Do Less, Get More Done: The Ultimate Time Management Tip For Musicians

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

Pretty much every indie musician I’ve talked to has two big problems that really overshadow just about everything else. Number one, there’s just WAY too much to do. These days, you need to essentially set up a business around your music – which is a full-time job in and of itself – AND you need to find time for practicing, playing, writing, rehearsing, recording, and gigging on top of that. It’s a lot to manage.

And the second big problem is that despite putting a lot of time and effort into their career, many musicians STILL feel stagnant – almost like they’re not making any progress.

So today, let’s solve both problems at the same time, so you can start getting more accomplished and start building up some serious momentum. If you want more guidance and time management tips, I have a time management and productivity guide that you can download for free. Click here to get your free copy.

The Problem with Trying to Do Everything

What if I told you that you were wasting a lot of time and effort doing things that may not have as big an effect on the growth of your career as you thought?

Let me explain. The DIY revolution has created this mindset that indie musicians need to do everything and that they need to do it all themselves.

The there are so many musicians out there competing for attention that you feel like we have to be on every single social media platform out there if you even want to be noticed at all.

Not to mention, the diminishing and fragmenting revenue streams. Today, there are more revenue streams out there than ever before. BUT, the small payouts from things like streaming services can make it feel like you need to have your hand in just about every revenue bucket just to make a decent living.

Now here’s the big flaw – if you’re trying to split your limited time between everything, you probably don’t have the time to dedicate to each to do them really well. And as a result, you’re taking a lot of small steps in different directions.

There are only so many hours in the day and time management is about using them wisely – focusing on the essentials, the big movers that will really make a difference in your career.

Let’s take a look at an example.

It’s totally normal to be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Soundcloud to promote your music and connect with your fans. But can you realistically fully understand each platform? Will you know the best ways to engage? The best times to post? All the while pushing out unique content and actively engaging with fans on all platforms? Probably not. All social media platforms require a unique approach if you want to be truly successful.

It’s the same for revenue streams. If you really want to be successful licensing your music, you can’t treat it like a passive income stream. You need to be actively improving your songs, co-writing, networking in the licensing industry, sending personalized emails, and doing research to find the productions your music would fit best.

I hope you’re starting to see just how important focus is. If you try to do everything you just can’t give everything enough attention to make your efforts really successful. In short, you’ll be doing a lot of things half way, never actually putting in enough time to reach your goals.

The Focused Approach

So how do you get passed this perpetual overwhelmed feeling and also start seeing real, meaningful progress in your music career?

It may seem counter intuitive, but the key is to do less – do less but better. If you really want to be successful, it’s not about doing a million different things and hoping it will work out. It’s about knowing where you want to go and taking calculated steps to get there. And saying no to everything else.

Understand Your Goals

So how do you simplify? The first step is to really understand your goals in music. What is the one thing you really want to accomplish with your music? What do you want to spend your days doing?

If you really want to spend most of the year gigging and touring regionally and nationally, why waste your time pursuing sync licenses?

Instead, focus! Make connections in the live industry, develop your setlist, improve the way you set up your merch table, and promote your shows. Maybe you could start doing streamed concerts or house concerts and think up some really cool merch. As you can see, all these tasks really compliment and work with the gigging goal.

As a rule of thumb, every time you’re presented with a new opportunity, ask yourself, “Is this related to my goals in music? Will this help me get closer to my goals?” If the answer is no, it may not be worth your valuable time.

Cut Back

The next thing I’d recommend is doing a time analysis. For the next two or three weeks, write down everything you do each day and how much time you spend on each task. This might seem a little tedious but it can really help you get a bird’s-eye view of just how much time things take.

And finally, it’s time to start cutting things out! What tasks aren’t taking you closer to your goals? What tasks aren’t getting the results you want?

You may find that you’re pouring a ton of time into trying to grow your following on Twitter. And maybe, despite your efforts, Twitter just isn’t catching on for you in terms of engagement compared to your other channels. Maybe you’re just using it because a lot of other musicians do. In this case, it may be best to put Twitter on the back burner and focus on making your other social channels even more awesome. Reallocate your time to a more productive task.

As another example, you might see that posting videos to YouTube doesn’t really align with the goals you set for your career. Despite what you may hear, doing YouTube successfully is a huge undertaking that goes way beyond just posting videos every now and then.

On the flip side, it can be a great career path for musicians who want to release cover videos, music videos, gear reviews, and tour and studio vlogs, and channel monetization and partnerships can become a viable revenue stream if you get enough views and subscribers. YouTube can also tie in well with a Patreon, and many successful YouTube artists have incorporated Patreon into their income strategy to great effect.

 


Time management and staying focused on your goals is going to be an ongoing effort. As your career grows you’ll find you need to reassess how you’re spending your time to make the most of your present opportunities. To help you stay on track, you can also download my free time management guide: The Musician’s Guide to Getting More Done, and revisit it as often as you need to.

If you want more tips, I’d also recommend checking out the book Essentialism.

5 Reasons It Pays To Collaborate

[Editors Note: This article was written by Suzanne Paulinksi, an artist consultant with over 10 years in the music industry and owner of The Rock/Star Advocate.]

 

They often say, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” but what does that actually mean? Sure, we all know the benefits of growing our own team to carry out our own vision, but what are the real benefits to working with others who don’t work for us?

In years past, as I tried to get former businesses off the ground, I had been approached many times to collaborate with other business owners. More often than not I said no, afraid someone else would cloud my overall vision or try to usurp whatever I was currently working on and take it for themselves. I also had bad flashbacks of school projects when group work meant me busting my ass and four or five others benefiting off of my all-nighters.

So I pushed ahead on my own.

After two businesses failed to reach their full potential, I realized it was time to get out of my own way and realize the potential of combining forces. It’s one thing to hire internally and have a team help execute your vision – in fact, it’s crucial – but it’s quiet another to work with someone else who is in your same position (the captain of their own ship), but who brings a different perspective or skill set to the table.

Whether you’re a business owner or a songwriter, when it comes to true collaboration, it’s no longer about making your vision work, it’s about doing what works, period.

You don’t have to abandon your vision, but you do have to be open to improving it.

If you can trust that it’s just as important to have people who work with you as it is to have people to work for you then you can profit (in more ways than one) from these five benefits of collaboration:

1. Opens you up to a new or larger fan base: If you’re an artist who is trying to build their fanbase, positioning yourself to be a featured artist on someone else’s track or reaching out to share a stage with an artist who has already established a tour can get you in front of others who may not be familiar with you, but who are already primed to be potential fans of yours. Don’t stay up on other musicians as a way to “keep an eye on the competition,” but stay informed on who’s making moves as a way to keep an eye out for collaboration.

2. Opens you up to more prominent industry attention: Especially if you’re in the songwriting business, collaborating with another writer who already has the ear of industry decision makers can elevate your chances of getting their ear as well. That’s not to say you should only work with people who have reached a certain recognition – working with someone else who is on your same level can be just as beneficial. Not only are two brains almost always better than one, but creating something from two different perspectives can give your project the unique spin needed to make others listen.

3. Gets you a life long partner in this industry who has your back: Creating art is a very vulnerable process. Creating art with someone else can create an almost immediate bond. In an industry that can be very unforgiving, forming a close relationship with someone who can 100% relate to your specific position in the industry can be invaluable as you grow together.

4. Makes you better creatively and professionally: As I said above about not needing to abandon your vision, but being open to improving it, collaboration causes you to reflect on what you bring to the table and push further. A strong collaboration will force you to dig deep and put it all on the table. Much like an accountability buddy when trying to finish a task, when there’s someone to answer to you’ll try harder. On a professional note, knowing how to work with other personalities and talents is never a skill you should let get rusty.

5. Gives you a great story: When you bio is all about you, it becomes a snoozefest. Everyone loves a good love story in the movies, and everyone loves to hear how a song or project came together from a successful collaboration, especially if it’s an unexpected one. It gives you plenty of content to share and drip out as part of your promotional campaign. It makes cross-promotion a no-brainer, once again getting your work in front of a larger audience.

A little bit of skepticism with who you choose to let into your creative world is healthy, but paranoia or being overly controlling has never served anyone in the long run. Remember that in the end, it’s all about presenting your fans with the best version of yourself and sometimes it takes others to bring that out of us.

Here’s to making the dream work!

7 Great Ways to Accelerate Your Songwriting Skills

[Editors Note: This was written by Zac Green. Zac is a regular contributor to the Zing Instruments Blog.]

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper. Starting the process of writing a new song can take just as long as finishing it. So here’s seven tips to help you speed up your songwriting.

1. Work in a group, then alone

Having a few people to bounce ideas around with helps the creative process get started. After you’ve got your song started, the democratic process is more likely to slow you down. If you’re writing songs as part of a band, it can be better to go and complete your parts individually once you’ve gotten the overall idea in place.

2. Drink alcohol, then coffee

Research has shown that drinking alcohol boosts your creativity, but makes it hard to focus. Coffee, and other drinks containing caffeine, has the opposite effect. For your brainstorming session, loosen up with a few drinks. This works especially well if combined with the first tip, but be careful not to get carried away and turn it into a drinking session. Once you’ve sat down to start writing the ideas you have onto paper, fire up the kettle.

3. Give chance a chance

After a long music career, you might find that all of your songs are starting to sound the same. There’s nothing wrong with having a recognisable sound, but you don’t want to get stale. Shake things up by writing different elements of songs onto pieces of paper, such as keys, lyrical themes, and so on. Place them into a hat and draw five at random. Force yourself to use these, no matter how badly they seem to go together. The results can be surprisingly good – and more importantly they help you to think outside of your usual boundaries.

4. Write somewhere different

Creativity doesn’t exist in a void. If you want to be inspired, go for a long walk somewhere far away from your usual haunts. The change of scenery, fresh air and act of walking itself can be great for generating new ideas. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to let yourself relax. Stress is a major impediment to creativity.

5. Learn your music theory

I don’t care how unappealing this seems. You might think that learning theory chokes your freedom or that it’s boring. However, if you don’t know what the rules around music are, it’s impossible to break them in a way which is both purposeful and well-executed. This applies no matter what genre you’re in. For example, my own personal foray into EDM was vastly improved when I started learning about cadence, a concept from choral music.

6. Steal from other songs

Now let me just clarify something before we go any further. I am absolutely not telling you to copy somebody else’s song in it’s entirety and try to pass it off as your own. That’s not songwriting, and you’re unlikely to get away with it for very long.

What you can do, is jot down interesting chord progressions, licks and lyrics. Playing around with these later, such as using inverted versions of the chords, trying it in a different key or modulating can lead to something brand new as the changes you’ve made will lead to a naturally different conclusion.

7. Use good notation software

Writing music by hand can take quite a while, and you can’t always check to see if it sounds right straight away. By using notation software, such as Sibelius, or if you can’t read music, just programming the notes into a digital audio workstation (DAW) can transform your songwriting process completely, as it’s quite easy to quickly change sections of your music without having to rewrite every single note.

Armed with these tricks, your songwriting skills will change practically overnight. It doesn’t matter if you apply all of them at once (although that isn’t entirely practical) or try them out a few at a time. Your own process is going to be a factor in this, so perhaps some of them won’t be entirely applicable. Don’t fret about this, just do the ones that feel ‘right’ to you.

Five Tips To Increase Your Value as a Performer

By Mason Hoberg

 

Contrary to what you may believe, learning to play an instrument well is only the first step in becoming a musician who is commercially valuable. To really be an asset to labels, or even just other musicians in your scene, you need to constantly be improving your skills and marketability.

The five tips below are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. If you really want to make it, you need to be constantly increasing not just your musical abilities but your worth as well. After all, everyone wants to be a rockstar: but few are willing to put in the work to get there.

1. Learn Another Instrument

Learning another instrument opens a world of opportunities. Different scenes tend to have different populations of musicians, though most are pretty guitarist-heavy. Knowing how to play the bass in addition to the guitar (or, if you really want to gig a lot, the drums) for example gives you access to the opportunities available to both guitarists and bassists in your area.

Even better, if you’ve already learned one instrument you’ve got a huge head start when you go to learn another one.

2. Build a Resume of Performance

A resume of performance is a document which shows where you’ve performed. It also contains the contact information of the owner at the various venues you’ve played. This alone isn’t going to land you any gigs, it just makes you look more professional.

A harsh reality of any creative industry is that there are thousands of people who are amazing at what they do, all of whom are looking for work. And you’re probably not the best out of them. If anything, you’re lucky if you’re in the top 70%.

This is something I personally struggled with a lot while I was getting my writing career off the ground. There were all these people who were so much better than me (and still are), so I had a really hard time finding work.

A huge part of why I succeeded at being a writer is that I worked at it and got better, but the majority of the success I’ve had is because I pretend I’m a professional. Seriously. I’m just some guy who writes, and in all honesty I’m not awesome at it. But it pays my bills, because I’m willing to market myself as a professional. Thankfully, I don’t have to dress like a professional because I work at home (I’m writing this whole thing in just my boxers and fuzzy socks).

3. Launch a YouTube Channel (A Musician’s Portfolio)

In addition to being a musician, I’m also a freelance writer. Part of how I get new gigs as a writer is that I keep a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of a person’s work, whether that’s music, art, or in my case writing.

In addition to showing off your work, your portfolio also shows how you approach your work. It shows your voice as a musician, your work ethic (shown by how much you post), and your creativity. A portfolio is a must-have tool for anyone in a creative industry.

In addition to showing off your work and how you approach it, a YouTube channel/portfolio also shows off how well you can build an audience. Having a loyal YouTube following shows that people like your music, which in turn shows venue owners and members of the industry that you have commercial potential.

4. Be Nice

Would you rather work with a musical savant who’s a jerk, or a mediocre musician who’s personable and reliable? When looking at it this way, just about anyone would say that they’d rather work with the person who’s not a drag to be around.

If you aren’t friendly to your fellow musicians, or are dismissive of the abilities of musicians in your scene, you’re going to get a reputation for being a jerk. So instead, just be nice. While it might be really cathartic to lay into someone you don’t like, or tell your friends how much you hate a local band, always remember that you’re a brand and you should represent yourself as such.

You want to be seen as the fun, friendly, and talented musician; not the jerk with an over-inflated ego.

5. Learn To Play Different Genres

Even if you’d never dream of stepping outside of your preferred genre, you’d be surprised at just how much overlap there is between the different genres that make up Western music. For example, sweep picking is used extensively in both Metal and Gypsy Jazz (Gypsy Jazz uses a picking style similar to sweep picking, even if it’s not strictly sweep picking).

These techniques are used differently in different genres, so seeing how other guitarists outside of your preferred genre implement them can help to boost your own creativity. You may also find that once you start getting into these genres you actually like them. It may even turn out that you get into the genre to the point where you join a band focused around it, which will give you even more opportunities to find gigs.

Wrapping It All Up

Music is a business, and if you want to make a living at it you’ve got to play the game. While it can be hard to transform yourself into a marketable musician, you’ll find that the effort you put in will pay off in spades.

The Sneaky Way to Promote Your Music Without Actually Talking About Your Music

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Dave Kusek and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

I know it sounds completely counterintuitive to promote your music and raise awareness for yourself as an artist without actually talking about your music – or your music career, for that matter. But it’s being done more and more and has become a really powerful way to make a name for yourself by bypassing the crowded indie-musician market.

Let me explain. The key is to establish yourself as an expert in some related topic like gear, self-releasing music, or songwriting. It’s about sharing valuable information on a topic you have a lot of experience in to draw potential fans. They find you by searching for “how to write a song,” or “how to book your own gigs,” or “guitar pedal review,” and discover your music through that connection.

Push vs. pull marketing

Traditionally, there are two ways to go about promoting your music. You can either push your message out to fans and potential fans (push marketing), or you can pull them in and get them to come to you (pull marketing).

Push marketing is those typical advertisements you see on TV and hear on the radio. They’re just pushing information out about their product to a large audience hoping to reach someone who may be interested.

Pull marketing is about giving out valuable information that you know your target audience is searching for. This valuable information could be exclusive or behind-the-scenes access to you as an artist. This kind of content will pull in current fans and deepen your relationship.

But you could also share advice on something you have a lot of experience with. This will help you reach a new audience who may not even be familiar with your music.

So let’s go through the strategy step-by-step.

1. Find your expertise

The first step is finding something you have a lot of experience and knowledge in. As a musician, you have a few really obvious routes – music, songwriting, mixing, mastering, music theory, gear, instruments, etc. These are the skills that form the very foundation of your career, so you definitely have a lot of valuable information to bring to the table here.

Many musicians, including Scale the Summit’s bassist Mark Michell, have set up online schools to share their musical knowledge and techniques. The key here is to bring this training online instead of doing local lessons. Not only will you be able to reach a much larger audience, you’ll also start showing up in Google searches for things like “online bass lessons.”

Other musicians pull on other skill sets like music business knowledge, booking gigs, or creating YouTube videos. DIY musician Ari Herstand, for example, runs the blog Ari’s Take, where he shares his experiences and the skills he’s learned from booking his own shows and generally running his own career. Other musicians like Alex Cowles share their knowledge on self-releasing music.

2. Find the right platform

If you want people to organically find you, the best option is to go online. Depending on the kind of information you share, your platform may be a little different. So, if you’re creating music lessons, videos may be your best bet. Try making YouTube tutorials, playthroughs, and lessons, and release them regularly to build an audience.

On the other hand, if you’re sharing the things you’ve learned on getting your songs licensed or booking college gigs, a blog may suit your information better. Gear and guitar pedal reviews and demonstrations might use a combination of blog posts and videos.

You could also aim to partner with other media outlets to share out your information. This will help you get your name out to a larger audience. In addition to his own blog, Ari Herstand also writes for Digital Music News. Maybe you could get a regular column in a small online music magazine or music industry blog – start small and grow from there.

3. Show up in search

Now that you have your content up, you need to make sure people can actually find it. There are plenty of SEO guides out there, but basically, you just want to think about what people are actually typing into search. There are also a lot of cool tools like Google’s Keyword Planner that can give you some ideas.

You want the keywords and article titles you choose to be relevant and specific to what you’re posting. So if you’re posting a review of a certain guitar pedal, a title like “Boss Waza Craft VB-2W Vibrato Review” will perform better than “Guitar Pedal Review.” Likewise, if you’re sharing your tips on how to set up good lighting for a music video, something like “Setting Up Good Lighting for a Music Video” will probably do the trick.

Of course, good SEO won’t instantly drive thousands of people to your articles and videos. It’s going to take a lot of work and consistent posting to build up an audience.

4. Create the connection

Here’s the most important part of this strategy: you need to make the connection to your music and drive your viewers or readers to check it out. After all, music is your main gig.

There are a few options here. You could obviously host your blog on your band’s site, or share your tutorials or gear reviews on your band’s YouTube channel. That way, your music is just a click away. This works, but it will make it more difficult to get the SEO working like you want.

If you host your content off your music website, you need to make the connection obvious. Include an “About” page that shares your story. Highlight your musical journey and your creative career as an indicator of your expertise on the subject.

You should also mention your career and bring out stories in your articles and videos.Preface an amp review by saying you brought it on tour and recorded some awesome sounding live videos with it. Include the live video to prove your point (and introduce your readers to your music).

If you’re teaching people on YouTube about modes, you could mention that you used a certain mode when writing a new song you have out. Play a short section of that song to show your point and include a card in the top right corner to link to your music video.

The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]


Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.

It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?

I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.

As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.

Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.

Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.

There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.

We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.

Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.

This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.

I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.

I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.

Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.

Is this a safe place?

The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.

In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.

Who’s in charge?

Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.

A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.

Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.


In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. Until next time!


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!