Time Management For Producers: 6 Tips On Working Like A Pro

Joey Tuholski
June 15th, 2017

Hey. 👋

I will mainly be talking about my personal experience throughout this article, but will also include advice from some of our own artists at Heroic and more.

“Okay, but who the heck are you and why should I listen to you?”

So a little about me then…

I want to start off by saying that I am not some famous producer with a ton of fans touring the world, or whatever else you might be hoping to hear from the guy writing this article.

But wait! Don’t leave just yet!

Bare with me for a second.

Since we use data as a giant metric for what ‘good’ art is these days, I will say that I have results on my SoundCloud and Spotify accounts that I’m content with.

And I’ll leave it at that. (If you’re like me, you are probably checking my validity right now to see if my opinions are even worth your time. It’s cool, I get it. I would do the same thing)!

I love making music. I would consider myself a full-time music producer (or at least close to it). Meaning I have shaped my life, part-time job(s), living situation, honestly everything around the craft. And I produce and mix tracks 3-4 hours a day (M-F).

Notice I didn’t say work on sound design, schedule future Instagram posts, watch tutorial videos, master my tracks, or sit at a computer and mess around for hours without getting any tangible ideas recorded during those 3-4 hours.

Of course, I still handle my social media, record videos (playing drums or working on a track), scout out potential tastemakers to pitch to in the future, and work on building genuine relationships, etc.

But all of that is done outside out of that window of music production.

If you get anything out of this article, I sincerely hope it’s these two things:

  1. You have to consistently be sitting down and actually recording ideas to be used in a track that you plan to release.
  2. You have to set firm deadlines. If you want to finish tracks (as is the point of being and calling yourself a “music producer”), it’s as simple as that. I can’t stress that enough.

This is coming from someone who started music production in high school 6 years ago and decided to seriously pursue it a year ago.

Now, I’ll give you my two cents on time management as a current music producer plus what I’ve learned from other great resources.

I’m going to assume that the bulk of you reading this are interested in seriously pursuing a career as a music producer. This article is tailored to you, regardless of whether you are brand new to music production or have dabbled in it for a while.

If that’s not you, you can still take away a lot from this article. However, these concepts will be easier to grasp if you already have some experience in music production.

I’ve read some great in-depth articles on managing your time as a producer. Off the top of my head, this one by Sam Matla is great. Instead of essentially re-writing what is already a great long-form article, I will contrast that article with this one and break down the process in a simple and personal manner.

One of the most important things you should do before you plan to release music everywhere:

Know exactly what kind of style of music you aim to make for releasing. You should hopefully have already dabbled with different styles in your own time and listened to a ton of music to know what engages you the most.

Pro checklist: 6 additional KEY time management tips ⏰

If you are still unsure what “genre”, for lack of a better word, you plan to create regularly, go back to the drawing board and put in the time just producing tracks from start to finish until you know what style resonates with you most, or what you are best at.

Trust your gut when listening to your favorite artists and narrow down the list. Personally, I know which artists make me feel a certain type of way over any others and that guides the direction of my own music.

Why do this? Ultimately, music makes people feel. You have to be engulfed in your music and the emotional state at the time when writing it. Channel the inspiration you feel from the art of others and use that to drive you into the studio (or bedroom) to do something similar to your favorite artists.

But not – the same – as your favorite artists…

“Do something similar to my favorite artists….but not the same?”

Yes. Now here comes the tricky part…

Remember that having your own signature style is quite important.

That’s what amazing art is: Unique.

Don’t be a cookie cutter artist that simply makes tracks that sound exactly like other tracks that you already hear all the time from other producers. Making cookie cutter dance music will bring you short-term success, but not long-term. And even if it did…would you feel truly proud of yourself and your art?

A lot of you are probably thinking “well if I don’t make the style of music that’s hot right now….I have a smaller chance of being successful, Joey!”

You can choose to view it that way. But the bottom-line is…people are already spammed with advertisements constantly.

And people don’t like spam.

Mainstream music is no different. It has more mass appeal, but you can have a higher quality fan base (even if it’s fewer quantity), by making original art and distinguishing yourself from the masses. Check out the 1,000 true fan model for more info, if you haven’t already heard of it.

Having a unique style can be in the form of writing with a similar kick and snare pattern, sticking to a primary tempo, sampling a certain style of music, or using your own presets repeatedly (just to name a few). You can get creative here to figure out how to set yourself apart.

If that came off as a rant, it kinda was one. All of the above needs to be considered before you sit down to do work. Onto the tips…

Time Management For Producers: 6 Tips On Working Like A Pro 1

6 Tips for time management as an artist:

Produce actual tracks to be released (3-4 hours a day if possible, M-F)

  • You can make music for longer stretches, sure. But this is a realistic goal to hit. Any less will just mean you’ll be slower to put out releases. How bad do you want it?
  • Separate production from mixing and mastering completely (unless you are pretty dang comfortable with mixing at this point and can quickly apply your reverb, filters, compression, etc, without it hindering new creative ideas).
  • Do this every damn weekday! It does not matter if you’re not in the mood or uninspired.
  • It doesn’t even matter if your ideas suck! Just do it anyway and stop being so hard on yourself. Habits become permanent. You can’t get good at something if you don’t even try.
  • You have nothing to lose if you are having fun with it. But know – it will be hard to stay consistent.
  • Switch your phone to airplane mode when you are producing. Block out all forms of distraction. Make a constant effort to put down ideas as fast as possible when you are in the idea-generation and arrangement phase of a track.
  • You can make music for less than 3-4 hours a day, 5 days a week, and still successful results as an artist. But just wait and see what happens when you actually put in this kind of work. 🙂

Consistently gather and bulk up on good content to post to social media

  • Consider getting a GoPro or something similar.
  • If you play an instrument, take videos and pictures of yourself playing it.
  • Use clips as content to post to socials.
  • If you have a flamboyant personality, use it!
  • Try to brand your page a certain way with your posts (recurring themes, same filters, etc).
  • Use free social tools like Gramblr to schedule posts in advance.
  • You don’t have to bulk up on content, but it makes it easier than trying to post 1 meaningful post a day.

Practice your production separate from producing your own tracks. What does that mean exactly?

  • Sound design – this should not take place while you are making a new track.
  • Make some templates for your tracks. This is a huge time saver. It also encourages you to retain some recurring techniques, ideas, elements, etc. Keep in mind, don’t simply make all your tracks sound exactly the same because you used one template and barely tweaked it on each track. But a template provides a great starting point and conserves brain power, so you don’t have to think, “what element do I need to add now?”
  • YouTube tutorials – save good ones so you don’t have to find them later.
  • Try making a different style of music.
  • Try to recreate your favorite tracks by other artists.
  • ill. gates talks about timing yourself on production/mixing tasks. Yes, like using an actual timer.
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts in your software.
  • Get educated on some super helpful course and video content other than Youtube videos, which can be jumbled and messy – more on this later.
  • There are communities out there holding production challenges. These are fun and meant to push you. I like Gravitas Create and Warp Academy. Check em’ out!

Spend time researching tastemakers and connecting with them. We wrote an entire article on this

Study your favorite artists’ music via active and passive listening

  • I passively listen to music while I work all day. That is actually great to subconsciously train your brain to know what works and sounds good.
  • Active listening means not engaging in anything else. Truthfully, I should do this more. I wouldn’t even consider driving while listening to music active listening.
  • Active listening: Eat alone and listen to music with good headphones. And do not look at your phone. Take it one step further: lay on your bed with good headphones on and close your eyes. (Pro tip: turn the lights off, grab a comfy blanket, a beer, and enjoy the ride)!

Get Organized

  • Save your custom presets.
  • Organize your library.
  • Use parts of loops and samples whenever possible. It’s a time saver and an idea facilitator. Serik (Hyperbits) also recommends this.
  • Don’t fall victim to choice paralysis. What do I mean by this? Today, there are more sound packs, loops, samples, courses, products than ever before. I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff out there sometimes. Do your research and talk to other producers. Search Reddit. Find out what is worth investing in and what isn’t. Often times, having more options and stuff to work with makes it harder to actually finish music. So don’t spend and all your money only to get bogged down. Find out what works for you and your style of music and invest in only that.

Time MGMT 3

Pro checklist: 6 additional KEY time management tips ⏰

On a related note, I talked to “Stephen’s” Label Representative, Daniel Witcoff, about some of the techniques Stephen uses to crank out great quality music, regularly. In case you haven’t heard of him, Stephen makes insanely good hip/hop and electronic music. Daniel introduced a method that I have never heard of before – something called the “Montessori” method of education.

Basically, it’s an accountability and goal-setting system. I’ll let him explain it in his words below.

The workflow for the artists and their teams is essentially the same, all based on the Montessori method of education. The founder of Halfway House, Nathan Lim, was educated under the Montessori system until high school. Nathan and I had been continuously playing with various methods of accountability for ourselves and, after a summer trip to his old school, he came back with the system we still use to this day.

Namely, we set all of our goals for the week at the top of the week and are “free” to use our time however we would like, as long as the result is the execution of those goals.

From Wikipedia: Montessori education stresses an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a(n) child’s artist’s psychological, physical, and social development.

It was from this system that we adapted the one we use for Stephen and, now, the rest of our artists. While the time period may vary slightly from one artist to the next (one artist may hit their goals between M-F, one prefers M-S, etc.)

On Monday of each week, the artist and Nathan/I will have a meeting or call to discuss what the artist will work on for the week. We come to this decision together, starting by asking what the artist wants to work on. While we never issue mandates, we aren’t shy about suggesting how they use their time. At the end of the day, we see ourselves as coaches and part of the job is to encourage/motivate them to spend their time in the way that gets results in a finished project they can be proud of.

At the end of the artist’s week, we’ll hop into another quick meeting or call to review the week, see if they hit the goals they’d set for themselves, and review what happened if not. Now and then, stuff happens. Sometimes that stuff is productive (completing a different song), sometimes it is not (spending a ton of time with a love interest).

If we see useful or harmful patterns emerging, we evaluate, discuss, and put into action” – Daniel Witcoff.

Time MGMT desk calendar

To Conclude

Find a system that works for you. Yeah, I know you hate that cliche answer. But the truth is, you are an individual little snowflake and unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how to manage your time. You can work on music less often than I suggested and still get the number of plays or the type of exposure you might be seeking. It just might take longer.

Questions to continually ask yourself throughout this process:

  1. Am I best at producing in the morning, afternoon, or evening? It might take some trial and error to figure this out.
  2. Am I setting reasonable goals and deadlines? Disappointment and feelings of failure are very real things. A lot of producers and entrepreneurs know this. 😉 The key? Don’t set ridiculous goals, lofty expectations, and impossible deadlines.

Be organized about your task management and deadlines. I recommend Trello. It’s free to use and I use it for keeping tabs on my track progression and completion, as well as pretty much everything else in life.

Want to maximize your time management as a producer in all things technically speaking? Check out this Hyperbits crash course that was recently released. This should help you loads with learning shortcuts and tips in the actual production, mixing and mastering process.

You might be saying to yourself,  “But you didn’t even mention live shows and touring! When am I supposed to do that?”

Good question.

I purposefully left the live show element out of the mix, as well as anything regarding finding a booking agent or a manager.

There is a lot to do as a music producer. You can’t do it all at once. My opinion? You don’t need to be playing shows to be a successful artist. The era of the bedroom producer is alive and well and believe me, you can make money from your art without stepping outside of your house.

Touring and playing shows is for another article. Truth be told, I’ve put playing live shows on the backburner for now. I’ve done it and it’s fun as hell. But when I start focusing on it again, I want to go all in on it.

As stated in The SoundCloud Bible and some of our previous articles, an agent/manager can and will get in contact with YOU when you have picked up traction independently. So we can talk about that later.

Just focus on making great music at home (or in a studio), as that truly is the first step. Wouldn’t you agree? 😉

Joey (Pure Colors)