Timbaland, the hip-hop artist and producer has released an instructional video series which is excellent, perhaps in ways it didn’t intend to be.
For those unfamiliar, “Masterclass” is an educational website that presents video series’ (“masterclasses”) from famous and accomplished persons in diverse fields such as cooking, acting, and politics.
Timbaland’s Masterclass is titled: “Producing and Beatmaking“.
I watched it because my wife recently bought their “all access” subscription, splitting it with a girlfriend (they’re running a “Buy one, give one” promotion right now).
There are a ton of interesting classes to choose from on the service. Danny Elfman or Hanz Zimmer on soundtracks? Tom Morello on electric guitar? Herbie Hancock on jazz?.
I chose to start with the Timbaland class because making beats has always interested me. The ability to create the rhythm section that I, as a guitar player, rely on, is intriguing.
I’m saying it was good. But why?
Surprisingly, not because he does a great job of explaining how he mixes. Neither does he lay out a clear, step-by-step approach to hit-making. You can tell that he is driven more by the “feel” than by an academic approach to music.
The course is great, however, because Timbaland’s infectious joy and vocal-based songwriting process is inspiring. It’s a reminder that making music is fun. The music is inside you, and it doesn’t need a particular instrument or process in order to let it out.
Here’s a few specific takeaways:
1. The music is inside you, not in the instrument.
In the course, Timbaland demonstrates his songwriting and brainstorming technique. All he does is beatbox and sing into a mic! He uses a couple digital effects, he gets behind the mic, and then he layers his vocals to create a full drumbeat, bassline, chord structure, and eventually melody/lyric line. And it comes out realllllly good.
(Note: Later he uses samples and recorded instruments to replace those elements to make a true mix.)
As a guitar player, I can be hampered by my instrument. I start my songwriting from familiar chord movements, and only stretch as far as my technique will allow me. If it’s too hard, to awkward, or too unfamiliar to layout on a guitar with my current chops, it doesn’t happen.
Timbaland’s process blows that whole dynamic up. The music in my head can come first. The ideas don’t need to be boxed in by my instrumental ability. Converting those ideas into finished guitar tracks (or other instruments) can come later.
2. There’s a lot of ways to work your way towards inspiration.
Processes and routines are tricky. They’re necessary to make you efficient, to fast-track your creative process so that you’re not ‘re-creating the wheel’ everyday. But they can get you stuck, as well. When that happens, we stop calling it a “process”, we call it a “rut”.
This course has simply inspired me to try some new processes. I can already sense that those new processes are going to bring a few things: some failures and dead-ends (trying new things means figuring them out), but also a lot of fun and excitement (isn’t that why you first started playing guitar? The fun of figuring how to play a cool song?).
3. In songwriting, you don’t have to have it all figured out; you can experiment your way forward.
Fingerstyle acoustic guitar, in particular, requires coordinating a lot of music at the same time. Working out how to simultaneously play everything at once is an intricate, painstaking process.
When you’re covering a popular song, you spend a lot of time analyzing and planning out the sections.
When you’re writing a new song in this genre, I tend (and I imagine others do, as well) to approach it the same way – trying to write complex, interwoven parts right from the git-go.
There’s a control-freak edge that can come out.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Timbaland’s approach to using drum sounds and samples to create grooves is the exact opposite. He doesn’t even always know what sounds are in his Ableton pad when he pulls up one of his banks! He says he likes the surprise of wondering, “Wow, what hill happen if I hit this?” He tries things out, messes around, finds what he likes, and keeps moving.
Making music is supposed to be a blast. It’s nice to get a fresh reminder from someone who looks like he’s genuinely having a good time.
Thoughts? Opinions? Put ’em in the comments below!
Heads up: if you click one of the Masterclass links above and purchase anything, a few bucks will come back to us at The Guitar Journal, at no extra cost to you. Just wanted you to be aware. And thank you! in advance, if you end up doing so.