Tuesday, December 17, 2019

7 Ways I Balance Quality And Quantity | Music Think Tank

Quality vs. quantity — which is better for musicians to focus on?

Some musicians can pump out amazing music on a regular basis, like Bob Dylan in his hey-day.

Others prefer to take their time, years even, to release great music, like Adele.

Here’s the thing: they’re both the ticket to success. Balancing the two is just part of being a musician.

You don’t have to choose quality over quantity, or quantity over quality.

I learned this lesson the hard way.

The Lesson I Learned

Twenty-nineteen was the year I learned some things.

The big lesson was this: it’s not just about how much music I create, it’s about how I create it.

Let me share my experience. Maybe it’ll help you.

For the past 2-3 years, I’ve had my head down, cranking out music.

But in hindsight, I now realize I was more focused on putting out music than putting out great music. 

For example, between 2016 and 2019, I’ve:

  • Filmed and released a six-song video album
  • Released an 11-song album (including the instrumental version)
  • Released an 11-song commentary album
  • Commissioned and contributed to a 5-song remix EP
  • Released five studio singles
  • Released 10 instrumental songs under my beat-music side project
  • Played dozens of concerts, both solo and with the band I started
  • Recorded and released a two-part 13-song album
  • Shared unreleased songs with my patrons
  • Made a bunch of short stock-music songs for a royalty-free music library

This is not a brag. This is an example of a disparity.

If you listened to all this music and watch the videos, you’d hear and see how it all could’ve been way better.

I know that making bad music teaches you how to make better music in the future — if you let your past self teach you.

But I still could’ve spent more time with each project to make the quality better.

So this year, I realized my balance of quality vs. quantity was way off. The see-saw was tipped almost the whole way to quantity, leaving quality hanging in the air with no foothold.

I share all this in hopes that you review your own quality-quantity see-saw.

Are you hyper-focused on one of these and not so much on the other?

If so, the next section may interest you…

7 Tips For Balancing Quality And Quantity

If I realized this imbalance but did nothing about it, what’s the point?

So now I want to share what I’ve learned about how to balance quality and quantity as a musician.

This is how I make music I’m proud of on a consistent basis.

Today, I focus on quality by:

  • Forcing myself to spend more time on each song. It makes me ask myself, “Is this song actually great? If not, how can I improve it?”
  • Asking trusted (musician) friends for critical feedback. I need them to be brutally honest. I don’t want my music to have cracks, holes, or bumps in its armor.
  • Playing my songs live. Even though I’m not a huge performer, playing new songs in front of a crowd helps me gauge their reaction. Even without a reaction, just hearing myself play a song in the presence of people helps me realize how it could be better.
  • Posting my music in Facebook groups that give honest feedback. I recommend checking out Sync Lounge.

And today, I focus on quantity by:

  • Setting aside time every day to make music, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes. I try to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to do songwriting, then I record music at night after my family goes to bed. Baby steps, that’s the key.
  • Giving myself “the gift of done,” as author Jon Acuff says in his book Finish. He says that at some point, perfectionism starts to have a diminishing ROI. Yes, make your song great. But consider if your goal of “great” is actually “perfect,” which isn’t really possible. Your definition of perfect will move once you reach it. It’s like trying to hold smoke in your hand.
  • Setting small goals so you stay encouraged and moving forward. If I had set out to accomplish what I have over the past few years, I would’ve given up long ago. Instead, I just started making music every day with smaller goals (finish this album, record a song this week, work on songwriting today, etc.).

Here’s my point: being a musician is a balancing act.

You may want to be prolific, but don’t forget to make music you’re proud of.

You may want to make amazing music, but don’t let that stop you from releasing anything.

It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you, but I think these tips will help get you started. I know they’ve helped me.

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Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter-producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.

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