We are only four ( going on five ) months into the year, and even though Covid-19 still exists, I find myself stressed once again despite it. I want to be the one to shine a positive light whenever my stress tries to overtake me but I’ll be real here: being constantly positive isn’t easy. Yes! Yes! I can already hear someone call out that I’m a real Sherlock, nevertheless, it’s the truth. I’ve been beat making constantly in-the-box for the last couple of weeks and sending my various hooks and verses to those that had requested them without having a moment to just stop and air out for a bit. I knew that if I wanted to avoid becoming a music zombie, I would have to step back though I hesitated a lot. I was pumping out melodies based on references emailed over to me, then I was meticulously nit-picking every little thing I could, followed by spending hours with the EQ because it just didn’t sit right.
What was I doing so wrong? Why didn’t the sounds in my head line up to what I heard from my speakers? I think, looking back at this, I clearly wasn’t on the verge of being a music zombie – I already was.
So for this month, I wanted to highlight some points and tricks to help you stay on track and avoid serious burnout.
Step One: Remember – You Are Unique
This might come as a shock to you, but surprise! You have been declared authentically yourself. That means you have thought processes, personal experiences, and a sound that can only be described as you sounding. Confused? Allow me to elaborate: if you are a cellist for argument’s sake, you might be able to fit into a classical musical genre with the way you learned to play. However, you have the dictation as to what your sound is. You can fit into any mold because you choose to. Your creative choices are born of the ability you have learned throughout lessons and experiences. This is true for the engineer, who may color rhythm sections in a session as blue and the record track as red out of either a practical or stylistic choice, and the singer may only sing songs composed in C major because they know that major key best fits their sound.
You’re not the next Rhianna, Prince, or 50 Cent. You’re you, and while these songs you love are references that can be good as inspiration and, well, references, you don’t need to mimic your favorite song or mix it identically the same. Embrace what you can bring to the table.
Step Two: Remember One Central Goal
If you find yourself stressed on where you want to start- or like me- find yourself debating if panning hard or slightly left will make the track better – take this advice: focus on one central goal! What is the impact you want to leave on the client, fans, and/or yourself? Do you want to finally pick up one song from the backlog and finish it? If so, work on that one track, and don’t go starting side projects! I guarantee the moment you do you’ll gain an “ I’ll come back to it“ mentality and WON’T come back to it. Take it by the day, something like this ( Yes! It’s time for a list within a list! ):
Day One: Writing lyrics or revising lyrics. Simply take the day to just put some words down. You don’t need to have the final product down yet – but what you will have is an idea of what you’re dealing with.
Day Two: Simple chord progression, a drum loop you like, maybe you play the piano and create something that’s just perfect. You don’t need to mold the sound of it to the lyrics – just feel the song out. Make sure you record whatever you come up with – it doesn’t need to be high-end – voice memos will do just fine.
Day Three: Time to see what’s been cooking the last two days! Place the beat in any DAW – it could even be Garageband on your phone, and bring up that beat you made. Now try mumbling total nonsense while keeping on the beat, it’s a little silly but it works! Any words pop out during mumblefest? You might have stumbled upon something you want to expand on. Experiment! Bring back in those lyrics from day one, and build it up from there. You have all the puzzle pieces. A beat, a vibe, and words. Also, don’t worry about editing – right now it’s all about the music.
There you have it. You made a goal, and instead of trying to cram it all into a couple of hours, you took it day by day- each day with fresh ears and new perspectives that only benefit the song you made. While this example might help artists heavy-handedly, it can be applied to sound designers, engineers, and FOH.
Step Three: Stop Doing
Opinion incoming! Alert! Here I go! If you love what you do, do NOT make it your job. A job is something you can like, hate, neutral, but it’s just a paycheck. A hobby is something you do as an enrichment activity, but what you love? With elbow grease – It’s a career. A lifelong commitment to your job and hobby getting hitched together. You meet like-minded people, explore depths of yourself you never knew existed! The moment you let the burnout get to you though? That’s a job, something just for a paycheck. Learning more becomes homework instead of an adventure. Make sure to do other things besides your career, you have the knack for this line of work sure! Yet you are so much more moving pieces. If you stop whatever you are doing and just take a moment to get some oxygen, read a book, watch a new show. You allow yourself the right to be and do more than one thing. It tells your fatigue that this is not a job’s obligation but a career desire.
You are not a robot, not everything needs to be perfect.
Kimberlynn Ahlers: Born and raised New Yorker currently attending the University of the Arts for a Bachelor of Science in Music Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology. Kim has performed with the Queens College Choral Society and is a member of Soundthinking NYC.
Kim is a first-generation Dominican-American, with roots in Germany on her father’s side. She can’t wait to help youths find ways to make the music industry more accessible to all. When Kim isn’t writing, playing, or mixing music she can be found jamming out to Jimi Hendrix, being a dog mom, spending time at the local LGBTQIA + center, working with her local animal shelter, or eating way too many chocolate M&M’s.