I was recently contracted by a music licensing service to write and record a large number of songs for their library. Needless to say, I was very excited about the opportunity! I’m nearing completion of the project, and I’ve learned a lot about creating on a schedule.
I was asked to write 15 songs (with multiple mixes for each song) in a relatively short amount of time. So from the start I knew that my process was going to have to be different than what I’ve done for all of my albums. This process has forced me to learn even more about myself… what I’m capable of, what I’m NOT capable of, what helps me be creative and what gets in my way. So let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve learned.
1. I didn’t get started soon enough. I don’t know what it is about starting, but it’s seriously the hardest part about these things. Once my contract was settled, I suddenly had 15 that I needed to conjure up in a timely manner. And honestly, that was a little bit overwhelming. And I’m the kind of person that if I get overwhelmed I try to avoid the thing that’s causing it. So I kept making excuses… other things came up and I let them get in the way as a distraction. But once I did get started, I got into a groove and I felt like an idiot. Yeah, 15 songs is a lot, but you’ve got to start with the first one. That sounds like an elementary school lesson, but it’s one I constantly need to learn it seems.
2. I learned to go with the flow. It’s really hard to force creativity like this, especially when there’s a deadline. Self-imposed or not. But so far I’ve found that being less picky and less critical during the writing stage helped me get things going quicker. Typically I’d start a song by messing around on the guitar for a little while. The very first thing that I came up with that sounded even remotely cool, I recorded. Didn’t even think about it. Then I would just think ‘what would come before or after this?’ and lay down something else. I just wasn’t really overthinking it, mainly because of the time constraint that was constantly looming in the back of my mind. Because of this I was able to get songs down very quickly.
3. I set myself up so I had to redo as little work as possible. Usually when I write/record music I lay down a bunch of scratch tracks so that I can arrange and sketch the song out pretty quickly. But that also usually meant that I had to redo a lot of parts once I got the song the way I wanted. I really wanted to avoid that second step this time, so when I was getting ready to write a song, I spent a little extra time getting my amp mic’d up right and sounding good. I also made sure my playing wasn’t sloppy while actually putting down ideas. Doing this vastly cut down the amount of work I had to do after the song was written. Most of the final parts were already there!
4. I settled on a workflow. As I kept going through this process, I started to find ways to improve and get things going even slightly quicker. I set up two mics on my guitar amp and mainly just left them there during the whole process. So when I sat down to work on a song I would just flip the amp on and it would be ready to record. I used two very different mics as well (a Shure SM57 and a Royer R-121 for those curious) mainly so I could have two different sounds to work with in the mixing stage. Rather than swapping/experimenting during the writing stage, I found a versatile combo that I could tweak later. And that seems to be working out quite well!
I also set up a template in my DAW. So every time I opened up a new file my first set of inputs was ready to go. This made the set up time incredibly short… turn on the amp, open a new file and go.
5. I discovered my limits. This is the first time in a while that I’ve had a deadline that wasn’t self-imposed, so I really wanted to make sure the company wasn’t waiting on me. I didn’t do myself any favors by starting late, so I tried to make up for it by overbooking myself. I figured out that I could get a song mostly done in half a day. And because of that I thought that I could schedule myself to write/record two songs a day. But man, most of the time I was completely spent after that first song. I just couldn’t be creative anymore after that. I was frustrating, because I didn’t want to drag this whole process out, but it seems like it’s a limit that I can’t really do anything about. I just have to accept it and work with it. There’s nothing worse than being creatively spent and still try to force it. It was a better use of my time to find something else to work on.
So there you have it, there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve learned throughout this process so far. For those of you struggling to get music written and recorded in a timely manner, I hope this can give you a few ideas on how to overcome whatever is in your way. This is a constantly evolving process for everyone. There will always be something new to discover about yourself and the way you work best. And every road block you come across has a way around, you just have to figure out what it is!