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How to Make More Time for Music (and

Crush Your Goals)
Sam Matla / June 7, 2016 /
Workow & Creativity (http://edmprod.com/category/workowcreativity/) /
26 Comments (http://edmprod.com/make-more-time-for-music/#disqus_thread)

This may be the most important article you read as an artist.

I dont say that to over-sell what youre about to read. I dont say it to get your
hopes up.

I say it because I believe its true.

You see, theres a problem in the world of electronic music production. People
think they dont have enough time for music production.

And for a few select people, this is true.

But for most it isnt. For most, they think theyre busy when theyre really not.
Or theyre under the impression that theyneed 4+ hours per day to become a
good producer.

Electronic music production is a modern craft. Its gained popularity at the

same time social media and other networking tools (e.g. smartphones) have.
When a young producer tells me that they dont have the time to make music
or they cant stay focused, I understand.

If this is you, I dont blame you. Whether youre truly busy and only have 60
minutes per day to make music, or youre not really busy and spend most of
your free time distractedthis is the article for you.

Hobby or profession it doesnt matter

A few months ago I posted a tip to Facebook (or Instagram, I cant remember)
about maximizing your time spent producing.

It wasnt about optimizing production sessions with little hacks and systems
and trying to make the process overwhelmingly ecient. I actually think thats
a bad idea (see above quote).

It was instead about adjusting your schedule to make more time for music

One or two people asked why it was important to do so.

Why is it important to spend more time producing?

After all, you have to enjoy life, dont you? Isnt it a bad idea to force yourself to
spend more time making music?

Those who ask such questions and rail against the suggestion to spend more
time in the studio will often say something like

I understand the importance of this if youre trying to build a career out of music,
or if youre a professional. But what if its just a hobby?

Before we get into the meat of the article, I want to address this point. Because
for you, music production might be a hobby, and you might be wondering why
on earth you need to maximise your time spent producing.

Creating is good for us

Were generally more happy when were creating compared to consuming.

Dont believe me?

Heres a simple test: next time you watch TV for more than two hours straight,
ask yourself afterwards how you feel.

Do you feel like youve achieved something? Do you feel like that two hours
was a good investment of your time?

Its good for us, as humans, to spend more time doing creative things. And the
I need to relax therefore I need to watch TV argument doesnt really work
(unless your job truly requires you to work 16 hours a day at high-intensity,
but then you wouldnt be reading this).

One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental
faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm
or a leg. All they want is changenot rest, except in sleep. Arnold Bennett

So regardless of whether music production is a hobby or something you want

to pursue as a career, understanding and implementing the ideas in this
article is crucial to your journey as an artist and your satisfaction with your

What this article covers

This article is a collection of various ideas and thoughts on the topic of focus,
learning, and creativity. Some from myself, and many from others.

In particular, I must mention the guiding work behind this article. The book
that led me to write it. Its called Deep Work (http://amzn.to/1Pfqnta) by Cal
Newport, and youll see his ideas pop-up throughout this article.

Heres my friend Budi Voogt talking about the concept in more detail.

Note:Budiand I are publicly logging how many hours of deep work we do

per week. Partly out of competition but primarily for accountability. Click here
to nd out more. (http://budivoogt.com/deep-work)

In this article, youll learn:

Why you dont need to make music for 8 hours a day to become a pro
How to pack more into less (without sacricing craftsmanship)
Why you need to develop intense concentration (and how to do it)
How to minimize distractions, block out time, and make more music
The unsexy truth about creative work

among other things.

A quick note
This article is fairly comprehensive, but what it doesnt do is give you a big
picture view of workow and creativity.

Im currently working on the second edition of my book The Producers Guide to

Workow & Creativity.

If youre interested in workow and creativity, I recommend joining the waiting

list to get early access and exclusive bonuses.



Note:If you feel like you desperately need the book now, feel free to grab the
current version (http://getworkowbook.com). All existing customers will get free
updates for life.

You dont need as much time as you think

you do
We like to tell people were busy. That we work long hours. It gives us a sense
of pride and helps feed our ego.
In his short piece (https://hbr.org/2014/06/why-we-humblebrag-about-being-
busy/) on Harvard Business Review, author of popular business/self-help book
Essentialism (http://amzn.to/1Y50V0k) Greg McKeown writes:

We have a problemand the odd thing is we not only know about it, were
celebrating it. The asset were overvaluing now is the notion of doing it all,
having it all, achieving it all; what Jim Collins calls the undisciplined pursuit of

This exists in the music world: you have a handful of successful producers
telling the media how they spent 12 hours each day in the studio, and how
they credit that to their success (read more aboutThe Narrative Fallacy

Dont get me wrong, you do need to work hard in order to get to where you
want to be,regardless of what that goal looks like (again, hobbyists and
want-to-be professionals will dier in this regard). But blindly working for 12
hours a day because its what everyone does is misguided.

One issue with the long hours in the studio meme being over-praised is that
everyone who doesnt have the luxury to log such hourseveryone who has a
job or is a studentfeels like theyre screwed.

And I dont blame them. If 12-hour days are what artists are crediting to their
success, then it makes sense to feel like youre never going to make it.

But, as I said, this is misguided. Youre about to nd out why.

The limits of high-intensity creative work

If youre constantly being interrupted, distracted by social media, and youre
not structuring your time properlyin other words, not focusingits easyto
spend a full day in the studio.

The reason its easy is because youre not fully engaging your mental muscles.
Youre not giving yourself a workout, so you never get tired.
You also dont get much done. Or maybe you do, but its taken you 12 hours.

Anders Ericsson, the guy who came up with the theory of deliberate practice,
wrote a paper (http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel
/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.PDF) in 1993 titled The Role of Deliberate
Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

In it, he notes that theres a limit to an individuals capacity to perform

cognitively demanding work (i.e., creative work).

Cal Newport paraphrases:

Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense
concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as
many as four hoursbut rarely more.

He goes on (shortened for brevity)

One of the studies cited catalogs the practice habits of elite violin players training
at Berlins Universitt der Knste. The elite players averaged around three and a
half hours per day in a state of deliberate practice, usually separated into two
distinct periods.

Are these elite violin players spending 12 hours a day deliberately practicing?



Because its impossible for themto do so.

Remember, these are elite violin players performing a cognitively demanding

task withintense concentration.

This means that:

You can excel at your craft even if you have a full-time job, as 12 hours per
day isnt necessary.
Deliberate practice and intense concentration is hard and is something
that needs to be trained.

And if you dospend 12 hours a day in the studio, take time to reect and ask
yourself how much of it is distraction-free, high-intensity work.

What is focused work?

Cal Newport again describes it best:

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free

concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These eorts
create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Focused work is high-intensity work. Its dicult work.

Not all production work requires this type of concentration. Preparing your
project le for mixdown, setting up routing, and performing menial but
necessary tasks do not require deep focus.

And you dont necessarily need to work in a state of focus to nish music. This
is made evident by the many producers who have Facebook open on another
screen or their phones constantly buzzing throughout a session.

But just because something is possible, it doesnt mean its ideal. We know that
being distracted aects our ability to be creative, and we know that we can
get more done in 2 hours of highly-focused work than we can during 46 hours
of broken, distracted work.

It is better to dedicate two to three hours of intense focus to a skill than to

spend eight hours of diused concentration on it. You want to be as
immediately present to what you are doing as possible. Robert Greene,
Mastery (http://amzn.to/1Xzr0Go)

The alternative
The alternative to focused workwork that will ultimately propel you forward
and help you make the most gainsis distracted work. Something Newport
calls shallow work.

Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed

while distracted. These eorts tend to not create much new value in the world and
are easy to replicate.

Music production does not t this denition. It is, for the most part, a
cognitively demanding task, that isnt logistical.

Yet many of us producers treat it as shallow work. We allow ourselves to be

distracted. We make up excuses as to why we need our internet connection
enabled or why our phones need to be turned on.

The true alternative is treating something that should be focused work (deep
work) as shallow work. This is a waste of time.

It also leads to dissatisfaction because your hours of diused concentration

result in less output than you think they should (cue self-loathing: Im just not
good enough Im not productive enough)
So why do so many of us follow this alternative? Why do we allow ourselves to
be distracted?

Because its easier.

Its not sexy, its hard

Focused work is hard.

A lot of people who read this will not make any changes to how they work.
Some will laugh at what Im suggesting. Others will agree with it, make an
attempt to stay focused, and then relapse to old unproductive habits.

As a music producer, Id argue that focused work is exceptionally dicult.


Because the general demographic of electronic music producers, judging by

the analytics for this website, show that 50% of them are males between the
age of 1824 (with the next largest group (37%) falling between 2534).

If youre in this age group, youve grown up with the internet. The norm is to
be distracted. Its part of life.

To go against this is to go against ingrained habits. If youre used to checking

your phone every 15 minutes, setting aside a full hour (or more) to focus on
something is extremely dicult.

And thats why the idea of focused work is not sexy. It might seem brilliant
when youre reading about it like you are now, but when you actually sit down
to start, its hard.

So why do it?Because itssatisfying. Not only will you nish more music
(http://getworkowbook.com), youll also enjoy the process of making music
much more than you would if distracted. Youll be more present.

Whats wrong with checking my phoneoccasionallyduring a production


Lets say you commit to a 90-minute focused production session. You set a goal
(to nish the structure for your track), set thetimer, and get started.

Whats wrong with checking your phone during the next 90 minutes? After all,
it only takes a few seconds to click the home button, light up the screen and
check to see if anything important has happened, right?

Well, those few seconds result in much more than a few seconds of diused
concentration and thats in a best case scenario.

What if you got an unpleasant message from someone you dont like? Do you
think the rest of your production session will go well?

In the best case scenario as in, you only have one or two notications that
arent urgent, youre still going to incur the cost of task-switching also known
asattention residue (http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/01/attention-residue-

This simply means that youll be thinking about that notication for several
minutes after knowing about it, and this aects your concentration.

How to cultivate intense concentration as

a producer
So you know what it is, and you know why its important. But what are some
strategies for actually getting better at this?

After all, if you care about your craft, you should care about getting better at it.
And theres no better way to improve than increasing the time you spend in a
state of deliberate practice.

Here are 3 strategies for cultivating intense concentration.

1. Reduce inputs & minimize distractions

Inputs and distractions lead to attention residue and break your focus, so get
rid of as many possible.

When producing:

Turn your phone OFF and put it in a place where you wont be tempted to
turn it back on.
Turn your internet connection OFF. You dont need it.
Put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door if you live with other people.
Handle any loose ends (phone calls, message replies) before starting a
Clear your workspace. Physical items can be distracting.

2. Start small
If youre new to the idea of intense concentration/deep work, then you might
be tempted to launch into four hours of non-stop focused music production.

If you do this, youll probably fail. I say that from a sympathetic standpoint
because Ive tried this many times myself.

The ability to concentrate is a skill. Its something that needs to be

developed. So dont feel like you need to start o at the highest level. If
anything, youll probably burn yourself out.

Start small. Try to spend one hour per day focused on music production. If you
nd it exceptionally hard to do this, start even smaller (15 or 30 minutes).

3. Block out time


Adding structure to your production sessions is helpful, and one easy way to
add structure is to use a time limit.

I like to use a timer in tandem with blocking out time in my calendar. This does
a few things:

1. Its harder to avoid. When somethings in your calendar, youve made a

commitment. If you set aside 90 minutes to produce, thats sacred time.
2. It provides a clear goal amidst ambiguity. A lot of music production is
ambiguous. Its easy to spend some time producing and come out the
other end feeling like you havent really done anything. When you block out
time, youve got a clear goal (sit down and try to make music for 90 minutes).
3. You focus better. If youre just producing on a whim say, for a few
minutes before having to go out, then youre not going to focus well. When
you set aside time, it allows you to focus on nothing but music production
without feeling guilty for doing so (because youve made the commitment).

Give up the small stuff

If youre struggling to nd time to produce, one of the most eective things
you can do is reduce the amount of other stu youre doing.

This doesnt mean you should quit your job and produce full time. Thats not
realistic unless you have a long-term vision and strategy (its certainly
achieveable, and if thats what you want to do, then I encourage you to do so).

What it does mean is that you should focus on nothing else but whats
essential. Aside from work, family, friends, your health, and any other hobbies
you may have whats essential is making music.

Not trying to market yourself. Not trying to build your social media prole. Not
spending time downloading new plugins.

These things are helpful in isolation, but they are not things that will make you
a better producer. They wont move the needle.

But Sam, what if my goal is to build a career. Shouldnt I focus on marketing?

You should, but if youre short on time, the best way to increase your chances
of future success is to hone your craft.

If youre great at making music, marketing is a peripheral task. The product

(music) matters most, so thats what you should focus on. Otherwise youll
have a short-lived career that lacks the deep satisfaction one gets from
investing time and eort into their craft.

So, next time you nd yourself asking whether its worth using that new social
media platform, remember that the only way to make leaps and bounds is
through concentrated eort on your craft.

Conclusion & Further Reading

If youve read this far and havent just skimmed the article, then let me
congratulate you.

You now know that:

The distracted age we live in is NOT conducive at all to creativity.

Taking practice/concentration seriously is important regardless of whether
production is a hobby or profession.
Focused work brings the most value, both in terms of skill development
and quality of output.
Focused work is also unsexy and dicult, but worth it (more satisfying than
distracted work).
Cultivating intense concentration is necessary and attainable.
Giving up the small stu the unnecessary peripheral stu is paramount.

If this stu interests you, then I encourage you to read more on it. This article
is really just an overview.

Here are some books I recommend:

Deep Work by Cal Newport (http://amzn.to/1Pfqnta)

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance by Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle (http://amzn.to/1PfuV2Q)
Mastery by Robert Greene (http://amzn.to/1Xzr0Go)

Finally, if you found this article helpful, please share it with anyone you
think needs to read it.

Remember, if youre interested in learning more about this topic as well as

other concepts surrounding workow and creativity, you can join the waiting
list for the second edition of my book The Producers Guide to Workow &




Sam Matla
Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sampmatla)

Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/sammatla)
Google+ (https://plus.google.com/u/0/107526211229421451609)

I run EDMProd and (obviously) make electronic music. Drop me a

line on Twitter (http://twitter.com/sammatla) or follow me on
Facebook. (http://facebook.com/sampmatla)

Mike Power

Sam this article is the best I have ever come across on music productivity.
This strikes a massive chord with me, I have been around many producers that have given
the age old lecture, you have to devote 12 hours a day ect, names I wont mention, but they
are highly successful. It drilled that belief into my head. I ended up spending around 3-4
hours a day on music
but could not finish a track in 18 months. Until I changed my ways, by spending 1 to 1 and a
half hours a day of dedicated focused practice, I was able to finish a track within 3 weeks.

I found the more spare time you have, the more time you can possibly procrastinate.
That's in my experience of course.

It is all about focused practice and blocking out time to get the work done, as you've

Cheers will definitely share this Sam ;)

Cristbal Berner

"The more spare time you have, the more time you can possibly procrastinate."
This happens to me a lot, I think one solution is to be 100% committed to your
Calendar and use it effectively, writing and scheduling what you are going to do in
your free times, to avoid procrastinating them.

Mike Power

For sure, commitment and integrating good habits, I usually have alerts set
on my phone for my scheduled days. But even then there is always
distractions somewhere along the the line at times. Discipline and focus I
feel I need to improve on.
Maybe I should schedule guilt free procrastination time ;)

Sam Matla

People feel like it's "wrong" to schedule out their free time, but it actually
makes a lot of sense. Good comment.

Sam Matla

Thank you Mike, gad to hear it resonated.

Totally agree re: having spare time. The busier you are, the more you get done.



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