Introduction

As an amateur composer with a full-time job and family responsibilities, finding time to pursue my passion for music can be a real challenge. However, I’ve learned that with a different approach, it’s possible to make the most of my precious studio time. By taking a deliberate and strategic approach to the creative process, I’ve been able to optimize my available time and make real progress on my projects, even in the face of competing demands on my attention and energy. In this post, I’ll describe my process for optimizing my creative time, from the initial stages of idea generation to the final stages of production and refinement.

Ponder

To ponder is an essential part of the creative process. I often take some time while carrying out my daily tasks to let my mind wander and play with different ideas. I find that by allowing myself this space, I am able to access my most creative thoughts and even move between different concepts without feeling like I’m wasting time. Eventually, one of these ideas will strike me as the next one I should work on. It’s usually the one that I can’t stop humming or thinking about; the one that won’t leave me alone until I’ve given it the attention it deserves.

“...allowing myself this space, I am able to access my most creative thoughts...without feeling like I'm wasting time.”
I’ve found that giving myself the freedom to ponder and explore different ideas is crucial to my creative process.

It allows me to wonder through my thoughts and uncover insights and ideas that might not have been apparent at first glance, or if I’m railroaded by producing. By taking the time to pause and reflect, I’m able to connect the dots between seemingly disparate thoughts and come up with truly unique and innovative musical ideas.

Percolate

Once I’ve identified an idea that I want to explore further, I take the time to let it percolate in my mind. I find that this often happens while I’m engaged in other activities, like taking a walk or doing the dishes. As I go about my day, I allow my mind to focus on the idea, taking it in different directions and seeing where it leads me. I spend vast amounts even time singing it or playing with it in my head.

By taking the time to let an idea percolate in this way, I’m able to give it the attention and space it needs to develop fully. This means that when I do sit down to work on it in the studio, I already have a solid foundation to build upon. Additionally, I find that taking this approach reduces the amount of playtime I need to consume at my desk. Instead of spending hours tinkering with an idea, I’ve already given it the space to develop and evolve in my mind. This means that when I’m ready to work, I can dive right in and make real progress.

Plan

Before diving into a new project, I like to take the time to plan out what I’ll need to bring it to life. This might include new software or hardware, collaboration with a session musician, or any number of other resources. By taking the time to think through these requirements ahead of time, I’m able to ensure that I have everything I need to make the project a success when I have the time to work on it.

“This means getting everything I need in place so that when that free time does becomes available, I can hit the ground running.”
Once I’ve identified the necessary resources, I begin to make a plan for how I’ll acquire or use them. This might involve researching the best VSTs or plugins for a particular sound or reaching out to potential collaborators to discuss their availability and interest in the project. I find that this planning process not only helps me prepare for what’s to come, but also gives me a sense of direction and purpose as I begin to work.

Of course, no plan is foolproof, and there are always unexpected challenges that arise during the creative process, but by taking the time to plan and prepare as much as possible, I’m able to give myself the best chance of success and ensure that I’m making the most of my creative energy and resources.

Prepare

To make the most of my available time, I like to prepare as much as possible ahead of time. This means getting everything I need in place so that when that free time does becomes available, I can hit the ground running. Whether it’s clearing up my workspace, downloading necessary software, or getting my instruments and gear ready to go, I find that taking the time to prepare in advance allows me to make the most of my available creative energy.

One thing that I often do to prepare is to take a few minutes to plan out the chords for a new piece on the piano away from the studio. By doing this, I’m able to get a sense of the overall structure and direction of the piece, as well as experiment with different harmonies and progressions. This not only helps me to reduce the amount of faff later on, but also helps to prevent procrastination by giving me a clear sense of what I want to achieve.

Jotting down all the little snags I need to work on in a to-do list on my phone, means that I have a strong direction when I enter the studio for the second/third session. As my time is broken up over multiple evenings, it can sometiems take 10+ sessions to get a track finished.

“Having my mind already most of the way through much of the thinking, allows me to spend far much more time doing, when in the studio.”

Produce

When the time finally comes to start produce, I find that all of the preparation I’ve done pays off. With everything in place, I’m able to get right into it and make the most of my available time and energy.

One of the key things I’ve learned about the creative process is that it’s cyclical. After each production session, I take the time to dump an export of what I’ve done. This allows me to listen back to my work during a workout or in the car, which often helps me to identify areas for improvement or new directions to explore.

Once I’ve had some time to percolate on my previous work, I start the plan process anew. This might involve revisiting my original goals for the project, identifying new opportunities for collaboration, or experimenting with different sounds or styles. From there, I move into the prepare phase, getting everything in place for the next round of production.

Wrapping up

This process really helps me get what I want out of the limited time available to me. Having my mind already most of the way through much of the thinking, allows me to spend far much more time doing, when in the studio. Drop me a line if you have any questions. I hope this process helps you too!

Photo by Simon Kadula on Unsplash