MAKJ: 5 things I’ve learned about music production

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Having initially pursued a career as a racing car driver, Californian MAKJ (AKA Mackenzie Johnson) decided to switch gears and get behind a different set of wheels when he purchased his first set of Technics 1200s.

His production breakthrough came with Countdown, a collaboration with Hardwell in 2013, and he’s since worked with the likes of Lil Jon and Timmy Trumpet. His latest release, Retumba, is a reggaeton-infused floorfiller created with Deorro.

We asked MAKJ to pass on the five most important things he’s grokked in his career so far. Here’s what he came up with.

1. Have the right place to work

“Being able to be creative in a comfortable work environment is key to great music making. It doesn’t matter if your studio is in your bedroom, coffee shop, airport or friend’s house. It’s the creative mindset you get into whenever you open your DAW.

“My first studio was my parents’ house and, ever since I left, I’ve lost creative passion for making music. I always know that whenever I go back home, my music-making will be at an all-time high.”

2. Know the tools in your tool box

“Why feel annoyed that every time you open your DAW, you get writer’s block? Knowing your DAW inside and out will cut writer’s block in half. Being able to open up any plugin with ease and knowing everything about that plugin is paramount.

“I mainly focus on getting to know the stock synths in Logic. It's amazing the stuff that comes with any DAW. Know your tools.”

3. Stop buying plugins

“This goes back to knowing your tools. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on plugins that I thought would make my life easier. Guess what? It hasn’t. Yes, being able to be the coolest production guy with all the new stuff makes you feel better, but it actually doesn’t help your sound unless you know the basics with any plugins. Learn what you already have inside and out before you go and spend money on plugins.”

4. Find people you can send music to

“This one is really important when trying to get actual feedback from trusted people. DON’T send music to your friends.

“They will always play the nice guy and never give you good feedback. I usually send blank SoundCloud links with my music attached and tell people it’s someone I work with to find out their real thoughts. Also, playing your music for random people is great. That’s a real reaction.” 

5. Be organised

“Nothing is better than finding samples with ease. Searching for a kick in a certain key and finding it in seconds. This is a must to a lot of producers starting out. Organising your workflow will set you up for success when in sessions or on a tight deadline.”

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.