A Producer’s Tarot Reading

I consider myself an exceptionally slow producer. I’ve been working on this one original song since January, and I’ve made four other versions of this song in the past three years that I didn’t like. Typically when I sit down to work on the song, I start to pick at a certain aspect of the track (recently I’ve been mulling over the specific bass sound) and I sit with it for the day and try to get it to a place I’m happy with. I wouldn’t wish this method upon my worst enemy because it gets me stuck in the process and makes it difficult to move forward with the next steps.

Typically I might take a more scientific approach to overcome this slump, like applying psychoacoustics to my dilemma. Is there some prospect of my own listening capabilities that I’m ignoring? Perhaps there is an interesting sound design or mixing technique I learned in college that I can test out. Maybe I can explore a niche genre of music that I might find inspiring. Most likely, I’ll discover that the song is fine the way it is, and I’m overthinking. Any number of approaches might thaw my frozen creativity block, but I think a less empirical approach could help me find some answers and ease up on being such a perfectionist with this track.

I started teaching myself tarot this past week, and as part of this practice, I’m going to do a reading for my song and apply it to my current music production challenges. If you share any related struggles with feeling stuck creatively or trying to perfect your latest track, then I invite you to interpret this reading into your own process. I’m going to pull three cards that will apply to the following: what the song already has, what it is or represents, and what it needs. It’s possible that I’m breaking some rules with this, but one of the first things I learned is that there is no one way to use tarot cards.

Before we begin, I want to make a few notes. My deck is cat-themed, so a lot of the guide uses many feline puns that sometimes don’t make sense to me, a human being. I like to use this website as a reference for interpretation instead. I’m asking an open-ended question so that I can interpret this reading with my own song, and you can also consider how it applies to your own project!

The question I’m asking is, “How can I help my song to reach its full potential?

I pulled the Three of Cups, reversed Five of Swords, and Two of Wands. I’d also like to note that all cards come from the Minor Arcana which, from what I’ve learned, typically deals with day-to-day challenges and individualized experiences. These are simplified and generalized interpretations for this blog post’s sake, but there is plenty of insight to offer some perspective on my creative process. The first card (what the song already has) is the Three of Cups, which savors celebration, highlights human connection, and encourages creative collaboration. The Cups suit symbolizes water and embodies relationships and creativity. When I think of collaboration in this context, the various musical influences of this song come to mind. I listened to a lot of references from Pop artists that inspired me like Maggie Rogers and Sylvan Esso to channel the vocal style and synth accompaniment of this song. I made some changes to my process in order to more easily embody these artists: I switched to using Ableton Live for this song, I re-recorded the vocals multiple times, and I changed a lot of how I processed the vocals to fit these artists’ styles. While influence from artists is always a great place to start, I think the Three of Cups in this position is telling me it’s time to move on from my influences and focus more on harnessing my own sound. I need to listen to my track again and take note of which parts of the song most align with my story and myself. Before all its influences, this song was just a simple chord progression with lyrics, and my first instinct for recording was to layer up loads of harmonies. The next steps I can take are making sure the lyrics and harmonies are the highlights of the song.

The second card (what the song is) is the Five of Swords reversed, which represents settling past conflicts, reconciling relationships, and learning from failure. The Swords suit symbolizes air and embodies intellect and communication. As I mentioned before, I have produced four other versions of this song, and this most recent attempt is the closest version of what I envisioned. I think that right now, this song represents my growth as a producer and my capacity to learn from all the times I was unhappy with the creation. Getting stuck with this production is hiding what I’ve achieved since I first started producing. I think this card is also telling me to re-explore the emotions that charged this song in the first place. I’ve designed some cool vocal samples and other “ear-candy” in Ableton Live, but I think it’s important for me to re-evaluate how those moments serve the raw emotion of the song.

The third card (what the song needs) is the Two of Wands, which represents clear planning, making steady progress, and aspiring for long-term goals. The Wands suit symbolizes fire and embodies passion and creativity. I feel like this card speaks most clearly to my creative slump. I’ve been studying the short-term goal of finishing this song for release and ignoring how this song will speak to future productions and releases or the discography I want to showcase as an artist. While it feels like I’m moving slowly with this song, I think I need to realize that I am not just working on this song but my overall sound. As tedious as it can be, it is probably a good time for me to put together a small library of the sounds I’m using in this song so I can build on my sound design for the next songs or a large-scale project like an E.P. This card is also telling me to be decisive, which is something I am literally struggling with since I’ve tested out a ridiculous number of bass sounds for this song. Like most art forms, it can be hard to tell when a song is done with production or the mix is finished, so I think this is an important reminder for me to trust my instincts and follow my initial decisions.

All this interpretation is rather subjective and maybe not something you might believe in, but it gave me the chance to let go of my grip on a perfect song. Getting stuck in creating can be a frustrating experience, and sometimes there is an obvious next step to overcome the obstacle. I hope that if you’re facing a creative block, you take it easy on yourself. Be forgiving of your process and trust in your instincts. In my last several days of learning tarot, I often found that I knew the answer to my question all along, I just needed to understand it in a different way.

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