I love a good challenge.

I decided to take the last two weeks of the year off, and it’s been great. Lots of family time. And I’ve played a lot of Minecraft. (I know, I know…make fun of me if you like.) If you’re not familiar with the game, Minecraft is a simple world where you collect resources and build things. It’s one of those games where there’s no real “point” to playing, other than being creative.

(Sometimes your home studio can feel the same way, a place where you can be creative, but you never actually DO anything.)

I wanted to create a new world in Minecraft, but I quickly realized that without some sort of challenge, I would get bored. I would build a little house, start up a little wheat/cow farm, mine for a few diamonds, and Zzzzzzzzz…

SO I hit up the interwebs to find challenges I could give myself. Rather than wandering around the world doing whatever came to mind, I wanted a goal to achieve, a challenge to complete. The game was too open-ended for me. I needed restrictions, limitations, guidelines to make it enjoyable.

As expected, I found a bunch of challenges online, many of them WAY too involved and boring for me, but one stuck with me. It was simple. I had 3 days (a day in the game is maybe 20 minutes) to gather all the supplies I needed, then at sunset on the third day I had to build a tower up to a certain height. From there I could never return to the ground. I had to figure out a way to survive using the supplies I gathered.

Whether you like nerdy games or not, you can see how adding in a few simple, specific boundaries to the otherwise open-ended gameplay transformed the game from a mindless activity into an intense experience. I failed the challenge probably 6 or 7 times before finally succeeding. It was super frustrating, and fun. Now I’m busy building my “home in the sky.”

What does all this have to do with you and your studio? Perhaps your studio feels like a black hole. Sure, you do creative things, but creativity seems to go into the black hole studio, but nothing seems to come OUT. (Oooo…great studio name — Black Hole Studios: Where Your Music May Never Come Out Again.)

Anyway, I’ve gotten into the habit of regularly giving myself challenges to shake things up and keep me focused on not just creating but also finishing projects.

Since there’s a good chance you might have a little extra time on your hands over the holidays, I want to challenge you to give yourself a studio challenge. I’ve provided several examples below of challenges I’ve done.

Pick the one that excites you the most and DO IT.

It’ll be a fabulous way to gain creative momentum moving into 2017.

Okay, here they are:

1. One-Hour Mixing Challenge

This one is the easiest. It only takes an hour, and you may surprise yourself.

  1. Get yourself a set of multi-tracks. (Mix Practice is a good place to start. It’s half-off until the end of the year.)
  2. Schedule a one-hour session with yourself in your studio.
  3. Set a timer for 60 minutes.
  4. Try to completely mix the song in just one hour.
  5. When the timer goes off, bounce out your final mix and share it with someone.

Will your 1-Hour Mix sound as good as a mix you spend days on? Maybe not. Maybe so. But there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised by how much you can accomplish in just an hour.

2. 24-Hour Full Song Challenge

This one requires some more time, anywhere from one afternoon (that’s what I did recently) or a full 24 hours. Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose a start time. Let’s say Friday at 7pm.
  2. Record and finish a song within the next 24 hours. (When the clock strikes 7pm on Saturday, export your final version and share it with the world.)

You can’t use anything you’ve already recorded. You must start from scratch with an empty session. All the recording, editing, mixing, and mastering must happen during that 24-hour period.

Like the one-hour challenge above, I predict you will surprise yourself by how good a project can sound, even with such a short time-frame.

3. SM57 Challenge

This one is similar to #2.

The idea is simply to record an entire song using only an SM57 microphone (Shure dynamic mic). Rather than using your nice condenser mic or a combination of microphones, use the ubiquitous SM57 on every track.

If you’ve never done it, it will give you a new appreciation for the workhorse SM57, AND it will force you to focus more on mic placement and Getting It Right at the Source.

4. Song-a-Day Songwriting Challenge

If you don’t feel like committing to a full recording or mixing project, this one can be just as invigorating, and will give you lots of good songs to work on in 2017.

The rules are simple. However many days you have off for the holidays, write that many songs. In other words, write one song every day you’re on vacation.

A few years ago I gave myself a challenge to write 50 songs in 12 weeks. That comes out to roughly one song per day. I wrote some of my best songs during that period, so I’m extending a small version of that challenge to you.

If you have 3 vacation days, write 3 songs. If you have 7, write 7. 2? 2.

And include the weekends as vacation days.

And when you’re done, share your songs with someone.

Do you see a theme here? Aside from giving yourself limitations and deadlines, I want you to SHARE what you create. That defeats the whole “black hole” thing. You’re gonna go into your studio, and something is going to come out of it.

Good luck!

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. Don’t forget, the HSC Humongous End-of-the-Year Sale is happening right now. Everything in the store is 50% off. Go nuts. 🙂