I’ve covered in the past how to balance trying to make music while having an extremely busy life that doesn’t leave you much free time. But lately it seems to be something that I’ve been seeing a lot of people ask about again, so I think it’s time to revisit some ideas you can use to improve that balance.
Work, kids, spouses; all of these things are arguably more important than making music for most people, so we rightfully focus on those parts of our lives first. This of course leaves you feeling drained of energy, or rushed to get as much music done as you can when you do find the time. Here’s a few things that I think can help you refocus your energy to be as productive as possible, with whatever time you have:
– Lower your expectations. Sounds bad, but it’s not. Seriously, sometimes setting too high of a goal when you don’t have the time just sets you up for disappointment, and leads to more procrastination because you feel like you never get anything done. Break down any tasks you have into smaller chunks and just focus on a couple each day. Moving forward a little bit is better than not moving forward at all. There’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals, but you need to be realistic about what you can accomplish in the short term as well.
– Slow down. It’s not a race, making music is about having fun, so there’s no need to feel you have to rush to get a song done. Take your time, enjoy the PROCESS of making music, and don’t put all your emphasis on the end result to bring you happiness. Use some of your spare music making time just to enjoy playing an instrument or crafting a sound, not everything music related you do has to be towards making a song or album.
– Use your lunch breaks wisely. I would often use my lunch breaks to read new gear manuals, study music theory, research future purchases, check for software updates, etc. Use that time to get as much of the tedious and non-artistic parts of music making process out of the way as you can. Make a list of things you want to accomplish for the day when you get home and get into the studio. But again, be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have.
– Go portable. Get an iPad, iPod Touch, or some other portable device that will let you record ideas when you find yourself with some free time throughout the day. Looks for simple apps that let you export the midi or audio files you create when you get back to the studio (I personally recommend the Garageband app). Great for lunch break music making too.
– Get rid of gear that is distracting you. Use only the items you know well and truly enjoy using regularly. Having options is great but it can be distracting as well, too many choices can be almost as bad as not enough for some people. You don’t have to sell the gear you’re not using (though I tend to), instead maybe just box it up and put it in the closet for now. Out of sight and out of mind, leaving you to focus on the tools you know really well and are efficient with.
– Start a collaboration with someone. Having a project in the works where two minds can contribute to the song is great for keeping yourself from getting stuck in creative ruts. It also helps to force you meet certain deadlines too, if you know the other person is waiting for you to finish your part of the song. Emphasis should be on bouncing the song back and forth often, with each of you contributing small parts on each go around. That way you’re not feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and in my experience that kind of back and forth interaction gets things done faster anyway.
– Set aside time. For a lot of people setting aside an hour each day is just not practical, or perhaps they just don’t get inspired that often. Instead try to plan for maybe an hour each week where no matter what, you get your own studio time. Arrange it with your significant other, and make that time sacred. Have a plan mentally about what you want to try and get done during that time. It’ll give you something to dream about while at work, and eliminate that feeling you get when you first get into the studio and think “now what?”. Hopefully you can find more time to make music than just an hour a week, but if nothing else that little bit of time is better than nothing.
– Most of all, remember to have fun. I say this a lot I know, but too often I think people stress themselves out thinking that they have to produce songs/albums/whatever in order to be a successful musician. Don’t use other people’s goals as a way to measure your own happiness. Achieving a goal we set for ourselves is certainly a great feeling, but if you’re not having fun trying to achieve that, what’s the point?
The idea for this post came from a thread on the Elektron forums HERE. There’s some great advice there if you want some other ideas.