On getting that work done!

A notebook is your friend!

As I was pretty happy with how my last production-related blog post came out and how nicely it was received, I started feeling that I might make a new one, and I’ve been making notes on my notebook for a while.
So, let’s put those notes into a blog post.

I’d like to share a bit of my philosophy behind getting music done.
It’s easy to do a technical tutorial on how to perform something with a sequencer, but it’s different telling people something that has to do with the mental side of things rather than technical.

All these points are something that I often have to remind myself about and I’ve found that it works. Being a freelancer, I often have a gazillion things on the go and sometimes it’s tricky trying to focus on actually giving making music what it requires if you really want to get something done instead of browsing social media, doing emails, catching up with latest news, etc.

Let me start cutting to the chase here.

Don’t get distracted.
All of us are more or less getting absolutely bombarded with distractions.
All the exciting internet content that’s being re-born every second. Social media. Emails. Forums. Our attention-hungry cellphones.
It’s not always easy for us to actually leave all that out and concentrate on working in a way that’s required if you really intend to get some work done in an effective fashion.
For the record, I think that out of all common contemporary places to “hang out”, Facebook news feed is one of the most useless things there is, so you really gotta drop that. Yes, you know it.
When you decide to make music – and get something done instead of just creating a 16-bar loop – you need to concentrate on just that.
No Facebook (when was the last time you actually missed something really important when you didn’t check it for a while?), no TV, no emails, no video. Mute your cellphone, too.
Think about it, and try doing it the next time you want to write a song in an effective fashion.
You don’t have to leave all that crap out – and I’m not going to come and turn it all off for you – but hey, you don’t have to be a prolific producer either.

Enjoy your working space.
What I’ve found super helpful is to have my desk clean.
Yes, it may sound silly, but it does work.
Physical clutter = mental clutter.
If I have several cups, pots, pans, old coffee cups and garbage lying on my desk – coupled with some paperwork etc. that needs finishing – take them out of your sight.
Make your workspace enjoyable: it really helps you focus as you’re only going to have on your desk the most essential things: your music gear.

Appreciate the gift you have.
Learn to appreciate the gift of being able to make music and enjoy it.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have it in us to actually write music.
Just think about it: music is one of the coolest things in the world!
Remember the last time you heard something that made you all goosebumpy? You are able to create some of that aurally pleasing goodness, so don’t waste your chance by procrastinating!
So, when you sit down to write some mind-blowing new music (that’s going to take over the world), give it your 100% and appreciate the fact that you can create some awesomeness.

“Eternal recurrence.”
I recently watched a lecture by Ill Gates, and he mentioned something relating to Nietzsche and “eternal recurrence” and posed some very good thoughts relating to it.
This made me think, too.
If you had to watch your life as a film playing on an endless loop, all over again, time after time, what would you regret and what would be the most boring to watch?
An obvious answer here is procrastination.
You only have one life to live, so rather than regretting having made mistakes or such, make sure you don’t have to regret not having done something – and let’s apply this to music production, too.
Make that music if you have it in you.

Know how to use your time.
How I feel about the next point doesn’t apply to all of us.
Sometimes, if I’m extremely busy with other things or very tired, I don’t allow myself to start working on a musical idea.
Why? I might be able to come up with something cool, but it bums me out if I can’t work on it.
Let’s say I have a very busy week. I come up with an amazing 16-bar loop. I try to work on it every day during a coffee break, and briefly in the evening, and maybe during some other short moments, too.
What happens is that it kind of wears out. It doesn’t sound that cool to me anymore (even though it still is) and I’m unable to leech some of that creativity-boosting juice out of it I got to enjoy when that dope loop was still fresh.
When you have a nice new idea, you can feed on that and finish a song relatively quickly, and the song kind of writes itself.

Left vs. right brain.
It’s been said that our right brain is the creative one – being a musician’s best friend – and the left one is more rational and analytical, doing all the thinking relating to actions and consequences, for example.
Right after waking up is the time when you should try giving working on music a shot.
In the morning, the right brain is more dominant – we’ve just been dreaming (dreams are pretty damn creative most of the time, right?) – and in general, your brain isn’t doing so much of the “This-might-lead-into-that” type of thinking: it’s still got some of that creative dreaming mode left that isn’t clinging to traditions, and you’re not so stuck on “rational thinking” (which isn’t what we want when we’re trying to write music that’s different and sticks out of the crowd).
We have that creative side in control in the morning, so if you can, make use of that and do some unconventional thinking that’s going to result in unconventional music.

I have had this superstition relating to sharing my tracks that only gets stronger with age: if I send out a “clip” of a tune that’s unfinished in terms of its arrangement, it’s bad for working the track further.
It’s going to stop. I get stuck.
This is somewhat illogical but it seems I can’t shake it off.
This is highly subjective, of course, and I know aspiring producers especially tend to send out their “early previews” for feedback.
I still do some of this every now and then for the heck of it – but I do get more or less stuck and I get to say “Told you!” to myself every time. Ha ha.

Writing vs. mixing.
There are various takes on this one, and this is my own.
Do not concentrate too much on mixing down your song as you go.
It eats away your creative mode and resources, and to make the best music possible, you need to be able to let your creativity flow freely.
Try to lash out ideas quickly and work on the arrangement as quickly as you can.
I’m not quite strict as Ill Gates is with his “twenty-hour rule”, imagining an imaginary guillotine in his roof that’s going to chop off your song twenty hours after you’ve come up with a good idea, but I’m really trying to separate writing and mixing the song into separate sessions.
A little tweakery don’t hurt, but don’t spend two hours EQing that snare – or any other element, for that matter.
Why? The thing is, as you add elements, they’re all going to need a place of their own in the big picture, and if you work on an element for a long time, doing a lot of subtle tweaking etc, it may not fit there that well after you add a new element, especially if the new element is going to be pretty dominant, so in that case the time you spent on tweaking that one particular sound is wasted time.
Hence, you should mix your tune when all the elements are there, when you have finished its arrangement, and it’s “safe” to step out of the right-brain-controlled creative zone into that left-brain-dominated mixing mode.

Now, I know our computer is the modern-day TV, and it’s so nice to eat in front of it.
First, all of us spend enough time in front of our computers anyways, so let’s at least concentrate on our food properly so it won’t become just a quick process you get over with as you’re concentrating on something else.
Eating is nice. Yes, it really is. Give your food the attention it deserves. Trust me, you’ll get more out of it if you concentrate on what’s on your plate insted of trying to listen to your new song and its small details while eating.
Second, it’s good to step away from where you work briefly. I work on my songs in a different space from where I eat and do other work.
It kind of keeps the space where I work on music “fresh” and I know that when I’m there, it’s time to work on music and not concentrate on other things.

Shift of focus.
Don’t answer that email / sms / message that just popped in right away.
The thing is, it doesn’t just take that five minutes that it’s going to take you to reply, but it’s going to take your concentration away from what you were doing and scratch your creative flow, and returning back to it doesn’t happen in a second.
If you’re deep in the creative zone, getting back that deep into it takes a while after spending five minutes writing a reply, trust me.
That’s why it’s imporant to minimize the distractions if you want to get work done.
Keep yourself in the zone.
To repeat myself: you don’t have to shut all that out, but you don’t have to be a prolific producer either.

To wrap it all up, let me say this.
If you want to get music done, get it done.
There’s a zillion excuses for not doing it – lose them all.
The parade of distractions that’s blowing its big horns like a cavalcade of clowns(tep) under your window is not going to go away: it’s your job to direct it elsewhere – out of your working space.