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Andy Leech: Letting Go of Social Media & Finding the Freedom to Create

Musician and producer Andy Leech Freedom productivity and creativity interview

The electronic musician and producer says using tech consciously is the key to making music he’s proud of

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwritersbestselling authorseditorsjournalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, comic book writers, students, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and processes because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet Andy Leech

For the last decade, Scotland-based producer Andy Leech has been honing his craft in creating aural soundscapes. His genre-traversing sound which encompasses laid-back future ambient sounds, electronica, lo-fi hip hop, and anything else that inspires him, has garnered him a substantial online following.

But relying on technology for his work means that Andy has experienced a less than healthy relationship with social media over the years, which eventually resulted in deleting all his accounts in 2018. Since discovering Freedom, and learning to use social media more consciously, Andy enjoys a much more balanced relationship with the online world. Freeing up time to dedicate to his physical and mental wellbeing –and, of course– much more time for making music!

We’re excited to share Andy’s story, as well as his music, which just so happens to be the perfect soundtrack for some focused work sessions or unplugged moments of relaxation!

How did you know that you wanted to be a musician and what were your first steps in making this your career?

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in rural Scotland, which meant that most of my younger years were spent in relative solitude. It may not sound like the ideal experience for a typical young person, but it was the perfect excuse to indulge myself in my favorite hobby – listening to music. I fondly remember sitting for hours listening to Iron Maiden and Oasis, admiring the album artworks, and fantasizing about how great It would be to create music of my own. 

Some years later, I bought my first guitar (an Epiphone Dove that I chose because of the intricate artwork on the pickguard) and I became obsessed with playing. I had the vision that one day, I would get a band together, but in 2010 I broke my arm badly in an accident. While I was waiting for it to heal, I was deeply frustrated about how I couldn’t do the thing I loved the most.

By this point, I had developed a liking for electronic music, but had absolutely no idea how it was made. Something to do with synthesizers and computers was about as far as my knowledge went. Using my remaining good arm to do a quick internet search led me to discover that all you needed to make electronic music was a computer and some software!

A few more searches and downloads later, I found myself in a world of complete wonder and unlimited creativity. At first, I had no idea what I was doing, but after some perseverance and experimentation, I began to produce some very basic sounding tracks. It wasn’t the quality that mattered then, but the discovery that I could invest my time and energy into something and very quickly get back something tangible that I was proud of.

It was at this point that I knew this was something that I would be doing for years to come, but I never considered the thought of forging a career from my music. But slowly, I started sharing some of my work online and it gained a small following. I’ll be completely honest – I still don’t consider myself as a “musician” as such, but rather a hobbyist who is fortunate enough to make a living from it! The fact that people enjoy what I do to the extent that they spend money on it makes me feel extremely lucky and forever grateful.

Scottish countryside

At what point did you realize that technolgy was taking a toll on your productivity and time?

It was around 3 years ago, particularly regarding social media platforms. Social media has been a double-edged sword for me. While it has been an effective tool to share and promote my work, It has also become a significant roadblock. Around 10 years ago when social media platforms were exploding in popularity, I found them to be highly effective for sharing my work on a grand scale. I could easily share links of my music to millions of people within seconds which generated significant traffic and helped me gain plays and fans organically. After sharing a new song or EP on social media, the plays, shares, likes, and comments would come rolling in.

However, I soon became fixated on checking my profiles every five minutes to see how many “likes” and comments I was getting. It got to the point where I would have several tabs open on my browser and I would constantly flip between them to see how each post was performing. I feel that the actual art of creating music took a backseat, while the majority of my focus went towards social media. Each new comment or like gave me that small dopamine rush, reassuring me that I was creating something good and worthwhile.

It dawned on me that social media was distracting me from my creative drive, so I am now careful to share only what I need to, then I log off and do something more meaningful with that time.

There’s nothing explicitly wrong with this, but it’s no secret that the business model of these companies is to ensure that the user spends as much time as possible on their platforms. And for a while, I was completely hooked– I hate to think how many hours I’ve lost to mindless scrolling! 

It eventually dawned on me that social media was distracting me from my creative drive, so I am now careful to share only what I need to, then I log off and do something more meaningful with that time. I don’t think the companies behind these things are evil, but, I do think that we must be cautious of overindulgence. There is nothing wrong with using social media to connect with friends, read the news, or have some light entertainment, but we should all be aware of the slippery slope that they have been designed to put you on. For some people, 5 minutes can easily turn into 5 hours, and I can say that I used to be one of those people for sure.

Music production software

What are your biggest distractors while working and how do you conquer them?

This one is easy. Sometimes if I am working and need to learn something on the fly, I turn to my trusty friend YouTube for a tutorial video.  The problem is, that instead of returning to the project with my newly acquired knowledge, I stay on YouTube for longer than intended, watching completely unrelated content. I can easily spend a few hours there thanks to their crafty “recommended” section. I think YouTube is an amazing platform and I credit it for giving me around 90% of my knowledge on music production! But I sometimes forget that it’s just another social media platform, carefully crafted to make users stick around for as long as possible and gain revenue through ad placement. 

Another sticking point for me is the news. I try to stay away from reading it as much as possible –  most of us know that doom and gloom receive more clicks than boring old fairytale endings! The underlying sense of unease I get when I find myself “doomscrolling” massively impacts my daily life and work. I don’t think anyone can be in their optimal creative zone while constantly being bombarded with anxiety-inducing stories. Yes, it’s important to know what’s going on in the world, but I don’t think that humans are able to cope with the sheer volume of information that is constantly being bombarded at us on a daily basis. 20 years ago, you bought a newspaper and that was it, you were done for the day.

I feel like technology is almost evolving too fast for our primitive brains to keep up with, which may sound rich coming from someone who relies on technology for their craft! This is a fact we will have to learn to live with, in some way or another. But for now, all I can do is limit my tech use and maintain a positive mindset. 

As a musician, do you feel under pressure to use social media to further your career? 

Not anymore, but I used to! When I was first starting out, I felt a huge need to be on every platform and to have as many followers and audience interactions as my peers. I’m embarrassed to say I even used to delete posts that didn’t perform well, even though so many others do it, too! Many musicians believe their entire value is based solely on the success of their social media profiles. Social media can be a great tool to promote your work, but it should be just that – a tool – not an integral part of your being.

The best thing I ever did for my career was deleting all my social media profiles! It left me free to work without the worry of how many likes each track might get, and I made music that I was really proud of.

The best thing I ever did for my career was deleting all my social media profiles in 2018 – I just let them all go! It left me free to work without the worry of how many likes each track might get. When I finished up those tracks I released them in the usual digital stores and just forgot about them – it was wonderful! I made music that I was really proud of, without any pressure to share and promote on social media. Refreshingly, my sales and streaming revenue actually went up a little, too!

Later, I made a conscious decision to return to Facebook, with a personal account I would use for keeping in touch with friends and family (and watching the occasional cat video!). I’ve managed to stick to that and I’m now much more aware of how much I use it, as well as the stress it can induce. I still use it to promote my music, but in a much more relaxed manner – just one post to let people know about a new project, then I move on and forget about it. I feel so much better for it, but I do worry about younger generations that have grown up immersed in social media and wonder if this will have a negative impact on their future.

Creative desk

How do you find a balance between being connected and overwhelmed?

I think finding a balance is tough for most people, especially for people like me who are prone to anxiety and are overwhelmed easily. The key for me is to not take it all so seriously – you don’t owe anybody anything!  I used to feel obligated to respond to everyone who left me a comment and would spend hours replying. Of course, I really appreciate people showing their appreciation for my work but it was robbing me of the time I needed to create.

Now I let the feedback come, and when I have time, I make one small post to show my appreciation to all of those who took the time to comment. You can’t be everywhere at once for everyone and most people understand that! The instant gratitude we’re used to with social media puts pressure on us to be constantly connected, but it’s too much. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. If that means leaving someone on “read” for a week, then so be it. 

Being outdoors in nature is the thing that inspires me most. I’m usually drawn to forests – every time I’m surrounded by tall trees, I feel relaxed and Inspired

How do you stay motivated and focused on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, process, or place that helps to get into a productive flow? 

For me, it involves drinking enough coffee or tea in the morning to kill a horse, then staying as active as possible throughout the day. I think that the less screen time you can subject yourself to, the better! I love walking my dog and imagining cool ideas for songs. If I were to try and do the same thing while sitting at home, the internet would distract me from any useful ideas (I speak from experience here!).

I would say that being outdoors in nature is the thing that inspires me most. I’m usually drawn to forests – every time I’m surrounded by tall trees, I feel relaxed and Inspired. If I was around in the ’60s, I’d have most definitely been a hippy of the highest order. 

sunlit forest road in Scotland

What environments are most productive for you?

While I do love a good dark forest, it can be hard to find a power extension long enough to work there, so I settle for any quiet and relaxing environment. I’ve experimented with mobile music apps before and worked at the beach or park. Some of them are excellent and work well for jotting down ideas quickly, but I find the small screen doesn’t give me the fine control I need for bigger projects. 

I have a basic studio in my house and that’s where I write and produce pretty much all of my music. It’s where I feel most relaxed and my desk is littered with trinkets that give me good vibes. It’s important for me to be surrounded by things that bring back good memories, no matter how insignificant they seem to other people. Most music producers have a very expensive pair of studio monitor speakers, carefully placed at either side of their main screen. But I have a funky pair of lamps I found In a hardware store. They inspire me anyway!

I’m a big proponent of pushing your limits, and delving into other people’s work always inspires me to step up and try new techniques. I think this is true for most artists, whatever their medium may be.

What inspires you to improve your craft?

Mainly the idea that I can look back and see how much I have improved. My discography serves as a sort of progress journal in that way. I’m also constantly listening to new music, which pushes me to improve and try new techniques – I’m always amazed at the sheer quality of work that some of my peers are putting out. 

When I hear exceptionally good mixing and sound design in music, I feel instantly driven to try and replicate that in my own way. It’s not always a good thing to compare yourself to others, but for me, it serves as a healthy challenge. If they can do it then surely, with some practice, I can too! I’m a big proponent of pushing your limits and delving into other people’s work always inspires me to step up and try new techniques. I think this is true for most artists, whatever their medium may be.

What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay productive?

I have finally come to the realization that eating properly has a hugely beneficial impact on the mind, both in terms of cognition and mood. I’m a recovering snack demon and used to eat a lot of processed food, but I felt tired constantly. A friend of mine was always telling me about the importance of nutrition, and eventually, I began to implement some of that advice. My mental focus and general well-being increased significantly. Cutting out refined sugar is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. After making the conscious effort to avoid sugar, my mood has increased tenfold and I’m a lot less anxious than before. 

Aside from eating well, I also try to sleep as well as I can because I am well aware of how important sleep is to the human body. The problem with doing anything creative is that you never know when inspiration is going to strike… but I’m working on improving my sleep schedule!

Sometimes I’ll get that spark of inspiration and run with it for hours on end –I just feel like once I’m in the zone, I can’t put it down until I’m satisfied with my progress. There is a theory that when you are tired, the sleep hormone Adenosine inhibits the logical part of your brain leaving you more open to abstract ideas and concepts. While it’s certainly interesting, it’s not so healthy to work in this way, so I’m trying really hard to put my sleepdrunk days behind me and focus more on a balanced schedule because I know it will benefit me much more in the long run. A great book that delves into this subject is Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker – I highly recommend it!.

Finally – exercise! While I used to be quite the couch potato, I  recently got back into one of my dearest hobbies, skateboarding. You would not believe how many benefits I have gained since going out riding again – I feel so much more alive! Exercise is extremely important for both physical and mental reasons, especially if you are going through periods of low mood or stress. There is something very healing about putting down the screen for a while and getting outside. The resulting buzz of endorphins is sometimes all you need to bounce back to your usual creative and productive self. 

What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?

One particularly exciting project that I can talk about is a collaboration with a record label (I can’t say which one yet), which is releasing a 10-year anniversary compilation in August. Not only am I lucky enough to be featured on this album, but it will also be their first release on vinyl which is particularly special to me, as I’m passionate about physical mediums of music. Digital downloads and streaming have dominated the market over the last decade, but I’m excited to see the rise in popularity of vinyl and CDs. Even cassette tapes have seen some resurgence in recent years.

Streaming is convenient and easy, but there is something magical about having a physical collection of records and the thought of the music being around for hundreds of years to come! I don’t think that streaming services could be preserved in the same way – with the rapid advances in technology, perhaps in 20 years, young people may have no idea what an mp3 or .wav file is!

There will always be collectors and enthusiasts of older mediums and I love the possibility that my music could become part of someone’s cherished record collection! 

stack of records

Listen to Andy’s music and stay up to date on his upcoming projects on Spotify, YouTube, and Bandcamp.