Justin Jay: 5 things I’ve learned about music production

LA-based DJ/producer Justin Jay has already packed plenty into his career. He’s had releases on the likes of Dirtybird, Southern Fried Records and Soul Clap Records and received plaudits from, among others, Claude VonStroke and Pete Tong.

Now it’s time for that maybe not-so-difficult second album; Home is released today on Justin’s Fantastic Voyage label, and represents the next evolution of his sound.  

We asked Justin to gather his thoughts and reflect on the five things he’s learned about music production.

1. Have fun (and don't be overly critical while creating)

“Sometimes, making music can make you feel stressed, vulnerable and scared. Often, those emotions are rooted in fear, self-judgment, internal/external pressure, etc. ‘What if nobody likes this? What if this isn't good enough?’

“Disengaging those negative voices when we're trying to create is so important. For me, when I'm not thinking about how ‘good’ the idea I'm working on is, and not fixating on whether or not other people will like it, I make my best work. I try to focus on how the song feels to me, and try to enjoy the process. If I'm in the moment, having fun designing a new sound or making a beat, making myself happy, then there's less pressure on the ‘results’ of my work. Conveniently, I feel like those moments are when I come up with my best ideas.

“There are parts of the process that are difficult and challenging, but finding as much joy and satisfaction as possible in making music is really important for tapping into one's fullest potential and growing as a musician.”

There are parts of the process that are difficult and challenging, but finding as much joy and satisfaction as possible in making music is really important

2. Put in the time and finish songs

“Leading up to my first release on Dirtybird, I adopted a new mindset. I was going to finish as many songs as I could and send them out to my favourite labels, just by finding demo submission contacts on the internet. I knew I probably wouldn't hear back from many of them but I knew that each song I finished would make me a better producer, whether or not they got signed.

“It was really gamechanging for me to focus on finishing songs. The stages of making a song are all very different: making sounds and melodies vs structuring and arranging vs mixing and mastering. Each demo I'd finish would force me to cultivate all of those skills. You get better at all of those skills the more you do them. Being comfortable with fleshing out the structure of a song and mixing it will really help take your ideas to the next level.

“Even after my first release on Dirtybird, it took me 10 months of constantly cranking out demos before I had another breakthrough. I think the more developed all of your skills are, the easier it is to be consistent. Even when I finish a song that turns out to be a dud, I know that my skills are developing and keep on chugging onward.”

3. Explore and try new things, even when it's not instantly gratifying

“Trying new things as a producer can be discouraging. It's often difficult to try making something that's unlike anything you've done before. It's easy to say, "I'm not good at making this kind of music," and return to what you're more comfortable with. However, if you push past those early self-judgements, you can develop those skills and ultimately find an artistic voice in a type of music you thought was unobtainable.

“I believe this allows true artistic innovation as you begin recombining unlikely influences and tossing disparate genres in the blender, making stuff that's unique.

“It's a long, hard journey to do this. For me, I wanted to explore singing/songwriting. Many of the first songs I sang and wrote were laughable. But I enjoyed the process so I kept on doing it. Over time I started having little breakthroughs and got better and better.”

4. Collaborate

“Collaboration allows you to make music you would never have been able to do by yourself and to grow as a musician. You can learn so much through collaboration, especially when you collaborate with people outside of your world.

“My interest in songwriting really grew from working with my homie Josh Taylor. By seeing his process and understanding how he would work through challenges it gave me a framework for how to write songs myself.

“My collaborations with Josh also taught me how to produce vocals and arrange compositions in a way I had never done before. We made a bunch of music that both fits in my world of house music and also pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a way that helped me grow as a musician.”

5. Stay true to yourself and your intuition. Ultimately, music is all about self-expression

“Don't neglect or stifle your artistic ambitions and expressions. You might be tempted to make a style of music that isn't very popular; you might want to make music that doesn't fit your ‘brand’; you might want to make music that you don't believe to be lucrative. But if you start scrapping projects and preventing yourself from expressing what you're feeling for any of these reasons you're making a big mistake. You've got to complete those songs and try those ideas, even if you have self-doubts. Maybe they pan out, maybe not, but you'll have enjoyed the process far more than forcing music that isn't in your heart.”

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.