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Arnold’s Six Rules for Success That’ll Make You a Better Producer

He won the Mr. Universe contest at age 20.

He’s gained worldwide fame as an actor in films such as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator.

He was the Governor of California for eight years.

No matter what path he chooses in life, Arnold Schwarzenegger conquers it. Crushes it.

How can someone conquer so many different walks of life? How can he be so damn successful at everything he tries to do?

Fortunately for us, Arnold has spoken about his secret six rules of success.

So, let’s take a look at these rules and see how they can be applied to help us become successful with music production.

Rule 1: Trust yourself

As mentioned in my previous article (what I wish I knew when I started producing), the first point is to trust your taste (and funny enough, I wrote that before I heard Arnold’s list).

Trust yourself. Believe in yourself.

Arnold says,

“…You have to dig deep down, dig deep down and ask yourselves who do you want to be? Not what, but who? ….I’m talking about figuring out for yourself what makes you happy.”

What kind of music do you truly want to make? Is it even making music or is it just playing?

In the past, I’ve aligned myself to certain expectations. Progressive House has to sound like this. I should add something to this section because other people do it. Except this doesn’t sit well with me. This was stupid and frustrating. I should’ve just made what I wanted to make from the get go. I should’ve always trusted myself.

Are you happiest making Chiptune tracks? Are you happiest making Jazzhop? Country? Glitch Hop? RnB? 80’s Power Metal?

No matter how crazy it may sound to other people you have to make the music that makes you happy.

If you successfully do this, you’ll find your voice come through. You’ll be honest within your art and people will connect with you. Listeners can sense it and feel it and if you trust yourself they will trust you.

Rule 2: Break the rules

Again, Arnold and I share a tip. In the 72 tips article I wrote:

“46. Break all the rules. On purpose. Make this a dedicated effort. You’ll learn why they exist and how malleable they really are.”

This is so important. By testing the boundaries of what you learn, you’ll come to a much stronger understanding. How far do the limits go? What actually happens if I over-compress something?

Does the world explode?

No.

At most, you’ll notice it. Perhaps another producer will notice it. The audience will rarely notice it.

You find out it’s okay to dial things up too much. You might even stumble upon a track you’re making where an over-compressed sound would fit great but if you never attempted to push compression to it’s limits you’d never come to that conclusion.

Arnold goes on to say,

“It’s impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules. You have to think outside the box.

After all, what’s the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble? The only way I ever go any place was by breaking some of the rules.”

In art, rules are made by the people before you based on their standards. Why would you make someone else’s art? Following someones rules perfectly is like using sketch paper to trace their art. You might as well just trace at that point. You’ll finish faster and it’ll be easier. Have a drink!

To be a true original, you need to break these rules. You need to expand beyond the boundaries set from those before you.

I am not suggesting a tasteless rebellion. The artists before you have created these rules for some reason so it’s worth making the effort to understand why these rules even exist.

As I mentioned before, breaking these rules is the only way to truly understand the why behind them. It’s like smashing open a crystal ball and peering into it’s innards.

Rule 3: Don’t be afraid to fail

This is advice I’ve heard a hundred thousand times by now. The funny thing is, it’s always relevant because failure aversion is such an innate human desire. We fear failure, but fearing failure is so detrimental to any success we wish to achieve.

As Arnold says,

“You can’t always win, but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision and you know that it is the right thing to do and success will come. So don’t be afraid to fail.”

This ties back into the first rule of trusting yourself. Why don’t we trust ourselves? Ultimately, we don’t want to make music that sucks. We don’t want to fail at making something good. Because of this, we roll back into patterns or decisions that are not truly our own but seem safe and right.

Doing this is a catastrophe to making great art.

On a smaller scope, have you ever struggled to create a melody? To settle on a chord progression? This is a fear of failure. A fear that you won’t create something good. Indecisiveness from fear.

I know there’s no perfect melody. I know there’s no perfect track. Be decisive, trust yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Rule 4: Don’t listen to the naysayers

In other words, ignore the haters.

“How many times have you heard that you can’t do this, you can’t do that, and it’s never been done before? I love it when someone says that no one has ever done this before because then when I do it that means that I am the first one that has done it. So pay no attention to the people that say it can’t be done. I always listen to myself and say, ‘yes you can.’”

There will always, 100% of the time, be people who don’t like what you do. People who say that it can’t be done.

When you trust yourself and become honest with your art, people will hate you for it.

When you put yourself out there and break the rules, people will hate you for it.

They’re just angry that you’re trying. That you’re pushing boundaries. That you’re speaking up. Sometimes they’re even jealous and trying to bring you down.

For example, one of my friends recently got to visit Korea and Japan for a week. I am envious. So envious, that part of me wishes he didn’t go so I didn’t have to deal with the thought of myself not being able to go. It’s unfounded but it’s a human feeling and other people will attempt to impose this on you.

Ignore people like this like it’s your job. Ignore like you get paid to ignore it.

There is something interesting about this, though.

When you trust yourself and become honest with your art, and when you put yourself out there and break the rules, some people will love you for it.

They will absolutely fall in love.

Focus on these people like it’s your job. Focus on these people like you get paid to do so (and if you’re doing it right they will literally pay you)!

Rule 5 (the most important): Work your butt off

“I always believed leaving no stone unturned. Mohammad Ali, one of my heroes had a great line in the 70’s when he was asked, ‘How many sit-ups do you do?’ He said, ‘I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting.’ When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting because that’s when it really counts. That’s what make you a champion. And that’s the way it is with everything.”

No pain. No gain.

If you want to win there’s absolutely no way around hard, hard work. None of my rules, by the way, will work unless you do.

Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in you pockets.”

I like that Arnold emphasizes the fact that none of the above matters if you’re not willing to do the work. Without time spent being the artist you want to be and making the music you want to make, you’ll never get where you want to be. Whether financial success, stylistic success, or personal fulfillment, you must put in the hours to have any reward.

People want the magic bullet. People want it easy. People want to wake up one day and bang out a track that rivals their favorite professional producers.

People want “the top five ways to use EQ so your track doesn’t suck.” As if EQ actually mattered on how people receive your song (to clarify, good EQ is invisible — the listener doesn’t even know about it so how can anyone say it’s what carried the track)?

You gotta put in the hours. And no, it’s not easy. It won’t be easy. I could’ve written this article in two hours flat but it took me a whole day in between playing games of Heroes of the Storm because I want to play video games. I don’t want to work. But I also have words that I need to say and a message to convey and personal fulfillment to obtain and wisdom to share.

So I write. I work.

And the funny thing is, after an entire day of playing video games I lay down in bed, eyes agape at the ceiling from way too much blue light exposure, feeling unaccomplished. Not lazy. Not angry. Not wasted. I had fun doing it.

But when you lay down after an entire day of hard, hard work… well, it’s hard not to smile and feel right inside.

I also want to make a point to mention that being busy is not working hard. Being busy is an illusion of work. Watching a hundred tutorials and reading sixty “Top 10” lists of production is not work. There’s a place for that but don’t get stuck in it.

I also also want to point out that yes, you should have fun with music. Hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. Some days will be more fun than others. Some days won’t.

Was mastering my last album eight times because my headphones broke fun? No.

Is seeing this kind of YouTube comment on my music fun?

Screenshot 2015-05-25 16.13.36

Yes. So yes. So worth it. And so was playing the guitar parts in the tracks.

If you think you don’t have time, do an analysis. Literally break down how you spend your time. You may be surprised how much time you spend on reddit or watching TV. Take some of this time and put it towards music.

One hour a day even. Imagine if you spent one hour every single day. You’d spend 365 hours in a year on something.

I challenge you to that. At least one hour a day for a month. Can you do it?

Rule 6: Give back

Arnold says,

“Whatever path that you take in your life, you must always find time to give something back. Something back to your community… Let me tell you something. Reaching out and helping people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you have ever done.”

We are so fortunate as artists because we can give back to the world with the fruits of our labor. We work hard and rise from our creative dungeons, hands cupped with delicious manna in hand and offer it to the world. “Will you have it? Will you listen?”

There’s an entire other article that I can write about this specific rule. The key here is to flip your mindset from “I want to make music so I can get paid” or “to become famous” because these pursuits are for the self. These are not altruistic goals. These provide a veiled form of value to the community.

This is a delicate distinction because I believe we should be compensated for our work (as long as society deems it valuable enough). So I’m not saying we need to give away art for free. I’m saying we should present it as a way to lift other people up. Cheer someone up. Make a party more fun with a dance beat. Connect with someone going through a break up. Set the mood for a sunset beach bonfire with friends.

Music has the potential to lift people up and make life better. You have that power. Can you freaking believe that? By doing what you love, you can permanently add to the value of another human beings experience.

On top of all this, there’s more obvious ways to give back, like… write some articles or tutorials. Or post in /r/EDMProduction on reddit if someone is confused and you know the answer. Or donate to children-in-need music programs (Little Kids Rock is a cool charity, if you feel so inspired)!

So thank you Arnold, for sharing your wisdom with us. For sharing what you’ve learned with these fundamental principles for success.

If you like this kind of non-technical approach to music production (or you liked my last post on 72 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Producing), I’ll be releasing a book soon specifically with this kind of advice and material. Click here to sign up for my newsletter and hear about it.

If you’re struggling to finish tracks or with arrangement, check out my current book: Electronic Music Arrangement: How to Arrange Electronic Music.

Which rule do you like the most and why? Let us know in the comments below.

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Zac Citron

Zac Citron

Zac Citron aka Zencha is the author of zenchamusic.com, a music production site that explores “beyond the technical” — mindset, workflow, arrangement, marketing, and more. He also drinks way too much tea.
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  • PatrickSharpe

    Thanks for your unfettered honesty and view points Zac. They really do help to right this seemingly often sinking ship.

    • Zencha

      Glad you find value with it 🙂

  • Aloysius Palestrina

    Read in thick Austrian accent, of course.

    • Zencha

      Of course!

  • Sir-Angelas The-Producer

    That’s true

  • Luis Montoya

    Yep, Heroes of the Storm.