Participants and lecturers of this year’s Red Bull Music Academy give their tips on how to take your music a level up
This year, Red Bull Music Academy returned to Berlin, the city where it first began 20 years earlier. Taking place on the eastern side of the city at the Funkhaus, the former broadcasting headquarters of the GDR’s state radio, the programme took a handful of young artists out to spend a couple of weeks in an environment precision engineered to foster creativity. Participants are given access to state-of-the-art recording equipment, there’s a studio team on-hand to help out, and they’re able to attend a series of concerts and lectures from pioneering musicians to help inspire different creative approaches.
Having toured the studios, attended a few lectures, and spoken to many of the participants, what was perhaps most striking is that the advice passed on to other musicians was often quite similar. Be yourself. Work with people you trust. Listen to your instincts. These aren’t platitudes but lessons that apply to all creative practises – and they’re easy to forget when you’re hitting a brick wall with your work, comparing yourself to others, or losing sight of why you wanted to make music in the first place. It’s what it all boils down to at the end of the day. Here, some of RBMA’s participants, lecturers, and studio team offer their key pieces of advice for musicians to thrive.
TAKE TIME TO BUILD A CREATIVE COMMUNITY
Kevin Saunderson, lecturer: You’ve got to jump. You’ve got to dive in. You don’t know for sure what’s gonna happen, but you’ll never know unless you follow your heart in the hope that other people will follow you. I started in Detroit with Juan (Atkins), and then Derrick (May). It was a handful of people that made this really kick off. You’ve really got to persevere. The community – musicians, promoters – takes time to develop. You’ve got to have the vision and the perseverance to battle, and to get through the tough times as well.
REMEMBER THAT COLLABORATIONS ARE A TWO-WAY EXCHANGE
Sichangi, participant: The person who mentors me is called Blinky Bill. One of the things he told me was that we’re both Kenyan by blood, by birth, but our sound is international. We have pride for our country, but other than that, we’re international artists. Knocking on other people’s doors who are part of that western culture – a big rapper, a professional electronic musician, or even a jazz musician – unless you’re on the same page as them, they’ll look down on you, as if they are helping you. But they’re not. Collaborating is supposed to merge sounds, to make two sounds become one. It shouldn’t be lopsided. So Blinky Bill told me to focus on that creative energy, and he said that it will eventually make you unignorable enough to do all these things – but at a point where you own your shit and the (international artists) can see that you own it. And then, they don’t look down at you.
DON’T BE SCARED OF SHARING YOUR WORK WITH OTHERS
Akiko Haruna, participant: Obviously your music is your taste, so it doesn’t matter what someone has to say. But at the same time, it’s something that you have created, and it can be quite an intimate experience sharing it with someone. If you’re sharing your music for the first time, I always recommend that you share it with someone you can trust.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF WRITER’S BLOCK
Lucrecia Dalt, studio team: (To get over writer’s block), I watch films. I do things that are not associated with music. I let it be – there will be a time when it comes back. I do believe that we are totally affected by situations, random encounters, movies, etc. Something I learned through time is to really relax. If I put the right amount of work and energy in, then it’s going to be fine. There was a month when I had writer’s block, but I kept working, I kept being open, and I got there in the end. You’ve got to keep on working and trying to think about ideas, just be open.
REMEMBER THAT IT’S NATURAL TO DOUBT YOURSELF
Akemi Fujimori, participant: It’s a lifelong journey to believe in what you want to do. Some days you’re gonna be happy with who you are and know that what you’re doing is what you like. Some days are clearer than others. It’s just about remembering yourself. A lot of these lecturers have told us to just be ourselves. It’s hard, being here, to not feel impressed in the presence of everyone. Everyone is amazing, you’re just like, “What is this? What am I doing here?” So sometimes you lose it. I just try and keep my style in mind – it doesn’t matter who likes it, it’s just my thing, I can’t do anything else.
KEEP SWITCHING UP YOUR STRATEGIES
Matias Aguayo, lecturer: I’m sure I’m not the only one who has developed strategies that help me get inspired. I always change my way of working. As soon as I know a program or an instrument well, I switch. If I willingly put myself into the status of an amateur, it’s much more likely that I’ll be confronted with surprises. (For example) working with new people, working only with voices, doing functional rhythm tracks, or programming everything on the phone – these restrictions are a creative motor. In general, I would say that if you restrict yourself then you will aid your process and it will help you develop a new thing. There is nothing more anti-creative then being confronted with endless possibilities.
TRUST YOUR GUT TO KNOW WHEN SOMETHING IS FINISHED
Mandy Parnell, lecturer: How I know when it’s finished is when I make another change and it doesn’t sound better. I try multiple changes, and I end up where I was a few steps before. It’s finished based on my response on that moment in time. The only instinct you have is to follow your emotional response, how it makes people feel when they hear it and saying, “Okay – I need to follow that.” There might be a technical problem to address, but you’re still looking at the emotional response.
REALLY, JUST BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
FAKETHIAS, participant: I’ve always been interested in creating my own little world. I try to reflect what’s in my head sonically – it’s the most effective way for me to express how I feel. I started trying to make beats when I was a teenager, and it just evolved from there, because I figured out it was an exciting way to express my ideas and create spaces. (The thing that helped me most was) not trying to be smart about it, really. Just saying whatever it is I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it. You can argue with yourself about what you really want to say, but just be honest and try to stick to your intuition.