Have you ever sat down in front of your computer ready to write your next great track, only to go nowhere after hours of effort?
Or maybe you have a dozen projects open but can never seem to actually finish a track?
It’s easy to get caught up in unimportant tasks and make little progress on your tracks, even during a dedicated music session.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there.
The key to breaking through this lack of focus is to use mental frameworks such as the 80/20 principle to increase creative output.
The 80/20 principle allows us to work smarter while producing, instead of just throwing hours into our DAW with no results.
What is the 80/20 Principle?
The 80/20 principle is named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, that specifies an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. The principle states that 20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. Put another way, 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes; this is also referred to as the “Pareto rule” or the “80/20 rule.”
For us producers, this principle dictates that we should focus the majority of our attention on the most important elements of the track to make the best use of our time.
It’s a simple idea: 20% of the time you spend on a track results in 80% of the output.
For example, have you ever found yourself tweaking a single drum sound, later realize over an hour has passed? This is time wasted that could have been usefully spent otherwise.
It’s a mistake to spend too much time working on a single element that adds little to the overall growth of the track.
There’s a reason studio time costs money.
Even if you produce in your bedroom, you should treat your time as if you were paying by the hour to be there.
The 80/20 Principle in Action
There are a few simple ways we can apply this principle to our productions:
- Ask yourself what’s important at set intervals during a session.
- Plan out your music writing sessions in advance.
Asking What’s Important
The first way to apply the 80/20 principle is to regularly “check ourselves” and make sure the tasks we do are necessary to advance the track.
Simply stop and ask, “If this is the only thing I do to this song today, will it genuinely help progress the track?”
If the task does not, save it for later and focus on something more important.
Example: If your main chord progression isn’t set, you shouldn’t waste time making minute adjustments to your hi hats.
Example: If your verse is boring, people won’t make it to the chorus, so make sure every section gets its fair share of attention.
Example: The reason your track didn’t get signed won’t be because you don’t have enough risers and sweeps. Focus on the main structural elements of the track first before you add dozens of effects. Music should flow without white noise sweeps.
If you’re being honest with yourself, you know what’s best for your track.
Is it really going to help the track to add more effects to the chain on your main synth to try to get a better sound, before you even have a melody written? Maybe not.
Pro Tip: Use timeboxing techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to increase focus. Try setting time limits for specific tasks and use your phone to time yourself to make sure you don’t waste time on any specific element.
Planning Your Sessions
Another way we can use the 80/20 principle to ensure our sessions are productive is to plan them out in advance.
I know some of you might despise planning sessions because it “stifles creativity”, but more than anything, restrictions help breed creativity.
The endless list of plugins, samples, and options as producers can be crippling when it comes to focus.
Thus, limiting our options helps us be more creative and more productive, resulting in us not just writing, but finishing music.
Here are a few ways to plan out your sessions:
- Set aside time before opening your DAW to think about what you want the track’s direction to be.
- Take notes on changes you want to make to a WIP while listening to it a few times on repeat.
Defining track direction is useful when starting out writing new tracks, and it can be influenced by any number of things.
For example, a song that you recently heard, a movie that you saw, or a girl/guy you’ve been thinking about lately.
Think about what kinds of instruments to use, what kind of samples to use, and what the overall mood of the track is going to be.
Rather than just flipping through sample packs and presets when starting on a new project, take a step back from the computer and think about what you want to write about and how you want to say it.
Now, if you already have a track started that you want to work on, taking notes is a great way to set out the next steps for where you want your track to go.
Begin by intently listening to the track start to finish multiple times.
While listening, jot down any ideas that come to mind, as well as any problems you need to address.
Then, once you feel you’ve gotten all your ideas out, rank each problem 1-10, based on how important each task is.
Then, working on your track is a simple matter of tackling each task, starting with the most important one, and checking off each task as it’s completed.
Working from notes is a great way to be more productive during sessions, and is one of the “secret weapons” of our production team. Using this technique, it’s a lot easier to actually finish tracks instead of starting a new one after feeling stuck.
Time management is our best friend as producers
It sounds weird, I know, but it’s a learned skill that separates rookies from the pros.
With our goals and priorities clearly defined, we are more effective producers, enabling us to write and finish more music.
And, we must use our time and our creativity effectively if we want to be successful producers.
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