Happy New Year, music peoples! Is this the year you'll finally finish that musical project you've been working on? Maybe it's that one song you can't quite get right, or that new album that you've been talking about making but still haven't started yet. There are tons of articles and videos on making New Year's resolutions but most of us know all too well the reality of making promises to ourselves on January 1st that we simply won't keep after February.
Some strategies hint that perhaps New Year's Day isn't the right time to begin a new resolution at all, since our schedules have been so disrupted over the holidays already. At the same time, waiting for February or March might not help you stick to your goal of not procrastinating. What's a music-maker to do?
Maintain good routines year-round instead of making and breaking annual resolutions.
Quite simply, well done is better than well said. Without action, even our best intentions will fail to deliver any results or lasting change. Another good piece of advice is to not overwhelm yourself with too many changes all at once but to instead pick one thing that will have the biggest impact and begin there.
What could have the biggest impact on the quality and reach of your music in this new year?
You can answer that question in several different ways but when it comes down to it, most of us simply want our music to sound better. This means being able to write better and being more comfortable when playing and recording our music too. Well-written songs played skillfully and with feeling often have a better chance of connecting with more listeners. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
The more we do something the better we tend to get at doing it.
If you want to make better music you can start with making more music more often. It won't all be stellar material but as The Great One once said, "you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Set yourself up for better results by starting routines that can become good habits. Over time, good habits replace the bad ones and become ingrained into your lifestyle without taking over your life.
Here are 5 musical routines you can implement throughout this new year to help generate and finish more of your song ideas while staying better prepared to record and release them to your audience:
1 — Write daily for the sake of writing
One of the very first classes I can remember taking at Berklee was with Pat Pattison who encouraged us to get into the habit of writing daily. Even after 25+ years it can be a struggle but it helps exercise whatever part of your brain it is that finds the right words to tell your next story and to translate what you see and hear in your head. You don't have to try to write song lyrics every day and you don't even have to write more than a few sentences if that's all that comes out during that session. This is more about learning to write without judgment and becoming more comfortable expressing your thoughts and ideas to see where they might lead you.
2 — Find your daily riff or lick
Words and music. Just as you can get into a creative routine for writing words, you can establish a routine to discover a new musical riff or lick every day you pick up your instrument to play, even if only for a few minutes. As with your daily writing routine, try not to judge what you're hearing as you create it; rather, play what you're feeling that day and learn to have some fun with it. This leads to the next routine.
3 — Rock out to embrace your inner child
Even if you're not a rocker, the idea here is to remember how fun music was whenever you first got started and managed to hit a note or chord that made you feel something. As musicians, we've all heard people say things to us such as, "Oh, you play the guitar...?" associating the word play with something that couldn't possibly be serious, difficult, or worthwhile. Instead of getting angry about it, turn that whole notion into something you can use productively when you're jamming for jamming's sake and not necessarily practicing or rehearsing anything in particular. Go ahead and just play. Remember when you were a little kid and made up silly games with your friends? We were playing for the intrinsic reward of playing the game itself, and weren't necessarily bothered about winning or losing. Sometimes it's okay to just rock out and play in every sense of the word.
4 — Record Your Jams
If you're going to be jamming anyway, why not get into the habit of recording yourself? I've written here before about these benefits. In short, if you want better-sounding recordings you have to practice recording your music too. I'm not necessarily talking about your home recording skills but more about the performances you're able to capture. Singing in a vocal booth while wearing headphones is different than being onstage. Playing to a drum machine can be different than making eye contact with a live drummer when you're trying to lock in the groove. If you've never attempted to record your performances in a pro or home studio environment, you'll likely find it a bit awkward at first. When you practice recording yourself you can become more comfortable in the studio to focus more on the music and the energy you want to convey. If you don't have access to a home studio, consider using a mobile app to record your jams and writing sessions. Even the most basic recordings can help document your progress as you listen back to your older material this time next year.
5 — Play Nice With Others
Your parents probably told you to "play nice" with the other kids and this still applies today when playing music. If you want your music to sound better, you can write better songs, invest in better recordings and mixes, but almost certainly you'll need to find good musicians to perform your music. It's easier to find these people when they want to work with you too. Learn to be flexible and musically polite, if not gracious, to whomever you're making music with. This can be a very underrated skill for those who can't single-handedly write, perform, record, produce, mix, and master all of their own material—which is most of us. What's needed here is a routine for collaborating more often with other musicians, writers, arrangers, producers, and engineers.
Almost every song you write will benefit from some form of collaboration but nobody will want to work with with the guy or gal who sucks all of the fun out of making music. Don't be that person. Develop a routine to get past your shyness or your ego in order to ask for help when the song needs it. Then gladly accept the help you receive and add to it. Discover new music outside of your usual circles and find ways to connect with those artists either in person or online. Start perhaps with a routine that allows you to collaborate once a month on someone else's music. Maybe you won't get any splits or maybe you never receive an album credit but If they like what you're able to bring to their music, it's likely they would be willing to return the favor.
Already in a band (or two)? Having band mates you can work with on a regular basis can be fantastic but even with a full band at your disposal, don't dismiss the idea of bringing in a guest artist or two on your next record if the song features some element you or the band can't deliver as well as someone who can. Having great players to capture great performances can elevate your music every time.
What other routines do you already have in your personal or professional life?
What do those routines deliver that encourage you to want to do them on a regular basis? Take whatever lessons you've learned from those routines and try to apply them to your music. We develop routines because we like the results and we want to successfully repeat those results every time instead of hoping for the best on a day-to-day basis. Making music is no different.
If you were to write down one interesting story line or come up with a fun musical riff each day of the work week, that could be 5 song ideas generated each week.
Pick the best one from each week and that's about 4 decent song ideas every month to work on.
Take the best idea from this month and work over the next 30 days to finish the song structure, record it, and have it mixed and mastered to have 4-6 singles or a new EP released to your audience by this time next year.
Maybe that's not your goal, but you'll still be working to improve what you love to be doing, so rock on!
I'd love to hear about your musical routines and to help answer any questions about how I can help you with your next project. Tell me about your music!
If you find this information helpful, please share it via social media and within your music-making circles.
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