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Yes, And: How Producing Music Is Like Improv


The more I learn about how comedians operate, the more I realize they’re similar to musicians.

Specifically, producing music. It’s a lot like improv in many ways.

So in this post, I want to explain the “Yes, And” improv method, why it can be a powerful tool in music production, and how you can practically implement it.

What Is “Yes, And” In Improv?

The foundation of improv is an acting method called “Yes, And.” It’s how comedians avoid shutting each other down.

The reason good improv is funny is because of “Yes, And.”

Here’s how it works: you agree with whatever your improv partner(s) says. And then you add to it.

It doesn’t matter what someone says, you go with it. You not only go with it, but you also elaborate on this new reality that you’re a part of.

You can see a good example of “Yes, And” in the below video (heads-up, profanity used):

See how they play off each other? One guy does something, and the other one just goes with it, adding his own imagination to it.

Why “Yes, And” Is Such A Powerful Tool In Music Production

I’ll talk about how we can use “Yes, And” for music production. But first, why even bother?

Strengthens your relationship with the artist

Affirmation is a powerful thing. When someone hears what you’re saying and responds with some form of “yes,” it connects the two of you.

So if you’re producing music for an artist and they feel you’ve heard their ideas and even tried them out, they’re more likely to have a better experience. And you’ll have a better experience too.

Then that artist may want to work with you again, or at least recommend you to their fellow artists.

Leaves no possible good idea left behind

When you “Yes, And” an artist’s idea, that opens up the possibility of a great idea. Yeah, a lot of ideas might be garbage.

But you never know. The next idea could be the one that changes a whole song for the better.

So you might as well say yes.

It’s more fun (experimentation!)

One of my favorite parts of producing music is experimentation. It’s not tracking scratch guitar or laying down the initial vocals or figuring out the structure of a song.

Those things are important, but that’s not experimentation.

After the skeleton of the song is there, I love messing around with different guitar parts, harmonies, synth sounds, and beat machines until I find what my ears like.

And this only happens if you say “Yes and…”

How To Apply “Yes, And” When Producing Music

I’ve already hinted at how you might use “Yes, And” in the studio. But here are some tangible methods for getting the most out of your productions.

Accept and record every idea

The clearest way to use this improv method is to run with every idea. If you have an idea, try it. If the artist you’re working with has something, listen to them.

Yeah, some ideas you try won’t work. At that point, it’s okay to say, “I don’t think that works.” But you’ve got to try it, or you’ll never know.

Build upon the ideas that work

While not every idea you explore will work out, some of them will show promise. And when you start smelling something special, build upon it.

Yes, record the initial idea.

But then ask, “How can we make this idea better? Where does this idea take us? Can we add/subtract something to make it more interesting?”

Think Details, Emotions, Consequences

Audio Issues founder Björgvin Benediktsson took improv classes. And he shared how to make this “Yes, And” idea easier to use.

Basically, there are three categories to think of while doing improv:

Details

Emotions

Consequences

So the details would include things like the who, what, and where of an improv scene.

The emotions would tell us what each character is feeling in the scene.

And you can think of the consequences as the obstacle in the story that the characters must overcome.

So how do you apply this to producing music?

  • Details could include:
    • Who the artist is (their brand)
    • What instruments should be in the song
    • What sound you and the artist want
    • Where you want to take the listener
  • Emotions could include:
    • What you feel when listening to the song
    • What you want to feel when listening to the song
    • What you need to do to conjure the feelings you’re trying to convey
  • Consequences could include:
    • What the goal is with this song/album
    • What would happen if you fail to reach your goal
    • What would happen if you succeed in reaching your goal

Step back

The hilarious Keegan-Michael Key had a very insightful conversation about improv with Sam Jones on Off Camera.

“As you back up, you create a larger worldview,” Key says about improv.

He says improv is not moving forward — it’s backing up, discovering your world as you go in reverse.

And that’s true with music too. It’s so easy to get so caught up in the details of what chord to play or how far left you should pan a channel in your DAW.

But sometimes, you just need to step back and let your creativity drive itself.

Try to follow the music rather than force the music into your idea.

Think like an improv comedian.

Say, “Yes, and…”

Caleb J. Murphy is a singer-songwriter and music producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.

FEATURED IMAGE of comedian Josh Blue: https://pixabay.com/photos/comedian-face-performance-comic-2125853/


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About me

About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

We help home studio musicians and project studio producers make a greater musical impact in their lives by teaching them the skills needed to grow their hobbies and careers. We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use right away to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

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