The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
For the last 5 years I've been producing music, focusing on learning the tools and the techniques. I've been doing that by setting up arbitrary deadlines, and forcing myself to write complete songs periodically.
During 2019 my goal was to produce 100 songs, which I was able to finally complete on December 30th with my song 100th.
I want to talk a little bit about how I managed to reach my goal, and what lessons I learned during the year. If you want to listen to the songs you can use the player below while you read the post.
I'm a very visual person, so I knew I had to have a place where I could see my progress towards my goal. I built a simple Google spreadsheet[archived] that would tell me for each day of the year how many songs I had written, and how many I should've written. It also had a graph showing my progress:
During the year I would update this spreadsheet almost every day, except for longer breaks. It gave me confidence that I would be able to finish my goal, and also allowed me to see when I started falling behind my goal and compensate.
Before starting, I already knew I could do 100 songs in a single year. I had written 52 songs in 2016, and for the past 3 years I had successfully written 14 songs during February for FAWM[archived]. I knew it would be hard and require commitment to get to 100 songs, but I knew it was within my reach.
Don't set impossible goals for yourself. Set goals that will require you to stretch your muscles, focus, and exercise discipline and determination, but that are achievable.
Starting strong is important because it allows you to take breaks later, which are also important. In my case, I actually started behind my goal, but I knew that in February I would quickly catch up (as I did) during FAWM. By the end of February, only 2 months in, my goal was already 37% complete, putting me in a really strong position to finish it.
Taking breaks is important. I wrote 31 songs during February for FAWM, and I was mentally exhausted. I spent the whole month of March without writing a single song, which was good, because I did a lot of traveling during that month. And even though I wanted to make music while traveling, and I traveled with some of my music equipment, I just didn't have the energy, so I decided to simply enjoy the trip instead.
In order to be productive, you need to spend your energy on what matters. With music production, it's really easy to get lost into new plugins, fancy synthesizers, and other things that — while fun! — do not move you forward. In my case, most of the songs I did were made on my computer with software I was already familiar with, or with a single instrument (the amazing OP-Z[archived]).
That being said, it's important to allocate some time to learn new tools and new techniques. When you focus on quantity you end up experimenting much more, trying different things, and that's what makes you grow and improve. But it's important that the time spent doing those things also brings you closer to your goal.
Don't. It will not come.
Instead, sit down and try something. I would write weird chord progressions, revisit old ideas, force myself to do something I had never tried before. And if I hated what I came up with, I would still push forward and finish it.
We can always find an excuse for not doing something. But the world doesn't need more excuses, and in my experience, no one cares about them. I probably wrote 10 of my 100 songs while on an airplane. I wrote many of the songs at night after long days, and some of them early in the morning, after waking up earlier than usual.
If this is something you care about, you should be able to find time to do it.
Be honest with yourself, and keep in mind why you're doing this. In my case, my goal was to write 100 songs so that I could learn from them, experiment and collaborate. Some times I would catch myself writing a song just for the number, and I would stop myself. I would then force myself to change something, do something different, because that was my end goal. And even if I hated a song, as long as I learned something I felt that it was worth it.
Some people believe that expressing your goals to friends and loved ones helps in being accountable, and I'm one of those people. I told everyone about my goal, and this helped me make sure that I would accomplish it. I received a lot of support for everyone around me, and I didn't want to let them down.
Finally, have fun! If it's not fun, or if it's not healthy, it might not be worth doing it. In my case, I had an amazing year, I collaborated with fantastic people and learned so much from every one. And even though it was a lot of work, looking back I see myself having a great time while making those songs.
It's a good feeling.