Every musician I know has their own recipe for a successful session whether that’s songwriting, recording, or rehearsing. I thought I’d share mine with you.
Have Something in Mind That You Want to Accomplish.
This sounds obvious, right? But how many times have I sat down to work only to be frustrated by not knowing what I actually wanted to do? I’m not talking about those times when I feel like playing to entertain or soothe myself, I mean when I want—or need—to get to work. Sometimes I’m lucky. I’ll be sitting there strumming or picking some vacant little rhythm or pattern and an idea for a song will strike, but usually it doesn’t work that way for me.
I keep extensive checklists and notes in Excel because I learned long ago that scraps of paper and paper bar napkins can get lost, saturated with wine stains, or look like ancient hieroglyphics the next day. Sure, sometimes an idea hits me when I’m away from home, so I’ll make a note to myself on my phone’s Voice Memos app or scribble out a note on a napkin or the back of a grocery receipt. This is fine for those unbidden light bulb moments, but not for the long haul. On those occasions when I must use the app or the handwritten note, I transcribe my ideas into Notepad as soon as I can and save them in a folder called, “Song Ideas.”
Anyway, when you want to work, make sure you know what it is you want to work on, and have all your notes and ideas where you can access them.
Get Your Shit Together.
Look, not all of us can afford, or have the room, to create a dedicated music workspace like in this photo. Most of the time I work in my bedroom sitting on a four-legged stool with the bed serving as my desk. You have to use what you have, but wherever you work, make sure everything you need is handy and right in front of you. Instruments, picks, capo, tuner, lyric and chord sheets, charts, laptop, DAW, mics, gear, whatever. If you have to get up to hunt down something you need, the interruption can ruin all your intents. And if you can, have a place to work where you know you won’t be interrupted. Put your phone on silent and leave it in the other room. If you use your laptop as a music tool like I do, turn off the sounds and put it on airplane mode. The idea here is to surrender yourself to the music and only the music. She’s a jealous mistress so if you want a good session don’t take her for granted. And if you can’t afford a dedicated music space just remember back when you sat on your bed writing music all those years ago. Grow where you’re planted.
How About a Nice Cup of Tea?
About an hour before I set to work I brew myself a large cup of lemon and ginger tea (I get the Twinings tea bags) with a little honey. Then I sit back, go over my notes and relax to get myself out of the “normal” of the day. Sometimes I’ll meditate for 15 minutes after the tea if I find I’m having a hard time letting go of things that want to keep me distracted. No TV, no music, no phone, no internet. Just a little quiet time. This also is the time that I begin to adopt a take charge attitude. This is my music, my creativity, my outcome. I’m not here to please others or to conform to expectations set by the business, the charts, or even family and friends. This is about music and I strive to become a channel for the mystery and magic to flow through. Do NOT drink iced drinks, dairy products, or orange juice right before singing. These create all kinds of unwanted problems like tight vocal cords, phlegm, and gas, and who needs that?
Adopt a Tude.
A positive, commanding attitude isn’t just in the mind you know. It starts with the physical. Sit up straight, pull back those shoulders and hold your head up. Your body is like a stand up bass. Can you imagine what kind of sound that instrument would make if its neck was bent forward, its headstock facing down, and its body turned in on itself? Yeah. None! Help out your vocal cords by straightening your neck. Holding your head up opens up the acoustics of that mouth of yours, and sitting up straight and squaring your shoulders creates resonance, breath control, and support of your diaphragm. Your body is a musical instrument so learn to play it correctly.
Everyone’s different. After all, it’s called in-di-vid-u-al-i-ty for a reason and what works for one person may not work for another. This is my method. Hope it helps a little!