One of the most important tendencies you can develop in life is to look for opportunities to learn wherever you go. Not only does this give you the chance to improve in new ways, but it also ensures that you take on different teachers and ways of learning. Gaining a wide breadth of knowledge is important no matter what industry you might be in, from academia to music production.
Along these lines, music producer Steve Albini proved a few years ago that skills can sometimes crossover in unexpected ways. The Shellac guitarist and vocalist beat out over 300 other players to win an impressive $105,000 at the World Series of Poker’s Seven Card Stud event in Las Vegas. Perhaps best known for producing for the likes of Nirvana, The Pixies, and The Breeders, Albini branched out into poker in his spare time using some of the tricks and skills he picked up from producing some of the biggest albums in alternative rock history.
Music and poker might seem like entirely different worlds, but there are plenty of skills that are useful in both. There are also ways that becoming good at one can improve your ability in the other.
Master the Basics
There are a surprising number of skills that cross over between music and poker. Both are both surprisingly simple and deceptively complex at the same time. You must grasp the fundamentals of poker before setting out to win big like Albini. Understanding poker hand rankings and the rules for different varieties of games might seem obvious –– but without these building blocks to your knowledge you will never have success. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t be hired onto a film crew without knowing what a shotgun mic was. No one starts out as a professional in poker or production, so taking time to learn and practice the basics is required to make your mark.
Learning to Be Patient
In music, it is tempting to always be creating, never taking the time needed to grow and occupy yourself with being productive. This creates a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves, which ironically doesn’t help with creativity. Patience is one of the first lessons poker teaches players. With games that can last for hours at a time, you have to pace yourself rather than chase every pot hoping for success. Taking a methodical approach with an eye on the bigger picture will be the key to success, and is a great skill to learn for music production as well. If a song or beat isn’t coming together immediately, it can be better to leave and work on something else rather than force out something below your usual standard.
Whether it is memorizing lyrics or understanding how to clean up an audio problem on the fly, music producers need to be mentally alert and ready to solve problems quickly. Every minute in a recording studio is expensive, so being able to come up with solutions as fast as possible is vital to getting the most out of your session. This is also a lesson that can come from poker. With long games that can stretch for hours, it can be tempting to zone out or not pay attention, especially in hands where you fold your cards. It is important not to do so, though, as you’ll end up missing vital clues to your opponents’ strategies and tendencies. Keeping your mind sharp and alert at the poker table is great practice for being ready to adapt at the studio.
Given the way these skills cross over, it’s perhaps no surprise that Steve Albini thrives so much in both disciplines! And for anyone looking to excel in one or the other, it’s worth thinking about how to pick up valuable tendencies in unexpected places.