I’ve been using Ableton Live on and off for over ten years now. It all began in early high school when I was inspired to make music after reading an interview with Skream, one of the early pioneers of old-school dubstep in the UK.
I quickly installed FL Studio on my barebones Windows desktop and proceeded to tinker with buttons and knobs until I was left with something I thought sounded interesting. I never really watched tutorials, and I surely didn’t read any books on music theory. My musical capabilities were essentially nonexistent.
Once I left for college, I was gifted a shiny new MacBook Pro, which I still use to this day roughly 7 years later. I had heard of Ableton Live by that point and was in love with the minimal user interface. I hadn’t exactly forged a creative workflow in FL Studio considering my low skill level, so making the switch was nearly seamless.
Since then, I’ve been using Live to produce what I can only describe as weird, pseudo-experimental trap-influenced beats that were incredibly rough around the edges and lacked proper mixing and mastering. What mattered, however, was that I was having fun doing it.
Looking back on my now dormant Soundcloud and listening to the tracks I had produced in the past, it’s evident that I at least marginally progressed in skill. All things considered, I wasn’t half bad for someone who knew not an ounce of music theory or so much as sat through more than a handful of tutorials in their entirety. But something has changed since then.
My most recent upload to Soundcloud that I genuinely enjoyed creating was over an entire year ago. That’s not to say I haven’t fired up Ableton countless times since then, in fact, that’s where my dilemma lies.
Every single time I open Ableton Live with the intent of producing a beat for the fun of it I get frustrated, uninspired, and creatively void. Time and time again, I reluctantly quit after attempting to make music for anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and a half. I search for new sounds and virtual instruments to give me something to play with in hopes that it sparks some joy, and it does for a moment or two, but eventually I hit the same block that I left off at.
An expensive camera with thousands of dollars in lenses and gear doesn’t automatically make you a phenomenal photographer. The same can be said regarding music production: a great producer can create something worthwhile without needing to download thousands upon thousands of samples and presets or every VST they can get their hands on.
Where I’m at now, I just don’t truly enjoy making music anymore. Because I’ve fallen victim to downloading anything and everything that I believe will finally make my beats sound good or boost my creativity, I have roughly 800 gigabytes of samples, presets, instruments, and effects plugins stored on my single terabyte external SSD. Do I need hundreds of thousands of drum samples and pre-constructed melodies to create a two-minute beat that only a handful of people will listen to? I don’t have a problem with nobody seeing what I produce, but it feels like that would at least give me a sense of validation if I actually enjoyed the process of making them.
This brings me to the point I made regarding photography. I legitimately love shooting photos, and it doesn’t phase me in the slightest that I’m using a relatively entry-level Nikon DSLR. It’s perfect for me as a casual hobbyist. I’m as amateur as they come, but if I spent thousands on a top-of-the-line DSLR with loads of fancy lenses, all of that high-end gear would be wasted on me. I’m only scraping the surface of the knowledge surrounding quality camerawork and know even less about processing images, so a $5000 camera is simply not worth even dreaming about just yet.
What I’m trying to get at with this is that I think I’m spreading my interests too thin (as seen below in some hastily drawn diagrams I’ve made). I pick up new hobbies like it’s an Olympic sport, and a vast majority of these turn out to be phases lasting no longer than a week (no thanks to my attention span). It’s a miracle that I’ve clung onto music production for as long as I have, but it might be time to cut my losses.
I actively avoid attempting to estimate the time I’ve wasted forcing myself to make music while enjoying it for a slim fraction of time spent on it. Maybe my massive Nexus 3 installation and wildly space-consuming Kontakt libraries that I never use are better off leaving my hard drive entirely. External storage isn’t exactly that costly these days, but there isn’t a single reason for me holding on to hundreds of gigabytes of sounds I’ll never use.
My final thought on this is that this time spent on a hobby I hardly like doing anymore should be used for one I actively love. Photography forces me to get out of my comfort zone and travel to new places. Learning how to take better photos challenges me and encourages me to get out and do something. It’s important for me to keep busy for a variety of reasons, but my camera fills that request with ease.
I’m going to be much happier with a hard drive full of memories and adventures than I am with forgotten drum kits and sound libraries.