Quality Via Quantity: The Secret to Effective Practice
This is a guest post by one of the Mastering & Mixing Engineers on OTGS; Crimson Lake Production.
Have you ever noticed that you spend about 90% of your production time on the last 5% of the project? Do you ever “finish” a song and then keep going back, day after day, to tweak the mix?
I can relate. It’s a tough problem to have – after spending perhaps dozens of hours on a song, it’s hard to let it go until it’s perfect. Unfortunately, if our goal is to improve as producers and songwriters, this perfectionism may be holding us back.
More Songs = Better Songs
A ceramics teacher once conducted an experiment on his students. First, he split the class into two groups: a “quality group” and a “quantity group.”
The quality group would spend the whole semester planning, studying, and think about how to create a single, perfect pot. This group would be graded on the quality of their result. The quantity group was told that they would be graded solely on quantity – the more pots of any quality they could make, the better.
The experiment yielded an interesting result: all of the best pots in the class came from the quantity group that gained tons of practical experience and continuously improved by learning from their mistakes, while the quality group spent the semester studying and theorizing.
The same principles apply to music. If you want to level up quickly as a songwriter and a producer, your short-term focus should be on quantity rather than quality. If you learn from your mistakes and continue creating, quality will come as a natural byproduct.
Some tips on putting this into practice:
1. Allow yourself to finish things
Nothing – not even your favorite masterpiece – is ever truly perfect. All art is subjective, so there’s no such thing as perfection. Accept that for now, “good” is good enough. Greatness comes with practice, and that includes practice with finishing songs. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down with final tweaks. Let yourself finish and move on to a new project.
2. Try writing your way out of a writer’s block
One major cause of writer’s block is derailment during a writing session. For example, I might write a melody for a set of chords, but it doesn’t sound quite right. I can easily get stuck revising the same melody for hours, only eventually to get frustrated and give up without ever writing something I like. Rather than doing that – taking a single melody and trying to improve it until it meets your standards – try writing ten melodies. Start with different notes, play in different octaves, try different rhythms, or switch instruments. In the process of writing ten alternative melodies, you’ll likely discover one you like. Then you can revise that melody, or mix and match with pieces of your other nine melodies.
3. Focus on specific areas that need improvement
Think about where your skills lie and pinpoint the areas where you need the most practice. Then, practice intensively – and once again, keep in mind that the goal is quantity, not quality. Want to improve your songwriting? Write a bunch of songs, and don’t slow down to polish up the sounds and production. Want to improve your sound design? Write a melody loop and then design a dozen leads. You get the picture.
When it comes to improving your art, the quickest path is to focus on making a lot of art instead of obsessing over making each piece perfect. Allow yourself to relax and to finish projects. Keep them – even the ones that don’t turn out well! As you finish dozens of songs, you’ll be able to see your progression from one to the next.
Great advice, thanks Elijah! We recommend setting a goal for yourself to complete 1 track every 2 possible 3 weeks to keep momentum going. Post your progress or completed tracks as a preview or private track on OTGS and get feedback so you learn even quicker. Enjoy the practice!