Let’s face it: being a music producer is some serious work. Between regular studio sessions, endless hours of networking, financial strain, and even your own body occasionally telling you it’s time to slow down, the struggle is incredibly real. It goes without saying that, if you maintain this lifestyle long enough, you may occasionally feel somewhat “burned out” and not as enthusiastic as you once were. Honestly, it’s not a great place to be as an artist… or a human.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maintaining emotional wellbeing in today’s music scene can certainly be a challenge. Today, we’re going to discuss how to keep your mind, body, and finances in line to support yourself on your artist journey.
There’s a phrase we quite like to toss around here at Toolroom HQ, and it goes a little something like this… “Overnight success takes about 15 years.” And, that’s 15 years – If you’re lucky! Believe it or not, many of today’s biggest names have been quietly grinding away for decades on end, perfecting their craft in silence. You could look to the story of Mark Knight himself as an example of a man who, at a very young age, decided to walk away from a lucrative job as a contractor, moved back in with his parents, and spent the following years learning how to produce.
Needless to say, it’s paid off for him.
While we’d all love to have a meteoric rise from the bedroom to the main stage, a la Toolroom’s rising star Maxinne, the reality is that this is an undertaking that takes a serious investment of both your time and energy. Understanding that building a successful career in the music business takes time is just the beginning. Know that the road is long, and you must always keep your eyes fixated on the prize. But, as you journey towards your end goal of having a fruitful career as a DJ/producer, understand that it’s vital to nourish both the body and the mind alike.
If you’ve gotten into the world of House, Tech House, and Techno, there’s a good chance that you like to go out, enjoy yourself, and party a little bit. This is a (mostly) good thing. Humans have been attending social events where there has been alcohol, and other party favors served for thousands of years. Literally. We (humans) have been gathering, socializing, and dancing for thousands of years. Ever see cave drawings of stick figures parading around a fire? Yeah, well that was you about 120,000 years ago. It’s in your DNA. But, there’s a limit to how much you can realistically handle, and what’s going to start to impact your performance as a producer.
Remember, when you decide to be involved in the business, you’re not just a punter anymore. You’re a producer with a job to get done! The best way to ruin a Monday morning studio session is by spending Sunday night pounding pints at the pub. Countless music producers have been taken out of the game entirely after succumbing to issues with drugs and alcohol.
What can start as a little habit to take the nerves off of a gig or push you a little further in the studio can spell disaster if managed improperly. Furthermore, many artists never realize how damaging these patterns can be until it’s far too late. Everybody is guilty of putting something in their body that shouldn’t be there from time to time (Cadbury, anyone?). We’re far from puritans. Still, we’d be doing you a disservice to say that drugs and alcohol can’t massively disrupt your ability to create, execute, and follow-through, three skills that are of the utmost importance for every budding producer. Better yet, having an understanding of the positive things you can do for yourself can sometimes cancel out the negatives… to a degree.
What if I told you that there’s a little habit you can engage in that is shown to boost your satisfaction with life, enhance your creativity, and even leave you looking a little fitter all the while? Best of all, it’s completely free and requires just 45 minutes a day. Well, I hate to disappoint you if you think we’re about to bust out some cutting edge science. But, it’s just good, old fashioned exercise that’s perhaps one of the best tools you have for reducing anxiety and making yourself a more productive artist overall.
Now, I get it. Most of us weren’t born with a protein shake in one hand and a yoga mat in the other. Some of us might have even failed PE in grade school. We’re making music on computers, after all. But the science is there to back this up. Countless studies have shown that exercise enhances creativity, boosts self-confidence, and will (obviously) improve your physical appearance.
That yoga mat doesn’t look so bad now, does it? The truth is, finding a form of exercise that works for you is going to be up to your own personal goals. For example, our very own Tuff London find their happy place in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym. You’ll see Maxinne regularly dropping Instagram stories revealing her own, profoundly less combative gym-going habits.
Even the big boss is known to pump iron in between gigs. Nobody is too cool to get a good sweat on in the gym, and you’ll always be happy you did afterward. Not only is getting a few good rounds in important to staying sane in this crazy world, but proper rest is equally important.
There’s been loads of conflicting evidence over the years about how much sleep you need as an adult. While it can seem like every day there’s a story about how some CEO sleeps just two hours a night, most research shows that this isn’t the best way to function. Just because you can does not mean you should!
Think of yourself as a high performing athlete. You want to use every possible advantage that exists. For example, a recent study shows that students who sleep less than 7 hours each night perform 50% worse on their exams. That’s right. 50%. You’re half as effective with poor sleep. And if you think that your studio session where you’re trying to write the next big hit is that different from a classroom, you’re dead wrong.
On top of that, late-night computer light exposure has been shown to reduce sleep quality by up to 25%. We’re huge fans of the fl.ux app to reduce eye strain and promote better sleep after odd hour studio sessions. Check it out! As a DJ who’s always on the scene, sleep can often be fleeting. What’s important to remember is that while sacrificing sleep is occasionally a necessary evil, the better rested you are, the better your mind is going to function. Beyond sleep and exercise, it’s important to remember that what you put in your body is ultimately going to impact how you feel, and the quality of work you put forth.
Just like with exercising, choosing what foods are going to help fuel your creative endeavours is a case of “different strokes for different folks.” The fact is, some people respond well to vegan diets. Others respond well to being eating a highly carnivorous diet. Others manage to live to 90 years old while drinking Pepsi and smoking cigarettes for breakfast, but nobody would urge you to do that. Seriously, don’t drink Pepsi and smoke cigarettes for breakfast. Please. Do it for us.
Picture your body like a Lamborghini. Would you put the cheapest petrol in a high-performance vehicle? Of course not! Pete Tong is a big fan of a particular style of dieting that coincides with his unique blood type. While we definitely can’t speak on the effectiveness of this particular regimen, it’s important to note that he’s found something that works for him. Go Pete!
Now, assuming you’re eating well and resting better, it’s time to talk about your mindset.
While reading the Toolroom Academy blog is probably not the place where you’re going to pick up your latest diet plan or a trendy new exercise program, what we can talk to you about is developing a killer mindset to push you towards your goals. You could say we’re experts in this particular regard. Having managed and overseen the careers of countless artists in our 15 year-long history, we understand the importance of maintaining a mindset conducive to success.
Good question! Your mindset is a set of beliefs, assumptions, and values you hold about life that influences how you interact with the world around you. Mindset is the difference between having a positive, optimistic attitude about your career and the music industry at large and being a Debbie downer who wants to talk about how unfair the business is.
If you haven’t already guessed, the world’s worst mindsets belong to people who like to obsess over how “it was better in the old days.” Yeah, right. This is grade A+ bullocks, here’s why…
Let’s take two producers: Ella and Anthony. Ella is brand new at producing. She’s DJ’d on and off for a few years, absolutely loves the music she plays, and wants to dig deeper into her career to see how far the rabbit hole goes. Though she’s new to Ableton, she remains positive about the small wins she lands each day.
Step by step, she starts learning how to work Ableton. It’s hard, and her first tracks are nothing special at all. Even still, she accepts this is all part of a longer process. A year later, she decides to cut her learning curve and signs up for a music production course to fine-tune her abilities, understanding that investing in herself is key to being a successful artist.
In 3 years, Ella’s skills improve dramatically. Best of all, she’s started to find some killer samples for her own tunes as well. She’s gone from being a local DJ to playing regionally and even has a few international gigs under her belt.
In 5 years, anything will be possible for her. She’ll be able to take this as far as she wants. On the other hand, we have Anthony. Anthony is what you might call a “veteran.” He’s spent the better part of 5 years DJ’ing, he’s had a few very reputable remixes come out, and he’s often seen as the guy to know at the local club.
Even still, Anthony hits a few of the same roadblocks just like Ella has. Some parts of Ableton confuse him to no end, and his mixdowns leave a lot to be desired. Unlike Ella, however, he’s decided not to take on board the feedback others have given him and remain willfully ignorant to the fact he needs to improve.
He relies on YouTube to help him improve in areas he lacks in, instilling in him poor techniques that actually make his productions worse! Couple that with a little too much partying, and you’ve got a sad story brewing right before your eyes. In 3 years, Anthony isn’t playing out nearly as much as he used to be. Worst of all, he can’t seem to stop talking about how “it was better in the old days.” Instead of taking responsibility for his lack of success, he blames the world around him for his failure to achieve his goals.
My oh my, how things do change. What is essential here is to understand how the approach that these two artists took to their careers is what hurt Anthony’s progress, and skyrocketed Ella’s. See the difference that mindset can create? Ella was a prime example of something known as a growth mindset, whereas Anthony got stuck in a stagnant, fixed mindset.
While the difference between these two producers is many, one can see that it was their approach to their career, and ultimately their mindset that made the critical difference here. Ella has what is known as a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset is a set of beliefs that lends itself to the idea that intelligence and skill can be cultivated over time.
Dr. Carol Zweck, the psychologist who coined this term, stated that: “When [producers] believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore, they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.” If you look at most of the high achieving music producers on the scene today, you’ll see most of them are prime examples of what it means to have a growth mindset. Anthony, on the other hand, has what is known as a “fixed mindset.”
A fixed mindset operates on the assumption that your abilities, talents, character, and skill are static and cannot change. People like this are deathly afraid of any form of failure, frequently blame others for their shortcomings, and eventually stall in terms of their artistic progression. It’s rare that anybody with a fixed mindset ever makes it in music.
Now… ask yourself: which mindset do you have?
Be honest with yourself. Are you Ella, or are you Anthony? If you have a growth mindset, great! Focus on the small wins you accrue each day and your yearly progression. Not someone else’s. If you have a fixed mindset, understand that the only limits that exist on you becoming the producer you wish to be are those inside your head.
Remember that nobody, and we mean nobody, is “born” good at producing music. It’s always the direct result of a fair amount of blood, sweat, and tears. While we hope you haven’t shed much (or any) blood to achieve your career goals, there’s no denying that it can be challenging to remain excited and enthusiastic while maintaining a music career, steady employment, social ties, and maybe even a relationship on top of it all.
The good news is that, similar to exercise, there’s an extremely useful and completely free way to train your body at becoming better at handling stress and adversity, and that is meditation.
Daily meditating is one of the best activities that any person alive can engage in.
Not only is meditation proven to improve your ability to focus for long stretches, but it can also help you manage stress, promote emotional health, and even fight addiction! Our very own Jon Kong of Leftwing: Kody is an avid meditator, attributing the practice to much of the success he’s seen in the music industry. In the wake of the release of their latest smash hit “I Feel It,” he was quoted as telling Xceed.me, “I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t because of meditation.”
Those are strong words from one of the most accomplished producers on the scene, and we suggest you take note! Best of all, meditation is something that you need to be on a tropical island to do, nor is it something you need instruction for. Meditation is a secular, science-backed exercise of the mind that requires you to do little more than sit by yourself for 15 minutes in a quiet environment, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
If you think we (or Jon) is crazy: try it. Sit with your legs crossed on your bedroom floor for 15 minutes without your phone, computer, or any distractions whatsoever. Focus entirely on your breathing and do not allow your mind to wander. Leave your daily stresses & concerns behind and focus on the stillness of your environment. Chances are, you’ll find this to be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. This should give you an insight into just how crowded and busy our minds have become in the modern-day.
Social media, network news and celebrity gossip does nothing to help the situation, either. The good news is, improving your ability to sit by yourself with a clear head is an activity that can benefit every aspect of your life, from your relationships to your career in music.
While there are countless ways to get started with meditating, we suggest trying out an app like Headspace. Apps like this can guide a complete and total beginner through the process of meditating.
For a music producer with a busy, stressful lifestyle, meditation can be a godsend. Tons of things can stress you out as an aspiring producer, but not having your finances in line is perhaps one of the most damaging.
There is so much that can be said about effectively managing your money as an artist. So much that claiming that we can fit it all into one small article would be doing you a huge disservice. With this in mind, everybody can benefit from understanding budgeting and investing as an artist.
If you immediately cringe whenever you hear the word “budget,” you’re not alone. The thought of fiddling with receipts, using spreadsheets, and counting your pennies is enough to make anybody’s head spin. But, if you truly want to be an artist, it’s up to you to track how you spend your earnings. Fail to do this, and you set yourself up for failure.
What if you had the chance to play in Ibiza tomorrow, but the promoter couldn’t come up with the money to pay you for the flight? While every new producer would never admit to covering their own travel expenses, it’s far more common than you think. The question is: would you be able to come up with the money to pay for the trip? And no, we don’t mean slapping it on a charge card and paying for it later.
If you’ve answered no to this, maybe you see why you could do with a little help managing your spending. If you answered yes, we still implore you to be vigilant with how your money is spent.
While old school budgeting involved clipping coupons, with the advent of apps like Personal Capital or Mint, it couldn’t be easier. Both of these programs link to your online bank accounts and credit cards, tracking every transaction, and putting it into specific categories like “Restaurants” or “Travel.”
Within the app, you can set a monthly limit to how much you spend before you receive an alert. The key with budgeting is not in using fancy apps, but rather in ensuring that you spend less than you make. The apps are merely a tool to help you along. And, if you do this well enough, you’ll end up with a stash of extra cash you can drop on things that makes you a better artist.
When you hear the word “investing,” you probably think of suits on the stock market or some shady pop up about Bitcoin. Luckily, investing is hardly limited to these two areas. We’re talking about investing in yourself. There’s an old saying that adequately sums up what it means to invest in yourself as an artist… “Put your money where your mind is!”
Investing in yourself can include purchasing a new synth, getting press shots done, and taking the step to enroll in educational courses that help unlock your abilities as a music producer.
There may be other people in your life who will encourage you to spend your money more “sensibly.” While people like this may have your best interest in mind, you have to remember that these people have different goals in mind for yourself then you may. Don’t allow the lack of enthusiasm of others to interfere with your resolve. Building a career is something that occasionally requires a little bit of cash to be spent. No good things come easily!
Remember: investing in yourself is the only thing in this world where you’re in control of what you get out of it. Furthermore, there’s a level of prioritizing how you spend your money that you think through. The truth is, while we’d love to tell you you can produce a hit song on an old laptop using earbuds and YouTube tutorials, you probably won’t.
Ask yourself: do you need a new watch/bag/purse/iPhone, or would you be far better off taking that money and using it on something that can help to take your career to the next level? I think you know the answer to that question. Ensuring that you have a financial cushion helps to alleviate stress when first starting out, and ensures you’re prepared when a big opportunities present themselves to you. If you want to learn more about managing your finances as a music producer, check out what our friends at DJ Tech Tools wrote about Personal Finance Tips for DJs.
Building a career in music is a genuinely challenging undertaking. Success comes only to those who truly double own and give it their all, and maintaining your emotional wellbeing is one area that is of the utmost importance while walking down the path of an artist. While it’s crucial to maintain a happy, healthy perspective while breaking into the music scene, it is also vital to ask yourself honest questions about where your skills are at versus where they need to be.
One of the biggest problems that producers face early in their careers is lacking both artistic direction, as well as solid instruction on how exactly they go about making the sound they’ve decided upon.
It’s for these two reasons that we’ve created Toolroom Academy, the educational arm of Toolroom Records. Intending to help to foster tomorrow’s future stars, Toolroom Academy offers a course for producers at every stage of their career. Are you struggling to understand the basics of Ableton or Logic? Our 12 Week Production Certificate Program takes you step-by-step through the essentials of building a highly credible record to today’s standards.
Can you not shake the feeling that your tracks sound a bit basic? Bringing something unique to the table is essential to standing out in today’s crowded music scene. If this sounds like you, look no further than our Creativity: Unlocked Program. This course has been formulated to help compotent producers give their tracks that extra, creative edge.
And, for those who are truly serious about their career in music, we offer a 1:1 Production Masterclass where you are mentored by industry legend D.Ramirez either online or in his Hackney Wick studio.
Making a career for yourself in music indeed no easy task, but lucky for you: we’re here to help. Get in touch with us today.