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How to Avoid Creative Burnout & Managing Time in the Studio

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Hello everybody! Hope you’re doing marvelously well. As ever, please subscribe, hit the notification bell, and of course you’ll be notified when we have any any new videos.

So in this week’s Frequently Asked Questions, also known as, “FAQ Friday.” I say that because people like me to say that. Apparently it sounds like a bad word. I have no idea what they mean.

Anyway, in today’s Frequently Asked Question Friday, we’re going to go for some fun ones.

There’s a lot this week about the business side, if you’d like. So let’s touch into that.

How do you prevent yourself from burning out creatively and physically while working with artists everyday?

Wow, that’s a huge question, and one I get asked about a million times. Here I am, look. I haven’t done anything with my hair for about three weeks, so I look kind of like a walking disaster, but that’s quite alright. It’s not quite an indication of how busy I am. No wait, there it is.

Look, the reality is, if you love this, which is the only reason to be in music — the only reason — do not get into the music industry if you want to make lots of money. You have to love this, and then make money as a consequence out of the hard work and the passion that you bring to this. There is no flick of the switch and suddenly, you’re super super rich. Even the guys that I do know that got successful early on, very few of them were able to sustain careers, because their success may have been their attachment to a very, very talented artist, who then didn’t use them anymore.

And so suddenly, they’re left having to fend for themselves, and maybe their talents are about this much when they needed to be this much.

So. The reality is, is that you need to be doing this because you love it. The question is a great question, but first of all, make sure that you answer that question that I’m asking you first. Do you really love the music industry? Do you love music, first of all? Because the music industry is hard work, but music, you have to love it.

Okay, if you do, then how to prevent yourself getting burned out? Well, I don’t do — I do lots of things, and I basically stagger them, and layer them, and I don’t just sit in a room for 12 hours a day on one song. If I did that, I would get burned out. When you hear me continually talk about when you’re mixing, taking breaks? I mean it. Take breaks.

All of the great guys take breaks. They move fast, and they move focused. I’ve seen a video with somebody talking about, “Oh, it’s rubbish to move fast.” It isn’t. You should be able to stand back and make judgements, and teach yourself that.

Now, obviously there’s going to be times where you’re stuck in the weeds trying to figure out how to use a plugin in a certain series, you know, tried to decipher one of my videos on sidechaining, or something like that. I know there’s going to be times you’re going to be messing around with that kind of stuff, but ultimately, you need to take breaks when you’re mixing in particular, and just get away from it, do something else for five, ten minutes, answer some emails, and come back and listen, and see where you’re at.

Try to always look at it as a whole, and then, and only then if you’re doing that, will you be able to hear the issues in mixing.

I’m not saying try to mix a song in five minutes, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying take breaks, and don’t get carried away with something for so long, because you could end up leading yourself down a garden path. Take a break, walk away from it, come back five to ten minutes later, and you’ll hear where you’re at.

So that’s the number one way I don’t get burnt out. I don’t obsess over something. If I’m working with an artist, I will be very focused. I will have a lyric sheet, or I’ll know the song really really well, and I’ll know after four or five takes whether we have it or not, or where to focus.

I would suggest you having a lyric sheet. That way, you’re not doing vocals for fifteen hours a day, burning out the singer, frying your brain listening to all of these things. It’s like you’re focusing your energies. It’s all about focusing your energies.

But we have days, don’t we Eric? Where we work with three clients, and we film a video, and we record a mix. So there’s times where it’s just absolutely insane with the amount of work we do. However, if we’re not, like, so in something for like, fifteen hours that our heads are going to explode, it’s actually easier to do multiple things and just focus on the task at hand. I like the variety, it works for me.

The hardest albums I’ve had to make, which have also been successful, are like, the second Fray record. It was very hard to make. It was nine months, because we had pre-production phase, we had them writing in the studio, and it was very arduous. It was 12-15 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, away from my family, and just hearing, you know, the drummer’s perspective, the bass player’s, the guitar player’s, you know, the vocal/piano player, the other guitar player, you know, Flynn and everybody’s opinions, and pulling it all together, because I was just sitting there at Pro Tools, at the API 1608 console, just recording and funneling all of this information, and that is a lot of work, because it — you’re just doing one thing, and there’s a lot of people coming at you.

It was also a lot of work because it was nine months! But it was a huge album, it did really, really well, so it was worth it. Everybody did very well out of it. So the point is that when you have variety and you move quickly through things and you’re focused — focus, focus, focus — if you’re focused on the task at hand, it’s not going to be as exhausting as it is when 50 things are coming at you about one song.

Try to create some boundaries and focus.

This is funny, number two.

Hi, Warren. Where do you get all of your energy? LOL.

Where do I get all of my energy? I answered it really pretty much at the beginning of the last one. I love doing this. I love music. I do music because when I was a kid, I put a pair of headphones on, and I listened to A Night at the Opera by Queen. My dad bought it for me for Christmas, I was super young, he bought it for me, I put on my headphones, and I was hooked instantly.

I wanted to be Brian May. I wanted to be in a band. It was the best thing I’d ever heard, and it still is. I absolutely frickin’ love that record. I love that band. But I love the inspiration of music that’s that good. It’s not accident. Strangely enough, one of my famous tangents, but currently Queen are the number one legacy artist on Spotify. They have more plays per day than Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles. It’s those big, big songs. Things — and just the variety, whether it be Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions, or We Will Rock You.

The point is, is like, that’s where I get it from. I get it from that love. I’ve got this untapped well. This sort of enthusiasm based around just that memory. I feel like I am — for a man that doesn’t drink or smoke, I am a musical junkie. I’m a total musical junkie. I basically remember that day, every single day, when I put those headphones on, and my hair stood on end, and I was a little kid, very very young, and I was so inspired, and I just want to recreate that every day. Like a junkie chasing a fix, I’m chasing that feeling every single day.

So that’s where it comes from. That’s where my energy comes from.

How do you manage time when recording an album? Do you give the artist the number of days in the studio, and what if they need more or less time?

What a fantastic question. I do occasionally go over budget, either A, in expense, or B, in time, but rarely.

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Rarely, because I’ve been doing this so long that when an independent artist sends me some songs, I know what I’ve got to do to get it great. I know that — are they an instrumentalist as well, or are they just a singer? Therefore, if they’re just singing on it, and maybe just playing acoustic guitar, then I’m going to bring in other musicians, and maybe myself. Now, maybe I’ll play drums on it, bass, guitar, piano, you know, whatever.

When it’s stuff like that, like I did with Kaden’s last EP, there’s quite a few songs where I play all of the instruments, and it meant that for a day, we could track a couple of songs. Because I’m playing the drums, I’m playing the piano, whatever, I can play all of the instruments. Not hiring another musician, and it’s easy.

So. But if it’s a band and I’ve got to do a bit of pre-production, then I’m going to add some days for pre-production, I’m going to be in the studio, and we’re going to allow a little bit more of that band relationship when you’ve got three, four, five people in one room, all “discussing,” sometimes arguing.

When you’ve got a more intense situation with musicians like that, then you should probably allow a little bit more time.

So I — my experience has taught me that every single job I do, I have a lot of experience to backup how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost, who I’m going to need, who I’m going to — not going to need. And I always lay it clearly out in front before I take on any project to see if the artist is happy with my suggestions.

So ultimately, I know what I’m doing when I go in. And then, as I was saying earlier, it’s all about maintaining focus. If you’re wasting a lot of time on something, move on to something else. Especially if you’re doing an EP or an album, there are multiple things you can do. You’re doing acoustic guitars, guitar player has been playing for two hours, his fingers are really sore, the action is super high, the strings are heavy on his guitar, he’s insisting on playing. You know.

Give him a break! If he doesn’t want to play your lighter actioned Yamaha acoustic — if he doesn’t want to do that, give him a break. Go and do some tambourine overdubs. Do some backgrounds. Do something different. The point is, is like — multiple skill sets. I get debated by people all the time on the right way to record. You know, there is no right way. The best way to record is knowing every single version you can think of.

Whether it be using virtual instruments or recording choirs, orchestras, three-piece bands, live bands, overdub, if you know all of these different skill sets, you’ll be able to cover those eventualities.

So watch a ton of videos that we’ve done, go through some stuff, download some files to mix, just get really good at your job, and that stuff will come easy to you.

How do you turn down an artist for a band you don’t want to work with?

Well that’s easy. I’m always busy, so if I don’t want to work with someone, I’ll just say I’m too busy. But sometimes I am too busy, and they have a specific time frame they want to do it, and it just doesn’t work out. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. If you don’t want to do the gig, just don’t do the gig.

I’ve had artists that have been very easy to work with, and I’ve courted them to come back in. And there are other artists that are difficult to work with, and they might still want to work with me, but I make no effort to chase them down. You get artists you love, easy to work with, incredible results, you get artists that are really difficult to work with. The results are a compromise, and they’re not as good as you want them to be. Those are the kind of artists that I do not — that I’m either A, too busy to work with, or B, I’m certainly not chasing them up for more work.

How much time should be spent on mixing a song or an album?

Wow, so this is a great question, because it kind of ties into one of the first ones. You just need to move quickly, and I don’t mean rushed. Quickly does not mean rushing. It just means taking the appropriate amount of time, and if you’re messing around with something and you’re not hearing a major difference, then walk away from it and do something else, because your ears get ineffectual at the end of the day. They do.

I have great pitch. Early on in the day, I’m picking up the chord sequences, the melodies, whatever.

By about nine o’ clock, I’m all like, “Huh, what was that?” They’re like, “Oh, that was a C Major.” “Oh yes, a C!” Like, I could hear a C Major in the morning from the first nanosecond, but by the end of the day, I get tired, I might not be physically exhausted as such, but I’m not as sharp as I want to be, so pace yourself during the day, listen to stuff, work on it when you’re mixing, but don’t be afraid to move on to something else.

In this modern world of mixing in the box, it’s so easy these days to mix in the box. It really is. Now, you can mix in it, you can close down, open up something else, two minutes time, it’s open, you’re changing it, save it under a different name so you can reference it, go to a different mix, I mean, so many guys I know now that mixing albums — they’ll mix a song, they’ll create a template of what they like about it, import into the second song, start mixing that, find something else that improves, go back to that first song, tweak that, and before you know it, they’re doing this, and they’re applying settings through the songs.

They get to the end of the album, they’ve got something quite remarkably good. They’ve been able to move backwards and forwards through multiple songs. So don’t get precious with yourself. Don’t feel like you’ll have to solve every problem immediately. If you’re not hearing the issue, maybe your ears are fatigued, or maybe you’re just annoyed by it and emotionally too attached to it, so close down the song, take a break, open up something different, work on something different.

I have a full time job. How many hours should I be spending mixing, recording, playing daily? How do people squeeze this into their days without being exhausted?

I feel for you. It is really difficult to have a full time job and devote the enormous amount of time that we want to to this job, because this job is for so many of us, but especially the people at Produce Like a Pro, you are so amazing. What an incredibly marvelous community this is. Everybody is so supportive, the amount of trolls we get is so minimal, it is just about people helping each other out. We have a great community, we’re very, very blessed.

Come to The Academy, you know, that’s a great place if you want because there’s tons of multitracks to download, and also, there’s many, many, many people in there that also have full time jobs.

So what do I suggest? I suggest just pacing yourself. If you’re married with kids, you’re going to have to cut time for your family, however brief, it’s better to have time with your family than to have either a resentment of not having enough time. You just don’t want that. You want to have a good quality of life.

So just make sure if you do get an hour or two a day to work on it, just make sure that you get that hour or two. Don’t put yourself into a situation where you know the phone is going to be ringing and fifteen different things are going to be happening. Try to allot an hour or two just to concentrate on making or recording or mixing music. It’s a wonderful thing to do.

You know, we are blessed to be able to do this, so enjoy the process. If you’ve got the focused hour or two and you’re enjoying it, and you’re putting some time in there, it’s going to be really rewarding, and it’s going to be a lot better than spending six, eight, nine, ten, twelve hours pulling your hair out.

So it’s not always about the quantity, it is always definitely about the quality.

Alright, thank you ever so much for watching, this is an incredible community, once again. Please leave a ton of comments and questions below. I’d love to know — firstly, I’d love to know your thoughts on all of these, but I’d love to know what was your passion? What was the thing that made you want to do music? For me, I’ve identified it my whole life. Putting on a pair of Sony headphones and hearing, on my parents Sony hi-fi, and listening to A Night at the Opera. That was it.

I can remember that moment vividly, and I was a little kid. What was your moment? Why did you get into the music industry?

Alright, have a marvelous time recording and mixing. I’ll speak to you all again soon, thank you ever so much.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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