Making the most of small chunks of time

What do you think would be the most productive way to use small chunks of time, say 1/2 hour chunks, for music production?

Many years ago, in what seems like a someone else’s life now, I was lucky enough to experience making my living from music for a few years. 20 years later, I work a really busy, demanding and stressful job unrelated to music and I’m a dad to an autistic girl, and these things take up he majority of my time and importantly, energy. Music is still a big part of my life, I play in a band but I am not very creative these days, in terms of coming up with my own music. I’m really feeling a need to reconnect with my true creative self.

I don’t have all that much time on my hands, I can sometimes find time for a longer session at the weekends, but these are sporadic. I used to always be at my most creative when I’d pull an all nighter and all of a sudden the sun would be up and the birds would be singing, and 8 or 9 hours would be gone in a flash. My life just doesn’t allow that kind of session any more.

Ive never figured out how to use small chunks of time effectively, but I could probably quite easily find quite a few 1/2 hour or so blocks during my week, hence the question at the top.

Get yourself setup so that once you wanna start creating your straight out the door from the get go. Arrange all your hardware equipment so it’s ready to go at the drop of a hat with no setting up. Or if you don’t use hardware have a couple of template renoise tracks with pre-loaded samples, dsp chains, plugins. Then when you wanna make something just fire up the templates and get going. Having to get organised is what kills me, I don’t have time to do it so pre-loading stuff makes sense.

I dunno if your familiar with Reaktor but it has a cool thing where you can create snapshots of patches. Basically you create a patch, then take a snapshot which stores the current settings i.e modulation sources, fx routing, filter types, delay settings, repeater settings etc, you can then change the settings and take another snapshot. The snapshots can then be recalled later on whenever you like. This means you can have multiple snapshots of the same patch, with different settings each time that result in different sounds, rhythms. If you were to take the same approach in Renoise, you could have a few template songs with predefined 4 - 8 bar drum or melodic loops using basic sounds (909 drums, pops, clicks, glitch noises, melodic stabs, pads, etc) and then simply by changing the settings (modulation sources, fx routing, filter types, delay settings, repeater settings, for example) each time you start a new project you would end up with different results each time.

I was doing stuff like that when I hadn’t time to really make music and I got some cool results. The music became less structured than traditional music i.e intro - verse - chorus and kind of drifted off into the realm of freeform experimentation, a bit like using a modular synth and just knob twiddling for hours, but it was fun and definitely got the creative inspiration going.

I was also using phrase editor randomisation to create odd patterns a lot, and key tracked lfos that activated and deactivated fx, dsp chains, & sends (Still do this a lot actually, definitely a good way of getting creative layered results in a short space of time. )

I’m a new dad and am also having to transition from recording “sessions” – where I could take a few hours, wire up all my gear, and play – to stolen moments of creativity whenever I can get them.

I just crossed a personal boundary – I installed Renoise on my work laptop – and have been quickly pounding out beats during little 20min “mental breaks” I can take between work tasks. I’m noticing that the songs saved on my work laptop are progressing faster than the ones on my “music” laptop! 20 minutes to lay down a basic beat, 20 minutes to lay in a bassline or audition a synth sound.

The great thing about Renoise is how FAST the process of inputting notes is, so you can use that to your advantage to get sounds recorded without having to “get in the headspace” for creativity.

Good luck!

What you are describing is an extremely common thing for a lot of people. However there are many people who get things done too. There are as many such methodologies as there are people.

In my experience, and I am pretty chilled with my personal life and work success, it all boils down to what you really want and feel truly worthy in your lifespan. That means you have to prioritize and experiment and take plunges and risks, but one thing is for certain, lapsing on discipline is going to be a killer for everything, ones health, ones productivity and ones ambitions.

Like a science experiment, if you always getting the answer you are comfortable with or what you expect, then you are nowhere near the edge at all. Keep this mind.

Taking health as an instance, DISCIPLINE, is what actually saves you. Regular brushing and flossing, regular exercise, regular and periodic relaxation, regular and deep uninterrupted sleep, healthy eating and regular intake of vegetables and so on.

It is a well known productivity research nugget by now that doing something daily is exponentially more beneficial than doing something once in a blue moon or very sporadically.

The Japanese have developed a mental technique of doing something you would like to engage in for just a minute. Whatever time that is taken after that minute is a bonus for the day. Going by that hack, you are freed of any time bound expectation and you go in mentally thinking that only a minute is something you can certainly cope with or expend with; this results in a chain reaction and you add the next minute without conscious thought. Then the next and so on. Very soon, 30 minutes have gone by. But your process is that you acknowledge your time investment and then again freely decide to continue for another minute and as you get engrossed in that process you take an hour, 2 hours. After 2 hours or so, or for that matter even 45 minutes, your back or hips might pain and a short break is always recommended. After the short break, do the thing again or just do something else as you want to prioritize or round robin schedule. This works very well for me, I live in Asia, and such ethics make sense to me as to why and how its done by the local mindset, and I have incorporated this style of working in my daily life with very good returns, I highly recommend this.

Pomodoro is another one but I hate having a timer telling me what to do, seriously. So while in theory it works, its just a stupid alarm system in my mind. I rather prefer to be interrupted on my own not in the middle of something and then the alarm just goes of…irritating, I don’t recommend this but for some folks that sense of urgency and finishing within the alarm time range might just be the thing you need. Experiment.

Taking cues from all this and coming back to music. Music is one thing that if you don’t do it every single day of your life, you will never understand it enough to be good at it or have nimble fingers or a nimble mind to process all that information, regardless of how well known or talented you are. The best of the crows have consistently invested hours and hours of practice time and study time.

Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine mentions that jazz is 1% magic and the other 99% can be learned, deeply analyzed, studied and imbibed by the jazz musician or performer. If jazz being such a demanding genre does it like this, I am very sure any other style of music can be done for far less technical effort while still maintaining musical quality and sophistication.

80-20 Pareto principle also kindof makes sense, because you start small and then an avalanche snowball effect begins to happen. For the same amount of effort you begin to increase in intake capacity and output depending on what you want to focus on. Research more about this.

When I was even younger I used to get all distracted by 10,000 things around me, and I was still a school performer, used to DJ in night clubs, hang out with chicks and gangs and mostly play with bands in local scene and chill…till I got the internal sense sometime around age 23 that my time is limited and I should move on and do things in my own life with a newly found sense of focus. I no doubt have many privileges but I too have had my share of challenges in life, no one gets it easy. The trick that works for me is to be a little ruthless with your timesharing algorithm and not give other ‘threads’ any default high priority but rather keep them in a priority queue. Also life challenges as you mention are plenty in my life too, but you have to ask yourself the question, that inspite of being imperfect in our approaches, its our sense of perfection and productivity that guides us, and our time is limited regardless of what we do - so the real question is what do you really want to do?

The other theory is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where this acclaimed psychologist refers to scale of priorities for human beings where safety and security comes at the bottom and self actualized needs and spiritual and intellectual needs take highest priority as a human being moves to the top of his own personal development. The fact that we are doing music inseparably means we are all actualized people with such a pressing need to be creative. So by all definitions we must take full advantage of it and not be a total rank and file oriented peoples who only thing about the last meal he has eaten and sleeps and wakes to think about where his next meal will come from, much to the chagrin of this particular demographic, is compared to the life and mindset of a street dog by a famous intellectual I can’t remmeber right now (maybe Noam Chomsky). What we as musicians and creatives and intellectuals and scientists are engaged in itself is an expression of our higher self that we must work hard to imprint in our very fabric of existence. Be very very proud of your life and your pursuits.

Key takeaways from this post : DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE.

Time management comes from discipline and routine. Daily interaction. Repeated engagement rather than periodic engagement. Your brain gets fired and your neurons grow stronger and permanent. Without the effort from your end, this part will not happen. WHo will you blame then, lady luck?? ho ho…she Will say, I don’t sleep with lazy folks…

Lastly, its what I call the gardening concept :

Each one of us has a personal garden gifted to us by this universe by virtue of our existence. How we maintain it and grow it and tend to it is completely up to us. Are you willing to plant the seeds, and water it ‘daily’, ‘find’ good material and soil to work with, ‘weed out’ redundant plants and insects, beautify and clean your garden, play with the arrangements and watch it grow?
Or do you want to grow old and see an entire life of negligence and laziness and have a rotting garden with dead plants and dry soil and full or insects and matter as an unsightly display of what is versus what ‘could have been’ with a little hindsight. ‘Could have been’ is a major excuse you will hear from folks who have a dead garden. Folks who have a live garden with birds singing everyday and drinking from the garden pool with fresh scented flowers will always talk about the beautiful experience of existence and the power it gives you as a testament to your toughness to stay put and be patient with the growth of every plant and tree in the garden. The rewards are rich, the size of the garden is just a metaphor, the garden is you my friend, not some fickle bank account number or some perishible goods and items list (along with receipts lol). You have to value yourself and work on it so that you realize what you have become rather than realize what you could have become.

I read a description of hell that I really like :

Hell is the place where you will have the live with the best version of yourself, another human being which is a you, who embodies what you could have attained and accomplished in this life, for the rest of eternity.

For those who will be in Heaven there is no Doppelgänger. Just you.

Finally I believe I have found one important ingredient to my happiness:

As a musician this example is even more sense worthy. To me, it does not matter what is your studio gear or setup based on what equipment you have purchased or how many drum sets or guitars you have, latest iMac and all that shebang. No amount of external purchases will EVER make you a better musician, unless you focus on yourself and work tirelessly to develop as a musician from the inside, working deeply with theory and technique as well as other associated skills. To get all caught up with this GAS or gear acquisition syndrome means just distracting yourself from the timeless framework and toolkit of music and music theory itself. By hypothesis, even if you had the access and resources to procure every single gear in the world and spend all that time fiddling round with that gear list, you will not have progressed even one iota towards being a musician, becos you have not invested in the true skill and appreciation of the internal self and internal source. You are the only one who can decide what you truly value, yestedays (soon to be) gear or the spanless internal and eternal self. If ones true asset of existence is the spirit and not the body or the trappings of this material world, it would be a great pain to leave with an unfurnished soul, an undernourished asset as the armour evaporates from this world and you travel naked to another realm. Hard kick, but too late then. Use it or lose it. No one ever says, ‘accumulate it’, becos that is the mentality of the materialistic world bogged down by low level in the Maslows Hierarchy of needs, the need for safety and security, so their levels of personal growth is never able to reach an optimal level as all the energies are dissipated in mindless rush for the next thing or a thing that brings material pleasure or just plain old entertainment. Nothing nourishing or enriching. Money is a misnomer. It has no owners only users. Like a prostitute, you can use it for as long as you can, and then as you transfer it to another person he will use it as long as he can. You never actually own a prostitute when she is with you, do you? Likewise with money. The only thing you own is yourself. Your time. Your energy. You both own your own time and you use it. How your own your own existence and how you use your time is totally upto you. Sacrificing time for money is a side effect of a dystopian society but time is never going to come back so like a high rent, it is getting less regardless of how we choose to spend it. So its best warranted to invest that fleeting time in pursuits of value and art is a timeless activity. Make sure you do your own research and build a priority list.

Like a martial artist who does not do pushups but likes to go shopping for new weapons to buy and feel safe about it. Locks only give a false sense of security and there are no guarantees in life. Searching for one is like searching for a virgin in a brothel.

Start by doing music daily, pick up an instrument, invest time with a real instrument, practice intervals and scales, do harmonic analysis, transcribe songs you love, read music again for the joy of it, remove stupid expectations of ANY kind and just engage with music daily and as much as you can from one single day to the next. Look for excuses to make music. Read and start small. No need to finish a library in one day.

Biggest music tip I can give from my experience, Start with a small musical nugget and work at it till it is etched in your brain. Work from there piece by piece. BTW that is how a lot others also do it,especially in the academic circles, ask any student or professor.

So there it is, lots of hacks, some personal, some well known and tried and true. Now the rest is upto you.

I was browsing though this productivity site today called MindValley. Check them out, lots of personal development concepts and videos in their Youtube channel. Books of course still have highest priority for me but a video once a while for such things are also OK.

Life is tough brother, but you have to make it look easy.

Vince Lombardi : “The person who climbed to the top of the mountain did not fall there”.

Mae West :“We all have only one life, but if you do it right even one is enough”

My favorite:

George Bernard Shaw : “The purpose of life is not in finding yourself, but in creating yourself”

AKA you already exist, now go do your thing.

N.B.: I sincerely feel for your autistic daughter and my best wishes for her and your family. I hope your wife is there with you and you love her and help her too. Anything I can help with you can let me know.

lol he hasn’t enough time to read all that text dude, and he even told you about it :wink:

Going by my own workflow, I would try some divide&conquer approach. I compose offline mostly, no live jam recording stuff, but still I think production can be set to little snippets. I know it is a thing of inspiration, and breaking a session you will loose it. But sometimes you can use fresh inspiration on something prepared before. I work similar to this scheme…though my blocks are longer than 1/2 hour I must say, maybe because I’m still in stochastic learning mode…

1st time block design some sounds, or select from packs/presets, and designs a few loops with them. rinse and repeat.

2nd time block go through your sounds/loops, select a pack you think could work together well in a tune. prepare the pack so you can roll the next block.

3rd time block sequence/compose a little song from your pack, leave raw. you could as well make some live set, toggle loops and turn knobs and wiggle faders, if that is your style. record the session and leave.

4th time block polish the thing, i.e. mixing, mastering, adding details.

I think each of this tasks can be done on its own, and half an hour is enough to accomplish the task if you are no beginner or perfectionism junkie. you can have many projects in parallel, however each step of course needs all of the previous steps’ material. maybe you have to restrain on complexity of your songs because of that chunk/block time limitation.

Wow, thanks to you all. There’s some great advice and wisdom here. I have just arrived at work so can’t post a proper response right now, but over the next few days I’ll come back with some reflections and further thoughts.

Just wanted to say thanks for the moment.

@Zero Fly:

lol he hasn’t enough time to read all that text dude, and he even told you about it :wink:

no he did’nt :0!! (wink wink)

I did have time to read it! But I do need to read it again.

Procrastination is the thief of time.

Do everything at the righttime and one day will seem like three.

What may be done at any time will be done at no time.

I am not very creative these days, in terms of coming up with my own music. I’m really feeling a need to reconnect with my true creative self.

know that despite half-day job, no family, enough money, a lot of time
at a young age, i work much more had a stressful job, less money and was still more creative.

was looking for explanations, age / less power- experience / in the negative sense, not everything is new, much a copy of a copy - or just laziness

time-wasting thoughts
living conditions play a role of course (the fathers in my circle of friends are very, possibly too disciplined, works defnetively too much) art needs time
but really helped me the “knowledge” creativity can not be forced.

this frees the mind and makes the creativity easier

i wish you good luck too

Stay Hungry Stay Foolish - Steve Jobs

Learn keyboard and pad drumming so that recording an idea is just jamming and using the best takes, rather than spending a long time step sequencing.

Freeing up the time for sound design, automation, mixing and mastering.

When I’m short on time, say have half an hour free but not enough to really get stuck into anything I make synth patches. Sometimes you might get 2 or 3 useable patches out of a half hour session. And then they’re ready to use for when you get a chance to actually write the music. I’ve made probably thousands of patches this way over the years and it has been incredibly useful as I now have a pretty big library of original sounds. I find when I am actually writing music, I don’t really want to be getting too deep into sound design as it breaks the flow, so separating the two works well. There are a lot of different types of synthesis out there too, so there is always something new to learn. It is something creative that can be done in small chunks that also helps towards the larger musical goal.