DesignMotivational Design in music production

Motivational Design in music production

Okay. Let’s set the mood. Exactly one year ago, people here in Sweden had just started to worry about this covid-thing, and it was no more than a week left until the universities around here would close down all on-campus activities. In the midst of this – I was writing my thesis, about nothing less than “Facilitators and barriers to motivation in music production, and how product companies could design to support motivation in music production”.

This is the first article out of three that I will make on the subject. Here, I will give a brief introduction to the study, share the results, and map them to some trends that we can see in the industry as of now. I will also highlight in which areas there are still lots of work to be done. 

Some background

Being a creative myself – and knowing the many of them; something I’ve seen, and experienced myself time and time again is how creatives seem to start projects, and leave them before they get even remotely finished. The reason for doing this is often attributed to loss of motivation, and in this exploratory phenomenological study I wanted to explore why this is – whether it can be attributed to the tools used, or if there are mostly other factors at play here, as well as what this “motivation” actually consists of to begin with.

There was no hypothesis, just curiosity. And so, with the following research questions in mind, I leaped in:

What are the experienced facilitators and barriers to motivation in music production?

What future implementations should product companies consider when aspiring to support motivation through the music production process?

The methodology

I will cover the methodology in another article, but a few words about it won’t hurt. To find out the answers to the research questions I conducted semi-structured interviews with 7 music producer’s, four of which were professionals, and three enthusiasts. All of them were producers of electronic dance music, and primarily solo musician’s. The interviews were transcribed, and in the analysis phase, I used a phenomenological approach; setting aside all pre-conceived notions, analyzing the phenomenon separate from any theoretical background to begin with, only to map them at a later stage.

The results

Down below I will list the results derived from the interviews. The results consist of codes that occured in at least 50% of the participants. The codes were then categorized into three overarching categories: Basic motivational aspects, Extrinsic motivators, and Motivation in relation to the process.

Basic motivational aspects

Basic motivational aspects are a found category of motivational aspects that need to be in place for motivation to happen, or may act as barriers to motivation if they are in place. The themes in the ‘Basic motivational aspect’ category are skewed towards needs and attributes.

Extrinsic motivators

Extrinsic motivators are motivational themes that are external to the self, as well as external to the process of creating music.

Motivation in relation to the process

Several motivational aspects were found that reside in relation to the process of creating, in the tasks, the technologies, or the producer involved in conducting the task.

Okay, so how can I help?

As a product designer it is unlikely that you can do anything about someone’s life situation, or their physical health (unless you design some completely other product, than a music production tool). But it is important to note that these factors, that are completely out of your control, may also be those that are most important to motivation. What you as a designer can do however, is to focus on what happens during music production, or when a music producer has decided to begin to produce. For example by:
Of course, if this would be easy – everyone would already do it. However, there are some that do some of this, and down below, I’m going to list some notable one’s, to set these insights in context.

The rise of the Templates

Ever since I got my first DAW (FL Studio) back in 2007 or so, there has been something called “demos” coming along with them. The purpose of the demos has mostly been to show of the capabilities of the software, however to beginning music producers they are unlikely to give any guidance due to their complexity, and to seasoned music producers, most content in them are likely to just get in the way of creating.
It’s 2021, and I’ve noticed a slight trend in “templates” appearing a little here and there. E.g. presets that help the user in starting with “something”, rather than nothing, or a full-blown song. I have an Akai Force (as seen above) myself, and just the other day I noticed them here as well. And what a template on the Akai Force is, is a boiler plate for a genre; e.g. some suitable drums, a couple of synths, already pre-set with some effects – but no pre-made arrangement.
This, do to my opinion add a lot to accessibility in usage. Furthermore the templates can be modified, and saved as user templates, which means that they don’t take away control from the user.
Last but not least, the Akai Force carries the same philosophy to arrangement as Ableton, where you can “play” out the arrangement, which, if you like that way of working, could be beneficial to completing full songs (although it haven’t, in my case).

From ideation to automation

Sorry if I fooled you, this part isn’t about automations as in automating midi parameters, but rather generation. E.g. music that makes itself. This is a concept that has been popular among music producers that use large-scale, complex modular setups, but is now also appearing in small midi sequencers as well.
The Torso T-1 is one such example, which follows a particular sequencing method/algorithm called euclidean algorithms. Tools based on euclidean algorithms are primarily for idea generation, which means that from the perspective of motivation in music production, euclidean sequencing may do little to change anything, as music producers are already feeling motivated in the idea generation stage. However, I can see some potential in it, as it could help in creating variations of sequences, which would be beneficial when creating complete arrangements as well.


Having knobs on synths is nothing new. Not even on rather cheap synths. But really usable control schemes has been sort of rare, especially in cheaper synths. Just a couple of years ago you were left with choices such as the Yamaha Reface DX or Waldorf Blofeld, neither of which has been praised for their amazing control schemes, when you were eyeing for a more “musical” hardware synth below $1000. Now there’s a ton out there, ranging from the Argon Cobalt8 as shown by Bo here, to the Behringer bonanza, and Korg’s new line-up of ~$700 synths.

But, there's a but

Over to the bad news then. While these solutions may help music producers in momuntarily getting new, better ideas down, none of these these new cool products do intrinsically map to helping motivation in music production. 
As shown by the results in my study (observe: my study isn’t the ultimate truth), the main problems with motivation that producers encounter are in the mixing, and arrangement phases. All of the tools mentioned in this article are primarily ideation tools, which means that tools for improving motivation during arrangement and mixing are mostly uncharted territory – albeit there are tools like the Softube SSL solution out there, that may remove resistance in mixing.
As such, for the finishing article in this series, I will reveal a project I’ve been working on that fills this gap. Want to be the first to know about it? Then you better subscribe to my newsletter.

Did I leave something out?​

That is probably on purpose. I try to keep things brief around here. Lucky for us, you can find my entire thesis on this link:

Facilitators and barriers to motivation in music production: Discovering opportunities for product companies to support motivation in music production

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