This post was triggered by a conversation I had with a musician friend of mine last night: how do you harness creativity into a more productive workflow?
He’s more of a one song at a time person, so he just forces himself to finish the track, things might be different as he’s a guitarist/singer so he never thought in a loop based way, but how about us, the more ‘electronic’ musicians?
I noticed that in the last six months I have been more productive musically and my songs (within my skills) are getting better. While this is partially due to my confidence with my tools, I believe how I approach my songs also helped.
So without further ado, here’s my version of Agile PM for the musician. Not a solution for everyone, but works for me, so I thought I’d share. This might also be obvious for many of you…
Starting the song
Block some time, like a hour or two and just play, use your favourite drum machine, synth, daw and just have fun. Either follow the idea in your mind or let the music and the tools guide you.
Everything is good, all ideas are valid, just have fun.
Now you should have a nice loop or something going.
Now here’s where Project Management comes in and we move to a Kanban board.
I personally use Trello but anything will do, from sticky notes and notepads to Jira or even Outlook’s task list as long as you have a way of organising a list of tasks into sub list.
Start creating 3 lists: to-do, doing, done.
Press play on your song and start listening. While you do, take notes of what you think needs doing and add it to the to-do column.
Make sure they are easy-to-action tasks like ‘replace the sample for the hi hat’, ‘turn the intro to 4 bars’, ‘add a variation in the 4th bar’, ‘change the C to a G in the bass loop’. These are all
good tasks, clear and easy to action.
Examples of bad tasks are ‘finish the song’, ‘equalise everything’ and everything that is generic.
Last step, arrange the list in either priority order or based on how long you think each task would take. I prefer time, but that’s because my music time is limited.
Getting shit done
Now you have a loop and a list of chores, what’s next?
When you sit to work on your music, check how much time you have. Then pick a task from the to-do list accordingly, move it to the ‘doing’ list and get on with it. Do not deal with other tasks, try to focus, if you get another idea, write it down and add it to your to-do list.
Once you are finished with the task, move it to the done list and pick the next one!
You’re one step closer to having a finished track!
The Productive Loop
The above is an iterative process, ie you keep going until the ‘project’ is done.
In the initial part of the process you will notice that the to-do list keeps growing, but at the same time your tasks will get more and more focused. For example you’ll go from ‘change the hi hat sample’ to ‘eq the hh’ to ‘add a hi pass to the hh to remove the low noise’ and so forth.
Your track will get better and more complete and your ‘done’ list will be shorter.
Now you only have to stick to it and not get too sidetracked. You will surely start other songs in the meantime, use the same process for all of them, but try to complete the process and ‘discipline’ yourself into finishing songs and taking notes in the form of to-do.
Also learn when to drop a song. If it isn’t working and you totally lost the feel for it, move on!
If you really feel it, you can have a bigger project board for your release, be it an EP or a full album. There you can keep track of the overall status of each track and how they fit it in your vision.
Be careful, of the micro managing rabbit-hole!
Well, that was a long one, hope some of you will find it useful!