Early each year, I hear about people setting music goals. We tend to see the action of setting goals as something that keeps us driving towards a precise destination. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’ve done goal-setting for years, but I realize now that years where I was the most efficient in making things happen were the ones where no goals were set.
Let me compare my idea to the “get to the gym and get in shape” new year’s goal that people most typically set. In that case, the process is simple, linear, and tasks oriented: you get to the gym, follow instructions, keep track and try to maintain the willpower to go on a regular basis. Most will agree that the most difficult part is to keep up the motivation to go and holding yourself responsible for going.
Is this goal easy? Depends on the person; for some it is, others it’s not. Can we agree that it will work if you develop a method to achieve it? This could mean that you always go to the gym at the same time, that you make sure the gym is not too far, that you can create a routine around it…etc. This is a system and once you have one that is effective, then hardest part of going to the gym is already taken care of (well, almost).
For the music producer, some goals I often hear about:
- To have more more gigs: This isn’t effective mostly because there is no mention of what “more gigs” implies; you might be setting yourself up for failure here. Because if you say “well, once every 2 weeks”, then perhaps you’ll gig a lot and then have a month with nothing. Perhaps in the end you have more gigs.
- To finish an album: Sounds reasonable but there’s an underlying part that is not covered here which is, to make a coherent album, you need twice as much tracks as you want to make sure you have the best material possible. Is this included in your goals?
- To be signed to a (specific) label: What about any other labels you might discard that could be the game changer?
- Tour: See gigs. Touring doesn’t just happen, you need push for it and make it happen.
In setting goals, the “how-to” is often forgotten, and people end up failing.
My take on this is to work on building an effective system that works for you: make your art efficient, fun and a platform to express yourself adequately. Focusing on that will provide you with the tools to eventually make things happen. But honestly, it’s hard to make them happen if you don’t feel in charge of what you do.
But what is a system?
It’s measurable actions you put into place to make sure something comes out of this system efficiently, 100% of the time. It’s a way to make your life or tasks easier.
Where do you start with putting a system together?
I start with understanding what I can control and what I can’t. This sounds like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised by the number of people I work with who rage against things they can’t control, as if it would change anything in the end. For instance, you can’t control a label signing you but you can control the number of interactions with artists you can make in a week. This might sound a bit crazy, but I like to say that I can’t control precisely when a song is totally done, but I can control the number of hours I put in it. Other examples:
- You can’t control the stability of your computer or your health, but you can make regular backups and stay in shape.
- You can’t control if people will listen to your music or buy it. But this has nothing to do with you or your music in the first place. Everyone is busy as hell and continuously asked to do things for others. You can start by giving away your music to some people to see if that starts a movement.
- If you can’t seem to finish music, honestly, I would invite you to collaborate. This ALWAYS open doors and opportunities more than if you stay alone. You have the choice to decide that.
I try to be aware of what I love to do and what tools can help support that. These days many people talk and mock Marie Kondo and her “does it spark joy?” question but she is absolutely right that when it doesn’t, perhaps it’s not for you. Same goes with music. In which phase of making music do you lose track of time, your appetite and hunger? For some, its when they program beats, for others it’s in arrangements and for some, mixing. Becoming a specialist at what you love doing, is a huge investment in your system because as you become more solid, other skills will also develop.
I spend a lot of time optimizing my preparation routine. This is the most overlooked phase of production and pretty much everyone skips it. I would encourage you to find the conditions that make your session the best it can be. Perhaps you need a certain condition to be met? In my case, I can get a very killer workflow if I have all the sessions prepared in front of me, but to prepare them annoys me. My solution was to spend periods of time where all I do is to prepare multiple sessions so that when its time to work on arrangements, I just open one and its all ready for me to attack and deliver the project.
Finding your system is far more useful than setting a goal. It’s a work in progress and it gets just better with time. Part of me sees the craftsmanship in this as perfecting your method over time. Some of my system that I use now has been built over the last 3 years, and I spend loads of time reading about how to learn more and improve it.