If you want to learn to produce music, or anything else for that matter, you first need to learn how to focus.
The ability to focus, and I mean truly focus, is becoming more and more rare in the modern world. We live in a noisy world surrounded by distractions at every turn, and it’s easy to go off track.
The internet, social media, phones, texts, TV, advertising, 24/7 availability, products, celebrity gossip, news…all designed to suck your attention leading to a total lack of focus.
However, focus is absolutely essential in order to achieve any kind of success. Look around you, do some research. What separates those who achieve from those who don’t? Intense focus.
I’ve talked about creating a strategy and planning for success, but all of this is worthless without the drive and focus to see it through.
The good news is that, if you can develop your ability to focus, you’ll separate yourself from the competition. You’ll also learn to produce music much faster and more deeply.
People are forever becoming more and more distracted, and their attention spans are continually depleting. Take a look around you next time you’re out in public, observe the behaviour of your friends and family, or look up from your desk at work. It’s actually pretty scary when you realise it. Almost everyone has the phone in hand or close by, heads down, locked in. They’re addicted.
Platforms like social media are literally designed to be as addictive as possible. They want your attention. They need eyes so that they can sell advertising and promote products to stay alive.
Facebook employ leading psychologists specialising in human interface behaviour to advise in the design of their apps. Ever notice how the notification icon flashes red? They chose that colour by design for a reason, it’s not an aesthetic choice.
The busy badge of honour
In addition to distraction, people think it’s actually good to be busy. In our post-industrialist world, it’s become a strange badge of honour to claim that we’re busy. You’ll hear people responding with this statement every day:
“How’s it going?!”
“Great thanks, you know how it is, SO busy!”
“Oh, I know, good to be busy though!”
This is total nonsense. It’s not good to be busy. People who are too busy, rushing around from project to project, meeting to meeting, who find it difficult to get anything done, simply don’t have their time prioritised.
Would you trust a doctor who came rushing into the operating theatre, apologising for being late, frantically grabbing their equipment and asking their colleagues for an update? I know I wouldn’t.
I want my doctor to be well presented, articulate, careful and considered. I want them to be fully focused and engaged, free from distraction.
It’s not impressive to be busy. People who claim this are normally insecure about their capabilities, skills and productivity. They lack organisation and focus, and achieve very little.
It’s a false sense of importance that masks deeper insecurity. People are often simply trying to justify their position by claiming that they have a brimming workload and are in high demand. It’s a lie.
People want to look busy but, in reality, they really aren’t. Productive people, on the other hand, have a totally different demeanour. They often appear calm, collected and, quite simply, they get the job done…without a fuss.
If harnessed correctly, focus can be your competitive advantage. If you are able to focus on the task at hand, you will overtake those who can’t.
There is a lot to learn in music production, and a long way to go to achieving any kind of success. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of things that need to be done in order to learn to produce music effectively, let alone when life hits you with all of the other distractions it brings.
Sometimes the goal seems so big that you feel like you don’t even know where to start or, worse, you lose all motivation to begin at all.
There is no such thing as overnight success. The key is to focus on one step at a time. Planning for success enables you to see the smaller steps to your goal so that you can work on them one by one.
You’ll feel a greater sense of achievement, have a more accurate measure of the results and, ultimately, feel a great sense of achievement, rather than feeling like you’re going nowhere.
We of many hats
As artists and producers, there are many different tasks that we need to complete as part of our art. We need to be creative, to be engineers, business people and marketers.
It’s very difficult to be all of these things simultaneously. Sure, we can try, but it’s not easy.
Let’s look at the process of music production for a moment. There are a number of stages that you need to move through in order to release a track, for example:
- Conception, sketching ideas;
- Promotion and Marketing;
- Further Promotion and Marketing.
This is just a general outline, and could be subdivided further into more micro-level tasks. You may also have additional stages that you move through when working on your own music.
Immediately, you can see that different mindsets and skill sets are required for each of these stages. We’re required to wear many different hats throughout our careers and, while this is essential to being a successful independent artist, it’s difficult to achieve this all at once.
The same goes for when you set out to learn to produce music – it’s a long journey and it takes time.
Spread too thin
One of the main struggles for many artists and producers is that they attempt to work on more than one of these stages at any one time.
This is a mistake, and one that I’ve certainly been guilty of myself. It’s very difficult for the brain to be creative and calculated at the same time, and definitely not at 100%. So why bother? It’s much more effective to stay in lane and focus on one thing at a time.
For example, let’s say ‘Eric’ sets out to write a new track starting at 9:00am. He makes a little progress but he’s not feeling that motivated, so at 9:15am Eric checks Facebook. He watches a hilarious video and checks out a blog post, then comes back to his DAW by 9:24am.
Eric has some intro chords but he’s not sure where the verse was going so he tries to remember. By 9:49am he’s put some verse chords down – they’re not what he remembered, but they’re ok.
He receives an email notification with a cool product offer at 10:12am, and starts looking at the other items on sale from the store. He comes back by 10:25am and he’s not feeling the chords now, so he starts working on a bass sound.
You see where I’m going with this, does Eric’s morning sound familiar? It’s important to be mindful of your behaviour. We are naturally very easily distracted. You can clearly see that Eric isn’t going to progress very quickly or very far with this lack of strategy and intentional time.
One brick at a time
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Will Smith summed up this long-term, step-by-step mindset in the most perfect way I could imagine.
When he and his brother were kids, his father owned a bakery store. Outside the store was a 16ft by 30ft wall and, one year, Will’s father tore it down. He told his sons to dig out a new foundation and begin rebuilding the wall from scratch.
As you might imagine, the young Will Smith and his even younger brother considered this task to be impossible at the time, and presumed that they would be left forever with a hole in the ground.
However, after a year and a half of slow progress, the brothers laid the last brick, and the wall was complete. Reflecting on his experience, Smith said:
“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”
What Smith is saying here is that you shouldn’t focus on the task at large because it’s overwhelming, albeit impossible. You focus on what you can control at the time i.e. laying one brick. In laying that one brick, you do so as precisely as possible and as best as you can. Eventually, you’ll have completed your goal.
Learn to produce music one step at a time. Don’t worry about the goal at large. Enjoy the process and practice each skill as best as you can.
Multitasking has become a highly desired and even revered skill in the world today, both in business and in our personal lives. Indeed, when seeking employment people often state that they are ‘great at multitasking’ and ‘prioritising their workload’.
[Indeed, the concept of multiple priorities is a modern one. Before the 1940s, the word ‘priority’ was predominantly used in singular form only i.e. you had one priority, not a number of priorities.]
Unfortunately, when you really break it down, multitasking is almost impossible. Yes, there are certain actions that you can perform simultaneously. For example, when driving, you control the pedals, steer the wheel, check your mirrors, look ahead, listen to the engine and so on. However, this is mostly muscle memory through practice.
Genuine mental multitasking just isn’t possible. You can only work on one task at a time. Furthermore, it’s been shown with research that when you switch from task to task, the brain requires around 20 minutes to adjust on average. That’s a lot of wasted, unproductive time.
On the contrary, concentrating on one thing at a time makes you far more productive. You can concentrate for longer, have the ability to perform at a higher level, absorb more information and so on.
In a practical sense, you will achieve much more if you single-task. There are also additional benefits, including greater satisfaction, a greater sense of achievement and less stress. This all stems from a greater ability to focus, working on one task at a time with no distraction.
I’ve discussed the concept of deep work before, but once again I highly recommend that you take the time to read the work of Cal Newport. Working deeply, free from distraction, has without doubt had the biggest impact on my own personal productivity.
Focusing your time
When I’m coming up with ideas for a new track, I get excited. It’s one of the reasons that I love music so much. It’s a buzz when you’re creating something new, coming up with something that didn’t exist before you started.
You’re feeling inspired and, if you’re like me, you can’t wait hear this track completed, mastered and blasting through your system on SoundCloud!
However, there is a danger that this positive enthusiasm can lead to negative results. It’s so easy to get distracted, even by ideas themselves!
Particularly when I’m in the early writing stages, I’m always tempted to start mixing. I love the mixing process, developing ideas and turning them into polished sounds. It’s all too easy with our modern tools, with access to all of the plugins we need, right there in the box.
It’s absolutely key to have a solid creative idea first, before moving on to any kind of technical work. Many writers like to compose at the piano, or on an instrument of some kind. This enables them to get away from the computer, and really focus on the music.
My mind is always looking for distraction, so I implement a number of strategies in advance to minimise the possibility as much as possible.
If you want to learn to produce music successfully and not take forever, you need to remove as many distractions as possible.
I’ve discussed preventative measures previously and it’s something I’ll expand on in an upcoming post, because I believe it’s an extremely important issue.
There are a range of practical measures that you can take. One of the biggest potential distractions is THE INTERNET. It really is limitless! As mentioned early, you can literally go down a rabbit hole of distraction that can last minutes, even hours, from just one innocent link on your Facebook feed.
In light of this, the logical conclusion is that you should totally disable your internet access when focusing on your work. There are a number of ways to approach this. My personal favourite is to simply switch off Airport on my Mac. You don’t need an internet connection to run your music software and, believe me, this works!
The other huge culprit is your smartphone. You don’t need it with you when you’re working, so turn it off. If you need to be available in case of emergencies, for example if you have a family to take care of, many phones have a ‘Do not disturb’ feature, and you can even allow access from specific numbers.
I don’t need to explain why social media is a source of distraction. Once again, it’s literally designed to suck your time. Quitting social altogether can be a bit extreme for many, but you certainly don’t need to use all of the platforms. I also use blockers, such as the newsfeed blocker Chrome extension for Facebook, meaning that it’s impossible for me to get distracted by random media because, quite literally, I can’t see it.
Once you’ve freed up your mind from distraction, you need to work intentionally and with focus. Fortunately, there are a number of strategic methods that achieve this, time and time again. I’ve outlined one of these methods, the Pomodoro technique, here.
I’d like to say that I’ve mastered this approach, that my mind is completely focused and free from distraction whenever I work. However, it’s something that I have to work at constantly. This is why I recommend a systematic approach, to provide the best chances of eliminating distraction and staying productive.
Yes, you could throw down every idea that’s triggered in your mind onto the page, but will actually it sound good? I very much doubt it. In any form of art, there is only so much space that we can occupy on the canvas before the work stops making sense, becomes too muddy and loses its impact and message.
In any one song, there should only be 3 main elements conveyed to the listener at any one time. That’s just how our brains are wired. If you don’t believe me, listen to some Deadmau5, or any song that’s achieved any kind of success.
Most people are reactors. They move through life responding to what’s thrown at them, rather than carving out their own path. Don’t be like everyone else. Be proactive, rather than reactive.
If you don’t decide what’s important and how to manage your time, other people will do it for you. To find out how to change the course of your life and achieve your goals, check out my recent post outlining a complete process for building your strategy.
Learn to produce music one step at a time
Once again, I highly recommend the work of Cal Newport and his thoughts on ‘deep work’ in the pursuit of focused and intentional work to shape the course of your own life. On a more macro level, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a must-read.
You don’t need to do everything at once – it’s more effective to think of your life in stages, with a dedicated, undistracted focus on one thing at a time. In the long run, you’ll achieve more, faster.
Learn to produce music one step at a time, and take this approach with you in every aspect of your life.