Do you struggle to find time to write and produce music regularly? Perhaps you have a full time job? Are you finding it difficult to finish tracks? I know, it can be tough and, trust me, I’ve been there too. You need a simple music production process to take your productivity to the next level.
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Developing a music production process
Being productive and finishing tracks isn’t so much limited to the amount of time you have. The secret to building your success in music production and becoming a prolific creator, is being as effective as possible within the limited time that you have.
Think about it for a minute. Let’s take a professional like Skrillex as an example. How many days of the year do you think he is on tour? Going on his social updates alone I would guess that it takes up at least 70% of his time. Then there’s the record label, marketing, branding, running businesses, merchandise, appearances, collaborations, networking…you get the picture.
On the road
Being a full time music producer doesn’t necessarily mean that you are producing music full time. In fact, it’s very unlikely. In order to be a professional music producer, you still need to market yourself and manage the day-to-day business. It’s essential in maintaining your career.
Professional producers also struggle to find time to produce. They also have lives, commitments and external factors. They may have more control, but it’s still a struggle. The difference is, they are effective with their time. They’ve honed their craft over many hours, weeks, months and years and they implement a music production process that works, time and time again.
The struggle is real
For a long time I, too, struggled with all of the above. I’ve struggled to fit music in around a full time job, but I’ve also struggled to fit in my own music when I’ve been doing music production full time! I was worried about bringing in the next project and ensuring that I could pay the bills, so I always felt guilty about investing time on my own projects.
It’s all about prioritising your time, and being productive and effective within the time that you set aside. It should be respected and utilised to the fullest.
8 simple steps to optimise your music production process
If you’re still reading, it’s because you know exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there, so you can relax, I understand where you’re coming from!
The good news is that I found a way out of it. I found a solution to this problem that enabled me to complete more tracks than ever and have time left for promotion and marketing. It all starts with some simple steps, some planning and a stopwatch. It’s time to get practical and create our music production process.
Step 1: Make a plan
The first key to being effective with your time is developing a system that you are able to stick to. If you’re not consistent, you won’t progress very quickly, if at all. Consistency is everything – you need it to maintain momentum.
It all starts with making a plan and drawing up an outline of what you need to achieve. You need to know where you’re going, before you can ever hope of getting there.
Do you want to complete one track in one month? Do you want to release an EP in six months? Do you want to learn music theory? First, define your aim, then outline a plan to achieve it.
Let’s take the first example. If you want to complete a track in one month, you could form a plan to achieve this aim and then reverse engineer it by working backwards to reveal smaller, incremental goals. A typical plan could look as follows:
- Week 1: Sketching (initial idea development and instrumentation)
- Week 2: Arrangement (padding out ideas into sections and structuring the whole track)
- Week 3: Development (building on the arrangement, developing transitions and working more in-depth)
- Week 4: Finalise (final touches, mixing and mastering)
Step 2: Set goals
Once you’ve outlined a plan, it’s time to set small, specific, achievable goals.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to create and implement a system that works, you need to start small to stay motivated. It’s the same with any goal, be it in art, business or life.
It’s useful to reference the SMART acronym that’s often used for goal setting:
For each session, it’s essential to plan out a measurable goal. Outline one specific thing that you want to achieve. So, for this example, we could outline the following goals within our plan:
Week 1: Sketching
- Drum groove
- Bass line
- Chord pattern
- Accompaniment (pads, arpeggiators etc.)
Week 2: Arrangement
You can work on the arrangement in any way that you like. However, many people find that starting with the main part of the track i.e. the drop or the chorus, and then working backwards through the verses, intro, outro etc. is easier.
Week 3: Development
- Finalise arrangement
Week 4: Finalise
In Week 1, you could start by solely looking at drums on Monday, and that’s it. Choose your samples, build an 8-bar loop and get a vibe going, then you’re done.
On Tuesday, you could move on to creating a bass line. Develop a sound that compliments your drums and come up with some melodic phrases. Then on to chords, melodies, additional accompaniment and so on.
By the end of the first week, you’ll have the solid foundations of a track, just by working at it for a little bit of time each day.
Having a clear plan with specific goals increases your focus and speed, which is also one of the reasons I also advocate using templates to speed up your workflow and finish tracks faster as part of your music production process.
Step 3: Diarise your time
I recommend working regularly to establish momentum. Each day of the week, if possible. However, it’s important to be realistic with your time. If you create an unrealistic aim and set the bar too high, you’re likely to fall off the wagon and lose motivation.
If you have a full time job, you may only have a few hours in the evenings, and even less if you have kids. This doesn’t need to stop you from working on your music, you just need to be practical and pragmatic with your time. Perhaps you have an hour between 8pm and 9pm – no problem, use it. Perhaps you can get up a bit earlier in the mornings and chip away before you head off to your day job. Many creative people get their best work done in the early morning, so you’ll be in good company.
Once again, it’s important to start small. Instead of claiming that you’re going to spend 4 hours every day/evening working on music, it’s more effective to start with 30 minutes instead. Don’t over commit yourself, otherwise you risk not following through. 30 minutes is achievable for almost anyone, even those with short attention spans (myself included).
I can hear people shouting, “What’s the point in sitting down for 30 minutes at a time? I won’t get anything done.” It’s amazing what can be achieved when the mind is focused. A highly productive 30 minutes is way better than procrastinating for 8 hours.
After you’ve managed to stick with this routine for one week, move up to 45 minutes per session. If you manage to stay consistent, go to 1 hour, and so on.
Small, regular contributions add up over time, and you’re much more likely to experience success in this way over the long term. If you’re able to create an awesome drum riff in half an hour, you’ll feel great! It’s important to establish this sense of achievement in order to create momentum, thereby developing inertia and, subsequently, motivation.
So, in Week 2, you could diarise to complete the following:
- Monday: Drop
- Tuesday: Chorus
- Wednesday: Verse
- Thursday: Intro
- Friday: Outro
- Saturday: Interlude
Step 4: Eliminate distractions
If you’re going to set aside smaller chunks of time, you need to be effective within those chunks. It’s no good doing all this planning for a music production process, without making the most of the time you’ve set aside.
You owe it to yourself to focus. Being focused on your individual goals is essential to progress in this music production process.
- You should start by turning off your phone. If that’s too extreme, or you need to be available in case of emergencies, you can use the Do Not Disturb function (or equivalent) and set which numbers are able to reach you.
- Next, it’s a good idea to disable your internet/WiFi connection. If you’re using a Mac, you can just disconnect Airport. There is bespoke software available to disable internet for certain periods, but this is often paid (such as Freedom).
- If that’s too extreme for you, you can turn off notifications. However, I must emphasise that you need to be disciplined if you want to have any hope of achieving your goals and having productive sessions.
- It goes without saying that you should engage in absolutely NO SOCIAL MEDIA! Apps like Facebook and Instagram are purposely designed to sap and hold your attention for as long as possible. Companies employ highly paid psychologists to work solely on devising new ways of achieving this month on month.
Step 5: Time your sessions
I’m not joking. As simple as it sounds, setting a time limit on your sessions will make you more productive. Deadlines work, and with good reason.
For one, they eliminate procrastination. There’s no time for the mind to wander, or to worry about making a decision. Instead, you’re forced to make it and move on.
In addition, if you’re a naturally competitive person, this technique will take your effectiveness to the next level. You will want to beat the clock, and you’ll need to focus until the last minute.
Setting a time limit has a number of benefits:
- It focuses the mind so that you’re more productive;
- It’s finite, eliminating procrastination and forcing you to move on;
- It enables you to take regular breaks, where you can get up, move and refresh the mind;
- It allows you work in short, productive bursts and concentrate for longer.
I like to set a stopwatch for one hour at a time. With no distractions to take my attention, I can get a lot done in just one hour. When the alarm sounds, I stop and leave the room.
Don’t forget to take regular breaks. If you haven’t achieved everything you set out to within the time, don’t worry about it. Your focus will improve with time, so don’t linger or procrastinate. Just move on.
You can always take another look in the next session. Plans don’t always go to plan, but having one in place will keep you on track.
Breaks are also important to save your ears from fatigue, to keep the mind open to new ideas and to stay effective.
Step 6: Track your progress
I can’t exaggerate how important this step is in developing your music production process, and it’s one that many people ignore. You have to measure your performance in order to know where you are within the plan.
Did you finish programming your 8-bar loop of drums? If not, what else needs to be completed so that you can finish?
If you’re making good progress, great! If you’re not, that’s fine – you’ll be able to diagnose the problem and stay on track. The main thing is to keep moving.
Remember, you’re going to have good sessions and not-so-good sessions, that’s ok, it’s perfectly natural. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just make a note of what you’ve learned, and focus on the next session.
Step 7: Celebrate wins
This is the good bit. Reward yourself! Celebrating when you hit your targets, no matter how small, can really help you to stay motivated and on course in your music production process.
It won’t always be easy or practical to work on your music, so ensuring that you enjoy the process and, equally, reward yourself with time off when you’re done, is essential.
After each session, give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself with a break. This could be a walk, a hot beverage, some time on YouTube, or whatever works for you.
It won’t be long until your concentration has improved and, most importantly, you’re feeling confident and motivated to work. This is because you’re achieving these smaller ‘micro’ goals in each session, seeing results and rewarding yourself by celebrating success.
Step 8: Practice consistently
Don’t get me wrong, music should be fun to create. But, like any other pursuit in life, it’s not very fun if you struggle to do it or your progress has plateaued.
It’s useful to treat the music production process as a deliberate practice. It’s a discipline that needs consistent effort and, most importantly, learning.
If you think of the process as a practice, this can relieve the pressure of perfectionism. There’s no such thing as ‘the perfect track’, but a track can be finished. Sean McCabe put it perfectly when he said, “The way to perfection is the path of 90%.” You need to be willing to release imperfect work now, in order to improve later.
As suggested earlier, I recommend practicing every day, if you can. If every day isn’t possible, then do the best you possibly can, and diarise this time accordingly.
One hour per day is normally possible for almost anyone. Heck, you can achieve a lot in 30 minutes if you’re fully focused and engaged, with a clear goal in mind.
A little each day can seem pointless, but it adds up. It’s better to write 10 seconds of music each day and have an album at the end of the year, than end the year with unfinished ideas or, worse still, nothing to show at all. Think: little and often.
Hyperbits applied this very method while working a full time job in the early days of his career. In an interview with Sam Matla of EDMProd, he described how committing to 1-2 hours per night after his full time job and commute, he was able to complete a whole album by the end of the year.
Stay the course
I need to mention that when you first try to implement this routine, it may not be easy. It takes practice, but you will get results if you stick at it. Once again, if you find that you don’t achieve what you set out to in a session, that’s ok. The important thing is that you try. This consistent effort will form strong, productive habits, that will grow your results exponentially with time.
Remember that it’s consistency that moves the needle. Small, consistent steps will lead to success. You can’t do everything in a day. Get out of the short term mindset, and start thinking one, two, three, four, five years down the line. If you have a one-hour productive session every day for the next three years, it will lead to great things.
This music production process is made up of what author BJ Fogg refers to as tiny habits. By setting small, achievable milestones, you eliminate overwhelm and increase the potential for success.
I know that if I go in to the studio thinking it’s an 8 hour session and I have to have a finished track to show for it at the end, I’ve failed before I’ve started. It’s too much pressure, and too much for me to achieve.
With this systematic approach I celebrate the small wins and stay motivated to move on to the next step. If it works for me, it can work for you, too.
Why not give it a try?
I’d love to know if this music production process works for you! Have you got a different system that you’ve had success with? Let me know in the comments below!
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