Letting it Flow: Rules on Productivity 
June 12, 2013
Matt Fanale in practicing music, productivity

One of the questions I get most frequently is “how the hell are you so productive?” The easiest answer is ADHD and an obsessive need to get as much done in my life before I die, but since that (hopefully) only applies to a certain chunk of the population, here are some other suggestions I think could be helpful:

1) Stop internetting/videogaming/pornwanking.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Stop distracting yourself with other people’s creativity (if you wanna call porn that, by all means go for it) and keep working on your own. Sure, it’s addictive, but so is finishing a new song, painting, or that creepy fanfic tale you’ve been messing with about the Lorax and the tree nymphs.

2) Don’t second guess.

 It’s easy to doubt yourself, but work on pushing that out of your skull and just say “good enough for now”. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac and think you should never revise your original thoughts know that THIS CAN JUST BE A DRAFT/DEMO. Don’t worry about refining your ideas until you’ve got something done. You’ll learn soon enough what needs changing, so churn out the first version and then turn it into something awesome.

3) Have fun.

This should be a simple concept, but so many people think they have to be some tortured artist and always scream LIFE IS PAIN, but do you know what? It might be, but you should enjoy the creative process. The more you enjoy it, the more you’ll want to continue doing it and obsess over it and want to improve your craft.

4) Just say “it’s finished”.

I hazily recall reading somewhere once that David Bowie said if he had the opportunity he’d change every song he’s ever written. There’s a good chance that you’ll always want to mess with or tweak what you’ve done, but it takes a bit of wisdom and/or restraint to just say “this is done”. If you still feel like it needs tweaking come back to it later, but you have to let your baby out of the nest at some point.

5) There are no bad ideas, just a ton you have no reason to use.

 Brainstorming is a wonderful thing, especially the aspect of it that says “there are no bad ideas”. One seemingly stupid idea could be the catalyst for the most brilliant idea you’ve ever had, so when you’re working through your creative process don’t immediately dismiss anything. Write it down or try it out, even if it sucks. You never know when you’re going to strike gold with an idea that seems useless or a nnot alloweder, but it happens all the time. Hell, the opening of Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine was just Slash practicing scales and Axl liked the way it sounded. Let the ideas flow.

6) Work with people you like.

 Making music can go from incredibly fun to no fun in the space of five minutes, especially when you’re stuck on a song. This is where having talented pals help a lot. The beauty of the internet means you can have friends worldwide that can offer advice in the time it takes to send an mp3 in an email. It’s also important to work with good people when you’re doing the rest of the work for an album, like the graphic design, mastering, or production work. For a lot of artists the “other work” can end up being tedious, especially if they don’t have concrete ideas on how they want things to look or feel. Having talented, positive people to work with can help complement your ideas, or better yet, they can offer up ideas that will take your work to another level sonically or visually. Find people that share your passion and give a crap. The results will show. Having fun is critical for you not to burn out.

7) Don’t take yourself seriously.

 There’s a vast difference between taking your art seriously and taking yourself seriously. I make songs called Lady Business and Carpe Rectum and while these songs aren’t all supposed to be Tears in Heaven, at the same time I take a lot of pride in trying to make them good songs overall, while at the same time knowing I’m still just writing what is essentially a stupid song. People who take themselves too seriously as “artistes” generally have a lot of trouble taking chances and thinking past their preconceived notions of their massive importantness. By having a sense of humor about what you do, even with the most serious songs and subject matter, you allow yourself to keep your mind open to new ideas that may creep into your noggin that may feel unorthodox for you, but may be the perfect thing to make your song better. Plus, self-important artists are about as impressive as self-important janitors. We get it, you’re creative. Get off your pedestal, because you’re still working a day job and can’t sell out a coffee shop. Lighten up.

8) “Jam”.

While I hate the thought of electronic jam bands (but enjoy experimental live performances— sure, let’s pretend there’s a difference), I love just messing around with my gear and stumbling on a cool sound or nice little melody line. Sometimes I jump into a song with a dozen set ideas, which are generally abandoned halfway into the session for cooler ideas that I come up with while trying to realize the original idea. One of my favorite things about creating art is the “mistakes” which end up driving the music. Let them happen. Don’t be a creative fascist, as by keeping yourself in a box with “how it must be” you might be ignoring “how it should be.”

9) Start simple, stay simple.

 I know people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on every high end gadget, program, and piece of hardware and haven’t produced a note that was even mildly interesting. It’s not about what you spend, it’s what you can do with what you have. This doesn’t mean don’t be a gear whore, it’s just that you should realize that music doesn’t need to be overcomplicated to be good, and often people dismiss an idea if it seems too “easy”. Well maybe it does to you, but to the rest of the world it may have never occurred to them. On top of that your “easy” idea may be exactly what the song needs to succeed. Simple is good, and if anything getting the basic idea out of you will help you build the foundation to start complicated the crap out of it.

10) Realize it will never be perfect.

 It’s easy to say, harder to practice. This goes hand in hand with learning to just say a track is finished. So many people strive for an unattainable perfection in creating, when they fail to realize A) That’s impossible, as any creative endeavor can be criticized, B) “Flaws” in songs are sometimes what make a them beautiful and “real” to people. Remember that perfect, shiny production isn’t necessarily what every track needs, and finding your own sound and style may put some people off at first, but for those who are drawn to it you’ll have real fans and not people who just bounce from artist to artist because they sound interchangeable. You want to connect with people on an emotional level as much as a sonic one. Don’t forget that.

 Strive for the best art you can make, not what you consider “perfect”. The worst thing about thinking something is “perfect” is the next day you’ll find a new problem with it. Let it go. You have a million more songs in you that want to get out. Keep going.

 

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