Thinking Like an Amateur
Ever since you started getting “serious” about your music-making, you’ve secretly started having less fun with it. You (vaguely) remember a time when you didn’t feel this way; when you had no aspirations to be a professional, making music was always a great way for you to relax. But now that you’ve become concerned with “success,” your sense of childlike joy at just making sounds has disappeared and has been overtaken by your desire to finish songs— or even scarier: get famous.
Although this book is mostly about finding ways to get music done, sometimes there are benefits to forgetting about that way of thinking entirely and instead just enjoying the process of making music as a goal in itself.
When someone is referred to as an amateur, this is usually meant to imply that they’re less qualified or less talented than a professional in the same field. An amateur, it’s assumed, is someone who would have liked to be a professional but who was unable to reach that level. But despite these negative connotations, the word “amateur” actually just means “lover of,” and there are many amateurs in all fields who are working at a very high level. And there are still many more who aren’t necessarily great at what they do but are having a great time.
Think about something you consider a hobby, something (besides music) that you do with your free time. Maybe you run marathons, or brew beer, or take wildlife photographs. Whatever it is, have you ever even considered doing it professionally? Probably not. And most likely this isn’t because you’re not good enough (and whether you are or not is probably irrelevant to your decision), but rather because the very fact that it’s a hobby means that it’s something you do that isn’t work. Instead, it’s a chance to spend time on something fun and fulfilling that doesn’t saddle you with any outside pressure to succeed, earn a living, etc.
Electronic musicians, more so than musicians working in other genres, seem to have a more difficult time simply engaging with music as a hobby. Perhaps this is because tools like DAWs are fundamentally designed around a recording mentality. Think about people you’ve met who own an acoustic guitar. Just pulling it out and playing it for a few minutes while sitting on the couch may be the extent of their musical aspirations. And they don’t see this as failure. They’re not lamenting their inability to get gigs or write more music or get record deals. They’re having exactly the relationship with music that they want. In fact, they’re usually not even recording what they play; once it’s in the air, it’s gone.
By definition, being a professional means having to spend at least some amount of time thinking about the marketplace. Is there an audience for the music you’re making? If not, you’re guaranteed to fail. Amateurs, on the other hand, never have to think about this question at all. This frees them to make music entirely for themselves, on their own terms.
One easy way to do this is to put yourself into a musical context in which you actually are an amateur—by experimenting with a genre in which you have no prior experience. Are you a committed hip-hop producer? Try making a house track. Your expectations are bound to be lower, simply because you have no prior successes or failures against which to gauge your current work. Even if you hate the results, it’s likely that you’ll learn something from the experience.
Even if you do aspire to make a living out of creating original music, it might be helpful to think like an amateur in order to lower your stress and bring the fun back to your music-making time. Amateurs often have a genuinely more pleasurable experience than professionals working in the same field, and this is almost certainly because they’re free from outside pressure. If you can instill this mindset into your own work, you’ll probably have both better results and a better time.