In The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, Franklin R. Covey writes about the importance of scheduling priorities. Schedules tend to get a bad rap. People who schedule out every single part of their lives are considered cold, rigid, and non-spontaneous. People who don’t schedule anything are considered flaky and irresponsible.

So what does this mean for your home studio? I suffer from an acute case of “flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants.” I rarely schedule studio time into my week or month. I get there when I get there. Once I do sit down in the mix position, though, I sometimes scratch my head as to what I’m actually going to do.

The Time-Wasting Begins

It’s when I’m in this state of indecision that I start doing some of the things I mentioned in the first article of this productivity series, things like re-wiring my studio or rearranging my gear or furniture. Very little of this has anything to do with music.

I desperately need some structure. Structure doesn’t stifle creativity, despite what you may initially think. In reality, structure provides an opportunity to be creative. My approach of “make music whenever I have some free time” doesn’t allow for much creativity.

Sure, there are those moments where I feel inspired, so I head to the studio and create something, but oftentimes that’s not the case. A lot of times I’ll sit there, wondering what the next step is. It’s not that I’m an uncreative person. There are plenty of songs and mixes I could be working on, but there’s no real direction or purpose to any of it.

I haven’t given myself a deadline, much less a schedule. I could easily be working on my next album for five years if I don’t prioritize and schedule it.

Again, we come back to the idea of running your home studio as if it was a professional facility. Any professionally-produced album is a result of much planning and scheduling. This doesn’t mean that they were rushed to finish as soon as possible, but they did force themselves to focus and meet a deadline. I like to think of it as focused creativity.

Make a Plan

Maybe you have a project you’re currently working on. It could be your own music. It could be for an artist or band. Whatever the case may be, sit down today and make yourself a schedule. 

Think in terms of long and short-range goals. When do I want this entire album to be finished? What do I need to do this week or month to stay on track?

Make your goals realistic. If you only have an hour per week to work on music, then it’s even more important that you plan what you’re going to accomplish during that hour! On the flip-side, if you only have an hour or two per week, don’t plan to mix five songs a week. That’s just not realistic.

Having a schedule will remind you that this is something that is important to you. That’s what schedules do. It’s not that we’re trying to be rigid and professional, per se. We’re still musicians. However, if something is a priority to us (like family or music), we will schedule it into our lives, giving it priority. As Covey wrote, we schedule our priorities, not simply prioritize our schedules.

If you had a meeting with big label executive or a world-renowned studio owner, you would put that on your calendar, right? It’s important to you. In a similar way, if your studio is important to you, make it a part of your weekly or monthly schedule.

Writing Time vs Recording Time

There was a comment on Monday’s article that raised an important question. I’ve copied it here with my response, because it fits very well with this whole idea of scheduling and prioritizing.

 

2009 MAY 5

Great post Joe…It’s funny, I have almost the same time wasters when I’m in my home studio. I can’t count how many times I’ve spent hours in the studio with nothing to show for it.

How do you balance your writing and studio time? I find myself always wanting to write and record, which never seems to work. Do you write in another room to avoid writing while recording?

Joe Gilder Reply:

I usually write in my studio (just because that’s where my guitars are). However, I rarely even have my computer turned on while I’m writing. Songwriting, for me, has little to do with production or technology. If you bring in technology too early, you end up throwing a song together just so you can have something to record. I’ve done that way too many times. I’ll end up having a song that I think is finished, then I’ll record it, only to realize that the song needed more work…thus negating the recording I just did. Whew. Vicious cycle.

It’s definitely good to get your songs recorded so you don’t forget them, but I would suggest really separating “songwriting time” from “recording and production time.”

Be Specific

As you’re scheduling time in your studio, make it a point to state specifically what you’ll be doing during a specific time-slot. If you’ve scheduled time to write, do that and only that. You’ll have time to record, edit, and mix another day (if you’ve scheduled it, of course). Don’t let one creative endeavor outweigh or stifle another. It’s very easy to start mixing before you’ve finished recording, but this will usually be a counterproductive endeavor.

Do you currently use a schedule? Do you think this whole idea of scheduling is just silly? Do you have any cool scheduling ideas? Leave a comment!

 

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  • Rob

    This is so true!
    I’ve spent months just faffing around on my DAW. I come up with a riff and then i find myself recording with nowhere to go, and then i get side tracked on making the drums sound better when the song is incomplete.
    I’ve recently started to schedule my production process and i’m definitely getting somewhere now.
    It’s common sense, but you never really notice your mistakes until someone brings it to your attention.
    Thanks!

  • I really like your point about separating songwriting and recording time. I’ll record sometimes when I’m working on a song idea, but mostly just turning on Audacity and recording through my mac’s built in mic, just to get the idea down before I forget it. I started really thinking about the song and how I want it to come together, before I start tracking anything, and I feel like my music has really improved because of that.

    On the issue of structure and creativity — I think most people like the idea of creative freedom, of the best stuff coming from a complete lack of structure. When I catch myself thinking like that, I like to remember how structured music is itself: how many amazing songs have been written in the seemingly limited structure of 12-bar blues? Or using the classic drum kit, bass and two guitars setup? And how about haiku — that’s a pretty tight structure that’s spawned a lot of creativity. Sometimes the constraints (whether musical, schedule, or whatever) are the best impetus to create.