albums-versus-playlists

Why You Should Be Listening to Albums Instead of Playlists

artist, music, songwriting

When my friends used to ask me to put music on over dinner, I always defaulted to a Spotify playlist. In the mornings, while taking a shower, I would often put on a singalong playlist, or the road trip one when I was in the car with my dad. I make my own playlists, too – songs to dance to, folky tunes that make you cry your heart out, new discoveries. I love playlists. But this hasn’t always been the case. I only got a Spotify account two years ago, but before that, I only ever listened to albums, apart from the occasional music video on Youtube.

I hadn’t noticed how much my listening pattern had changed until I was having coffee with a friend and he put on some music in the background. As I was listening to it, I realised it was all the same artist, and I thought to myself: “How boring.” Only an hour later, as I was walking down the street and listening to my ‘Bad Bitch Playlist’ (obviously), I realised what had occurred.

What was the point of musicians making albums anymore if other listeners reacted the way I did? Did they? Or was I an anomaly? But talking to other friends, I realised most of us didn’t listen to albums anymore, apart from, maybe, some albums we had grown up with and didn’t know how to listen to differently.

I went back to that friend for another coffee, and, while putting on another album, he said: “I never listen to albums on shuffle. It had taken me weeks to figure out what order to put the songs in on my own album. They’re meant to be in a certain sequence.” It’s true. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage would sound ridiculous on shuffle. The transitions between the songs on Kate Tempest’s The Book of Traps and Lessons wouldn’t sound nearly as smooth. For any musician I listened to, there was a thought process behind the tracklist.

That hadn’t answered my question, though. Why did we still bother making albums? And what was the benefit of listening to an album over a playlist?

I had always been the type of person who would become obsessed with a certain album and listen to it until it made me sick. I got to know the artist behind it, their inner world, by spending time with them and only them for the duration of the ten, twelve, sixteen tracks on their LP. Now, I was the person who listened to a mishmash of different songs, forgot artists’ names, and only vaguely knew what a certain lyric meant in whichever song. I wasn’t diving deep into music anymore, it felt more like window shopping. I wanted to learn to listen to albums again.

I started with Josephine Foster’s I’m a Dreamer. Listening to an album again felt like watching an arthouse film after binge-watching a Netflix show. My attention span was not trained for such a sustained effort. I hated it and told my friend as much. But a week later, over breakfast and coffee, I listened to it again. Maybe the combination of a mellow Sunday morning and Josephine’s voice was a good combination because I couldn’t stop listening. I felt like I was on a journey.

Now, I can’t listen to playlists anymore. It feels like a job half-done. I don’t get to know an artist by only hearing one song. I listen to playlists to find new artists I want to hear more of, but that’s different from never stopping to find out more about specific musicians at all. That’s why albums remain important. A single doesn’t tell the story of an artist. It’s the elevator pitch, the business card. To get to know an artist, to know what they’re worth, what message they’re trying to convey, what they sound like when they’re not trying to get on the radio, you need to listen to the album.

Since I started listening to albums again, I started remembering the names of the musicians I listen to. Not only that, I started listening to more music. Knowing more about the people I listened to, I started feeling more in control, and less like I was being spoonfed songs by Spotify. I became more curious and adventurous in my listening instead of relying solely on the Discover Weekly playlist. Do yourself a favour and listen to an album today. And if you catch yourself thinking how boring it is, keep listening.

deliberate-practice-matters

Why I Started Incorporating Deliberate Practice Into My Daily Routine

artist, music, productivity, songwriting

This is me putting on a circus show for my parents. I spent weeks (or maybe really just a week) learning how to juggle, teaching my cat tricks, and mastering the magic of the disappearing thumb. Then I dressed up and made my parents watch me and applaud my endeavours. My dad sent me this photo this morning, and it made me chuckle and think about how much I’ve changed. He replied: “Actually, you haven’t changed at all.”

It’s true. I still get a kick out of people watching me perform. I would probably still rock a synthetic purple glitter blouse. It made me think of other ways I’ve stayed the same. A couple days ago, I showed a friend a video of the first song I’d learnt on guitar. My mum diligently videoed all my performances until I moved away from Belgium. After that one video, I started scrolling down and looking at the rest: me at twelve, at thirteen, at fifteen… But what struck me was how small the difference was between me at fifteen and me now.

“You’ve definitely learnt how to strum better,” my friend said. Which, by the way, I don’t think is true. He just hasn’t heard me strum yet. But everything else was pretty much the same. I was always slightly embarrassed about my fingerpicking style (I learnt one pattern when I was fifteen and decided that was enough) and spent years justifying my laziness by finding examples of successful musicians who weren’t great guitarists. What I didn’t realise was that by doing that, I was standing still.

I have always been proud of having started performing early – my first gig was when I was twelve and I’ve gigged regularly since. But I haven’t spent much time over these ten years practising – most of it was spent writing songs, singing songs I could play already, and doing everything other than playing the guitar. A while ago, though, I read ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, where she wrote that hours spent doing something didn’t always translate to mastering a skill better. And then she wrote this:


Without effort, your skill is nothing more but what you could have done but didn’t.

‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’, Angela Duckworth

I realised that if I didn’t put the effort in, becoming a musician would also be something I could have done but didn’t. That effort was called deliberate practice.

Two months ago, I started practising every day for two hours. I want to say without fail, but of course the holidays became a two-week Netflix binge. I’m back on track now, though. I started playing scales, learnt Travis picking (fucking finally), learnt one or two covers a week (and this time, didn’t skip the solos and the intros), started reading more about music theory, and doing ear training exercises. For the first time in ten years, I also started doing vocal warmups.

I’m still getting the hang of deliberate practice, but I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s not always fun. It’s supposed to be hard and make you sweat just enough so you still have the courage to come back the day after. And it’s worth it – I’ve grown more as a musician in these last two months than I had in all the years of gigging combined.

Of course, when I wanted to show off my great new skills to my friend who had encouraged me to practice more in the first place, I choked and fucked up. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not getting better. It just means I have to keep practising.

Here are some resources I use in my deliberate practice sessions and some talks that have inspired me to keep going:


Talks


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance | Angela Duckworth

The famous TED talk by Angela Duckworth about work ethic, effort, and consistency.

Music Lesson – How and What to Practice on Your Instrument

Rick Beato talking about how to structure your practice routine.

I practiced 10,000 Hours in 6 Months

Again, Rick Beato, bragging about how much he used to practice in his twenties. Whatever.


Guitar Resources


Scales

The ten essential scales you need to know. This website is generally good for guitarists who want to improve and includes tips on practice, books to read, exercises, etc.

Fingerstyle guitar lessons for intermediate guitarists

LicknRiff is a Youtube channel with guitar lessons for intermediate and advanced lessons on fingerpicking. It’s geared towards those who play a nylon string. The guy who teaches it offers tabs for free as well, and his videos always feature his two dogs, which is almost an unnecessary bonus, really.

Laura Marling tutorials

I’ve been going on about these for ages. But it’s Laura Marling. Herself. Teaching her own songs.


Ear Training and Music Theory


Ear training exercises with Rick Beato

Some general explanations on how to improve and a series of seven ear training exercises you can do daily. Rick Beato’s channel in general is great for music theory explanations, so have a look around. I’m kind of obsessed, but maybe that’s also because I have a minor crush on the man.

Teoria

A great website on music theory with ear training and theory exercises you can do. You can also select how advanced you want to go.

new-years-resolutions-2021

My Hopes and Dreams for 2021

artist, productivity

I remember getting on the doubledecker bus in Battersea with a LIDL shopping bag with Captain Morgan’s, a bottle of coke, and a bag of Doritos. I was wearing a new pair of jeans and was still sweaty from the 8-hour bus ride from Belgium earlier that day, but that didn’t matter because we were ringing in a new year: 2020, and I had great things lined up. I had a placement at ‘The Guardian’ in summer, I was selected for a promoter support scheme by PRS, and I had started gigging with a new cellist. It was all finally falling in place after two years of living in a hostel and practising in the basement next to some empty kegs.

Of course, none of that happened when 2020 hit. I’m grateful every day that I’m healthy, my family members are safe, and I don’t have to worry about where my food will come from tomorrow. Even though my plans got messed up, I’m one of the lucky ones. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not hoping that 2021 will be a better year, and I have been dreaming and scheming like everyone else, so I thought I’d share my plans for 2021 if only to hold myself accountable (and maybe offer some inspiration for everyone out there to set their plans and ideas to paper).


1. Take an online marketing course.


I’m gonna take an online marketing course, purely because musicians need marketing skills almost as much as they need to be good musicians. I’m shit at self-promotion, but I’ve found some free courses offered by Google and Hubspot that might help. Both offer certifications, so if I complete them, I will use them for part-time work outside of music, too.


2. Stop watching Netflix and use that time to read and write.


I wonder how many people have ‘stop watching Netflix’ on their list of resolutions. But honestly. I’ve watched ‘Gilmore Girls’ three times already. This madness has to stop.


3. Release several singles throughout 2021.


I haven’t been sitting on my ass all of 2020. Some of it, I spent writing and recording stuff. So, if everything goes to plan, I will be releasing several singles over the course of 2021, and I have written up a release strategy for how I would release the songs in my ideal world. I will try and follow it for once.


4. Work on my guitar skills.


When I started performing eight years ago, I started stressing out about not being a good enough guitarist. For some reason, though, I decided it would be easier to obsess about being shit instead of working on getting better. This December, I started playing guitar for an hour or so almost every day, and I noticed that I finally didn’t suck. So, I’m gonna try and maintain that habit into 2021.


5. Learn German.


I am moving to Berlin (or London? Or Berlin? Fuck, I don’t even know anymore myself), so I have to learn German at some point. I promise I will actually try in 2021. The alternative is to tolerate angry stares in supermarkets while I try to explain what I need for another year.



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musician-friends

Why Having Musician Friends Matters in this Shitstorm of a Time (and Where to Find Some)

artist, self-love

Some of these days, I wake up energised, go for a run, sing in the shower, down three cups of coffee without having a nervous breakdown. But these are difficult times for everyone, and more often than not, I wake up with a groan, say something mean to my parents, who have been putting up with me on and off since March, and spend the rest of the day wondering what the hell I’m doing.

Like most musicians, I’m happiest at a sweaty bar show, dancing to music, shouting into a friend’s ear, while downing a pint of warm English beer (although that last one is up for debate). I’m happiest when I’m rushing from work to a gig, squeezing onto the tube with all the 9-5ers, with some 40-year-old dude in his running outfit and his work clothes in his tiny backpack elbowing me in the stomach on his way out. It’s a busy life, and it’s hard, and sure, I used to burst out crying after getting home at 2 A.M. knowing work started in five hours. But I had a purpose.

Now, that purpose seems to have disappeared. Musicians that have been making money with music for years are suddenly forced to look for new jobs. I spend my days strumming my guitar and writing lyrics about stuff that happened ages ago because I haven’t left the house in weeks. I’ve written a song about my mum’s cat.

The only thing that’s keeping me afloat these days is my musician friends. It’s the people that call to check in with me, send their demos, and compare notes on release strategies. It’s the friends that are as lost as me, but also friends that are doing far worse, having lost their biggest income streams.

In the last several months, I’ve grown more as a musician than I had done in years, and it’s mostly due to the other musicians I’ve let into my life. I’ve started listening to albums instead of playlists, I’ve started playing guitar more, and I’ve had so much feedback on my songs that I’ve become a better songwriter. I have people I can offload on that understand and share my concerns. Before COVID-19, the idea of a music community seemed like something intangible. But now, with our defenses down, it has become necessary.

Music communities come in different shapes and sizes. Mine is made up of chance encounters, travels, gigs and support slots, my university, workshops. Normally, meeting other musicians is easy – you just rock up at an open mic or a jam night. But if you don’t have a community, if you don’t know how to start, and if you’re feeling lonely, here are some ideas that can put you in touch with fellow musicians right now:


1. Reach out to musicians you’re already ~kinda~ friends with.


This one is so obvious, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. If you’re a musician that has ever played a gig, you will have befriended a musician on Facebook, followed someone on Instagram, or made that vague promise of writing together someday. All the musicians everywhere right now are feeling uprooted, slightly desperate, and probably lonely. No one will find it weird if you reach out to someone you haven’t talked to for a year. Now is the time you’re allowed to without looking like a creep. Just ask how someone is doing. Ask if they have any new music coming out. Start somewhere.


2. Join a Facebook group.


There are loads of Facebook groups for musicians depending on location. When I moved to Berlin, the first thing I did was post in the Berlin musicians’ group. I did the same when I lived in London. Some musicians might want to go for a socially distanced walk to talk about music, or do a co-write, or have a phone call. You can schedule some stuff for when you’re allowed to have fun again. Don’t just look at the location, there are groups for everything. Join a songwriting group and give each other feedback on songs. Join a group for musician mums (only if you’re a mum, though).


3. Take an online music course with others.


There are loads of courses out there you can take for free now, and some of them come with a platform or community where you can exchange feedback and get to know other musicians. I took this short course on Songwriting by Pat Pattison years ago. It’s free, there’s a platform where you can talk to other students, and it’s often followed by Facebook groups and Soundcloud link exchanges. You might even learn something. In a similar vein, you can attend a webinar, an online panel, etc, and get active in the comments.

Finally, reach out to me. I’m always happy to talk.



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how-to-be-okay-with-not-getting-the-perfect-take

How to Be Okay With Not Getting the Perfect Take

artist, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

I’ve been struggling with that one myself for a while. My experience with recording has always been rocky. I did my first recordings in the attic with my dad, using a badminton bat with a nylon sock as a pop filter. I’ve taken recording very seriously and not seriously at all. I’ve released songs that I knew I’d done a half-assed job on and I’ve been proud of others. I never listen to my recordings once they’re out. Recording is a big part of who musicians are and having fits of anxiety over getting the perfect take is just not an option if I don’t want to die of a heart attack at 35.

I had two ways of accepting that fact – the first was to pretend I didn’t care about getting a perfect recording because no one was going to listen to it anyway. I’d probably forget it was coming out at all (and I did forget it when my first EP came out). The second option was to obsess about the recording because if people were gonna listen, the song needed to be fucking perfect. I’m an all-or-nothing type of girl.

Last week, I figured, there must be a third way. I came home from Berlin to get my dad’s sage advice on my songs and for him to press record and sit in the room while I played. Usually, those recording sessions are quite boring and stressful, made somewhat bearable by my dad’s jokes. But I had become spiritual in Berlin and I started to believe in detachment, visualisation, and the Universe. So, this time was going to be different.

I lit cedarwood incense and scented candles, said a quick prayer to my creative genius, and started playing. And God, it was a fucking struggle. I could hear my dad sighing from the other end of the room as I wrestled my way through the first song. I recorded songs in full takes, so after every mistake, I had to start from the beginning. Two hours later, we’d only got halfway decent takes of two songs. My dad called a break and we went to the kitchen for hot toddies.

We spent the whole day recording, and despite the incense and the candles and the prayers to the gods, I felt paralysed. It was the old second way all over again – if it wasn’t perfect, it was because I was shit. I went to bed feeling dreadful. The morning after, my hands shook as I listened back to the recordings. “Feels like a struggle,” I wrote in my notes about one of the songs.

I was confused. What was it that I was supposed to do to make recording fun? I’d tried the spiritual stuff, and that didn’t work one bit. So, I kept experimenting. And here is what worked:


1. If you can’t get a technically perfect take, get a heartfelt one.


I called one of my friends when I was at a recording low point last weekend. “You sound so depressed I’m legit worried,” she said. I felt stupid because even though I felt like shit, I am also lucky and grateful to be making music and I am aware of that. But what I said was: “Yeah, I think I’m a terrible musician.” My friend was quiet while I told her about my recording struggles. Then she said: “Well, who cares if it’s a perfect take? There’s always gonna be something you wish you would’ve done better. But if you put real emotion in the song, you give the recording something more valuable than technical brilliance.”


2. Have someone else in the room.


My whole phone conversation with her was full of useful gems. She also said that it’s really hard to do anything alone. And sure, I had the one recording session with my dad, but I spent hours afterwards recording by myself. “You need someone who tells you when it’s time to move on, and when you’ve done a good enough job. We’re always much harder on ourselves than we need to be.” I stand by recording on my own because it allows me to sit with my emotions and feel less self-conscious, but after 10 takes of the same song, it might be worth sending a couple takes to your friends to get their opinion. And more often than not, that weird lisp you keep hearing is just in your head.


3. Go for a walk.


Sometimes, you just need to step away. When I keep missing the same note time and time again, it’s more often than not because I need a break. Get out of the house. Stretch. Have some green tea. Laugh. Call a friend. I noticed that good recordings only come when your mindset is right. If you’re in a downward spiral of self-hatred, get out of the house. Reset.


4. Ask yourself if you’re self-sabotaging.


I spent three days telling myself I sucked. But then I stopped for a minute and asked myself why I was saying that at all. Did I even believe that? I know I’m a good musician, I know I love writing. I know that, for better or for worse, I’m true to myself and my music. But I was afraid to fail, so I was making excuses for not having to try. Yes, I might put out songs that no one will listen to. Yes, other people might not like them. But does that mean I should give up before even starting? Figure out the reason for your negative self-talk. You need to understand your fears before you can conquer them.


5. Write down what went well.


And if none of that helped, and your recording session still sucked, and you’re going to bed with a heavy heart and a deep feeling of incompetence, get your journal out. I keep talking about cultivating a gratitude practice, and how it puts things into perspective. And after any kind of bad day, that can help. But after a day of self-deprecation, it especially helps to remind yourself of what you‘ve done well. Write down three things. Don’t tell me you haven’t done three things well that day because I know you have. And you should know too.

co-writing

On Co-Writing

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

Last weekend, I was walking around Treptower Park with a musician friend, and he was talking about a song he had co-written with someone else. He seemed under the impression that co-writing is a bit of a cop-out, like something you do when you can’t write a song by yourself. Maybe that was partly the reason why he later rewrote the lyrics to the song that was originally at least somewhat of a collaborative effort (it turned out to be a damn good song nonetheless).

I’ve definitely met other musicians who share this opinion – for whom writing is a strictly personal business and whose songs seem too private to share with anyone else. And I get it. My songs are personal, I spill my whole life onto the page in vivid detail. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally enjoy letting others into my writing process. I think that some of the best songs I’ve written have been written with other people, and I don’t believe it makes me any less of a good songwriter. Quite the opposite.

I’ve written with both good and bad songwriters, and I’ve always come out of the session a better version of myself. You learn to communicate your ideas and be vulnerable, you see new songwriting techniques or guitar riffs, you get to work with someone in a profession that can feel extremely self-involved, you learn to be more efficient. On top of that, you might come up with a great song. If this all sounds good, here are some tips on co-writing that will hopefully kick your ass into gear enough to want to try it:


1. Choose a co-writer wisely.


If you’re at a songwriting workshop, you probably won’t even get to choose who to write with. But on average, you have three options when choosing someone to write with. You can choose someone you know well and click with, someone you respect but don’t really know, or someone you want to write with purely because it might open some doors. Some people are overly focused on the aspect of networking and end up writing with people they dislike just to get more followers or to break into a new part of the industry. If that’s what you want – fine, but be honest with yourself about your intentions. For first co-writes, it’s better to go with someone you know and trust.


2. Don’t plunge into the writing session straight away.


Even if you’re writing with someone you know well, writing a song together can feel a little awkward at first. Don’t rush it. Make sure that when you schedule a writing session, you cut out at least three hours for it, so you can spend the first one faffing about, catching up on news, and talking shit. There’s a big chance a songwriting idea will flow out of that conversation naturally, propelling you into writing your song. Give each other time. Give your ideas space to breathe.


3. Come in with some ready ideas.


If this is your first co-writing session, you’ll probably be nervous as all hell. That’s okay and it will get better, but the best way to handle it, for now, is to come prepared. Coming in with a fully formed song defeats the purpose of a co-writing session, but it will help you to have something written down. Think lyric ideas, a chord progression, writing prompts on specific topics you want to write about (don’t say you want to write a love song, but saying you want to write about how your ex loved his boat more than you would be a good starting point). Have a quick brainstorm before the writing session.

Besides, there are no rules about what you should be writing in a co-writing session. No one said you should write a song from scratch. Maybe you need help finishing an old song, or you want someone to help you write a hook or to co-write the lyrics. Just be clear about this with your co-writer before you walk into the session.


4. Don’t be afraid of voicing your ideas and hearing they’re bad. Don’t be afraid of telling others when you think they’re full of shit, either.


Co-writing can be brutal. I’ve had my ideas shot down by others a fair few times. I have a friend that I have written with several times, who absolutely HATES it when I’m being too obvious in my lyrics. “Curry stains on your jeans? Do we have to put that in?” he’ll ask, and I’ll nod enthusiastically. And he loves metaphors, which I’m not too fond of. “No one will know what this means,” I’ll say about a lyric about a figurative roundabout. In the end, we make our songs better because we balance each other out. He makes me more poetic, and I bring him down to earth (I think).

But if we always accepted each other’s ideas blindly, we’d end up with half-assed songs that are neither here nor there. We need to be honest with each other, and it’s not as scary as you might think if you do it respectfully. And feedback can open your eyes to what makes you you. I didn’t realise that being direct was my thing until several songwriters chuckled at the openness in my lyrics. Some songwriters believe that writing with others will somehow diminish their songwriting voice, but it will only amplify it because it’s through dialogue that you’ll discover who you are as a songwriter.


5. Embrace new things.


If you go into a co-writing session wanting to write a song like all your other songs, you’ll fail. If you go into the session with a preconceived idea of what you want to come out with, or thinking you have nothing to learn from the person you’re writing with, you’ll fail. But if you walk into the room with an open mind, an open heart, and the willingness not to be perfect, beautiful things might unfold.

You don’t have to agree with every idea, and like I’ve mentioned above, it’s important to let the other person know when you don’t like something. But ask yourself why. Try it out before you shoot it down. You might like that jazzy chord progression even if you thought it wouldn’t fit your style, you might want an egg shaker on your recording, or some lyrics in Portuguese. Why the hell not.


6. It’s not just about the song.


A co-writing session is never just about the song you write, so don’t discard the session as a failure if a great hit doesn’t come out of it. Sometimes, co-writing is about learning from each other, exchanging ideas, or just making a connection. Sometimes, it’s about getting a tarot reading first and writing some lyrics second. And not every session will be successful, and that might just be because one of you is having an off day. Don’t pressure yourself and trust the process. What needs to come will come.


7. Follow up if you haven’t finished the song and you think it’s good.


It’s easy to reach the end of the session and promise each other you’ll get together soon and finish it. You won’t. It’s like running into that friend you keep cancelling on and saying: “Yes, let’s totally meet up for coffee next week!” Co-writes have the tendency to fade from your memory, you never quite get around to calling that person you almost finished the song with. Or when you do get together, it’s invariably to do something other than writing. So, if you end up writing something you like, but you run out of time before you finish it, follow up that same week. Do it while the song is fresh and you’re still excited about it.


8. Be clear on the splits from the outset.


Something all songwriters ignore until it’s too late: copyright. Traditionally, if there are two of you in the session, the split will be 50/50. But if you want to be absolutely clear, you might want to discuss this before you start writing or at least before you’ve recorded the song, and you want to put it in writing. Here’s the Song Share Agreement drawn up by the Musicians’ Union. And that thing people say about how if the person’s in the room, they get a part of the split? Yeah, not a myth.

If you have any questions about co-writing, or you want to tell me about your own experience, let me know in the comments! Also, while I’m at it, there is one week left of the November Songwriting Month – sign up if you want emails with songwriting prompts, tips, and learning resources in your inbox. Or just sign up to my mailing list for some half-finished lyrics, music news, and more songwriting musings.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 2)

artist, productivity, self-love

Part 2: Finding creative freedom in the grid 


1. Bullet point journalling to prioritise


The phrase ‘bullet point’ may not resonate with your freedom-seeking inner artist, but hear me out. I’ve found (again and again) that when I have a lot scheduled for one day, some stuff slips through the cracks. I used to berate myself for this, but I’ve learnt to accept that I just have mad high expectations for myself. Prioritising the most important goals for the day and letting go of the rest has become essential. 

I came across bullet point journalling in a low down of Tim Ferris’s morning routine I found on YouTube, in which he bullet points his ‘3 Main Goals’ for the day, letting himself know if he does these three things, he’s crushed the day. I started trying this, and it generated SO much more focus and follow-through on accomplishing my most important tasks, and SO much more peace at accepting the things that I didn’t manage to do that day. Your head needs some space and leeway to celebrate the wins instead of obsessing over the losses! And space creates freedom.


2. Honour the present, it’s all we have 


The great thing about time management, and time blocking in particular, is that it sets out certain amounts of time for you to let go of everything else and focus on ONE thing because you know this is the allotted time you have to commit to it today. But this won’t work if you’re fretting about that appointment you have to book after your practice time or are pissed off because you couldn’t get your ass out of bed on time. Not being present, when you become aware of it, is actually the cause of much of your distress, because you’re resistant to this moment, now. 

Eckhart Tolle, the king of presence in New Age philosophy, explains: “Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment – a means to an end”. I’d fully recommend having a read of one, if not all of his books (I confess, I’ve only read “The Power of Now”, but after the spiritual bombshells it brought, the rest are now on my ever-growing, neverending reading list).


3. Accept that the ‘perfect balance’ is a myth


I came across this gorgeous book “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety” by Sarah Wilson, in which I found this quote:

“Women have got it into their heads that they should be able to do it all, and in perfect balance. And this has resulted in more stress, and less happiness. I speculate that men are feeling the same, but it’s just not reflected in the research yet. In response to these findings, UK pop researcher Marcus Buckingham investigated, inversely, what the happiest women were doing differently. And his conclusion was this: they strove for imbalance…These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible to achieve, and trying to do so caused unnecessary anxiety… Instead, Buckingham found these chilled, happy women tilted toward activities and commitments that they liked and found meaningful, amid the chaos. They didn’t wait for the chaos and the commitments to get under control. I loved this idea: tilting – it’s when you’ve so much to do, and you could list it all, and try to prioritise, or you could just sit in the everythingness and lean towards stuff as it arises that feels right.”

Sarah Wilson, ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety’

I was initially attacking my struggle with time management from the standpoint that if I were to find the ‘perfect balance’ across different areas of my life, I would be fulfilled, and my anxiety would lessen. I discovered, however, that this ideal continually eluded me. It was only when I shifted my focus from needing complete control to simply enjoying every day as much as possible (tilting towards activities that I like and find meaningful) that I found much greater fulfilment and, paradoxically, more balance.


4. Regardless of all your time blocking, follow your inspiration when it comes!


Regardless of your well-intentioned structure to BOSS it daily, when inspiration comes – follow it! First and foremost, before any of this structure, YOU ARE AN ARTIST. Be prepared for a whole day’s pre-scheduled activities (or a night of sleep) to be thrown out of the ballpark. If the idea is demanding it be born right here, right now, let it come. Everything comes when it’s meant to. Accept it as part of the artistic experience and don’t lose any sleep over it (aside from the sleep it claims)! It’s okay to wipe out a whole day in service of our creative flow. Just get back into a rhythm the next day or two and accept that life is about honouring both the structure and the flow. At the end of it all, the ultimate goal is creative expression. The kind that moves through us like another entity in itself. So, when it comes, embrace it and jump onto the ride.


5. Mercy for yourself (and in turn the rest of the world)


Any kind of self-development without self-nurture, self-forgiveness, and self-love, can quickly become a **** show of self-harm. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”, and one of my favourite humans outside of my real-life ones, puts this idea across as developing mercy for yourself, and in turn the rest of the world. In her 2014 blog post “MERCY. Dear ones…”, she says:

This is perhaps the strongest argument I have for learning how to come to peace with yourself — for healing your wounds and learning how to regard the softest and weakest and most shameful parts of yourself with gentleness and compassion. If you can practice mercy upon yourself, then gradually that mercy will radiate outward to the rest of us. And that will be the end of Judgment Day, every day. 

All of which is to say: It is not selfish, to learn how to be loving toward yourself: IT IS ULTIMATELY A PUBLIC SERVICE.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

I noticed in my own journey as I began to treat myself more kindly, my judgements of others’ weaknesses softened. I began to see how my vigilant, aggressive self-discipline was having an unintentional ripple effect on my relationships, holding others to the inhumane standard I was holding myself. I didn’t want to be that person for my friends, my family! I end on this because despite all of your beautiful, honourable intentions with any kind of personal development, without self-mercy, you can quite easily and unintentionally begin to become a person you don’t like. So, do it with love, do it with ease, do it with compassion, every day. Try and try again, but accept the failures as necessary stepping stones and give yourself a break, MANY TIMES OVER.

Other than that, you got this, you crazy little hyper-controlling entrepreneurial boss of an artist.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 1)

artist, productivity, self-love

I want to introduce this blog post with a big fat disclaimer: by no means have I mastered the art of meeting deadlines and being a thoroughly accountable, high-performance entrepreneurial expert that will get you managing your time like an Elon Musk spawn. I say this as Erika, whose blog I’m writing this for, drops me a message the night before the deadline, and I panic, having only written the first draft of this article.

I confess my struggle with deadlines because I want to be clear: time management for artists is different from time management for a left-side brainer. Saying that, I’d like to note that I believe (thanks to Julia Cameron’s teachings in ‘The Artist’s Way’ – FULLY recommend) that we all have an inner artist. Here, when I say, ‘left-side brainer’, I’m either talking about someone who genuinely thrives in a more analytical, left-brain field, or those who haven’t yet discovered their inner artist. I’m talking about the individual who doesn’t get quite as tempted to follow a rabbit hole of inspiration at 2 A.M. or has a relentlessly defiant inner rebel that appears every time the alarms of *imminent deadline* creeps up (seemingly out of nowhere). 

As much as us artistic folk want to master our time management, it seems almost paradoxical: the very nature of our work (and the core of our being) relies heavily on the nature of responding to unexpected bouts of inspiration. So how can we be free to flow with such waves when adhering to a rigid, predetermined structure? I’ve struggled with this heavily on my own journey. But, like the balance in all of nature, there is a place for both. If we practice the art of improvisation within our time management just as we would with our instrument or canvas, the balance between both can be a joyful, continuous dance. 

I’ve split this article into a 2-part list: the first collection of bullet points focuses on the management, left-brain side of this dance, and the second on the creative, right-brain side. They’re structure and flow, yin and yang: they need each other. And, since this is time management, we also need bullet points. Not to mention, my OCD nature gets a thrill out of categorising these for you.


Part 1: The building blocks of time management


1. Health first

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

I discovered yoga at eighteen, at a time when I needed a self-care practice, badly. I was a spiralling teen, using drink and drugs to a dangerous excess to numb and escape my turbulent childhood. I always had high ambitions for my music career, but my complete lack of self-care wasn’t sustainable and was certainly going to destroy any promise of fulfilling my dreams. I started to awaken to this realisation through yoga and haven’t looked back. 

If you haven’t got into an exercise or meditation routine, or developed healthy eating habits, addressing these things can feel daunting. But every tiniest step in the right direction is as valuable as the next and you can gain momentum by focusing on small, short-term goals. It’s 100% a journey. 

I now have a morning routine of journaling, exercise, meditation, affirmations and visualisation, and I follow a plant-based diet, but I did NOT build this up overnight – this is the result of 6 years of trial and error! And though I recommend any one of these elements, I’m not saying any one of these are exactly what you should do (including the plant-based diet, no vegan pushing here). They’re simply what I’ve found make me feel best, in body and mind.

When I feel clear and energised, I show up for my day in a much better way than when I rush out of bed in a hurry. Making the time to nurture your body and mind before the demands of the world come rushing in isn’t a luxury, it’s essential.


2. Time blocking: the groundwork for all time management


In 1958, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, invented the infamous Parkinson’s Law: one of the groundworks for time management. The law states, “work expands so as to fill the time of its completion”. This means, whether we give ourselves two hours, one week or a year, we will subconsciously find a way to fill the time we’ve allotted for it. Saying this, the law should not be used to set unreasonable deadlines (of which time tracking can help with in Step 4).

By time blocking, you set fixed amounts of time to focus on a given activity, and then schedule these blocks into a schedule/calendar. This practice revolutionised my ability to see how I’m balancing my time across the whole week, and in turn, creates urgency to show up each day.


3. Schedule breaks and unscheduled time just as you would any focused activity


It can be hard at first to create estimates for how much you can REALISTICALLY fit into any given week, but trial and error is the greatest teacher. My kryptonite was always being overly ambitious and obsessive at the expense of my well-being, but I hit a turning point during lockdown that I can’t stress enough: SCHEDULE BREAKS. As mad as this may sound to some, I predict that if you’re reading this, you’re an ambitious artistic entrepreneur that struggles with making enough time for yourself. But it’s as essential to block out time for rest as for any focused activity.

Breaks fall under two categories: 

  1. Regular breaks between focused tasks
  2. Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time

Regular breaks between focused tasks:

The ‘Pomodoro Technique’ (another groundwork of time management) is a method that uses a timer to break work down into intervals with focused productive time, followed by a small break. Traditionally, the method advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, but you can change that as you see fit (50m/10m is my personal favourite). The idea is that when the focus time is longer, so is the break. As artists, this can feel quite rigid when we get into a creative flow, but there’s a hefty amount of research to back up how beneficial this is for your brain.

Another point that needs to be stressed is that a break is NOT the time to check your phone, consume TV, or engage your brain in any other stimulating way. A break is a break from all activity and can include (some of my favourites): making tea, doing a few stretches, meditating, closing your eyes and listening to some music, or people watching from your window. 

Brendon Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits” (recommend for you self-development junkies out there), stresses that regular breaks are crucial for sustainable high-performance. He has an interesting “release tension, set intention” meditation technique:

  1. Close your eyes, scan your body, releasing any tension you notice
  2. Set an intention for your next block of work/activity

Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time:

This is VITAL. In my self-research, I discovered I need at least 1 day completely off, and preferably 1.5 (i.e. Saturday off from the afternoon, after a productive morning, and the whole of Sunday off). This was alien to me for the first two years of London life, but I’ve accepted I need it as much as I need focused time. We’re not robots – we need freedom from our schedule, especially when we’re highly ambitious and most of our week is regimentally structured. 

Scheduling it ahead of time allowed me to let go of a HELLA lot of guilt I would put on myself if I had an unplanned day off. It gets you to be more intentional and creative about how you could make the most of this day (go on an adventure in the city or country, organise a meetup with mates) as opposed to numbing yourself with Netflix in an attempt to have a break. As much as Netflix and Prime Video are one of my go-to’s for some time out (I might be obsessed with productivity, but I’m human), research has shown that binging doesn’t give your brain much of a break at all and is actually extremely energy-draining in comparison to energy-generating time with friends or in nature.

One more note: schedule a couple of hours each day to have unstructured time too, preferably 1-2 in the afternoon, and a couple in the evening before bed (minimum). Having everything structured for even one day can result in you rebelling against your own schedule. Daily free time helped me feel more human: having the space to go outside for a walk, connect with my loved ones, or even just regain the freedom to CHOOSE what I want to do in the moment.


4. Use time tracking to find out how long it ACTUALLY takes you to complete tasks


Research about task completion times conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada found evidence that “task completion plans normally resemble best-case scenarios and yield overly optimistic predictions of completion times”. Yep, we’re crap at accurately predicting how long it’ll take us to do anything, and never seem to want to take into account any unforeseen circumstances, which can be a problem if you want to manage your day. Enter: time tracking. 

For the next week, I suggest you get a super cheap, tiny pocket journal (or do it on your phone, Gen Z-ers) and track every activity you do. This helped me to learn how much time I need to feel truly satisfied with a practice session (anything under 1.5 hours feels rushed) or to be more realistic about how long it actually takes me to get ready in the morning, accepting more and stressing less. This will also hold you accountable for time you wasted scrolling through that influencer’s Insta account. When you see it written down, it makes you think twice the next day.


5. Habits and routines


Habits and routines are GOLDUST for efficiency. My morning routine sets me up, primes my mind, and generates energy for the day. If I ever miss it, I feel like a slug. One book I’d highly recommend getting your hands on if you’re interested in setting up your own morning routine is “The Miracle Morning”. Author Hal Elrod proclaims that “focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably creates a successful life”.

Once habits are set into our daily routines, they become consistent patterns that we don’t have to think about. When they become instinctive, they eliminate ‘decision fatigue’: a psychological phenomenon coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Decision fatigue suggests we each have a finite store of mental energy for decision making, and so self-discipline outside of a routine is much harder than one that’s set up by automatic habit. Once you get through the first month (the time to set a habit is constantly up for debate, but this is a widely accepted rough guideline), you’ve paved your way to save all that energy for the rest of the day. And, positive habits will look after you like a well-trained coach, giving you more energy to focus on your creative work.

Written by Kaia Vieira


Pt. 2 will discuss creativity within time management. Coming this Friday!

nanowrimo-songwriting-november

NOVEMBER SONGWRITING MONTH ANNOUNCEMENT

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

Hi everyone!

I have always been a massive fan of NaNoWriMo, where writers commit to writing a novel in a month, but it recently occurred to me that there was no such thing for songwriters… This is why I spent the last couple weeks putting together emails with songwriting prompts, writing inspiration, and interesting links. The idea is that if you sign up for the November Songwriting Month mailing list, you’ll receive a dose of daily inspiration to help you achieve your songwriting goals for the month. And if you’re in dire need of a songwriting community now that this pandemic has scattered us all over the world, there is also a Facebook group where you can share your stuff and give others feedback.

Happy writing!

Erika x

inspiration-journal-songwriting

Why I Have an Inspiration Journal

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

In Belgium, I had a mystery drawer with Post-its with ideas and words that I like. On my bookshelves, I had dozens of dog-eared books with index cards between the pages, writings in the margins, and underlined sentences. I had cutouts of articles I’ve read, poems on my walls, photos of places and friends, and postcards with my favourite paintings. My childhood bedroom was a shrine to creativity. Maybe also a hoarder’s paradise.

When I started moving around, it became hard to acquire stuff – index cards got lost, books were too heavy to cart around, and I didn’t have walls to decorate with paraphernalia anymore. My bedroom was never as over-the-top as Florence Welch’s house, but looking around always filled me with inspiration. If I was feeling stuck, or couldn’t get past the terror of the blank page in my songbook, I could always start from a picture on the wall or a word in someone else’s poem.

I came up with a new system when I moved to a hostel in London, though calling it a system is probably overselling it. I started writing down phrases from books I liked, copying poems, and drying flowers in between the pages of a journal. After a while, I started taking leaflets from galleries and cutting out drawings to paste into my notebook. And in between the art I admired, I wrote my own songs, that had started from a line in a poem or an idea I got from a quote. I called it my inspiration journal.

A blank page is always daunting, but having an inspiration journal, or an inspiration nook where you keep some poetry books and lists of interesting rhymes on hand, can give you a starting point to write from. It can also encourage you to read more, go to museums once in a while, and watch more films. It can make you a better listener and reader, as well as a better songwriter. Here are some ideas on how to fill your journal and what you can do with it:


1. Fill it with poetry and interesting sentences.


Read poetry, listen closely to lyrics, study fiction. As songwriters, we are always on the lookout for beautiful turns of phrase, and unique metaphors. I find autobiographical essays a great source of inspiration, too – some of my favourite writers are Joan Didion, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing. But don’t just write down stuff that sounds good. Write down the words that spark your imagination. For different songwriters, that will mean different things. I’ve written down quotes about lightbulbs that didn’t work and turmeric in the kitchen because I wanted to use similar details in my own lyrics.


2. Make lists of words.

As a folk songwriter, I like telling stories in my songs. But to make them come to life, I need descriptive, meaningful words. Most of us can make do with the words in our current vocabulary, but as writers, we need to do better than that. We want to be in a place where we can choose from a pool of words that might mean the same thing, but roll of our tongues in different ways, leave a new taste in our mouths. Jimmy Webb even goes as far as to suggest we read a dictionary back-to-back.


Few of us are naturally inclined to sit and read an entire dictionary (like Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate for example, at fourteen hundred pages) but I will advance the argument that a writer who attempts to write prose, poetry, song lyrics or automobile advertising without a vocabulary of suitable depth is entering a tournament of wits unarmed. I will go one step further and say that if there is any intrinsic merit in curiosity then we should read at least one dictionary from aardvark to Zwolle (a city in the Netherlands).

Jimmy Webb, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting”

I have not attempted this yet, although I intend to read a dictionary someday. I do keep lists of interesting words I come across and original rhymes I see or think of in my notebook, though. I use them for writing lyrics, for moving the story plot along, finding unpredictable rhymes, etc.


3. Cut out paintings, paste in photographs, let a friend draw in your journal.


Writing from an image is a valuable exercise for songwriters in a rut. It can provide a change in your current songwriting process, bring imagery into stale lyrics, or evoke emotions that will make you think of a brilliant melody. I don’t often use this method because I’m not much of a visual person, but I have friends who swear by it. I recommend cutting out photos of paintings from museum or gallery leaflets, pasting in photographs, and even letting friends draw in your notebook. I have let friends do that before who weren’t good at drawing at all – it doesn’t always have to be serious, sometimes a good bit of fun is what you need.


4. Keep newspaper articles that hit a nerve.


I struggle with writing songs that are not about me, and for most people, songwriting can be a narcissistic endeavour. To challenge myself, I sometimes write about events on the outside that affect me in some way – climate change, racism, sexism, there’s enough out there to pull from. My songs about big issues often sound like pretentious crap and don’t see the light of day, but it’s the exercise that counts. I’ve found that referring to newspaper articles helps, especially the ones with personal stories that bring humanity into these grand narratives. Not long ago, I started stuffing them in my inspiration journal to use details from them in my songs. I’ll keep you updated on how well it works.


5. Write down your ideas. Obviously.


Inspiration doesn’t always come from outside. Sometimes we get our own great ideas. The thing with our brain is that we forget them. I often write something down believing the idea is so good that I will remember it forever, to read it back a week later and see it for the first time. So, keep your inspiration journal at hand and write down the great lyric or the original song idea when it comes to you. Or keep index cards in your bag that you then paste into your journal. Whatever works.


This works for me, but I know that all creatives have their rituals, so please let me know if you have any other ideas!