Ruly Mix: Danny Stewart-Smith

Dan Stewart-Smith

It’s Friday!! Time to pick up some energy for the weekend and motivate yourself to have some fun! Dan Stewart-Smith comes to our rescue again with another great motivational mix.

First, I had some questions for Dan about the role music plays in motivation. He had some great insight to share.

Why does music motivate so many of us?  Is it music in general or are there specific things you are doing as a composer to tap into a motivational vibe?

Well, as you know and have already experienced, music taps emotion in people and emotion is a strong motivator (imagine a movie with no score), so perhaps that is the main thing. Pop music appeals to common emotions and feelings in humans such as love, sorrow and pain, and lustful desire…those are just three common themes that we all relate to, and they sell records! Another largely motivating or moving element is tension and release where by the music climaxes and then relaxes again; much like holding your breath till you’re about to burst and then exhaling, resuming normal breathing once again.

I don’t know if there is any correct code of practice for creating “motivating” music. However from my experience, again it is down to the purpose of the music as to what dictates style and mood. For example if you need to create music for say aerobic exercise, the most fundamental point is that the beat must be strong and clear. After that you need to consider that people first warm up then build their aerobics routine to a peak and either stop after that or cool down, so the music needs to reflect that. Usually, catchy but angular phrases work well for exercise that requires vigorous movement, therefore pop remixes and Latin and funk based tunes work nicely for that. Rock is also popular for dance remixes; take Eddie Van Halens “Jump” as a classic example. It is driving and compelling as it is, but with a heavy dance beat mixed under it, it takes on a new edge and becomes even easier to digest. You may have noticed, Rock is actually a popular genre with weight trainers and sprinters for its “driving” pace.

On the other hand you may need to create music that is intended for mental focus, therefore it needs to bubble along unobtrusively, yet be compelling enough to imbue focus….classic examples include count down music in general knowledge game shows where the contestants only have 30 seconds or so to deduce their answer, or music for Yoga and spiritual focus which is another kind of concentration that demands calmness (see last month’s mix).

Do you ever lose motivation to create music?

I wanted to become a professional musician since I was about 19, and I envisioned myself performing and being able to play many styles of music. I had a vision, and therefore I could take steps to fuel the fire to become that vision by listening and watching my heroes play. 6 years later I was touring around parts of the world playing to thousands of people in a handful of prestigious venues. I had become that vision….trouble was, it still didn’t pay the bills!

Being just a bass player was by no means enough, so I decided to branch out into teaching, production and composition….again I envisioned myself behind the mixing desk, creating music for media, playing keyboards, singing, arranging etc and listened to many different genres of music, watched documentaries on Motown, on Stevie Wonder, on Metallica and more… so I practiced and studied toward that goal and 4 years on I landed my first composition gig for Nickelodeon. After that I just kept plugging for work, and what I put in came back to me and I have been able to build a relatively expansive portfolio from there.

Something I realized recently, is that if you do start making a profession out of your passion, you may come to actually get bored of it!!!

Last year, I had a heavy commission for 30 pieces of music for iPhone games and spent about a month solid every night, composing and producing music for it. After a week of that I started hating what I was coming up with and felt lethargic and uninspired to work. Strange! Considering this was supposed to be my dream job!!!!! Funnily enough watching a few movies and absorbing sound tracks by Danny Elfman and John Williams soon cured me and I felt refreshed and inspired again, outputting two pieces a night.

Similarly, when I played in London as part of the band backing Kate Dimbleby’s performance as the late Jazz vocalist Peggy Lee in a production slated to tour Europe. I was really enjoying it to begin with and we were getting good reviews music wise….however the band leader told me to “play it very simple” and to “tone down”  after a Time Out review complimented the band and in particular my playing, saying “Dan Stewart’s upright bass complemented Dimbleby’s silky, sultry voice beautifully” and criticized the actual script and production of the play itself calling it “a languid attempt”. So I toned it down playing carefully scored bass lines instead of improvising off chord charts and kicks making it even more “languid” than it already apparently was. I lost my enthusiasm and motivation to play in that situation and decided to quit the gig.

I have felt similar when playing regular gigs, same old tunes, same place, same musicians for four hours every night….for 40 quid and a meal. It gets old after a while and you want something new and fresh…even though this was supposed to be your “dream”.

What do you do to motivate yourself?

For me it’s about vision and supporting that vision by nurturing it with relevant fodder, and you can apply that to anything. A way that I find helps motivation is to actually go and see something similar to what you wish to achieve or obtain. Take for example a car…I might go to a sales yard and sit inside the car, take photos of it, even test drive it. That subconsciously sets my mind to make steps toward saving to attain my goal of buying it.

Another common trick I use to motivate my lazy ass is to say to myself…”well if you do not try, you will never know, and you may kick yourself to hell and back for that in the future.” That usually makes me take further steps toward a goal. At the end of the day, I believe whatever you visualize can be achieved, but you need to be realistic about it, and realize there will be obstacles along the way and it will take a lot of hard work and time!!!!  One major issue I have is that I have too many ambitions and ideas I wish to fulfill, and I have trouble prioritizing them and just focusing on one at a time. So, some advice on what to do about that would be greatly appreciated!

The most happy, well balanced people I know, are those who regularly do something they love, and conversely, I have seen people wilt when they have had no time for themselves. We all need that creative or adventurous outlet to function as a healthy human beings, and if we can make a little money out of it along the way, then that’s all the better! There would be nothing worse than going to your grave feeling like you didn’t complete, or at least whole-heartedly attempt, to complete your ambitions in life.

Ambition and desire grows. This is human nature I suppose and is the same mentality that drives some of the rich to want to gain more money although they already have more than enough…(which reminds me, that was the topic of March’s post). Perhaps it is the psychological need to measure achievement as self worth in some way, and that is perhaps more evident in men than in women. It certainly is prevalent in my life.

Tell us about “Maintain Focus”

This track was originally written for exercising/training, hence the constant beat and the moderate tempo. I wanted it to be fun and motivating but not too distracting, hence the lyrics are just chant lines along the lines of “maintain focus” instead of full blown narratives. I also wanted it to reflect some of my favorite influences, namely P-funk AKA Parliament / Funkadelic who created such a kick ass sound back in the 70’s and early 80’s that you just had to dance, but also contain more current dance music elements such as House, Techno and Electronica elements. Michael Hampton and Bootsy Collins of the aforementioned Funkadelic, have been big inspirations to me and I thank them for their creativity and amazing groove. Anyway I hope you find it fun to groove along to. Happy listening!

I hope you enjoy “Maintain Focus” as much as I do!  I especially love the voices and guitar solos toward the end.

Click the picture below to play or right-click to download. (If the picture is not working for you, you can also download by clicking here.)

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Ruly License: You may download and play any Ruly Mix song for your own personal use so long as you keep the voiceover tags intact indicating the name of the artist and that the song came from Businesses may also download this song to play as background music in their establishments so long as the voiceover tags remain intact. Any other uses of the song (such as in videos, etc.) must be pre-approved by the musician. Questions about license permissions can be addressed to

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Have a great weekend!

Previous Ruly Mix artists: Danny Stewart-Smith (“The Flow”)Danny Stewart-Smith (“Insights”)Danny Stewart-Smith feat. Evin GibsonJoe HanleyJamie SmithRajiv Agarwal