Today is the first day of the 2011 Winter NAMM show, where hundreds of my colleagues are gathering to share information about the latest products for music making. Many of us get a bit of gear lust as we walk the aisles of the Anaheim Convention Center, geeking out over the new toys and then scrambling to get the info into our newsletters, blogs, and tweets. It’s a fun show, especially when there are surprises.
At the same time, the NAMM show has this odd way of reminding me of how little time I spend with the gear I already have and, more importantly, on my own music. As a freelancer, the clock is always running as I cycle through numerous projects for waiting clients. Consequently, it’s difficult to find quality time for myself and my music. Like many of my friends in the biz, I’ve been seduced into various behind-the-scenes jobs so I could work in the music industry while continuing to do the music I love. But over the years the balance has begun to tilt to the point where work often keeps me away from my real passion for long stretches of time.
This isn’t just a problem for so-called weekend warriors. I’ve talked to numerous engineers, producers, and even recording artists who are so caught up in work that they don’t get the amount of personal creative time they need to recharge themselves.
In one of my First Take columns for EM, I approached this topic in two ways: first, from the point of view of creating a sacred space—a physical and mental zone of creativity where you can go and get started on a project immediately, avoiding the distractions of set up—and second, by making (and keeping) appointments with yourself. I’ve always loved composer Lou Harrison’s metaphor of “making a date with the muse,” and when I’ve been good about following his advice, indeed, the muse frequently showed up.
Resolution Number 9
I’m not great at keeping New Year’s resolutions, so I’ve gotten out of the habit of making them. But now that my studio is 99.9 percent done and I’ve finally begun moving in, I have resolved to hold firm on at least one thing this year—date night.
Parents will know what I mean: It’s the alone time that we must set aside for ourselves, away from the kids, so that we can reconnect. I realized over the holidays that, once again, I need to set aside the same kind of quality time with my creative side— away from work, family, and household obligations.
What I also learned from Harrison was the trick to keeping my dates with the muse: Schedule them. Most of us already do this with bands or other social obligations. But just like you don’t want to let your friends and family down by missing their events, you have to do the same for yourself. It could be a specific day and time of the week that you know you can set aside on a regular basis without disruption, or perhaps something that’s a bit more flexible, but that you can still rely on (such as every other Monday night).
As it turned out, the choices were made for me through the holidays. Last fall I taught two recording classes at my local city college—Monday nights and Saturday mornings/afternoons—rather than just the one I normally do. So when the semester finished, I kept those appointments and substituted my own projects for the class lectures. Voila!
So far so good.
However, the spring semester starts shortly after NAMM, so my Saturdays will go back to school, so to speak. But I plan to swap it with Sunday nights, as well as cling to my Monday evenings in the studio: I rarely gig on those nights, so it’s very likely I can keep to my resolution.
And that’s the secret: scheduling a regular appointment that you know you can keep (at least the majority of the time). Of course, during crunch periods, the best laid plans can go out the window. But my hope is that you’ll be able to find that moment each week or so where you can allow inspiration to strike and be able to take advantage of it.
For me, crunch time is here, and I’ll spend the weekend running around the Anaheim Convention Center, catching up on all the new items I hope to get ahold of over the next few months. Stay tuned, because I already know there’s a few surprises in store for us this week!
Library of Congress Gets a Mile of Music