How To Be Insanely Productive In The Studio

How many songs did you write last year?

2? 5? 10? 20?!

What if I told you that you can easily DOUBLE your output in the studio?

What if I told you that you don’t even need to spend more time in the studio?….

Would that be interesting for you?

Ok, I’m teasing…. I know it would :p

And that’s great because the point of this post is to show you exactly how I did it and how YOU can follow that same roadmap to make more music.

***

THE FIRST THING you should know is that it doesn’t matter how little music you’ve been writing and recording lately, you can absolutely double your musical output without having to make more time for music!

In 2014, I only wrote 4 tunes.

In 2015, I doubled my output and produced 9 new tunes….

 

 

THEN I had a real big breakthrough and things went a bit crazy…..

In 2016, I wrote, recorded and produced another 1 hundred tunes!!!!

2014 2015 2016
4 9 100

***

THE SECOND THING you should know is that the biggest roadblock you face as an artist has got nothing to do with music…. 

The biggest roadblock you face as an artist is…..

…..drum roll…..

………………..

the perfectionist mindset!

I could tell you exactly how I went from point A (9 tracks in 12 months) to point B, (100 tracks in 12 months) and it wouldn’t help you one bit if you can’t get it out of your mind that every single track your release has to be “perfect”.

Don’t worry, I know you know this already and you’ve tried getting over it before. 

I’ve got you covered 😉

 

GETTING RID OF THE PERFECTIONIST MINDSET

I’ve already told you that I wrote 100 new tunes in 2016.

That year, I also released  2 albums and 2 EPs in 6 months…

JoKe - Battles of the Beasts - Album Cover Anamorphosis - Sounds From a Thousand Faces - Album Cover
Album Cover - Origin Stories by JoKe Album Cover - Prequel by Anamorphosis

Why am I telling you this?

It’s simple really: I want you to know that I released albums and EPs that were NOT perfect (far from it!!!) and…. nothing bad happened to me 😉

I’m still alive, I’m still making music, I’m still licensing music. All is well. 

I’m not making millions but I’m doing ok, doing something I love. 

All because I stopped aiming for perfection and started thinking about a few things differently…

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work - Aristotle

1. “Quality” doesn’t matter, enjoy the process

Quality comes with quantity.

For some reason, we seem to think quantity and quality are mutually exclusive.

They are not.

In my experience….

quality comes with quantity 

↓ ↓ ↓

The more I practice, the better I get.

That’s applicable to music just as it is applicable to sports and office work.

There will be plateaus and short periods of regression but overall, if you keep going, you’ll get better and better at writing music.

And guess what? 

You’re more likely to keep going if you’re enjoying the process.

And you’re more likely to enjoy the process if you’re not focused on the ever elusive target of reaching perfection 😉

Quality can come easily

Sure. Some tracks take ages.

Still, others turn out great in just a couple of hours.

Here’s an example of something I wrote in 30 minutes. No changes, no additional mixing, no nothing.

This is the result after 30 minutes, no cheating:

Well, I like it!

Maybe you don’t. I hope you do but that’s not really the point!

The point is I made something out of nothing and had fun doing it!!! 

Aaaand….. it took me 30 minutes. 

Who’s to judge what’s good and what’s not

For some reason, and even though we know the enjoyment of art is subjective, we seem to think that we’re the best judge of our own music….

 

It’s not for us to say if our music is good or not.

In fact, it’s not for ANYBODY to say!

Some will like your track. Others won’t.

The point is you should enjoy making it.

Then, it makes sense to try to sell it so you can support your musical passion and make others.

Whether you manage to sell it or not, whether that’s through streaming, album sales, licensing or other, doesn’t really matter.

The whole point is you ENJOY making music.

If you don’t, if you spend night after night questioning your self-worth because your last track doesn’t match up to your musical heroes, what’s the point?!!

The less you focus on judging your music and trying to anticipate what others will think, the more you can enjoy the process 😉

The more you enjoy the process, the more music you’ll make, the more you’ll improve your music making.

2. You don’t need anything “more”

You don’t need more time.

Have you noticed how much more time something takes when there’s a long time to do it… There’s actually a name for this phenomenon. It’s called Parkinson’s law…

Parkinson's law - work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

The truth is you don’t need any more time. 

Yes, even if you have a full-time job and a side gig as a parent of four! 🙂

As long as you can squeeze in 30 minutes here and there, you can make more music.

Little side note here….

If you don’t have 30 minutes to spare for music every week, there are two possibilities:

  1. you have other pastimes, music is simply not a priority at this moment and that’s fine
  2. you have ZERO time for leisure and you’ll be burning out soon…

If you fall into the second category… you might want to check out my post on scheduling music around a full-time job….

If that doesn’t help, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d be happy to chat some more and find a solution that works for you….

 

The bottom line is you don’t need a lot of time to make music.

As you’ll see when you go through the music productivity roadmap below, showing up regularly to short music sessions can easily do the trick.

Another thing you DON’T need more of is gear and plugins….

You don’t need more gear.

Really!

You may think that you’re missing a crucial piece of equipment, that your music is just one plugin away from sounding professional but that’s simply not true!

The only thing you need is a computer or tablet with a user-friendly music software or app.

That could be GarageBand, Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Reason or whatever. The only thing that matters is that you find it user-friendly.

On top of that, there are a few optional pieces of equipment that you can do without but really, really help:

  1. a MIDI controller (doesn’t need to be 88 keys!)
  2. an audio interface to plug in a mic and/or guitar
  3. decent headphones and/or studio monitors
Working During a Weekend Getaway
This was my setup on a romantic getaway…. In my defense, my partner thought it was romantic to go for a run in the morning sooooo….. it’s a tie :p

Yes, you can purchase more equipment, more loops, more plugins.

Yes, it may improve your production. 

And yet, it may not improve anything at all….

The more you have, the longer you get sucked into the studio vortex. 

And the more you get sucked into the studio vortex, the more you risk RUINING the music!!!

Yes, it’s paradoxical but I’m sure you’ve experienced it many MANY times before…

It seems when you spend a long time in the studio working on the same track, this is what happens 80% of the time:

  • you get tired of listening to the track;
  • the mix becomes flat;
  • you can’t really hear what’s wrong but it just doesn’t sound quite right;
  • you get discouraged;
  • you feel bad about yourself;
  • you stop working on music for a while and/or you start on another project.

 

 

Have a look at your unfinished projects (lyrics you started writing but never finished, instrumentals you started recording but gave up on….)

How many of those do you have?

Now how does that number compare to the number of finished songs you have?

Thought so   😛 

All in all, it boils down to this one hard cold fact…

99% of people listening to your music will NOT hear the difference if you spend an extra hour tweaking the EQ on the hi-hats!!!  

Taking it to the extreme here but you know what I mean  😉 

3. You don’t need to be “inspired” to create something great

As long as you stick with it, inspiration will come.

As long as you show up, something will happen. Good or bad.

And remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s good or bad 😉

Because….

  1. You’re under no obligation whatsoever to release all your tunes
  2. You can always use a pseudonym to release tracks you’re not too sure about 
  3. Your “bad” is often someone else’s “good” and vice versa

Saying all this is easy. We know all this already. 

The trouble is we keep forgetting it!!!

That’s where the Music Productivity Roadmap comes in…

It’s a 6 stage process that will FORCE you to get rid of your perfectionist mindset. 

If you want to keep up with the 6 months deadline, you’ll have no choice.

You’ll HAVE to forget about quality for a while and focus on quantity.

You won’t have time to second-guess yourself.

You won’t have time to wait for inspiration to strike.


The Music Productivity Roadmap - picture

Stage 1: Embracing chaos

During that stage, the goal is to write as much as you can.

In order to do that, you’ll need to disregard quality COMPLETELY.

A couple of tricks that have helped me:

1. Give yourself an “realistic-unrealistic” objective

Try aiming  for a goal that would be a HUGE success for you but you doubt you can hit, i.e. it’s unlikely but not completely impossible.

For example….

Last 4 weeks – actual Next 4 weeks – goal
1 track 4 tracks
2 tracks 8 tracks
3 tracks 15 tracks
4 tracks 20 tracks
7 tracks 25 tracks
10 tracks 50 tracks

You really don’t have to follow the numbers above by the way! I’m just putting this out here in case you have no clue where to start 😉

2. Work in super short sessions

These sessions should be short enough that you are uncomfortable but not so short that you panic and do nothing!

The goal here is to reduce the time you have to second-guess yourself. 

If it doesn’t completely freak you out and paralyze you, I suggest you set a timer to XX minutes and…..

 

I suggest starting with 30 minutes sessions because we’re all busy and 30 minutes is usually shorter than what we’re used to. 

Experiment with this and find your sweet spot BUT keep in mind that the purpose of the exercise is for you to stop second-guessing yourself

If you still have time to go back and change the bass sound 4 times, you’re giving yourself too much time 😉

Remember, we are NOT focusing on quality at this stage. 

We are aiming for QUANTITY. Lots and lots of new music is the ultimate goal!!!! 

At the end of each session, make sure:

1.You record or bounce your project;

2. You refrain from listening to what you’ve just recorded. You’ll have plenty of time to do that during stage 2….

!!!! IMPORTANT !!!!!

 These are not meant to be finished mixes, crappy demos are fine!

 

Stage 2: Organizing the mess

Now that you have lots of new music to play with, it’s time to work out which tunes you want to focus on.

1. Schedule listening sessions

Set aside some time to listen to your tracks.

If you’ve written 3-4 new demos, you probably won’t need more than 30 minutes. If you’ve written 50, schedule as many listening sessions as you see fit.

I focus on short 20-30 minute listening sessions to keep my ears rested but feel free to go crazy and schedule a 2 hour listening sessions if that works better for you!!

2. Do some housekeeping

Here’s the system I use:

  • I create an iTunes playlist with all of my drafts, no matter how terrible I think they might be;
  • I close my eyes and listen to each tune without doing anything else (phone is off, doors are closed, music is the one and only focus);
  • if there’s something about the general feel of the track that I love, I give it a heart (even if the track is nowhere near finished);
  • then, I use the stars to indicate how close to finished the track is.

Here is what it looks like:

Housekeeping in iTunes

From there, I create 2 folders: “Cool Projects” and “Meh Projects”. Within these 2 folders I create 3 sub-folders.

And here’s how I file everything:

Stars  Heart

“Cool Projects”

No Heart

“Meh Projects”

“When I have time” “Crappy”
“When I have time” “Crappy”
3 “Doesn’t need much” “Might Be Worth Exploring”
4 “Doesn’t need much” “Might Be Worth Exploring”
5 “Really Cool, Let’s Leave It At That!” “Get This Over With”

Of course, it goes without saying that you don’t have to use iTunes for your songs. You don’t even have to use a playlist on your computer!  

You could simply write down all your song names on a piece of paper and do the exercise manually.

It’s easy to underestimate this step BUT it’s important that you take the time to do this.

Why?

Because the next time you sit down to work on music, it will be MUCH EASIER for you to decide what track you want to work on.

For example, imagine you’re feeling a bit down and have only 15-20 minutes to work on music…. wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to dip into the “Doesn’t need much” folder?

  • you’ll be working on a track you enjoy; and
  • you’ll be able to improve the track in a very short period of time.

All of a sudden, you’re not feeling so down anymore 😉

Here’s another example. You’re in between projects and have a bit of downtime. It might make sense to pick a track from the “When I have time” folder.
Yet another example…. You’re a bit ill and stuck in bed. Maybe it’s not a great time to work on a promising project….

Now’s your chance to knock out some “crappy” tunes from the “Might Be Worth Exploring” or “Get This Over With” folders.

You never know, sometimes the crappiest tunes end up surprisingly good… or perfect for reality TV licensing opportunities! 😆

Stage 3: Building on the first drafts 

This stage is my favorite part of the process!!

This is where you get to go all craaaaazzzy and try out weird production techniques.

You add dirty electric guitars on your lovely orchestral piece.

You play the harmonica on a hip hop beat. 

You switch the arrangement around, etc.

Here’s my 2 step process to get the most out of this stage…

1. Prepare for the studio

This is what I do at the beginning of every studio session:

  • sit down with a pen and paper,
  • listen carefully to the tune I’m going to be working on, and
  • write down bullet points of all the things I need to do. 

It looks something like this:

Notebook page showing checklist of stuff that needs to be DONE!

The bullet points are basically a list of “issues” to address and stuff to try out.

2. Experiment and do weird shit

Once I’m in the studio working on the track. I make a point of trying out as many different things as I can. 

The weirder the better!

At first, it was daunting and I wouldn’t really go “out there” that often. When you feel you are being too safe, try doing this:

1. save a copy of your project as it is (so that if you ruin it, you can go back to what you already had)

2. set the timer to 5, 10 or 15 minutes

3. go crazy!!!

You’ve got absolutely NOTHING to lose!

  • You have another version of the project saved and safe.
  • You don’t have the pressure of knowing when it’s weird enough since you’ll be taking a break from the crazy stuff in a pre-determined amount of time.

Basically you have a safe place to experiment freely without being afraid of judgment or destruction! 🙂

Again, this is an easy step to underestimate and ignore. 

And yet, it absolutely IS one of the most important (and fun!) steps you can take en route to making great music that will stand out!

Here’s a little demonstration for you….

Compare and contrast these two versions of “Shroomy”….

Here’s draft 1… (it’s not even remotely interesting for the first 30 seconds aaaannnnddd it’s not especially fun throughout!)

Now for the final version after a little of experimentation…. (checkout what happens around the 1’30” mark)

So what do you think?!

It’s weird, unexpected, definitely NOT my comfort zone!

Again, good or bad doesn’t matter.

Some people LOVE this track and others really, really, don’t.

One thing everybody can agree on is that it’s weird and unusual and, most importantly… it’s DONE!!!!

Stage 4: Zoom & Focus


Of course, all this new, raw material won’t do any good if you only ever add stuff and experiment. 

At some point, you need to figure out where you’re going and decide on the final destination.

Otherwise, all you’ll ever be doing is experimenting and creating but never selling anything. 

This is fine by the way! There is nothing wrong with doing music for music’s sake and not trying to get paid for the privilege.

All I’m saying is if you DO want to make money making music and earn a living as a musician, you need to finish music and sell it. 

The challenge comes in knowing when a track is finished and ready to sell….

Here’s the thing: you never know when a track is finished and you sure as hell can’t tell if it’s ready to make money!

All you can do is put it out there and do your best to promote it and have people listen to it.

Here’s how you get that that stage:

1. Decide on a deadline

If you don’t set a deadline to wrap things up and finish your music, be it a single track or album, it’ll be difficult for you to know when to stop.

Why? 

Because it’s just so damn hard to tell when a track is finished!

2. Commit to the deadline, make it public

We’ve all been there….. We set a goal, decide on a target date and then we postpone, again and again until sometimes a couple of years have passed and we realize we completely forgot about that project!

There’s an easy way to avoid this: commit to a deadline in public.

You could be gentle with yourself and just tell your close friends or parents about your goal to finish 2 tracks in the next 30 days. At the end of the month, they might ask you about your progress and you’ll only be slightly embarrassed about falling behind.

Or you could go nuclear, change your Facebook profile pic to announce your album release date and keep it up there. Now you can be sure a few people will get excited about this and ask questions if you don’t put out anything when the time comes.

I wouldn’t go nuclear if you’ve never done this before. The purpose of this exercise is NOT to humiliate you! Also, I don’t want you to be completely paralyzed during the final phase of the creative process because now you know 167 people will be waiting to hear your music.

 

Experiment with this public commitment. Start small and make it more and more public until you find that sweet spot where it forces you to get things done but doesn’t hurt your creativity either.

My sweet spot is The Morning Sessions project: I post one new video of my work in the studio EVERY DAY. This forces me to keep working on music even when I don’t feel like it or I’m swamped. After a few weeks of doing this, my friends started asking about it. A few months in and complete strangers got in touch. That kind of accountability is invaluable!!!  It certainly got a fairly lazy bee like me moving!  🙂 

3. Cutting (instead of adding)

Now that you’re clear on when you need to finish, you can focus all of your attention on actually FINISHING the music. 

In that phase, the focus HAS to be on cutting stuff out. 

You’ve had the inspiration phase and the experimentation phase when it was all about expressing yourself and trying out stuff freely.

Now, in the cutting phase, it’s all about making sense of things. Even if you’re writing experimental music, you want your work to make sense on some level. 

If you’re writing in a fairly traditional genre of music, you really want your music to make sense! You can’t have people just frowning and wondering what on earth you’re on about!

In order to do that, all you have to do is take a step back, press play, close your eyes and concentrate on the music….

You only need to listen to the track once. 

When the track is done playing, write down:

  • anything weird you noticed (e.g. instrument not sounding quite right) 
  • anything that was obviously out of place (e.g. wrong note, beat out of sync)
  • anything that sounded unprofessional (e.g. abrupt ending, unwanted saturation)
  • anything you felt particularly strongly (e.g. boredom a couple of minutes in, discomfort in the right ear)

Once that’s done, you can open the project and FIX everything! It may take more than one session but it shouldn’t take more than 4 hours. If it does, you haven’t been cutting enough!

At this stage of the process, if you can’t fix something easily, you probably should just get rid of it! Or ask for outside help, hand it over to a friend/colleague.

And yes…. that’s how I ended up writing only instrumental music and forgetting about vocals altogether! 😛

4. Letting small things go

Of course, sometimes you’re just not really sure if what you have needs fixing or if it’s good enough.

A general rule of thumb is:

IF you can take a step back, close your eyes, listen to your music and not hear anything horribly wrong…..

THEN you’re fine 🙂

And if you’re on a tight deadline, it needs to be HORRIBLY and OBVIOUSLY wrong for you to even consider working on it some more! 

You’ll thank me later…. when you’re juggling 5 close deadlines with all the experience and confidence in the world telling you you can deliver the music in time 🙂

Getting into the habit of letting small things go is such a HUGE part of this line of work!

It goes against the perfectionist type of attitude that comes naturally to us when we think of our music but it is soooooooo important to remind ourselves regularly that:

  1. There is no such thing as perfection.
  2. There is no such thing as perfection in art!
  3. There is no such thing as perfection in MUSIC!!!

Really! Finish the music and move on!! You have PLENTY of time to write MORE music and whatever you think is “BETTER” music.

 

Stage 5: Releasing the music & Moving on 

Your music is finished. Congrats!

Now it’s time to release it!!!

As a side note, releasing music doesn’t mean you have to get your single or album on Spotify and iTunes. Releasing music could simply mean uploading your songs or instrumentals on music sharing platforms like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Songtradr, etc..

Now before you freak out and wonder what kind of trap I set up for you, RELAX!

You REALLY don’t have to make every single track public 🙂

I highly encourage you to make as many of them public as you can possibly tolerate…. Even the tracks that are slightly embarrassing….. You might just be surprised 😉

BUT, the bottom line is you don’t have to.

If you’re uncomfortable releasing some tracks, don’t.

If you’re uncomfortable but kind of disappointed in yourself for being just a tiny bit silly (which we all are sometimes!), one neat trick would be to release the music you’re not quite sure about under a pseudonym….

Or you could just save that “not quite” music for cheap royalty-free stock music libraries and make a few bucks that way.

Whatever you decide to do….

DO IT and MOVE ON!!!!!

There’s really no reason to sit on these tracks forever.

Either you find a way to release them that you’re comfortable with OR you just file them into a lost folder on your hard drive.

And don’t be obsessed by the number of tracks that are good and bad. Just keep going!

I wrote 100 but you don’t have to!! The point is NOT to write 100 new tunes…..

The points is to get rid of the perfectionist mindset and enjoy yourself!!!

The quality of the music will follow eventually and little by little, you’ll become really good at writing music really fast.

The more material you have, the more you can build on it and come up with really cool tunes..

Isn’t that what we all want?!

Really cool tunes in our catalogue?! 🙂

To get there I simply challenge you to follow the music productivity roadmap in the next 6 months and see where it takes you….

I’m confident you’ll DOUBLE your musical output!

First step: download your Music Productivity Roadmap checklist.

If you want help and support with this, email me at

joyce@creativeandproductive.com