When you spend time in the company of giants, and you’re an observant person, you learn a few things.
Through the process of watching many around me and the interviews I conducted for Don’t Make Beats Like Me, I noticed a few habits of the successful that I readily pass along to you.
1. They habitually open themselves up to the very things that they fear. While many of us, myself included, shrink away from our fears, producers on top head in the direction of the shit that scares the hell out of the rest of us. Hen said in my book that he and Dow would book a one-way ticket to go work with an artist and they would have to get in the studio and earn the money to buy a ticket back home. How many of us would pull some terrifying shit like that? “What if I get stuck?” is what you wonder. Successful people, especially producers, have a higher capacity of addressing and walking towards the things that scare the average person.
2. They strive for sonic separation. The best producers usually have a signature sound. It’s like a company’s trade secret, Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, the thing that a customer can’t get anywhere else. Sonic separation is essential to longevity. And very difficult to cultivate. Now, top dog producers, because they've sharpened their skills, can always dip a toe into the current of what’s currently popular. Dubstep? They can make that. Trap? They can make that. But they’re not confined by a sound. They’ve forged a creative range that allows them to expand beyond the mainstream, which opens up significantly the opportunities where they can work. They can make what everyone else makes, but if Lady Gaga calls for something a little strange, a little upbeat, a little wild that has their own particular spin on it, they’re on it. They haven’t been in a room making the same mainstream shit over and over again. They’re ready to conquer a variety of options.
3. They mind their business. Never content with just signing some shit or sitting in a room with a lawyer or business manager and nodding blankly, they know what they’re owed, what they can expect to pay in taxes. They make sure their shit is registered properly, that the royalties—producer royalties, performance royalties—are flowing properly. They’re with their sharp-ass attorney or manager reading through the clauses in the thick-ass publishing deal they’ve just been handed. Things are not left to chance. They know that this is how they eat, that there is long-term wealth to earn, and they don’t bullshit their business.
4. They continuously seek knowledge. Whether that knowledge is in the form of learning about royalties and publishing, the contractual points of starting a label or production company, or learning how to become an even better producer—recording, theory, mixing—they do it. They know that there are no ceilings.
5. They think long-term. Moves are rarely made in the moment. Serious thought is applied to career situations, how signing a publishing deal affects the long-term strategy, if the sound of the game shifts and they adopt it, how does that factor into their long-term goals, if they sign a production deal with one label, even though the opportunity looks good, what does it do for them in 5 years?
6. They lock onto a target, a North Star if you will. REO said that Timbaland was his North Star. That he strove every day to create music as good as Timbaland. That Timbaland was the measuring stick. Focus… said that Quincy Jones and Russ Titelman were his targets. That he strives to be as legendary as they are. It’s a fantastic strategy, to measure yourself against greatness, because, in the process of relentlessly chasing a monster like Timbaland, or the Zeus of production, Quincy Jones, you just may become great yourself. Who’s your North Star?