Learn how to harness creativity in your music career. As a musician, you’re already extremely creative. Use that creativity to come up with great strategies that will bring your music career to the next level.

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Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1cv3FL0

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1cv3FL0

As we reach the end of the year, we all look forward to a new year and new resolutions for a better career and better self. But why not get started now and hit the new year running? Next year, I know many musicians out there who will be working towards goals to play more, write more, and be more on top of social media. Set the ground work now for artistic efficiency!

This guide, by Michael Shoup, was originally posted on Hypebot. It really sets out some great, actionable guidelines.

RULE 1: Minimize

Chances are, if you’re in your 20’s or 30’s, you’re doing too much. You have a Twitter, Facebook, 4Square, Tumblr account, and maybe more. You may not even realize it, but you find yourself wishing you’d start that business, try for that dream job, or make that record… and you don’t because of “obligations” or “responsibilities”, or worse yet, simple “lack of time.” I’m with you. I’ve been there. Unfortunately for us as humans, this doesn’t get easier as we grow older and add families or children to the mix, so it’s best that we learn how to handle it now. No more excuses. It’s time to trim the fat.

While this may not be the exact first step for everyone, I believe minimalism is key. I challenge you to examine what you do on a day to day basis, and ask yourself (a) do you actually like doing those activities and (b) what would happen if you just STOPPED doing part of it. What are the consequences? What is the worst-case scenario that could happen if you just dropped that activity today? What would the benefits be? What if you only used one social network and built your audience there? Would you suddenly find yourself with blocks of time available to dedicate to your passion or audience? I certainly did.

RULE 2: Delegate

While the term “independent” in the music industry generally refers to running your own career, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it alone. This is one part of the puzzle that I find many creatives miss. I know I certainly did. The beauty of being an “independent” artist is that you’re suddenly the boss of your own career; the CEO and founder of your music, and it’s your job to build a team under you.

Our society, and partially our school system, has ingrained in us that busy is better; that multi-tasking is a necessity, and that Facebook deserves your constant attention. It doesn’t. What does deserve your attention are your goal-driven, well-defined priorities. It’s time to separate yourself from the noise.

This is the rule where I see most creatives lose focus. I personally suffer from the “do-it-all-now!” syndrome, so I can relate, but doing what deserves your attention at the right time creates momentum, and our goal is to feed that energy.

I start this process by taking a pen and paper and writing down all of the tasks that I need to do [Actually, I usually do this starting at rule one and make columns for “minimize”, “delegate” and “prioritize”]. Once I have my list, I’ll give each task a weight based on its urgency, my desire to see it to completion, or the length of time it’s been on the list [longer gets higher priority].

Now, the magic comes in making these priorities actionable. For each item with the top priority rating, I break it down into small steps.

RULE 4: Automate

By running myself through this “5 Rules” process numerous times, I began to notice systems develop each time a similar priority was identified. Perhaps all co-writing appointments could be setup in the same 4 steps. Maybe all my reoccurring payments could be pooled to one credit card that I auto-pay once a month? Could all my booking emails be funneled to an auto-responder that followed up for me and sent a press release? As these systems began to develop, I would ask myself one simple question: Does automating this task make it too impersonal? If the answer was no, I’d set the system in place.

RULE 5: Create!

This is it, folks. This is what you’ve saved up so much time and energy to do. In my personal opinion, this should always be priority and rule #1, even if you do use the first 4 rules to clean out everything else. This is what drives and motivates you. As an artist or content creator, this is what will actually make or break you in the end. This is what you should be funneling the vast majority of your time and effort into as it feeds your authentic ability to connect and engage your audience.

*BONUS ROUND: Take Big Calculated Risks

This last piece I include as a small tidbit to chew on.

At least once a month, I challenge myself to take a big risk with my career; to do something that scares me or toss a Hail Mary with no real assurance that anything will come of it. Though sometimes these amount to nothing, they’ve also accounted for some of my greatest successes and built relationships that I would’ve never dreamed possible.

What are your goals for the coming year? How will you start working towards those goals NOW?

 

 
"Músic" by Joan Sorolla

“Músic” by Joan Sorolla

Musicians are creative. They can turn words and notes into sonic emotion. Everyday, musicians find new ways to express themselves creatively, be it through a new guitar tone, a visual idea for a music video, or that perfect vocal melody.

Musicians are smart. It’s often overlooked how complicated playing and creating music really is. Reading, comprehension, listening, motor, memory, and creativity all play a part in playing even the simplest songs. People don’t decide to become a musician because they’re not good at anything else. If it was that easy everyone would play music. That’s one of the reasons why we’re all so fascinated by musicians – because not everyone can be a musician. They can take an idea, turn it into a song, and touch thousands of people in a unique way.

There’s this notion in the music industry that music and business are two completely separate entities – two separate parts of a whole. One without another would not survive, but they rarely cross. It doesn’t need to be that way.

A musician’s creativity need not be limited to music. Many musicians who are going at it alone or are just starting their career are overwhelmed by the business side of the industry. They are told that they need to understand law, marketing, accounting, and more if they want to make it today. To a musician who is used to solving things creatively, looking at their career from this other perspective seems daunting.

It’s important to know some things about the music business, like general copyright law and basic accounting to keep track of your money, so you should have some business mind you can consult with. However, many aspects of the business can be approached with a creative mindset. Instead of thinking, “Well this is how everyone else releases their albums, so I guess I’ll do that too,” try using the same creativity you put into your music to try something new, something that fits with your message and image. Don’t think of it as a completely separate, logical process. Think of it as an extension of the song or album you just created. How can you extend your song or album’s message through the release process?

Today, challenge yourself to think about the business side of your career with the same creativity as your music.

On July 11, Stanford University’s Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences held its second annual Behavioral Science Summit. The event’s purpose was to analyze behavioral science’s role on society, specifically business, arts, culture, and technology. Daniel Levitin, scientist, music producer, and writer of the book This is Your Brain on Music, gave a talk entitled “Creativity in Music: Constraints and Innovation,” which went against some of the common themes of the summit including originality.

In his talk, Levitin defines creativity as “works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.” Music, by nature, is constraining. Most western music is made of only the 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and many stay within the further constraints of tonality. He brings up the point that most musical progression is based strongly on what came before. Instead of revolution in music, he likened innovation to evolution. Instead of coming up with something completely new and different, most artists simply evolve – bend or push the boundaries – of previous musical genres or styles.

Here’s an excerpt from an article from Music Think Tank detailing Levitin’s talk.

Some of the most creative music has come to exist not in result of revolution, but by way of evolution. It’s not really true invention, but a wide blending of previous work. Levitin reminds us that Mozart didn’t invent the symphony or the sonata-what Mozart is recognized for is his ability to work within the tight constraints provided, and yet still be able to come up with such ground-breaking musical statements.

Levitin elaborates, “New concepts are anchored in terms of old concepts. That’s why we so appreciate music that’s built on something that came before.” He went on to explain that links between pieces associated with preexisting others tends to be stronger than novel and isolated links in memory. By acknowledging and exercising limitations in the formative process, the creator is able to push limits in a more precise scope, often resulting in unique creative inspiration via unambiguous problem solving.

Regarding individuality in musicianship and songwriting, Levitin calls attention to the large role boundaries play in identity. “An individual musician’s style to the extent that you recognize Ella Fitzgerald or Paul McCartney or Arthur Rubinstein because of their own limitations. If every musician were flawless, they’d have less personality. Musicians sound the way they do because they can’t do everything they want to be able to do, and they do it in this flawed, human way. Many of the musicians we find most compelling – Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – the really emotive singers – were responding to vast constraints to their technical ability, and you hear them fighting against it.”

We are seeing this musical evolution brought to an even more literal interpretation with sampling. New works literally take old works and morph them into something completely new. Do you think current copyright law supports this evolutionary nature of musical innovation?

Musicians are smart, creative, and innovative thinkers despite what popular culture would have you believe. Too often, when we think of musicians, images from Spinal Tap come to mind, but this is not usually the case. Being a musician requires a mix of extreme creativity and logic, collaboration, listening and multi-tasking skills, and complete dedication  – a mix that not many professions require.

Many entrepreneurs would do well to take up an instrument, as many of these skills are also required in business. Here’s a list of 11 leadership lessons to be learned from musicians:

1. Playing it safe gets you tossed off the stage. Some executives would say that in today’s turbulent economy, takings risks isn’t wise. If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all.

2. There are no do-overs in live performances. For every hour in a “performance” setting, you should spend five hours practicing. Athletes do this, musicians do this–muscle memory is no different in the board room, in front of a new client, or with your team. So why aren’t you doing this?

3. Listening to those around you is three times more important than what you play yourself. If you’re the one talking all the time, you’re not learning anything. Listen, absorb what you hear, and use the information to make a conscious choice about whatever you’re facing.

4. There’s a time to stand out as a soloist and a time to support others and make them shine. You rocked a project–nicely done. Praise is well-deserved. However, as a leader, it’s more likely the case that your team members rocked a project, together. Susie was on top of her game with the slide deck? Tell her–and tell the client. Johnny couldn’t have articulated the challenge to the press any more astutely? Refer back to his commentary as a stellar example. When you can share the wealth, everyone wins.

To see the full list, visit Inc.com.

Here is an interview with the great Phil Ramone, recorded at his home in Connecticut. Phil discusses making hits, songwriting, music production, the music industry, the listening experience, working with artists, the studio, spare parts, preparation, working style and gives his advice for artists and writers. A true master, he gives us a glimpse into his thought process and how he works to get the most out of the creative process. Notice how his mind easily shifts from the artistic to the technical and back without missing a beat. We will miss you Phil.

Phil Ramone is one of the most respected and prolific music producers of all time in the recording industry. Ramone’s musical acumen, creativity and use of audio technology are unmatched among his peers. Phil played a huge role in shaping the careers and songs of both Billy Joel and Paul Simon and is going to be missed so much. Such a gentle and graceful man who filled the world with optimism and carved such a wide swath across the music business.

He won 14 Grammy Awards, including producer of the year, nonclassical, in 1981, and three for album of the year, for Mr. Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” in 1976, Mr. Joel’s “52nd Street” in 1980, and Mr. Charles’s duets album, “Genius Loves Company,” in 2005. He also produced music for television and film, winning an Emmy Award as the sound mixer for a 1973 special on CBS, “Duke Ellington … We Love You Madly.”

Mr. Ramone was born in South Africa and grew up in Brooklyn. His father died when he was young, and his mother worked in a department store. A classical violin prodigy, he studied at the Juilliard School but soon drifted toward jazz and pop, and apprenticed at a recording studio, J.A.C. Recording.

In 1958, he co-founded A & R Recording, a studio on West 48th Street in Manhattan, and built a reputation as a versatile engineer, working on pop fare like Lesley Gore as well as jazz by John Coltrane and Quincy Jones. He ran the sound when Marilyn Monroe cooed “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and three years later won his first Grammy as the engineer on Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s landmark album “Getz/Gilberto.”

As a producer, he had a particularly close association with Billy Joel and Paul Simon; the back cover of Joel’s 1977 album “The Stranger” features a photograph of Mr. Ramone posing with Mr. Joel and his band at a New York restaurant.

“I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band,” Mr. Joel said in a statement on Saturday. “He was the guy that no one ever, ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with — longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.”

Acknowledged as one of the top creative music producers, Ramone has also played an integral role in pioneering many of the technological developments in the music industry over the years. He ardently supported the use of the compact disc, digital video disc, hi-definition recording and surround sound.

Ramone’s impeccable list of credits includes collaborations with artists such as: Burt Bacharach, Bono, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Chicago, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Quincy Jones, BB King, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, Sinead O’Connor, Pavarotti, Peter/Paul and Mary, Andre Previn, Carly Simon, Frank Sinatra, Phoebe Snow, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder.

Great post from Mashable about how artists are creating upgrades and enhancements to music business models. Earlier Mike King reported in his blog how Amanda Palmer made $19,000 online using Twitter on a Friday night. The important thing is not the fact that she used Twitter, but that she found a way to engage her fans and make money, on top of the traditional approach of trying to sell CDs or tickets.

“Amanda is not producing money out of thin air, or by swindling some people into buying something they do not want. She’s engaging her fans who are glad to be able to buy some merchandise directly from the artist. Secondly, she’s not a professional PR or a marketing professional; she did it by engaging her audience through the simple tools at her disposal.

Which brings me to my most important point: Twitter is just a tool in this case. Her 30,000 Twitter followers aren’t just people who she followed and then they followed her back; they’re not some random mass of people who just happen to be following Amanda Palmer. They’re her fans, which means that any artist who has fans can do the exact same thing. It’s not a one-time thing or a passing fad: true fans will always be interested in buying a t-shirt, attending a secret gig, or getting their record signed.

We’re still at a very early stage in the online music revolution. Soon, artists will have a multitude of tools to help them communicate with their audience, offer them extra value and, last but not least, make money.

Ultimately, we’re not talking only about replacing current business models; we’re talking about upgrading them; finding new, better business models. You think that the music business is fine as it is? It’s not. It scales awfully. It’s great if you’re hugely popular, but if you’re an indie artist, the big record companies don’t care much about you. As Amanda bluntly puts it:

“TOTAL MADE THIS MONTH USING TWITTER = $19,000
TOTAL MADE FROM 30,000 RECORD SALES = ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.“

These new tools, such as Twitter, will help the entire music business scale much, much better. Very popular musicians such as Radiohead will still make a lot of money. But relatively unknown artists, by promoting their work and selling stuff directly to the fans, using free or inexpensive online tools, will be able to make a better living than they do right now. The future might not be very bright for the big record companies, but it is indeed bright for the artists.”

Read more here at Mashable.