I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how to best structure my time as a freelance professional musician. Have you ever thought about that? One approach would be to just do things as they come, stay up late finishing projects, and scrambling towards the deadline for projects coming up. Believe me, I know what that's like, and I've been there.
But let's be honest... that's not a very healthy way to work. My arranging professor, Rich DeRosa, encourages all of his students to "get started as soon as possible" on each project that comes our way, because we never know what things will look like in a week or a month. Maybe the deadline approaches and another great gig comes up, and you have to turn it down because you waited until the last minute to finish something. And that's no fun.
Not to mention the fact that routinely pulling all-nighters to scramble towards a deadline usually produces sub-par work, and is an unhealthy way to live. I've done it, and I always feel kind of lousy doing it.
So I try to spend regular time organizing my time and schedule to better accomplish the tasks that I need to. I'm married, so if I start getting off-track with my work habits, Alyssa's schedule and my schedule start to go out of sync and then I don't get to spend as much time with her. Then, throw in tasks like cleaning the house, going to the bank, cooking meals, exercise, budgeting and everything else, and all of a sudden, where did the time go?
There has to be a better way. What I'm discovering is that if I can get into a steady, routine workflow, I am much more effective in all phases of life. For me, this means using my days more efficiently and getting focused work done during the 9-5 workday. This can be tough, because musicians often work late. For me, I try to limit my late-night gigs so that I can maintain a routine schedule. Some of you may not have that option, or maybe you enjoy those late night gigs and want to sleep in. I'm not saying that my workflow has to be the same as yours; adapt it to your personal schedule and needs.
It is helpful also to write things down. If I have a lot to get done, I'll just pull out a piece of paper and make a "To-Do" list. Sometimes I'll write out which task needs to get done first. I'm still working on it. It's a challenge. Being your own boss is hard sometimes. Here's a list of things that you will need to include in your list of regular tasks:
I am not a type-A kind of guy... I'm an artistic-minded guy who loses focus easily. But I will say that this can be improved by being intentional. It will take time to build habits... be patient. Don't give up after a day or a week. Don't quit when you fail at it. Just keep going.
I promise you that if you sink some effort and time into getting into a steady workflow, it will improve your overall effectiveness to get quality work done on time, which is the name of the game. It's not the romantic artist lifestyle we all dreamed of as a kid... it's work, just like everything else. Some days it's not fun to fire up Sibelius and edit parts. Sometimes I don't feel like sending e-mails for an hour. I don't always enjoy entering expenses and income into an Excel spreadsheet. But I have to. It's part of my job. And my job of providing music services contributes to society just like a baker, an accountant, or a janitor.
And when you can find a healthy work balance, you can take a weekend off to go hiking, swimming, play some video games, go on a trip, just have some fun. You can get done with your practicing, writing, e-mails and eat dinner, enjoy some time with your loved ones. This music thing doesn't have to consume every fiber of our being just for us to be successful at it.
Food for thought. Speaking of food, I think I'm going to make some lunch.
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.