So you’ve been passionately listening to your favourite artists for years, have recently started making your own mixes and now you’re wondering how you can become a professional and successful EDM or pop music producer? Grand! As you know, the world of music production is home to some really big names and teams, so in this blog, guest-blogger Jens Oosterkamp (Jens East) shares some valuable tips and the story of how he started out in his bedroom and is now often approached by acclaimed record labels.
- A Single Jump to the Top
- The Dream
- The Secrets of Success
- The Things You Can’t Control
- Work Hard, Network, Repeat!
- See Also
A Single Jump to the Top
In 2012, after I had just started out producing music, my girlfriend kept asking me why I wasn’t the new David Guetta yet. I wasn’t very patient, saw the success of famous DJs and thought: that’s what I want too! It makes sense that you’d want to breakthrough soon after you start producing tracks, but there are two important reasons why this is actually a bad idea:
1. You’ve barely acquired any music production knowledge or skills.
2. You don’t know the industry all that well yet.
It’s like standing in front of an extremely tall ladder and wanting to skip all the steps to get to the top in one go. You might be the super-athlete in this metaphor who’s able to pull it off, but for most of us mortals, this against-the-grain approach will undoubtedly result in a big pile of problems. Nevertheless, there are plenty of fledgling producers who try it anyway.
In practice, this means that at the beginning of your career, you’ll encounter a lot of people claiming how brilliant they are even though they have nothing to show for it yet. These are the same people that fill up the inbox of your favourite A&Rs (label reps) with so many concept-tracks that your carefully-crafted mix becomes a needle in a haystack. At first, this is part of the game, so it’s important to ask yourself why you want to be a professional producer. Maybe you love to express yourself through music, or maybe you dream of getting paid to produce so you can spend even more time doing what you love. Or maybe you’ve envisioned wealth, fame and being eternally worshipped by fans. Any motivation works, but if the latter is the case, you’ll have to be prepared for the ugly side of things because your dream is based on the outcome (the fame) instead of the process (making music). I, too, still catch myself sometimes fixating on achieving fame, but however paradoxical it might sound, I’ve noticed I’m having a lot more success when I’m actually focused on having fun.
The Secrets of Success
For the purpose of this blog, let’s define success as being paid for your work as a producer or getting a lot of exposure. If you happen to have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, the one about the 10,000-hour rule, you’ll know that most successful people aren’t born geniuses at all – and that’s great news for most of us! Personally, I don’t believe that success is 100% your own doing, but a product of the following elements: Work, Network, Timing, Luck and Talent. The last three are out of our control, but we can definitely work on the first two. More on that later, first I want to dive a little deeper into the things you can’t control.
The Things You Can’t Control
Timing: A great example from Gladwell’s book includes computer-tech legends like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all of whom happen to have been born between 1954 and 1956 and grew up in a time when they were the ones lucky enough to have access to the first mainframe computers. By focussing on the concept of this new technology and working hard, these pioneers grew to become the icons they’re known as today. That’s our luck, because just twenty years ago, most of us couldn’t have even dreamed of becoming a producer. The required gear was simply too expensive. On the other hand, now that so many of us have access to a laptop and are technically able to produce music, it means there’s also a lot of competition.
Luck: One day, a brilliant idea might strike you, which is probably due to luck rather than talent. Or, you’re born at the right time (timing), possibly as a prodigy. Or maybe you come from a rich or famous family (network). If you’re born with bad luck, let’s just say diligence is the mother of good luck.
Talent: It’s true, some people are born with better ears for music production, while others are born with relentless perseverance, which is probably a talent in its own right if you think about it and at least makes getting work done a bit easier!
Work Hard, Network, Repeat!
So, since Armin van Buuren probably isn’t your dad and statistically speaking you most likely aren’t a prodigy either, here are a few aspects that you can control. Let me share a few of my own experiences:
Work Hard: For example, by investing a lot of time in developing your signature sound or learning how to produce better tracks by watching YouTube tutorials. You might even end up making tutorials yourself. Believe it or not, I was once invited by a famous DJ to come and work in his studio, simply because he saw one of my videos on Youtube and knew that I knew what I was doing. In addition, I’ve set the goal to release only the best music I’m able to make. Under my artist name, Jens East, I’ve produced 90% of my tracks myself without the help of a label. Occasionally along with a couple of friends, I even made the first album covers myself, even though I’m outsourcing that these days. I give some of my music away for free, and there are tons of YouTube channels who love making use of it. These are the kind of channels that offer copyright-free music to millions of followers. As a result, content creators in need of music are able to find my music through these channels, increasing my exposure. I firmly believe that if you make truly good music that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and are able to prove your worth, you’ll attract the people you’d love to work with like a magnet. Two years ago, I received a message from the manager of an artist who’s worked with Martin Garrix a lot and just the other day, I was approached by one of the biggest dance labels in Holland.
Network: Take every chance you get to meet new people. Most well-established names aren’t waiting for someone who’s been at it for only a month, but if you’re a beginning topline writer, the person who writes the song after the beat’s already been made, it’s a completely different story. A topliner can grow alongside a producer and probably knows a few other people who could teach you a thing or two, or who you could collaborate with. The point is, find out ways to meet people. You could visit EDM events, or hit up Facebook groups. I worked in the Ibiza studios where David Guetta wrote several of his records for a few months because I met the owner at the Dance Fair event and sent him a personal video afterwards. When I was taking my first steps, I went to my local conversatory to look for a tutor, so I’d have someone to fire my production-related questions at. While we’d only meet up for maybe two hours every month, the knowledge I gained proved invaluable for my development, so I definitely recommend doing something similar. Ask yourself who could help you expand your skills and how you can get in contact with them. At some point, I asked my friends if they knew any vocalists, and they did. This kept snowballing for years. Everybody always knows somebody and before you know it, you’ve built up a solid network, reputation and list of learning experiences. The vocalist my friends introduced me to in turn introduced me to other people and soon after, I was doing smaller jobs for people who were industry veterans and I even ended up at writers camps in Spain and the Czech Republic where I met the vocal producer of a Dutch top-40 artist. I sent her a demo, and recently even worked together with her on her latest single.
Hard work pays off. It’s often easy to compare your blooper reel to someone else’s highlights or popular Instagram channel, but if you spend your time becoming better at producing, networking, and most of all, enjoying the journey, the right things and people will come to you. Take it step by step and you’ll notice that slowly but surely, your patience will be rewarded!
Planning to become a professional producer yourself? Feel free to share your thoughts, plans or ideas below!