Time Management for Musicians

One of the statements I make often when mentoring musicians and those ‘doing it for themselves’ in the music industry and wanting long term, sustainable careers, is … “you need to consider yourself as a business and treat your activity needs the same as every other self-employed person”.

Sure, while the plumber looks at fixing drainage, you would be gigging (or in the studio etc) – or when a joiner is designing some cabinetry or a graphic designer formulating a new client brand ‘look’, you might be songwriting or practicing, –- — – but ……. just like them and any other self-employed person – you have to also take time to handle “those tasks” – administration, marketing/promotion, client booking (substitute gig getting if you like), tool maintenance, etc.

By the time you take the ‘after business hours’ activity of doing accounts, invoicing, booking jobs, updating websites and social media etc – most full time self-employed people, doing it all themselves, on average ‘work’ 50-60 hours a week (usually more) to get everything done in all areas of their business (or they are paying someone to help/do it for them).
Sure, percentage breakup of individual activity may vary – but whether full time or proportionally part time – my questions to most music industry participants as we start discussions usually start with

  1. How many hours a week do you have available for your music business?
  2. How many hours a week do you work on all aspects of your music business?
  3. What is your average week’s activity breakup?  (ie what do you do with those hours)

As well as combining these with the rest of the initial investigation process to help the path to developing their business plan for the future -what is revealed in those answers usually can lead to some quick suggestions of consistent action that will help straight away.

The trouble for most ‘creatives’ is trying to get them to do ‘those tasks’ on a regular and consistent basis to ensure long term sustainability. ‘Its boring’, ‘I don’t know how’, ‘it ruins my creative spark’ etc are some of the comments received.
‘Being a musician is different’ is one I get often  – which is rubbish!!! A musician is no different to anyone in the arts, design or other areas where creative input is needed to the output and all are self employed.
Additionally, it is in reality no different to the discipline of consistently sitting down to write, or setting aside regular time to practice –just different tasks – and these tasks (especially the marketing, gig getting/promoting songs etc) are fundamental to a sustainable and profitable career.

One way to ensure everything that needs to get done, gets done when it should and that you ‘work your business’ rather than it working you – is to set up an action plan and manage your time to ensure everything happens when it should (as much as possible).

Anyway – – – – I received an e-news article today with this post’s title from Aaron of RM in Chicago (involved in music licensing as well as a singer songwriter). It was in sync with a lot of my thoughts on this area. So I thought I would share it with you today.

To some this will seem obvious stuff, to some a timely reminder, to others it may be new or a different way of looking at the way to get your business onto a manageable and growing planned path.

Hope you find of interest.

Aaron writes …….

“Every day we’re alive, is the first day of the rest our lives.  As I’m sure you’re already aware, we all have a finite amount of time to do what we want and need to do with our lives.  It’s all too easy to let days, months, even years fly by without ever really getting a handle on how to “manage time”. If we’re not careful, literally, our whole lives can fly by, before we’ve even had a chance to start going after our dreams.

Of course, we can’t really manage time. We can’t slow it down.  We can’t change it.  All we can really manage is ourselves and how we move through time.  If you’re content passing through life being a passive observer of the things and events that happen in your life, you probably don’t need to worry about “managing time”.  But if you have goals above and beyond just getting a job, paying bills and surviving, learning to manage your time and yourself more effectively can make a really big difference in how effective you are in life.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that “time management” is the single most important skill to develop in terms of moving forward and reaching your goals as a musician.  If you’re disorganized and not managing your time properly, it’s likely that you’re simply not getting enough done in order to achieve the success you truly desire.

If you’re pursuing something like a career in music, it’s critical that you learn to manage your time more effectively, because chances are a large part of your time, at least in the beginning of your career, is going to be spent doing something not directly related to your career goals (ie. day job, family responsibilities, etc).  So it’s that much more important that you use whatever free time you have effectively.  The better use you make of your time and how you spend it, the quicker you’ll move in the direction of your desired goals.

Here are a few methods I’ve implemented over the last few years that have helped me move forward in business, music and life in general:

1) Define Your Goals – If you’re going to get to where you want to be, you need to know where you want to go.  This step is critical.  The better you can define your long term goals, the easier it will be to break down your goals into more manageable, bite size action steps.  Most big goals have a subset of smaller goals and steps that you need to take in order to accomplish your ultimate goal.

It’s important to define as precisely as possible what you’re trying to accomplish and then break that goal down into smaller steps you can act on, every day.  What can you do today and this week that will move you towards your goals?  There is almost always something you can do to move in the direction of your goals, but you have to know what your goals are and be very clear in order to get started.

I break my goals down into weekly and daily lists.  At the beginning of each week, I write a list of things I want to get done during the week. Then each night, I break down I write a list of things to do the following day.

Here’s what my actual list looks like this week:
Finish “XX” – Send Gary Stem Files
Record Jam Videos at Studio on Friday
Start Planning “HA” recording session
Write Two new blog posts
Launch New Program (Sunday)
Book Dentist apt.
Place Ads In Big City Papers
Update artists on progress
Pay Tax Pmt
Submit music to one new lead a day
Finish scheduling calls
Make new contacts

Here’s what my “To Do” list looked like today
submit music
Check ascap statement  (Ian note – ascap US based, APRA in Australia, etc)
Calls at 1, 2 & 4
call dentist (3 pm)
Call dance lessons
work out
Touch base with Pete
work on new course
Post new blog
Email dave
Make new music sampler
work on new website
Pm- work on tracks for Friday

By breaking my goals down to weekly and daily tasks I can see the big picture of what I’m trying to accomplish each week, as well as the day to day tasks I need to get done to reach my goals.  I’m a huge believer in making lists, especially if you’re trying to get done as much as I am.  It’s way too easy to get side tracked and distracted if your time isn’t focused and managed. If I don’t write down specifically what I need to do each day, there’s a good chance I’ll simply forget to do some of the things I need to do.

2) Organize And Track Your Time – Something I’ve started doing recently that has helped me become much more productive and efficient, is tracking how I spend my time on a daily basis.  It’s so easy to get side tracked and de-railed in life and end up spending way too much time on things that aren’t really a priority. Sometimes this is just a result of habit. Sometimes it’s a lack of awareness. Either way, if you track how you spend your time you’ll gain a much clearer picture into why you’re getting the results (or lack of results) in your life.  You’ll also determine where you need to focus more time and where you need to put less attention.

To a large extent, the life you lead is a result of how you choose to spend your time.  Make sure that you’re spending your time wisely and investing an adequate amount of time on things that you truly prioritize and bring you results.  Don’t do this by default.  Do this consciously and with intention and you’ll get much better results.

3) Have “Creative” Days – Something I’ve started doing recently is setting aside whole days, or large chunks of days, for strictly creative pursuits like songwriting, guitar playing, etc.  This has been really helpful for me as I tend to have so much going on business wise, that unless I deliberately force myself to focus on creative endeavours they inevitably get pushed to the back burner.  I caught myself unintentionally letting my own songwriting output slide over the last year or so and have forced myself to get back on track.  The idea of “creative days” came to me via an interview with Jack Conti, from the band Pomplamoose and the creator of Patreon.

Before implementing this idea, I would normally work during the day and focus on things like music and more creative pursuits at night.  This approach works to a certain extent.  The only problem is that sometimes by the end of my work day, I’m so burnt out and exhausted that it’s hard to switch gears and get into a truly creative head space.  By setting aside specific days to focus only on music, it makes it much easier to get that place, creatively, that I need to get to.

4) Keep Tweaking! – Time management is an ongoing process.  You will not master yourself and how you spend your time overnight.  The things you want and the things you prioritize will change over time.  The more aware you are of what you want and truly desire, the more you can modify how you’re spending your time in a way that’s aligned with your goals.  In my experience, you’ll never truly master this process, but with practice you’ll gain a greater and greater sense of alignment and clarity and you’ll know intuitively when you’re on the right track”

Something of interest? Something resonate?

Now if you are managing what you do in your time well and achieving the results you want -then fine, use this as an idea generator to see if any tweaking would help.

However, if you are not managing your time well, don’t seem to be getting enough done or the results you want happening- maybe the suggestions are worth considering and trying.

Remember – like using a plumber or graphic designer as an example, Aaron’s routine and activity tasks suit him and his business, not yours. But –
– take the general concepts and suggestions
– write down your goals and then action blocks etc needed to achieve them
– prioritze these
– and then section everything down into small chunks of action that can be addressed weekly and daily – end ensure everything is given attention when it needs it
and just maybe something might change.

If need help with this process please don’t hesitate to contact me – otherwise, cheers till next time.