Lessons From The Creative Electronic Music Producer

Two years ago I pitched a book idea to the editors of Routledge’s Perspectives In Music Production Series. At the time, I had written an article for their volume, Producing Music (Routledge, 2019), and since then had amassed dozens of production-related essays on this blog. My pitch was that these essays could anchor an inquiry about the inner life of electronic music production. After my proposal was accepted, I wrote the book over eleven months.

One of pros of writing a book about a topic that interests you is that your research, discoveries, and synthesis feel vital to pursuing ever more questions whose answers you don’t yet know. The process, in other words, feels deeply personal and has a sense of urgency about it. In my case, I was—and still am—curious about how other producer-composers think about their creative process. While my original proposal had put my own work on Plentitudes at the center of the book, as I wrote I found that I was moving myself to the background as I foregrounded the ideas of other producers. Here I used my own fandom as a compass to lead me to musics I found vibrant and enchanting. I went to Reddit to read accounts of amateur musicians enthusing over, and wondering about, techniques used by their favorite producers. I went to YouTube to watch production tutorials. And I went to classic texts and interviews to link current workflow trends with production ideas first put forth decades ago. In the matrix of all of this information, I identified broad themes that animate the production process for many electronic music producers, such as devising musical systems, sound designing, improvising, creative disruption, editing, arranging, and mixing. These themes became the book’s chapters. (You can watch videos about the book here.)

A key lesson I learned writing The Creative Electronic Music Producer is that it takes a while for the ideas I encounter in reading/research/writing to filter into my own practice. Maybe one reason for this is that I tend to turn off a certain way of thinking when I work on music. But by this past summer, ideas from my book were occurring to me whilst working and once I realized that they were filtering in, it felt like a cascade of energy. Off the top of my head: there was Arvo Pärt speaking of finding the right musical system for a musical gesture, Harold Budd using whatever sound is closest at hand, Autechre and Brian Eno designing musical systems, Daphne Oram making an analogy between the electronic musician and a yachtsman in a storm, Biosphere searching for enchanting samples, Jon Hopkins hearing a through-line, Lanark Artefax trying not to be predictable to himself, Rival Consoles running a keyboard through chains of effects, Floating Points layering rhythms of different lengths, Jlin programming beats in a six-beat meter, Alva Noto thinking of editing as his primary tool, Objekt and Clark resampling, processing, and resampling sounds again and again, Tipper taking months and years to craft levels of detail into intricate tracks, Kara-Lis Coverdale hearing an arrangement as inherent in a single sound, and on and on. The point is that all of these ideas (and many others I came across) are compelling in that they they show artists thinking carefully about sound, and also because they’re approaches that are broadly and practically useful. Have I tried using them myself? I have. Which leads me to a second key lesson I learned writing the book: when you answer your own questions by analyzing works of others, you clear a way to do your own thing.   

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