Getting Your Music Done

After reading numerous articles about getting things done and seeing projects to completion, I realized that a lot of these same principles can be applied to making music. There are some general principles that can be applied to getting your music done and out there, and then there are some principles that do need to be clarified.

  1. Keep it simple. This is actually more true for art than most things. Musicians try to do too much. I don't know how many songwriters I've met who don't finish songs, or bands that don't finish demos. Mostly because they're trying to do too many things at once. Finish the songs first. Just do one at a time. If you can't produce a good demo, get help. If you can't manage all of the marketing and PR, get help. Do one thing at a time and stick with it until it gets done.
  2. Practice 'good enough'. If you are an over the top perfectionist (like myself) then this applies. But to many other people, this is a bad way to go. Artists are told to just do it and get it out there. This isn't as black and white as it seems. Too often I see artists release something, or create something and leave it as 'good enough'. It can do some damage to your career to release something, or to try and push something down people's throats when you know that it isn't the best that you can do. If you're a new songwriter, write a bunch of songs. Get feedback on all the songs you've written. Then release the top 3 to the world. If you're working to good enough, make sure that your good enough is the absolutely the best it can be right now. If it's not good enough you need to either a) get help (hire a producer, mixer, or hire other musicians) b) realize that you're not quite ready and keep working at it, or c) try it from another angle.
  3. Kill the extras. This goes along with number 1. If you're working on a project and it just isn't getting done, you may have to take some things away. This doesn't mean lowering expectations as it does trimming the fat. Do you need a full over the top production? Or can you go with bass, guitar and a loop for now? Or, you wanted to do a full length album but it's taking way too long. Try finishing just 3 songs and doing a couple of smaller shows first. Write 3 great songs instead of 15 mediocre ones.
  4. Get the ball rolling. This is really important. If you're working on a project and you're having trouble getting things done, you need to simplify and then just get to work. Take a couple of items that can be done today and do them. Don't put a million things on your list. If you have a master plan, take a couple of items, put them on today's list and then get going. Have your master list in another place so that you can reference it whenever you want. For daily items it's better to have a short list that you're pretty sure that you can get done and isn't too overwhelming. If you have a big item on the list, just have the one item and do it first. 
  5. Make it public, quick. This applies to musicians as a cautionary note. It's along the lines of the first item in that you want to get the work done but you don't want to put out something that isn't as good as you would like or doesn't represent you. In today's DIY artists, making things public can go a long way for PR. If you have a project you're working on, you could let fans know about it. You could release day to day details of the work. You could also release some stripped down demos of the songs. Be careful here though. Even though it's just a demo, try and have the best performance possible. You still want to connect with your audience. That doesn't mean it has to be technically perfect either, it's all a matter of artistic taste. If you can try and get the production as good as you can. Get help if you need it. If your production is good but the song needs work, get some help on that. Even if it's just you and a guitar, poor quality isn't going to do anything for you or your fans. 
Your Art

As you can see, for musicians it's about getting it done and out there while still maintaining your high level of quality and artistic vision. Getting stuff out there and getting feedback from your fans is a great but make sure that you're releasing quality stuff. Don't release 'beta' stuff. If it's crap and you're making excuses to a) why it doesn't sound like you'd like or b) that it doesn't really represent your sound (bad production or worst, bad performance), or that c) you have 'better material' that you're working on now, then wait and release that.

Enough is Enough

If you've been working on the same material for a couple of years and it still isn't done, then stop. It's done. Get feedback on what you've done and either cut off all of the fat and get it done, or leave it and move on. Maybe you're trying to do too many things at once. Are the songs there but the production isn't? Is that chorus still bugging you? The vocal sucks? The truth is that most people (especially industry people) don't have patience to listen to less than stellar tracks or really poor production.

Please Release Me

In the end you want to get your music done and out there. If you're like most musicians, time and money are scarce. You're going to have to trim the fat and get down to the essentials if you want to get it all done. A lot of what you write may never see the light of day. Make as much quality art as you can. Rewrite and tweak until you have something that you're proud of. Then release it to the world. Rinse and repeat. One day you'll look and see that in spite of everything, you have some great music to share with the world.

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