[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

The holidays are rough on musicians, even if they’ve got a penchant for rich food, parties and lots of time with family. By the time I realize the holidays are about to happen in late fall every year, it’s usually too late for me to do anything to prepare for the disruption they inevitably bring.

Projects get pushed aside, a myriad of social arrangements are made and adhered to, and the momentum I started building nearly a year prior screeches to a halt in dramatic fashion. I shouldn’t be surprised how difficult this time of year is, and yet I always am. Blame it on a lack of planning and bad memory, I guess.

But there’s an end to the holiday tunnel represented by the birth of a brand new year.

I’m not much of a resolution guy, but there is something so relieving and hopeful about the start of a new year. It’s a time ideal for reassessing things and looking forward. And while it might be tempting to take a long respite this January, you’ll miss out on a great time to recapture momentum for your music if you do. Here’s a few tips on making the most out of your year in music:

Break big career goals into manageable tasks

Having big goals for your music isn’t just important, it’s absolutely essential.

Doing anything meaningful in music requires an almost insane belief that you’ll be able to defy the odds and find success. But if your big, vague goals never transform into small actions, then you probably won’t find much traction for your music, no matter how good it is.

The post-holiday season is the perfect time to convert goals into manageable tasks to work toward completing throughout the year. For example, let’s say one of your big goals is to write an album or to book a six month-long tour. Those goals are massive in scope and will require tons of work to pull off successfully. Your job in early January should be to do the hard work of figuring out what exactly needs to happen throughout the year to accomplish your goals. Make lists of all the small day-to-day things you need to do and check them off as you go along.

Obviously, a goal like “get signed by my favorite record label” is going to be a lot tougher to manage than something like “write and record ten songs for an album,” but the beauty of breaking down big goals into small actions is that it practically guarantees momentum in your work whether you end up reaching your goals or not.

It’s also great for clarifying your feelings and showing you what you really want. Taking the ‘getting signed to a label’ thing for example – you might find, in the process of breaking down that goal into real actions, that what you really want is a wider audience and that trying to get a label’s attention won’t happen without you releasing more music.

Re-enter music by doing something you actually enjoy

If you’re burned out after a long year and obligation-filled holiday season, then doing whatever it is you like to do the most in music in January can help you get back in the swing of things. This means making music instead of pitching a new release or contacting music venues––unless your prefer doing those things over making music.

If that sounds like you, you’re in the wrong line of work, my friend. Letting yourself be creative musically without expectations or goals like getting ready for a show or trying to write a successful song can help get you plugged back in to a productive musical mindset, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve had time to focus on your work.

Reflect on last year’s successes and failures

Are you where you want to be in your music career? This is a question lots of us don’t often ask because the answer can be uncomfortable. Music or any other creative endeavor isn’t like a conventional career where if you put X amount of hours in you’ll get x amount of success.

You can do everything right in music and still fail, and that’s a difficult thing to accept.

But, and this is important, we often don’t do everything right in music and could benefit from finding big areas for improvement. If you’re new in your career and haven’t found an audience yet, maybe it’s because you haven’t released enough music or need to work on writing better songs. If you’ve been at it for a while and feel burned out, it could be because you’ve been putting too much time into your work and need a break.

An early year reflective session can give you valuable insight into what’s going right or wrong in your music career. If you don’t like what you discover, then work to change it in the new year.

Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician.


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