The sheer number of tasks that need to be completed on any given day can overwhelm anybody involved in music professionally. In today's industry, most musicians end up wearing many different hats in order to make ends meet. Everywhere you go, independent artists have to not only write and perform the music, but record it, market it, book shows, and do their own press. Getting organized is essential to avoid getting bogged down by tasks and overwhelmed to the point of stagnation. Below are five tasks that you can add to your daily to-do list that will without a doubt put you closer to achieving your goals.
1. Set small, realistic goals for today
Long-term goals are vital to succeeding or improving any task or skill, as they give us something tangible to work towards and help clarify the path to personal improvement. Having only big goals, such as "improving my sight-reading" or "writing a new record," however, can be overwhelming. While these are great targets to have, you also need an approach to actually get to them. That's where small goals come into play.
Each day is an opportunity to take a step on the path to success (whatever that may be for you). At some point in the beginning of the day, take some time to brainstorm one or more things that you can do that very day that will put you closer to accomplishing your long-term goals.
If your current long-term goal is to finish 11 songs for your new album, pick a small aspect to approach that day. If you have a lot of free time ahead of you, you could spend a few hours developing a song you started the week before. If you have a lot of things going on during the day, it could be something as small as writing a single new line of lyrics or melodic phrase that you like.
You will meet your long-term goals 100 percent of the time as long as you continue to make progress. By taking a few consistent steps on a daily basis, you are setting yourself up for guaranteed success.
2. Meet somebody new
The importance of networking has been beaten into the brains of the majority of serious musicians worldwide. It's true that having a strong and large network can be the key to a successful music career, but how do you actually go about building it?
The answer is fairly simple: you meet new people! Most people in the industry that aren't completely swamped will be open to meeting you and possibly even helping you out, as long as you present yourself in a way that is professional, genuine, and not pushy. It takes a little time and some research to make a daily connection happen, but it's completely worth every second.
Figure out who to meet
Anybody that’s involved in the music industry can be a useful connection, but in order to narrow it down, it helps to target people in specific locations. I try to pay close attention to radio DJs and music bloggers that have great personalities, cover the kind of music that I like, and like to cover bands and artists at various stages of their careers. (Some of these folks love to help out bands that are just starting out, while others won’t cover you unless you're well-established locally or even nationally.) I look out for these kinds of people both on a local level and on a regional level. If you take your music on the road, or have aspirations to, it's important to make some friends in all of the cities in which you play, not just your hometown. Connections to make can include journalists, DJs, producers, managers, promoters, publicists, and most importantly, other bands and musicians.
Actually start reaching out
If possible, the best way to meet anybody is in person. Reach out to your current network and see if anybody personally knows whomever you're trying to connect with. If somebody else can make an introduction for you, the connection will have more personal value to the person you are trying to meet.
Aside from being introduced in person, the first (and often preferred) method of contact will be email. Make sure it's professional and free of grammatical errors, and keep it short and to the point. Introduce yourself, explain what work of theirs you have seen or heard and what you like about it, and thank them for what they do. If you're going to plug yourself or your band, make sure to include an offer for them, like a free ticket to your next show, or perhaps a free copy of your most recent CD and some merch. This is a sign of good faith, and goes a long way to showing that you are genuine and not some random spammer. Some folks who are very active on social media can be contacted using platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn if their email isn’t published or you can’t get a response.
3. Practice something you’re bad at
Even for people who practice their craft every day, a lot of time gets wasted on skills that you already have a degree of proficiency in. There's definitely a certain satisfaction in doing what you're good at, but focusing entire practice sessions on it will stunt your growth. This applies to more than just practicing an instrument; it can be anything to do with music, such as composing, songwriting, mixing, or networking.
During your practice time, make a conscious effort to devote a specific amount of time on a certain facet of your skill set that's weak. Tell yourself, perhaps when you’re taking the time to set your daily goal, what you'll try today that will improve your craft in practice. Do you write great chord progressions but struggle when writing a melody? Do you follow a drummer effortlessly but stumble when playing to a metronome? Everybody has some aspect of their craft that's weaker than the others; spend time on these areas every day, and you'll maximize growth.
Increase this time gradually until you're spending your entire practice sessions on skills that actually to be practiced. This is how to truly practice productively.
4. Check out a new album
This is an easy one to throw on the to-do list. It doesn't matter what you do in music – listening is an absolute key component. Whether you're a performer or writer acquiring new sounds and inspiration, or an A&R representative looking for some new talent, if you aren’t listening to music and expanding your sonic universe on a daily basis, you're missing out on the most important piece of the puzzle.
Keep a running list of records you've always wanted to listen to but never have, as well as any recommendations given to you by friends or colleagues you respect. Pick something you haven't heard to listen to every day. It seems simple because it is, but the results are plentiful. There's new inspiration to be found around every corner; not taking the opportunity to acquire it is nothing short of a waste.
5. Explore a new hobby
Music, however fun it may be, is hard work. You'll need to take some time to let your brain recover at some point every day, or possibly a few times every day. Even if you aren't "working," these break periods can still be used productively.
Find something that you love to do that isn't what you already spend your time working on. Do you like to run or read? Then put it on your to-do list for today. This can even be something musical, as long as it's not what you already spend your time working on. Are you a rock guitarist who loves composing classical music for fun? Write a few measures every day, or even every other day. Having hobbies outside of your main profession will allow you to relax productively and add a lot of joy to your life.
If you don’t have any hobbies, trying new things should be put on your daily to-do list. Great choices are activities that keep you fit and active, such as running, swimming, or yoga. As I mentioned before, it can also be very beneficial to find other hobbies in the musical realm that keep you improving even during your break times, such as songwriting, composing, mixing, or instrument repair. The world is vast. Go out and do something!
Dylan Welsh, a native of Seattle, Washington, grew up cutting his teeth in various club bands around the Northwest. Seeking a more diverse and challenging environment, he attended Berklee College of Music with hopes of gaining new perspectives and finding his own voice. Though music is what he does best, writing and journalism are other passions that he has kindled throughout his academic life.