You’ve got a remix request, your blog to upkeep, and maybe some flyers to design for the local club that you’re helping out in exchange for warm-up gigs to get your name out there. And you’ve still got a job taking up 40 hours a week during the transitional period between living a normal life and DJ/producer fame and success. How do you get it all done, and done well?
The limit of 24 hours per day won’t be changing any time soon, but you do have control over how efficiently you use those 24 hours. We contacted Dr Kourosh Dini, an expert in productivity (amongst other things) to find out how we can squeeze more out of every day.
Kourosh is a qualified psychiatrist, accomplished musician (you can check out his ambient modern classical music here) and he has also authored two books, currently writing his third. While it was his music that first grabbed our attention, one of his books is on the important process of creating ‘flow’, a state of high productivity and enjoyment.
Most of us have experienced flow while making music – that timeless place when great things are happening, you forget to eat and everything is a pleasure rather than a chore. However, switching this state on at will can be extremely difficult, especially for the less enjoyable tasks. Also, while it is great to spend 12 hours in the studio tooling away often other duties don’t permit that. Time in the studio needs to be effective time. Enter Kourosh Dini…
The importance of creating space, both mental and physical
“Creating is a flow state. You need to dedicate time and space, free of distraction in order to be creative. That also means turning off phones, closing the door, and optimizing the environment so that you have everything you want at hand.” In a world with ever more distractions, being able to remain productive and effective is an essential skill for any aspiring music producer. If this means some time away from social media, requests from fans on Facebook and amusing tweets on Twitter then so be it.
Once the door is closed and the distractions are taken care of what is the best way to work? Kourosh gives us a couple of options…
“I try to let the session inform itself to a certain degree. I sit down in the context of the work, an environment I’ve designed towards supporting flow. I then try to push the work a little bit. That may become a few seconds of work or an hour of work. Alternatively, I might formalize the session of work. The Pomodoro Technique is an example where one sets aside 25 minutes with the dedicated intention of doing nothing else within that block of time. I’ve tried that and it, too, can work well, though I prefer the former method.”
“There are times when you sit in front of something you’ve got to do and you look at it and think ‘I don’t want to do this thing’. Instead of pushing myself, I set the task as a regular repeat – daily, hourly, or whatever. My job is to regularly sit in the context and give the work a nudge in some direction. When done with the session, whether it has lasted a few seconds or an hour, I then check off the task, with the idea that I’ll come back to it again. Even when I’m exhausted at night I’ll make sure I go to the keyboard and just touch the thing. I don’t know how it works but as long as you do it every day (a day seems to be an optimum frequency) you make progress. In some ways the frequency is more important than the duration.”
The interesting thing here is that Kourosh stresses the importance of frequency, more so than duration of time spent. With other commitments, sticking to an hour a night of practice on several things can be difficult to maintain. The beauty of this method is that the session can expand and contract to fill the free time that you have. As long as you do it regularly you will feel the benefit – over and again studies show that we learn by repetition. Plan what you’re going to do each day and stick to it.
The importance of practice
In our book, Complete Music Producer, we consider Ericsson’s observation that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert and how efficiency also plays a crucial role. Certain parts of the music making process need to be almost automatic as to not get in the way of creativity. And automation requires practice. A master of minimalism, Kourosh chooses to create his music in real-time with just a handful of channels, requiring the same skill set as any other live musician. Even if you choose to produce your music ‘offline’ (i.e. not live) there are still benefits to focused practice. He explains these benefits in terms of the different between letters and words…
“What happens is that as you memorize the passage or process, then instead of a collection of letters it becomes more like a word or a sentence. Then you are able to use that word or sentence towards building larger and larger passages and stories. Then what you say can be more easily said because you’ve mastered the language.”
When you hear an amazing piece of music and think ‘how the hell have they come up with that??’ the process above is no doubt in effect. They have mastered the smaller processes like producing emotive melodic hooks, programming intricate bass sounds, or how to program complex drum fills, so that they are able to combine these elements in a track while remaining in a state of flow. Without mastering these first then the process will take that much longer and remaining in a state of flow (and in the same mood as when you begun) becomes increasingly difficult.
The balance of efficiency and quality
There is a balance between doing the bare minimum to get a result (Tim Ferriss could be considered a master of this) and making something of high quality, which can take considerably longer. Kourosh explains with an analogy,
“Nowadays you make a soup and it takes an hour or two. But there’s this older generation or the professionals that make a soup over the course of two days or more. When you taste it you are amazed. I’d rather have one of those than ten of the other ones. I want that quality. Productivity for me is more about what’s required to make that ‘two day soup’ efficiently than it is about the hour soup. You still want quality, but you don’t have unlimited time, you’ve got other things to do, too.”
Producing a ‘two day soup’ of a track is essential to make a name for yourself. Newcomers (and even well-established artists) have to continually prove themselves. Lifting yourself out of the background noise rests on being able to impress the DJs, label managers and reviewers with your skills. Don’t cut corners at this stage, put plenty time in to the idea, engineering and benchmarking* of your music. You will have just a few seconds to impress the listener and convince them you are worth their attention. Make them count.
The bottom line
Creating space for flow to occur uninterrupted is essential. In this state you can practise your skills until you master the ‘language’ required to create stand out music. Remember that it isn’t the duration that is important, it is the frequency. Try not to leave more than 24 hours between sessions practising your most important skills. The modern, complete music producer is a master of many trades. Using these ideas you will be able to create ‘two day soup’ tracks that sound like you spent a year on them – while still blogging, marketing, performing… and doing your laundry.
Kourosh Dini’s music featured heavily in our playlist while writing our book over the past year. If you’re looking for some great modern classical music to relax/focus to then we highly recommend checking it out…
*Benchmarking is the essential last stage of production to get your tracks sounding 10/10. Check out our free mini-guide to being a Complete Music Producer for more information.