by Metro Music Makers instructor Mark Grundhoefer
Readers of the blog may remember that last year I set a pretty lofty goal: to write, record and release new music every month of 2019. Here we are in January, and I’m happy to say I completed my goal, releasing 22 songs (singles and EPs) over 12 months. I learned a few things along the way.
Sticking to a schedule
When I began thinking of the logistics of releasing music every month for a year, it hit me that one of my biggest flaws is a lack of preparation. I like to wing it. Maybe that’s my improvisation background. I knew I had to plan in advance because I was starting the year with no songs written, so I bought a dry erase board and hung it in my music studio. There I had a detailed monthly release schedule, a chart of each song I was working on with my “to do” list (mix drums, record guitar solo, fix timing on the bass, etc.), and notes about new songs I was writing. It allowed me to stay on top of the workload and finish everything in time. Now, as I go into 2020, my board is still up and filled with all the new projects I’m working on.
Learning to not be a perfectionist
Have you tried to write a song before? To some it’s super easy, and to others near impossible. I’m somewhere in the middle. But I’m also writing, arranging, recording, engineering, producing, mixing, mastering, doing the album artwork, lining up interviews on podcasts, posting on social media, booking shows—literally doing it all. So I had to learn to give up some control. Let mistakes happen and embrace them. You won’t easily find them, but there are wrong notes, missed hits, weird frequencies, and all sorts of other flubs within my recordings. If I had made each song perfect, it would have taken me years, which is why some artists actually do spend years recording an album. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I learned the average listener is more interested in a captured moment, not a perfectly mixed song. Though, maybe in 2020 I’ll spend more time being a perfectionist. . .
There’s no way I could have done this alone. That was something I was aware of immediately, so I spent a good chunk of the year working with other artists. I released a song with a local Atlanta band, and wrote songs with a guitarist in Norway, a multi-instrumentalist from New York, and another out of the Midwest. I also formed the East Coast Collective, which is a group of musicians along the eastern part of the US who have a love of instrumental jazz funk music. Two of my releases were with a record label, while the rest were independent. I learned how important collaboration can be and even have several songs planned for 2020 with other musicians all over the world.
Dealing with burnout
I knew this project would be tough, but really I had no idea. I started strong, then by about May, I was done. I had released a dozen songs at that point, and I couldn’t find inspiration to continue. Luckily, thanks to my planned schedule, I was already done with the music for the next few months. I knew that I could take some time off, so I did. For a good bit of the summer I didn’t work on music. Instead I just went back to the basics. I played music for fun. I jammed with friends. I spent more time listening to music. Before I knew it, inspiration came back and I started working on tunes for the end of the year.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. This year I’ll be releasing my third full-length album. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be releasing other music. I just won’t be worrying as much about staying on the monthly release schedule. Old habits are hard to break, though, and I’ve already got music set for release in January and February. I guess I need to work on something for March. . .