8 Things I’m Doing to Be a More Productive Composer in 2024

I’ve always considered myself a decent composer and musician. But as far as productivity goes, I have a problem with “shiny object syndrome.”

Maybe you’re trying to launch your career as a composer. Or maybe you’re a well-established producer trying to take your craft to the next level.

Whatever the case, there are loads of things you can do to boost your productivity as a composer. Here are the things I’m working on this year.

Productivity for Composers

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1. Open My DAW Every Day

My time for writing music is extremely limited. And when I do have the time, my motivation isn’t always there. 

To combat the lack of time and motivation, I committed to opening my DAW every day in 2024.

Most composers and music producers have big ambitions. But the reality is, many of us have work and family obligations. As a result, we can only work on music in our spare time. And sometimes, you just don’t have the motivation to compose anything after a long day.

The simple act of opening your DAW every day can do wonders for your productivity.

You don’t have to actually write any music when you commit to doing this. But you are building the habit. And once the habit is there, there’s less friction for writing music and it becomes easier to do.

2. Use Track Templates

Yeah, yeah. This is the advice every YouTube composer and course creator says to follow. But in all seriousness, it’s helped me significantly increase my output.

Before, I’d add tracks one by one based on the sound I’m looking for. It’s fun, but a huge waste of time.

With a template, I don’t waste nearly as much time exploring endless samples and presets. The foundation for everything I need is already there when I start the project.

3. Use Reference Tracks

I’m not just talking about listening to other music. I’m talking about actually placing the reference track in my DAW session and actively using it.

Nowadays, I’ll grab a recording of the track and place it at the top of my session. Here’s an example from one of my recent projects:

Cakewalk DAW session with a reference track at the top

Having reference tracks readily available in your DAW has a few benefits:

  • You don’t constantly switch between your DAW and other applications.
  • It’s easier to emulate the track’s form, structure, and instrumentation.
  • You can match your mix to the reference track’s.

Oftentimes, clients give examples of tracks they want to emulate. Some of them want something just like the examples — stray too far from that and they won’t be happy.

As such, having the reference track handy in my session keeps me focused on the client’s wants.

4. Stop Buying New Sample Libraries and Plugins

At some point, every musician struggles with “gear acquisition syndrome”. 

I’m extremely guilty of this. I even built this website to partially justify buying new microphones and plugins. 

But the truth is, you don’t need most of the products companies are peddling you. And if you’re on this website, chances are you already have plenty of sample libraries and VST plugins sitting on your hard drive.

Case in point, I’ve purchased bundles like Komplete Collector’s Edition and Arturia V Collection. Most of it’s been installed on my computer for 7+ years, and I still haven’t even gone through half of the products in those collections.

As much as I like the dopamine rush of buying new gear and plugins, there are some reasons I’m avoiding it this year:

  • Saving money (duh).
  • Less distractions.
  • Getting more out of the software and hardware I already have.
  • Wasting less time learning how to use new plugins and samples.

I’ll make some exceptions here and there based on specific needs. Otherwise, I plan on using only stuff I already own.

I’ve talked about saving money on music gear in the past. Go read that article if you want additional tips and ideas.

5. Stop Tweaking Tracks After They’re Finished

Every composer and producer struggles with this to some extent. Your track is essentially finished, but you want to add extra polish: automate the volume here, EQ a little there…

There’s nothing inherently wrong with improving and tweaking your tracks. But it’s also a form of procrastination.

I’m guilty of spending several weeks on a single composition. Heck, I’ve even revisited five-year-old tracks that are already finished.

You have to move on. Being stuck on the same thing wastes time, and it’s demotivating. You’ll progress more by creating 100 new tracks instead of endlessly modifying one.

6. Stick To a Niche

Some composers and producers find it easy to make the same style tracks over and over again. But if you’re like me, you enjoy writing music in lots of different styles.

Many composers struggle with Shiny Object Syndrome, myself included. So for 2024, I’m challenging myself to stick with a niche in regards to my music.

For me, it’s minimalist production music for sync licensing. For you, it could be something like 8-bit chiptunes, epic trailer tracks, lo-fi hip hop, or anything in between.

In most professions, people tend to carve out little niches for themselves.

  • “Oh, Jim? He’s a marketing specialist for the travel industry.”
  • “Billy? He does plumbing for commercial properties in Utah.

As much as you might try, you can’t be everything to everyone. 

Niching down helps potential clients and audience members know what you’re about. And as a result, you’re more likely to get paid work as the “something” person.

7. Decide On Projects In Advance

As you map out your calendar, you should make plans for upcoming work. And if you don’t have anything lined up, plan some projects ahead of time:

  • With predetermined projects, you’ll already know what to work on next.
  • You’ll be more intentional with your time.
  • You’ll prevent yourself from aimlessly writing tracks that don’t belong anywhere.

In my business, I mostly write production music for film, TV, and stock libraries. So at the start of the year, I wrote down a bunch of ideas for different albums.

Then I marked the ones that either excited me the most or were partially finished. 

After that, I created a production schedule. I wrote down every month of the year on a timeline, then blocked out which albums I’d work on during each of those months.

Here’s an example sketch from my notebook:

An open notebook with tentative 2024 plans.

This gives me a rough outline of how I’ll spend the rest of the year. That said, I left it fairly open in case things happen: new opportunities come up, falling behind schedule, personal emergencies, etc.

Be realistic and honest with yourself though. It’s easy to set big lofty goals and challenge yourself. But if you don’t meet them, it’s incredibly discouraging and could deflate your self-esteem.

8. Join Communities & Newsletters

They say you’re the product of the people you’re surrounded by the most. So with that in mind, I’m committing to do the following:

  • Participate in more forums and groups.
  • Invest in a few courses and mentorship programs.
  • Network with other musicians in the area.
  • Subscribe to useful newsletters about music production & composition.

By doing these things, you’ll hopefully stay focused on your goals, whatever they are.

Speaking of which, you can subescribe to the Sonic Atlas newsletter. I’ll send you free content about making and distributing music. Plus, I’ll let you know about special deals on music products from time to time.

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