achieve.  Since then, I’ve been able to apply the same focus to everything in life.

Before our first session working together, Corner said something I won’t forget.  He made me promise that if he devoted his time to teach me audio production, I wouldn’t quit.  I had been so interested in music all my life and already had some background in piano and saxophone; however I had never been given a real opportunity to build upon my skills before that point.  I held Corner in the highest regard as both a person and musician and told him truthfully I wouldn’t.  To this date I have kept that promise.  And it’s no longer just a promise, writing music is a part of who I am and it’s become something I’d never give up (along with marketing and blogging, of course).

As a youth, I had played piano off-and-on in idle time, and in junior high I played saxophone.  The problem wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy music – I absolutely did – however what I wasn’t interested in was playing the music of others and to this day I have not been – it just never fit within my personality.  What I would later discover is what interested me most was creating my own music, but there was no opportunity for that in traditional music teaching.

The problem with my instructors as a youth is they never set that spark of my love for music on fire.  I didn’t like playing within the lines, it bored me.  I was able to do it just fine, but I always thought it was zero sum – I wasn’t creating anything, so what was the point?  Where were the results of my efforts?  I always loved to build things – I had built R/C planes and model rockets as a child and found that more than flying them, building them was even more fulfilling.  Same with computers – I was never satisfied merely using them, I took them apart and pieced them back together so I could understand how the hardware functioned and worked together.  Only after I built my first R/C plane did I truly understand and appreciate the intricacies and complexities of flying.  Only after building my first computer did I fully appreciate using one.  Both the first R/C plane and PC I built crashed spectacularly, however I kept at it and eventually achieved success, as I was intrinsically driven to see the results.  The same curiosity was eventually applied to music, but not enabled by any traditional instructors, rather by other artists.

Art, especially music is something that I don’t think you can truly learn in structured settings – at least I couldn’t.  I never did well in controlled settings, but always excelled on my own when free to experiment in the wild.  Corner and Devon actually didn’t do much aside from teaching me the basics, what they did was put me in front of the tools and got out of my way.  They also believed in me, something they told me directly – but they didn’t even need to, I knew they did by their actions.  Up until that point, I’m not convinced my previous instructors or mentors did.  It’s funny because they really only spent about one year physically with me working on music.  That’s all it took, I ran with it myself from that point.

At first I just wanted to remix/mash up compositions of others to make them my own.  The logical progression from that point was I wanted to dissect music to learn how all the sounds worked together to create a final product greater than the separate pieces.  Eventually of course I wanted to create my own music from scratch.

As I matured in life I reached a point I didn’t require others to believe in me, my internal motivation was more than sufficient, but I realize now that I required someone to initially to get to that point.  I consider myself fortunate to have connected with two passionate and generous artists when I did – they made more of a difference than they realize.

I know this is prelude to the actual title of this post, but I felt it important to tell the back story.  Now I’ll share with you specifically how audio production taught me the self-discipline necessary to be a prolific in all aspects of life.

Importance of internal goal-setting

The metacognition required to make music or engage in actual project work of any sort was more challenging and interesting to me than purely cerebral academic studies, and the results were tangible.  I enjoyed reading/studying independently and applying skills on actual projects, not memorizing facts and being tested for the sake of being tested.  By focusing on what I wanted to achieve and having an end result in mind for something tangible, I learned to set internal goals and visualize the end product along with how fulfilling it would be to get that result.

A lifetime to grow

Art is something that is a lifetime process, where there are no right or wrong answers, it is whatever you make of it.  Being actively engaged in making long-term creative projects on a self-motivated basis is a great way to become disciplined in the spectrum of interests in your life.

Patterns, proficiency, processes

Early on in my independent audio production sessions, I quickly learned the importance of becoming efficient with low-level tasks such as finding ideal compression levels and EQ settings I found aurally pleasing on different types of sounds.  I created my own default settings for many processes so I wasn’t reinventing the wheel.  Also, I saw where I could potentially take shortcuts but knew it made a better product to do the process manually.  This required strong development of self-discipline because it’s in many cases easier to go with presets or automation, but would ruin the originality of a sound.  The more time I freed up during production sessions to spend on the elements of composition most interesting to me, the more I enjoyed the process.  For it, the results got better.

You learn self-discipline by applying passion

Parents, mentors or our peers try to help us learn self-discipline, however at the end of the day you must learn this yourself.  Probably the best avenue to do this is being involved in something you’re passionate about, because that will motivate you to see each phase of it through to the end.  When you’re able to do this successfully for multiple projects, you watch your results get closer to your internal vision of success bit by bit.  It’s a lifelong process, of course, but being able to learn self-discipline at one thing – it doesn’t matter what it is – teaches the patience and work ethic necessary for success in any other interest because you’ll know what is required.  Years of directing my free time to creative output has helped me develop self-discipline and motivation in all aspects of life.  What works for you will of course be different, but if your passion is behind it you can’t go wrong.

Conclusion

I believe anyone with the right drive and determination can learn self-discipline to apply in all areas of their life to achieve what they want.  It is something everyone finds and achieves through unique ways, and it happens for everyone at different points.  Learning self-discipline in something you have affinity for is a great first step, because you must achieve it in one avenue to learn how to apply it to anything.  My only regret is not learning proper self-discipline even sooner; however the older I get the more I realize I that I am probably fortunate to have learned it at all.

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