Quality or Quantity?

Earlier this week I was looking through my Facebook feed and a friend posted a link to an article. It was about the idea of Quantity over Quality in music. It basically said that, the more productive you are , the more you will progress as an artist. So, while , sure, you may make a bunch of crap a long the way, the end product will eventually be better and more evolved. Here’s that article for reference.

It was something I’d never really thought about as a person who makes beats. As a consumer, sure…but not as the actual creator. Then, a day or two later, Hip Hop Producer (and writer) J-zone posed this question on his Facebook page:
Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 6.17.03 PM

Then I get this somewhat related question for my “Answers for questions” column:
Have you ever been really blocked and not able to make music? How did you overcome it?

Well, since it seems heavy on peoples minds, I figured I’d weigh in.

I think quality and quantity are two separate things. An artist can have both , neither or only be functional doing one at a time. While I see the point of the first article and agree on some level, you can’t really deny that , for every person making 50 beats a month that suck there’s a guy painstakingly crafting two tracks that are on an entire different level than anything that quantity guy is working on. Thing is, perhaps the quality guy is just more talented?

There’s a producer I used to be friends with who told me he made 30 beats a week. That’s absurd but I believed him. When he played me his beats, it was clear that he wasn’t lying. They were all dead behind the eyes and as minimal as possible. In reality, he started 30 beats a month and finished none of them. But even that didn’t matter cause what he was doing was basically throwing shit at the wall and seeing what would stick. Out of the 30 beats he made, maybe 2 or 3 were decent. So, a months work resulted in two or three decent tracks. That’s not terrible by any means if you think about it. In fact, that was seemingly his goal.

Then on the other hand, I know many producers who will slave over one track for weeks. Tweaking hi-hats, replacing drum patterns, layering synths and stripping down samples. Over and over again. These types feel like every beat/song is the end of the world. While I applaud their craftsmanship , if you finish a month with two beats/songs finished and neither of them are even that great, you’re even worse off than then quantity guy.

I think it comes down to a few things that are way more important than just how productive an artist is.
1)Are they actually good at what they do?
It’s simple really. A good musician/producer is going to make good music. A not so good musician/producer is not. Anyone can hit a bullseye eventually so the laws of averages do work in favor of the quantity people but if you’re simply not talented, all the quantity in the world can do is help you hit your low ceiling as an artist.

2)Are they, like J-zone says, just making shit so they can stay relevant?
This is a real 2014 issue. The listeners ear has never been more forgetful. 5 months on the internet might as well be 2 years. The same way I’ll play a show somewhere and 2 weeks later someone will ask “When you coming back?”. That’s how people look at music now. So, I fully understand needing to keep pushing along and making music. As artists, we’re supposed to continue our creativity. That said, if you’re doing shit just to do it and not cause it’s coming from any place of inspiration, then you’re basically just treating music like your job. I’ve certainly had moments like that, where I had to kick start my creative juices by forcing myself to work when I didn’t feel like it.It’s natural. But if that’s the ONLY way you create? Join an advertising firm or something.

3)Being aware or your own quality

Most musicians hate everything they make. That’s natural. They may like it for a week or two but eventually they loath it. Same reason we all cringe when a fan tells us their favorite album is our first album. We hate that cause that first album was made during a totally different time in our lives that we can’t even relate to anymore. Admittedly, having an album people like at all is a luxury problem but still…
Because of this self loathing, one of the toughest things for a musician is gauging the quality of their own work. Sure, every now and then, you hit on something and you know it. It gives you that feeling. But, in general, being able to step back from your work and look at it as if it’s not your own is never difficult. The fact J-Zone had apparently worked on something for a while then just stepped back and was like “This shit is garbage” the threw it all away is pretty amazing. I know a bunch of artists who’ve done that but it’s usually more of an abortion than dropping the baby in a dumpster (I mean that in the best possible way). scrapping a beat in it’s early stages cause it’s not going anywhere is way more common than making something that’s almost done and realizing “This shit sucks…” and just deading it completely. That’s some bold shit. But it’s also some shit I take my hat off two cause that’s a level of self realization few artists could ever have.

Now, for me personally, I fall somewhere between both quality and quantity. I work in spurts. I’ll make 8 beats in a week and then not touch my equipment for a month. It all depends on my mood. I feel that, when I do get in a creative groove, it flows pretty naturally and the quality is pretty decent. Also, I’m not one of those producers who hates everything he makes. I generally like them all on varying level but never love anything. Kinda like if I was a single guy and had a bunch of girls I slept with but never had any plans of wifing any of them up. That’s how I am with my beats. So, for me, quality and quantity are not related. For all the talk of people feverishly working and making 1000 tracks a year as a means to evolve as an artist, I’ve found some of my best moments have come when I’ve returned from a hiatus with recharged creative energy. Sometimes an artist can evolve by simply living their lives and coming back to creating when it feels natural. Not just burying yourself in work.

In the end though, everyone has their own methods. What makes me better might not work for the next guy and vice versa. So, in general, the best advice I can give to anyone making music and asking these kinda questions to themselves is “just do what you do” and avoid reading think pieces on completely situational and arbitrary things like what I just wrote right here. Oops!

9 thoughts on “Quality or Quantity?

  1. Interesting post, Block. As a writer (I’m working on my second sci-fi novel while trying to get my first published), I can relate completely to the quality/quantity debate. I have days where the words seem to fly off my fingertips, but most of the time I’m a pretty slow writer. Even if life (and my day job) didn’t interfere (which they always have a way of doing), I don’t think it’s in me to crank out a book in a month. Sometimes I get down on myself about this and think, “If I was a REAL writer, I’d be producing faster,” but I know this is BS. Once you strip away the glamour and mystique, being a real writer (or musician, or any other kind of artist) means a steady application of creative effort over long periods of time – ideally a lifetime. The quantity argument is good when it comes to practicing and honing your craft (practice makes perfect, they say), but in terms of what material sees the light of day, I will always value quality over quantity. Judging from your beats (which I thoroughly enjoy), you are of the same mind.

    Keep fighting the good fight!


  2. wurd man, i just dumped like 30 tracks (not even beats!) that were 99% done, because it is better to hit the ground running than to stumble and perhaps ruin your chances of success completely nbecause you become associated with shit!

  3. Your appeal to what feels natural seems to run counter to your typical demystifying streak (not a bad thing; just interesting).

    Also, thank you for saying ‘luxury problem’ instead of first world problem.

    “Spending five eighths of my time brainstorming how to keep my name in the pipeline” -Open Mike Eagle

    Certainly, different people do it differently, but we have some ability to kind of shape our own habits here (particularly people early-on in their creative life). Kool AD released like 4 (!!) hours of music -this year-. Milo released 2. Open Mike Eagle has three albums and four (five?) EPs in three years.

    The sort of quality you have to pump out if you’re going to take your time — and you kinda have to already be famous for this to work well — is some El-P level shit. Three solo albums in ten years is some incredibly lacking quantity, and has essentially resulted in El not exactly being ‘famous’ generally as being ‘famous’ like.. three or four separate times and then tons of people forget about him (RTJ’s taken him to new levels tho).

    No doubt the better thing for marketing, almost always, seems to be the quantity side, up to a certain point. For most releases, two months after they drop people are waiting on that next shit. There’s a lot of bullshit about over-saturation, but the reality seems to be that, unless you’re lil b,or El-P (the two extremes) all of your projects are gonna receive pretty similar media attention regardless of the space between them.

    Milo actually like… wrote, recorded, and mixed a song in ~1 hour for Scallops Hotel cuz there was another song he couldn’t use for some reason, and he wanted to live up to his promise of 7 tracks. And the song is pretty dope.


    No conclusions; just spitballing.

  4. makes as much music as you want. but along with being an artist comes the ability to know immediately what is shit, and that you shouldnt release it.

  5. Good one, no right answer! We tend to forget that no 2 situations are the same when we blindly try to mimic the methods of successful stories. When really, I can think of countless factors that would affect the effectiveness of certain creative processes…date, age, location, left/right brain dominance, resources, etc. oh ps I’m not an artist at all so I’m talking straight outta my ass haha!

    With that being said, have you ever heard Louis CK talk about how he brainstorms up a routine and then identifies the strongest part near the end, then he throws the rest of the material out and starts fresh with that strongest joke only. I can’t remember what clip. Do you know what I’m talking about? If so, what do you think about that?

    • I have him talk about that. It’s pretty interesting. As far as what I think about it, it’s just his process. He’s one of the most prolific comedians of the last decade so , i suppose, whatever works for him work.

      • I hate to bother you with an unrelated question but i dont know how else to inquire about getting some production done by you. im an emcee you has an entirely different style then anyone ive heard whal still maintaining modesty and it would mean the world to me to have you produce my first full length album as opposed to the mixtape im dropping very soon. please get back to me, it would be greatly appreciated..

      • I’m afraid I don’t really do freelance work like that anymore. I pretty much only work with people I have relationships with. Sorry.

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