For up-and-coming musicians and producers, one of the greatest challenges to overcome is the art of juggling life commitments while trying to reach the point of being able to work on music all day, every day. It’s no secret that regardless of talent or luck, it usually takes an extremely long time to be able to establish yourself as an artist to the point of only making music for a living. In the interim, for most people, it is only natural that you will need to have supplemental source of income and the associated obligations so that you can continue to pursue your creative endeavors. That may come in the form of full-time work, part-time work, freelance gigs, or just a few side projects here and there.
A few months ago, I had reached a standstill in my productivity. Personally, I wasn’t making adequate progress on my musical projects without sacrificing some other aspect of my life. In my off-time, I engage in a number of other projects to keep me afloat financially which include web and graphic design, programming, freelance writing, and producing music for other artists. As I had several remixes with tight deadlines coming in, in addition to trying to finish new tracks, I began to feel a constant anxiety about not accomplishing what I needed to do in time without falling short on my other commitments.
My initial solution to this challenge was shortsighted: I would assign three or four days of every week to work on my other projects, then try to cram all my music production into extended twenty-hour sessions, usually over the weekends. Naturally, there are a number of downsides to this approach. Firstly, I was burdened with the task of completing a lot of high-quality musical work in short windows of time. This often led me to creative burnout and experiencing unnecessary stress. Secondly, my social life and relaxation time were beginning to also be affected as I would end up spending the majority of my week working on side projects and then lock myself up in the studio for the weekend to work on music. Something had to change.
The concept of doing something every day to ensure productivity in a creative endeavor is hardly a new one. Jerry Seinfeld, widely recognized as the most successful comedian of all time, is known to be an advocate of this workflow, which he calls “Don’t Break The Chain.” Seinfeld has gone on record stating that he is not a very funny person by nature (I’m sure that is debatable), but by forcing himself to write jokes every day, his jokes would end up getting funnier and funnier. Needless to say, this simple strategy has worked well for him. Here’s where the chain concept comes in: Seinfeld suggests buying a large calendar, hanging it on the wall, and drawing a big red “X” for every day that you write. After a few days, you end up with a chain. Your goal then becomes not to break the chain.
I decided there was likely a modern solution to hanging a calendar on my wall and immediately began searching the app store. Before long, I came across an app called “Streaks Motivational Calendar” which proved to be exactly what I was looking for. Basically, you check off an X for every day that you perform a certain task and see how long you can keep the streak going. So now it was time to adapt my workflow and see how it affected my output. I started off with a couple of ground rules.
1. I had to work on music every single day for a minimum of one hour.
The amount of time is just a personal preference, and would probably be just as fine with less or more, provided that it is consistent. Personally, I find that 1 hour is the minimum time in which I can accomplish something productive in the studio and not long enough that it will become a burden to accomplish on a daily basis. The most important thing here is that there are no exceptions to “every day”. Of course the minimum is also just that, and on days when I had few other obligations I still spend 12 or more hours working on music. If I knew I had something to do later that day or would be out, I would simply wake up an hour earlier and do it first thing in the morning. If I was away from my studio or traveling, I could simply work on my laptop.
2. I had to work on actual music.
There is a lot more to being a music producer than making music. In this day and age, you need to dedicate just as much time doing other managing your brand, social media, emailing partners and labels, testing new plugins, organizing sample packs, learning new tricks, and so on. These activities do not count as making music.
3. The music could not be for other artists.
Given that I do a lot of mixing, producing, and recording for other artists, I decided that this one hour of music was going to be dedicated fully to my own projects. The exception to this, of course, was in the event that I was hired to do a remix.
Within a few weeks of writing music daily, I began to notice a few immediate and largely positive effects:
Muscle Memory. It is said that humans are creatures of habit and I’m sure most will agree this couldn’t be more true. It’s easy as an artist to not work because you lack inspiration, energy, or have some other commitment. Some days, I was mentally worn out or exhausted, but knowing I still had to continue my streak forced me to complete at least an hour of music regardless. I also found that on those days, after the first few moments I would get into the zone and no longer think about what would have previously hindered me to even getting started. After a while, it simply became second nature. Without even thinking about it, I would just sit down and begin working.
Momentum. This was a big one for me. I began to realize that the feeling of making progress was just as important as making progress itself. There was no longer a constant anxiety in my head about not getting enough music done. Momentum is a very powerful thing for anyone who’s looking to accomplish a goal, and using this strategy, I was able to leverage it to my advantage.
Work/Life Balance. Naturally, this change also affected my other projects as well as my life overall. I learned how to better balance my commitments and projects and found myself meeting all my other obligations with a high degree of quality yet still having more free time to engage in fun or social activities — all the while writing more music than I ever did before. Overall, I was more comfortable and happy with my life as a whole.
After having done this now for several months, I consider this small change to have been an enormous improvement to my life and music career. I’ve managed to complete more music than ever before in a shorter period of time. I’ve also suggested the change to some of my creative friends who are writers, photographers, and artists — and they have all experienced similar results. I felt compelled to share this change in habit with other artists. So if you are a creative person who’s craving to be more productive I would implore you to try performing your craft every day, particularly if you are trying to balance it with other projects and life commitments. Write music every damn day.
Let us know in the comments below or via Twitter (using the hashtag #writemusiceveryday) if this strategy works for you. We’re curious to hear your stories.