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Guest post: Scott Andrew on "Productivity for the Practicing Musician"
Merlin Mann | Nov 7 2005
Some time back, mathowie poked me about talking to our pal, Scott Andrew, about some of the productivity mojo he uses to keep his one-man acoustic pop army in line. Turns out that, in addition to being a terrific singer/songwriter, Scott’s got a mature system for booking gigs, promoting his work, and maintaining a lively relationship with his many fans.
Although there are tips here that will be useful to everybody (keep it simple; fear not lofi; provide great customer service), the musicians, artists, and other performers out there will most especially learn from what Scott’s got going on; as my friend Sean is fond of saying (in a booming, fakey showbiz-guy voice): "It's not music 'friend'; it's music business!"
Productivity for the Practicing Musician
by Scott Andrew
When Merlin approached me about writing a sort of “Getting Music Done” piece, I initially thought: buh? I’m probably the worst model for artistic productivity. After mulling it over, it occurred to me that I’m probably a very typical model. I have a day job. I have rent. I write songs on a used thriftstore guitar and record them when I can scrape enough gig money together. I spend my creative life in that emotional DMZ between self-assured, passionate DIY ferocity and vague, nagging career dissatisfaction. In other words, I’m just like most aspiring musicians. Perfect! So don’t please look on this article as advice from someone who’s “been there” — I’m still getting there.
I once read a rant by a punk musician who complained that if he had the time and ability to do all the stuff needed for a rewarding music career, he wouldn’t need a record deal. Well, yes. The unsexy truth is that some days you’ll feel more like a Post Office than a rock star. This pisses off some people who’d rather be working on, like, music, instead of bookings or publicity. But that’s okay, because the worst that can happen is: nothing happens. Eventually you get tired of nothing happening, and you resign yourself to the “business” side of the music business. Sigh.
So let’s say you’ve been woodshedding away and you’re finally ready to take your garage-rock masterpiece on the road. Once I made the jump from the bedroom to live music circuit, I found most of my activities consisted of searching for new opportunities and staying on top of existing ones. I call the former “filling the funnel,” which is any activity that gets me gigs, interviews, publicity, CD and t-shirt sales — in short, anything that leads to work, money and/or fans.
Getting such work is just the beginning. Gigs must be confirmed weeks in advance and promoted with flyers, press releases and reminders to my mailing list. Music festivals and competitions have submission deadlines and requirements. Music writers are always on deadline and even weekly calendar listings have a window. With every opportunity there’s a whole slate of peripheral tasks that must be addressed. And somewhere in there I have to rehearse and bang out a new song every so often. When you are a working musician, your to-do list is always full. Always.
After a while I realized I needed some serious-yet-simple organizational fu to keep things moving. I recently became enamored of Jim Munroe’s “Time Management For Anarchists” and his penchant for agenda books, so a few years ago I started the haughtily-named “Book Of The List,” which is a Mead Fat Lil’ Notebook containing a forever-running to-do list. When I have a task or idea, it goes on the list. There’s really nothing special about it, except it’s fun to look back and see that the very unsexy “get more 9×13 padded envelopes” was once very important in the fall of ‘03.
Inevitably, some stuff on the List gets skipped over and buried. I try not to worry about these items and either prune them out or move them to a new position at the top. The only time I get nervous is when the List gets empty — that’s when I know I’m not spending enough time filling the funnel.
For time-bound tasks, I couldn’t live without my Yahoo! Calendar. It’s truly my outboard brain. I’ve tried far sexier apps, but honestly, I don’t need the distraction of a shiny Ajax-enabled funhouse. Y! Calendar is free, offers multiple calendar views and unlimited (AFAIK) email and SMS reminders. The reminders are crucial since I often get drawn into day-job minutiae and forget that Rizzo the Talent Buyer can only be reached at the club between 2 and 3 on Mondays. I usually put contact numbers and brief notes in the subject line and route the reminder to my cell phone so I can take action even when I’m away from a computer.
I review the BOTL and my Y! Calendar several times a week and love transcribing tasks between the two manually. Personally, I don’t like automatic syncing between devices — it’s brain-dead. Manually transferring the information at least once allows it to tickle my brain a bit and stimulate new ideas. It’s sync with a built-in review.
Filling The Funnel
Enough about tools, let’s talk gigs. I’m going to assume you already know how to secure a gig for your act, but there are always ways to grease the wheels. What follows are some general ideas that have helped me keep my gig calendar full.
Weeding The Garden
A gig should serve a purpose, a reason for you to bother with it. As opportunities come your way, you should be gauging each one against your goals. You do have goals, right? Are they written down? Well, how do you know you’re making progress, then?
Goals don’t have to be awe-inspiring like “perform at Red Rocks.” I prefer my goals to be smaller, easily measurable and ongoing. As a performing musician, I have two very straightforward goals:
Fans are the lifeblood of any music career, so I regard anything that doesn’t square against either goal with extreme prejudice. This saves me tons of time which I can then devote to more creative stuff. Here are some other points that have saved me time, energy and worry:
Here’s the takeaway: if you can devote just a few hours a week to the mundane tasks, you’ll probably be doing more for your music career than most musicians out there. You might even discover, as I have, that you enjoy the sense of accomplishment and — gah! — professionalism that comes from mailing out press releases and promoting your gigs effectively. And if you can stay mindful of weeding out the tasks that don’t fit your goals or don’t get the results you want, you’ll have more time to spend on the stuff that does work. You’ll become a better judge of which activities are worth doing, and which are wastes of time or ego-stroking.
Let’s be clear, though: if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall off the wagon a lot and find yourself spending a few days waving your flippers in the air helplessly. The key is to allow yourself to mope for as long as necessary to recover your resolve, then get back on it. Keep at it long enough, and maybe someday you’ll impress and attract people who’ll do this stuff for you.
Oh, and don’t quit. Never quit.
Scott Andrew began his professional music career years ago in Akron OH, playing Police and Pink Floyd covers to drunken college students in a cover band called Cartoon Freeze Tag. He has since relocated to Seattle, where he ekes out a schizoid existence as a web developer and frustrated acoustic pop superstar. His music is available on his website under a Creative Commons license. Scott also has several CDs available, for money.
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