I sent out a survey last week, asking for feedback about the types of issues musicians are struggling with in terms of getting their music licensed and moving forward with their careers. To my surprise, the issue that musicians brought up, more than any other issue, that they said they needed help with, was help or advice on how to manage their time.
With so many things to do as indie musicians, it can be overwhelming trying to juggle so many different tasks. How do you know what areas you should be focusing on or prioritizing? How do you find the time to do so many different things? How can you best manage your time on a daily basis, so you’re both moving forward, but also enjoying your life and avoiding burn out?
These are the issues I’m going to be addressing in today’s post. As someone who both runs a business and is simultaneously working as a professional musician, both gigging and recording/licensing music, I’ve learned a few things about how to manage my time effectively over the years. I can’t say that I have all the answers, and every situation is different, but allow me to share some of my best practices for managing time, staying organized and moving ahead, without losing it in the process.
I believe in both the value and power of hard work. There’s something about the feeling that I get at the end of day, where I know I gave it my all, that I find incredibly satisfying. It’s one of the things that has allowed me forge ahead and not give up in both business and music, both things that require an incredible amount of dedication. With that said, I also enjoy “down time” and other aspects of life that don’t revolve around work. Things like relationships, friends, family and just good old rest and relaxation, I find incredibly important and so I do my best to make time for these things as well.
I’ve been really getting into going to the gym lately and I find the extra energy I get from working out, as well as the changes in my physique and health, well worth the effort I put in. However, as anyone who works out knows, or should know, there is a point of diminishing returns with exercise. You can work out too much and actually get worse results than you would have had you allowed time for your body to rest. Or, worst case scenario, you can actually cause damage and injury to your body if you overdo it too much. Your body needs periods of rest to recuperate and repair itself from the stress and tension working out puts on your body. Without these periods of rest, you won’t get optimal results from your workouts.
I like to think of work in a similar way. You need to put in “the work” to get results in anything, whether it’s a business you’re starting, or a new CD you’re releasing. Obviously, you have to put in effort to get results. But I think any conversation about time management should take into consideration that you also need to factor in periods of rest and relaxation, in order to get the most out of your periods of hard work. Like Jack Nicholson’s character famously said in the movie The Shining, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
So, with that said, let’s talk about ways to effectively manage your time so you can get the best results, achieve your goals and kick ass in 2018.
Define What Your Goals Actually Are
Before you can effectively organize and manage your time, you need to know what it is you’re actually trying to accomplish with your time. The more clear you can get about what your goals are and what it is you’re trying to do, the more effectively you’ll be able to break down the steps you need to take to get there.
I like to think both in terms of long term goals and short-term goals. In other words, where I want to be, and the steps I need to take to get there. I have a document that I’ve created, that I go over daily, where I break down my overall “life vision” and then break down things to do on a weekly basis in several different categories, including business, music, health, finances and so on. I find that by breaking things down into different categories, I get a real clear picture of where I need to be focusing my time as it relates to my most important goals.
Here’s an example of what that looks like from the actual document I use. I start with my “Life Vision” because I think it makes the most sense to start with an overall vision that I’m trying to realize and then break it down into smaller steps.
Thriving Member site that delivers tremendous value to musicians
thriving indie Music career with lots of placements,
play shows regularly (minimum weekly)
10 K monthly from music and business combined
Nice place that I love living in with a
Podcast / Recording Studio
Three rooms – studio/office, bedroom, guest room
Plenty of money in bank at all times – grow savings
In great shape
amazing primary relationship that I feel great about, trust, love, connection, support
great relationships/friends that I love
Live in area that I love
Travel and connect more
Life that flows with ease and love and peace
Ability to travel several months a year to cool places
As you can see, The Life Vision part of my goal setting is fairly broad and relates to several key categories of my life; business, music, relationships, health and money. In other words, the areas of my life that have the biggest impact on my quality of life.
After I’ve established my overall life vision and the kind of life I’m trying to create and bring to fruition, I then start to break down each area that I want to focus on, and figure out the things I need to focus on in each category. Here’s the Music category as an example:
Music To Do This Week
- Finish NCIS Song And Record New Cue”
-One guitar jam recording or video weekly
-Upload music and artwork for new EP, Chill
-And new Vocal EP
-One Youtube video weekly
-Post to reddit (Weekly)
-Facebook ad (weekly)
-Submit to five new places daily
-upload tracks to Ad Rev
-New Music Video
-Send Beth Wernick Music
-Get tracks featured on Spotify
-Launch boom goes the music, podcast and make playlists
Each week, I change the things I need to do and focus on for that week. Right now, I’m recording an average of two new songs a week, for specific projects I’m working on. I’m also releasing a new EP, working on creating new content for my Youtube Channel and in the process of launching a new Podcast featuring other artists. I’m also continuing to promote my music and reach out to new contacts as well. There’s a lot to do, but by breaking down so clearly what I’m trying to accomplish, it makes it much easier to determine the steps I need to take.
After I’ve determined my overall life vision and the things I need to do on a weekly basis in each key area, I then I make a daily list of things to do each day. I tend to do this each night for the following day. As an example, here was the list I made for myself for yesterday:
8 am - Workout
get to office
Work on member site
Create new videos, content, add new leads, etc
Make 5 submissions
Submit to five places
Work on new music video
Send 90 day leads
Write new instrumental cue and make demo
Promotion: Email colleges, universities, etc
6:30 Call with Senne for 90 day challenge
8:00 – Finish recording with Eusebio
I tend to start my day by working out, then head to the office and focus on business things during the day, and then at night I tend to focus on my music, writing, recording etc. I continue this process more or less the same throughout the week. I usually factor in at least one day a week, normally Sunday, where I don’t do any work and spend the day, normally relaxing with friends, going to the movies, going out to eat, etc. I also typically have at least two or three nights a week where I go out somewhere, either on a date, hang out with friends and so on.
Overall, I would say I’m a pretty busy person, but I feel like I lead a balanced life. I’m busy, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or out of control. I know what I need to do and I focus on getting things done, but I also make sure to take time to “stop and smell the roses”. I think when you give yourself regular periods of rest, at least one day a week, when you do return to work, you’ll find that you’re more focused and rejuvenated, and you’ll be able to get more done.
Have you ever seen the movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey? In the film, Carrey’s character attends a self-help seminar where he learns about the idea of simply saying yes to every opportunity that comes along. By saying yes to every invitation and every opportunity to do something new, he transforms his life and lifts himself out of a deep rut he had been in.
In today’s post I’d like to explore how you can apply this same principle to your music and your music career, in order to lift yourself out of ruts, or simply move forward and push your career even further, if you’re already experiencing some success. Regardless of where you’re at in your career, by saying yes to more opportunities and seizing more chances that come your way, you’ll experience more success, grow as a musician and move ahead more quickly.
For the last year or so, I’ve taken this approach to my career, without really thinking about it deliberately. I didn’t sit down and say to myself that I’m going to start saying yes to everything, I’ve just found myself starting to embrace more and more opportunities and trying new things. As a result, I’ve made new connections, expanded my catalog of music and have made more money.
I’ll give you a few examples of how this has played out in my life. Think about how you can apply this approach to your own music career. I think most of us have opportunities to move forward that we miss out on, because we’re so focused on what we think we should be doing, or what we would simply prefer to do. There are lots of different ways to be successful with music, that are outside of the realm of the conventional ways we think of “making it’ in the music business.
For example, a few moths ago I started, for the first time in my career, writing instrumental compositions. Of course, I’ve been very aware of instrumental music and its role within the context of sync licensing for years, but I never really considered writing this style of music? Why? Looking back I think I was simply too locked into a very narrow role I had defined for myself and my music, which was that of more a less, a singer/songwriter. I’ve always loved this kind of music, and so I set out to create and focus solely on this genre. For years I dedicated my time to writing songs with lyrics and vocals. Of course, I don’t regret any of this and clearly this style of music is a valid and popular genre of music. I’ll continue to write this kind of music forever, because I love it.
But, now that I’ve started to get into writing instrumental music, it’s opened up a whole new genre and style of music for me to work with and pursue. I really enjoy writing instrumental tracks and I never would have known if I hadn’t said yes to a recent opportunity to create instrumental tracks for a TV show a friend of mine works on. In the past, I probably would’ve said no, that’s not really what I do, or “I don’t know, let me think about that”. I can think back to similar opportunities in the past that I turned down or didn’t pursue with much conviction, because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do.
I recently heard back about a batch of new instrumental tracks I’ve submitted and was told I would most likely get several new placements as a result of these tracks. This particular show goes into production next month, so we’re still waiting for the exact dates/episodes. As a result of this project, I also now have basically a CD’s worth of instrumental music I can release on Spotify, Youtube, Itunes, etc. All by just saying yes to an opportunity.
I’ve also had another opportunity to write music for the show NCIS, and I’m creating several new vocal tracks this week and next to submit to this particular connection. The great thing about saying yes to these types of opportunities, is that regardless of how things pan out, whether your songs get used or not, you’ll grow as a musician and of course end up with new songs that you can market and sell to other places.
Another great thing about saying yes to more opportunities is that it creates momentum with your career and music. When I have specific projects to write for and specific goals related to my music, it gives me something concrete and tangible to aim for. I find this incredibly inspiring and motivating. When I go through periods where I don’t have these types of goals related to my music, I of course still write and create music, but I have a tendency to get more complacent and lackadaisical with my approach to making music. Sometimes having no restrictions or parameters on the music you make can be incredibly freeing, but it can also lead to a very aimless approach to your music that doesn’t really lead anywhere, if you’re not careful.
As musicians, we need to have goals to aim for, to both motivate us to grow, and on a practical level, just to have something to shoot for and focus our time. I think I was resistant to approaching music this way in the past, because I didn’t want my music to simply become a product or commodity to be exploited in the market place. So I clung to the idea that I have to write music that I’m passionate about and believe in, regardless of whether or not it fits into the box of what is “commercially viable”. I felt like I had to write music that first and foremost, I love, and then try to figure out how to monetize it.
Now, I look at it this way: Of course, I want to write music that I’m passionate about. After all, if I don’t love and enjoy what I’m doing, it sort of defeats the point of being a musician. However, as a professional musician, I also have to write music there is a need and demand for. So now, what I try to do is find the place where my passion intersects with an actual need. For example, with the instrumental cues I’ve been creating, there is a specific format for these types of tracks that works best. The music can’t be too busy or have too many notes, because it needs to support the dialog of the scenes. So, I have to keep this in mind when I’m creating these tracks. This minamalistic approach is different than what I would do normally, but I still love creating these tracks and find plenty of room to be creative and express myself artistically.
By saying yes to more opportunities, I’ve been able to grow my catalog and discover a new side of my musical personality that I didn’t even know existed. If you’re feeling stuck or not sure what direction to go in, seek out more connections and opportunities, then when opportunities present themselves, as they inevitably will, say yes!
Check out one of my newest instrumental tracks, Flying, here. This one, as usual, was produced by Mr. Gary Gray.
After I finished Berklee, I returned to my home town of Chicago and continued studying guitar under the tutelage of the great Jazz guitarist John Mclean. I remember one day, during one of our lessons I asked him if he ever got cynical about the music business and his place in it. I asked him if he ever got frustrated that although he was (and is) an amazing, accomplished musician that he was relatively unknown, compared to groups like the “Spice Girls” (who were big at the time) despite having, at least in comparison to Mclean, little talent.
I’ll never forget his answer. Without a hint of bitterness or cynicism, he said, there are two different mountains to climb in the music business. One is that of becoming a “big”, known artist. The other is the mountain of becoming a “great” musician. Both mountains, he said, were difficult to climb and both had their rewards and merits. But, he emphasized, they are different mountains, that have little to do with each other.
I hadn’t thought about, or reflected on this conversation in a long time, but for some reason this morning, as I was in the gym, getting my morning workout in, this conversation came back to me. I played a gig last night, on a sidewalk, for about 50 people, in front of a Tex-Mex restaurant in the Dominican Republic, where I’m back for I think the 5th time in the last four years, spending several weeks playing music in the beach town of Cabarete, on the north coast of the island. I love coming here and taking a few weeks each year to play music and re-calibrate my psyche and perspective on the world. I always feel like spending time here is sort of like hitting the “reset” button on my life. It’s a time to reflect and unwind a bit, before returning to the many projects and endeavors I’ve decided to purse in both business and music.
After the gig, which was with a 28 year old guitarist/singer from Savannah, Georgia and a 64 year old harpist/Saxophonist from Montreal, Canada, the three of us hung out for a bit, shooting the “proverbial” shit. Of course, at some point, the conversation turned to the music business and how hard it is to “make it” in the current music industry. The harpist, Michael Freedman, who due to his age, has a broader perspective than either of us, in terms of the ways in which the music industry has changed, basically has concluded that the live music, bar scene is dead.
I’ve heard this sentiment echoed pretty much my whole adult life from older, more experienced musicians. I don’t doubt that it’s changed. Even in the 20 or so years that I’ve been playing music things have changed. But to conclude the scene is dead because it isn’t what it used to be seems a bit bitter and jaded. Although, I can understand Michael’s stance, compared to what it used to be, I’m sure things pale in comparison.
But, here’s the thing, live music isn’t really dead and music certainly isn’t dead. The show we played last night, was to around 50 people. Almost all of them stayed the entire show. They were captivated and clearly enjoyed themselves and the music. I play shows like this all the time. No, playing live music for 50 people isn’t the same as playing live music for 500 or 5,000 people. But the point is, people still clearly enjoy live music and there are plenty of bands and musicians who make a living performing live that can attest to this.
In my mind, there’s no point in lamenting the fact that things aren’t what they used to be. The current music industry is the music industry we have, for better or worse. Focusing on the fact that it used to be better or different is as pointless as being single and focusing on the fact that you used to be in a relationship and were happier in the past. You are where you are in life. It’s as simple as that.
Speaking of being single, I recently became single again, after being in a relationship for several years. It was a hard adjustment at first, but I hit the ground running, started going to the gym religiously, got back to focusing on my business, socializing more, playing more music, etc. Now, two months into the breakup, I feel a clear and resounding feeling that things are going to be ok. Better than ok in fact. I actually feel great. I feel much, much better than I expected to feel at this point, but only because I’m embracing where I’m at and accepting the challenge of growing and improving myself, instead of trying to fight it.
I look at the current state of the music industry in a similar way. I write and play music, and this is the climate I find myself in. I can fight reality, deny it, get angry and so on. Or, I can accept the fact that things have changed, adapt, and do what I can to make it in the current music industry. I can get up every day and approach music with the same tenacity that I approach things like going to the gym, working on my business and so on. Or, I could lay down and just give up.
It’s not easy, but back to my former teacher’s idea, the mountain that’s most important to me to climb, is the mountain of becoming a great musician. My guitar teacher and I had this conversation close to 20 years ago. And yet, this advice and philosophy is as true today as it was then. I find thinking about music this way incredibly helpful and motivating.
Climbing the mountain of becoming a “great” musician is something you can actually navigate and control, to a large degree, regardless of what’s happening in the music “business”. You can put in the hours and the work needed to become “great”, and chances are that if you persevere long enough you will achieve a degree of greatness, and in one way or another you’ll be recognized for it.
The mountain of becoming a “famous’ musician has faded a lot for me, into the background of my life. I can still see it from my vantage point, off in the distance, but I’m less and less motivated to make the trek between here and there, and I’m not even sure it’s a mountain that I really want to climb anymore. Perhaps one day, if I truly become a “great” musician, the mountain will come to me, or at least move a little closer.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.