Working on music part time around a full time job or other commitments can be a struggle. Ask any budding music maker what their biggest dream is, and you're likely to hear that they want to know how to become a music producer professionally and get out of the 9-to-5.
The transition to becoming a full time music producer is an extremely challenging one, but there are a number of strategies that you can implement to give yourself the best chances of success. In this article, I'll discuss how to produce music professionally by examining these steps so that you can form your own plan and put it into action.
For more information on creating a career in music, check out my article: 21 Ways to Make Money with Music Production.
How to become a music producer professionally
When you're working around the limitations of a full time job or any other life commitments, there are a number of common issues that most people struggle with. I've boiled these areas down to the fundamentals as, once conquered, you'll be on your way to success:
- Lack of focus
- Lack of time
- Lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
I’m sure you’re very aware of these issues, and it’s important to develop strategies to counter them at all costs if you want to maintain productivity and stay on track.
Based on my own experience working on music production both part time and full time, I've come to a conclusion that you may find counterintuitive. In my experience, I have found that the time limitations of a full time job actually have the potential to make you more productive, if you apply certain strategies.
A full time job provides structure, and because your day is structured you have no choice but to focus your time and energy. It can provide valuable clarity of thought. You have to get up and show up without excuses - if you turn up to work late too often or miss too many days, you get fired. The same approach should be applied to your music career.
Rather than jumping into music full time, without any experience or direction, a full or part time job can relieve financial pressures so that you can steadily transition into music. Once you're ready to take the leap into a full time music career, you'll already have the discipline, focus and, critically, a plan of action to put in place.
Many people have said the same thing when they have children. They no longer have time to procrastinate and worry about this or that, they simply need to get the job done. The motivation to get the job done removes perfectionism and, ironically, generates more productivity.
I wanted to get this out of the way first because there really are no excuses. If you care about making music you will allocate the time to do so. Many artists have already gone before you who have struggled through and successfully transitioned to a full time career. It's time to follow in their footsteps. Now, let's find out how to become a music producer and transition successfully...
First things first. Before you worry about your next track, your artwork or what nights you're going to allocate to music production, you need to know your why.
Ask yourself, what do you actually want to achieve? Why do you want to do this? Where do you want to be in 5 years? These are important questions.
Plan in reverse
Before you begin the journey, it's pretty important to know where you're heading. This doesn't need to be totally accurate, and it can certainly change along the way. But it's important to outline your goals. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can work backwards from the target and create a plan to get there.
I've talked about how important it is to have a goal in a previous article where I outline a plan for learning music production as fast as possible. Only once you've defined your goal can you begin to envisage the kind of obstacles that you're going to face along the way, and subsequently plan how you're going to make it through them.
With your goal written down, you need to be able to focus your mind in order to achieve it. If you're a regular reader, you're probably thinking that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record at this point!
Rather than repeating myself here, you can check out my thoughts on focus based on a great deal of research, as well as practical strategies for achieving it, here.
This takes practice, especially if you aren't used to working in this kind of deliberate manner (don't worry, most people aren't).
Alongside self discipline and practice, there are many ways that you can help yourself to focus by controlling external factors. I've tested a wide range of these over the years - here is a mega list of 22 ways to eliminate distractions and make more music.
Step by step
On the topic of focus, I cannot emphasis enough that it's essential to focus on just one thing at a time. This is especially important when you're not producing music full time initially and are in the process of transition.
As mentioned, it's extremely easy to get distracted, and you need to ensure that you're using your time as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is especially true because your time is limited, so use it wisely.
Based on your goal, boil things down to the absolute essentials and work on one thing at a time, one step at a time. I know it sounds counterintuitive but, in reality, you'll actually achieve much, much more in the long term when you're not spread thinly. For more information on 'single-tasking' and why multitasking is a myth, check out this article.
By obsessively focusing on one thing until completion, you'll make way more overall progress and have a greater sense of achievement. Although this may sound trivial, it's essential. Gaining satisfaction through regularly finishing tasks will build your confidence and subsequently build momentum, meaning that you'll generate a winning streak.
In addition, it's also much easier to measure your results when concentrating on a single task. For example, perhaps one of your goals is to get a track released on a record label. By implementing a plan and obsessively focusing on this goal for 6 months you're far more likely to achieve it, rather than haphazardly submitting demos to random labels and getting frustrated with zero results.
You can much more easily track, for example:
- Number of labels;
- Number of pitches;
- Dates of pitches;
- Follow-up scheduling;
- Positive responses;
- Negative responses;
- Action points;
...and so on, you get the idea.
In order to do so, you'll need to make sacrifices, and that's ok! You can't do it all. You only have so much time, so many hours in the day, and the sooner you admit that and become pragmatic about how to work within these limitations, the better. Of course, I didn't say it would be easy, but it's way more effective, productive and fun to focus on one thing at a time.
I've recommended reading The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan numerous times throughout my articles, and here is no exception. This book confirmed my suspicions about success and really helped me to focus on one achievement at a time.
So, with that in mind, commit to one goal for one year. One year is nothing in the grand scheme of things and regardless of whether or not you wish to continue, you will have learned things that you can apply elsewhere in the next phase.
Take this very website, LearnMusicTech, as an example. Over the years I've started various projects and blogged under various names and artist names. Like I said, I tend to get distracted easily. This time I made a conscious decision that things were going to be different. For once, I was going to continue to focus on one thing regardless of any other opportunities that came my way.
I also planned to keep things as manageable as I could while still gaining momentum. I knew that my time was limited and that, especially when starting out, multiple blog posts per week just wasn't going to be realistic. I knew I had to develop inertia and momentum in order to keep going. I decided to commit to one blog post a week for one year.
On top of this, I told myself that, no matter what, writing was all I would do. No distractions. No starting podcasts, no videos, no Instagram posts. Just writing blog posts.
I launched the LearnMusicTech brand in September 2016 and I'm well on track to make it to one year of articles i.e. 52 posts. I'm not going to lie, I've definitely gotten distracted from time to time. But I've stayed committed to one post per week. It was achievable and I've done it. Now, it's become a habit.
This year has flown by already, and I've got something great to show for it. Running LearnMusicTech has enabled me to connect with a variety of artists, producers and fellow bloggers, make new friends in the industry and generate exciting opportunities.
I've had great feedback on the site and, most valuable of all, my writing and level of output has improved significantly. In addition to improving my writing, I now have a range of new skills to boot, including basic web development and marketing skills.
2) Time Management
Without the necessary time to work on your music, you're going to get nowhere fast. Once you've outlined your goals, allocating time to achieve them is the second step. Without dedicating time, nothing else is possible. You'll need to improve your skills, build your portfolio and market yourself if you want to get anywhere, and all of this takes dedication and practice.
I can offer myself as an example again at this point. I work on various projects during the day, however running the LearnMusicTech site and blog is of the utmost importance to me. Therefore, I make sure to allocate dedicated time to sitting down and producing content for the site first thing in the day.
To fit this in around my work day, I start working on LMT-related content at 5am every morning for 2 to 2.5 hours on average.
2-2.5 hours doesn't sound like that much, but when you add this up every day over time it generates results. It's how I've managed to stay on top of the blog and put out regular content for the last year and still maintain my other work. Is it perfect? No, but I'm working within my limitations and producing results that will build momentum over time.
It's the momentum that's key. By putting in the work consistently I've developed a rhythm. Of course, sometimes life gets in the way and I miss out on certain sessions. The important thing is that I have a plan that I can fall back on. I've created momentum and developed a routine that I can jump back into with relative ease.
One of the best strategies that I've implemented to stay on track is setting deadlines. I know, I know, you've probably heard it all before. But seriously, deadlines matter. Once you have your plan in place you need to set deadlines and allocate an appropriate amount of time to achieve each task to ensure that you're working towards your goal.
As mentioned, my aim with this blog was to produce one new blog post each week. I therefore plotted out most of the content that I wanted to create in advance as well as when I needed to create it. Working to this calendar has been fundamental in enabling me to achieve my year goal of 52 posts. In reality, including guest posts on other blogs, I'm set to complete even more.
You need to be realistic about how long tasks take if you're going to figure out how to become a music producer full time. Humans have a tendency to underestimate how long things take to complete.
It's a balance though - you want to make sure that you're putting yourself under a healthy amount of pressure to achieve your goal as fast as possible and maintain momentum. Spending too long on tasks will result in boredom...and that's not good for your motivation.
You might be able to complete one track every week, every two weeks or one a month. It doesn't matter - completion is the key.
Test how long it takes to realistically finish a track and build this into your plan. If you work full time and it takes you one month to finish a track, that's still 12 tracks in the bank at the end of the year and one heck of a learning experience.
Don't get caught up on the numbers at the start, just focus on what you can do right now to work towards your goal. You'll develop focus, speed and skill over time as you learn how to become a music producer professionally.
Optimise your schedule
Be practical and pragmatic with your time. How does your daily/weekly schedule look? Can you make time in the evenings? If not, can you get up earlier and work in the mornings? If you care about your goal, you'll do what it takes to achieve it. Like I said, it's not easy and you may need to make significant sacrifices.
I don't enjoy getting up before 5am very much, and I'd prefer to workout in the mornings rather than evenings, but it's what needs to be done so I do it. Working early in the morning means I don't get any phone calls, emails or notifications, and I can work without distraction. This is incredibly valuable and has been instrumental in the development of LearnMusicTech.
Becoming consistent and developing a routine are essential for obtaining momentum and gaining traction. By repeatedly hammering away each session, you'll rack up significant results over time. If you work sporadically, don't expect anything other than sporadic results.
Self awareness is also important. It's good to know your optimal routine. When are you most creative? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Don't assume - test.
Work in the evenings for two weeks and measure the results. Then work in the mornings for two weeks and measure the results. Whichever routine produced the most gains is the winner.
Don't assume that you're a night owl just because you happen to prefer working at night right now. You've probably developed some bad habits and it's important to test all of your options before you commit. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Once you know what you need to achieve, and when you’re going to set aside time to achieve it, the next step is to design your working methods. For example, batching is a very efficient way to complete relatively large volumes of work in singular sessions.
By grouping together similar tasks, it’s much easier for your brain to get ‘in the zone’ and achieve a flow state, providing you with a greater level of focus and enabling you to complete more tasks.
For example, if I’m writing a new track, I don’t want to get bogged down in anything technical. I’ve developed pre-made templates in Logic that I can jump straight into when I have an idea and start writing.
It’s easy to get distracted, particularly with all of the tools you have available in a modern DAW, and begin tweaking sounds and mixing. However, it’s better to impose a little self discipline and finish what you started. Then, you can set aside additional sessions where you just focus on more technical tasks, such as editing and mixing.
As music producers, we have to wear a number of hats throughout the writing, recording and production stages. Therefore, it’s it’s more ‘productive’ to have a systematic approach and to commit to specific roles at specific stages.
Slow and steady
I’ve talked about deep work numerous times before, so I won’t bore regular readers here. Batching is one of the most effective ways to launch yourself into a state of deep work. You’ve scheduled your time, your mind and body know what they’re getting into, you’re prepared on a subconscious level and you can jump straight in.
Getting good at music production takes time and practice. Getting good enough to turn professional takes even more. Be sure to schedule consistent time to work on your craft, and give it the respect it deserves.
Once you've made a plan to address how to become a music producer professionally and transition from part to full time, you need to put in a lot of consistent hard work to make this happen. After all, you can have the most amazing plan on paper, but without a whole lot of grinding, it's not going to be worth very much.
It takes long term, sustained effort and you'll need to stay motivated through thick and thin. Sometimes it will feel like you're going nowhere and you're not achieving the results you hoped for - that's totally normal and all part of the process. You need the mental clarity and physical energy to weather these dips and push through to the other side.
Healthy body, healthy mind
Having a focused mind is essential, but maintaining a healthy body is just as important and guess what? You won't get a truly focused mind without taking care of it. Yes, you can treat your body like crap in the short term and sacrifice your health while still making progress, but this isn't a long term solution and you'll crash before you make it to your destination.
I realise that taking care of your health might not sound like the most exciting prospect for many, and that some may feel it's impossible to commit to a healthy routine AND work on a music career. However, ironically a healthy body and mind will enable you to focus for longer, put in more work over time and actually make better music.
As I've already stated: short, regular, sustained effort is better than putting in 8 hours a day for 1 month alongside a full time job, getting burnt out and descending into an unproductive, depressive state for 6 months. While you may achieve short bursts of major progress, this isn't sustainable over the long term and isn't a recipe for a successful career. You'll just go round in circles and lose motivation.
A healthy lifestyle doesn't need to be complicated, and there are some simple solutions that you can build into your weekly routine that will have a huge impact on your energy levels and general outlook.
It's important to pay attention to diet, exercise and getting plenty of rest and recovery to ensure that you're ready to put in the level of work that's needed to transition into a full time music career. Once you've established these healthy habits, by the time you're working on music full time, you'll be unstoppable.
I realise that this may seem like a totally unrelated topic but, believe me, it's an essential one, and one that I don't think enough people are talking about within the community. I've sacrificed my health in the past and, while I achieved a lot on some of these occasions, it slowed me down overall. For more details on the health risks for music producers and how to avoid them, check out this article.
Believe me, if you implement the strategies set out above, motivation will come naturally. It really is inevitable.
I know that sounds like a cop out coming into the final section of this post, but it really is the truth and represents everything that these methods have been building towards. Motivation is such an incredibly essential ingredient in achieving any kind of success and it's my belief that one of the most effective ways of sustaining it is by building it into your system for success as a natural by-product.
By outlining and focusing on your goals, allocating time to achieve them, using that time wisely and taking care of your energy levels you’ll be on a freight train of momentum. Hitting achievements and moving closer to your goals is the fuel that you'll need to stay motivated - it’s a winning circle!
A self-fulfilling prophecy
So, by putting these strategies to work, you simply won't have to worry about staying motivated anymore. It won't be an issue. That always seems like a much better solution to me!
The key is in setting small, achievable goals and committing to a practical and simple routine to conquer them. By focusing on one thing at a time it will be much easier to measure your results and this will provide you with a greater degree of accountability to stay on top, adjust and progress.
I've mentioned Hyperbits as an example in the past, as I find his story very inspiring. It perfectly exemplifies this process of steady, consistent effort. Working a full time job (coupled with a long commute) in the early days of his music career, he committed to just 1-2 hours a night. One year later he had a complete album on his hands and the rest is history.
You can do this too.
It's your life
So there you have it, you now know how to become a music producer professionally full time and what it takes to get there. It's time to take responsibility for your life and your goals. Only you can change it - unfortunately no one is going to do it for you. Take action and good luck!