[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire and provided exclusively for the TuneCore Blog from our friends at Soundfly!]
By now, it’s clear that COVID-19’s impact on musicians and the music industry is deep.
The virus has cancelled shows and entire tours, delayed record releases, and put physical distance between musicians across the world. Since it sounds unrealistic and tacky to urge anyone to look for a silver lining during a crisis as complex and devastating as this one, I think it’s better to suggest that we musicians focus on what we can control in our lives right now.
And there’s a lot! Here are four skills you can develop during your time at home that will have a lasting effect on your career for years to come.
DIY recording in your home takes a minimal amount of equipment, but a lot of practice. The seemingly simple act of recording music in a home studio can get complex in a hurry when you factor in things like proper gear, mic placements, and how spaces need to be acoustically treated. This especially applies to the tricky business of having to track your sessions at home by yourself at the moment.
But the good news is that even the pros spend a lifetime learning and improving on recording techniques, and you’re making progress every single time to sit down and record!
Right now is the perfect time to learn whatever you can about the home recording process and start trying things out for yourself. Our friends over at Soundfly offer tons of online courses designed to acquaint musicians with the complex and endlessly fascinating world of music production through active learning—and with their new subscription plan you can get access to all of them for a song!
Whether you go it alone or get outside help learning it, developing your production skills will take time and patience; and speaking of which…
If you’re the sort of musician that primarily focuses on generating song or lyric ideas and not much else, picking up some production skills will be a big help during this time. Writing and recording music isn’t the end of the story when it comes to getting songs ready for release.
Most recorded music needs a good amount of refinement and polishing before it can be called “done.” And that includes bringing out the character of music through leveling out the volume on individual tracks, panning, adding EQs, reverbs, delays, and other processing and effects, let alone mastering for the distribution medium. Production can also include using samples, creating sound design or using synthesizers, remixing other artists’ work, and of course spoken word projects like podcasts and audiobooks.
You don’t have to become an expert on all of this stuff, but becoming a more self-sufficient artist by picking up one skill at a time is certainly worth a little bit of time and focus! My recommendation is just to start grabbing reference tracks (songs you like) and seeing if you can recreate the sound of the mix one element at a time, as a personal challenge. But there are tons of quick, free resources to learn about this stuff all over the web.
Save for the golden-throated naturals among us, singing can be a real challenge for musicians, even if we have experience and confidence.
Nailing the perfect pitch, timbre, expressiveness, and lyric annunciation while singing a song requires an entirely different set of physical and intellectual skills than what most instrumentalists might be used to—now’s as good a time as ever to improve your voice work!
Learning how to sing with confidence and musical accuracy is a fantastic skill to have, even if just to be able to sing backup on stage or in the studio. Singing also gives us the ability to better understand and participate in the songwriting and recording process as collaborators of vocalists. Bassists, drummers, and producers can gain insight and context when it comes to how vocal melodies shape songs.
Music theory/keyboard skills
Why are music theory and keyboard skills listed here under the same category? Because while one skill is purely intellectual and the other involves muscle memory, there’s a huge opportunity to develop them both simultaneously.
Music theory staples like chords, scales, and intervals are also typically introduced to musicians with the keyboard as a visual aid. Composers and conductors almost always have impeccable keyboard skills, since the piano is such a versatile tool for bringing melody, harmony, and timbre together.
Again, there’s no need to pressure yourself to master anything. But just making improvements to your keyboard skills and understanding of music theory will go a long way and impact the way you relate to music for the rest of your life, no matter your instrument and musical background.
Of course, an abundance of time at home doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to expand your musical chops easily during this rocky period. Learning a new skill can be a huge undertaking even under normal circumstances, and everything going on right now might make it even tougher for you.
When things get tough, it’s okay to take breaks and let patience guide the process of taking on a new skill. These valuable musical skills won’t be going anywhere.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pocket.