Artist Tips: Abayomi
Ableton's Product Specialist offers advice on making music while working full time.
Jesse Abayomi is a London-born Nigerian artist who operates with a fiercely independent outlook. Currently based in Berlin working as Ableton’s in-house Product Specialist, Abayomi also moonlights as a musician, DJ, and label owner, with his eponymous imprint (Abayomi) being the sole home for his music—so far that has included three well-received EPs of forward-thinking tunes. On the DJ front, too, he’s making his mark on Berlin’s electronic landscape as resident for Reclaim Your City at ://about blank, and regular slots throughout the city at some of its most respected venues such as Renate, Chalet, and Berghain. The music he produces and plays is driving, hypnotic, and hard to pin down to any one genre, touching on Detroit techno, Chicago house, and drum-led UK bass music in a wholly inventive style.
On the weekend, Abayomi will be a key participant at Ableton‘s Loop summit, presenting a live track deconstruction—you can stream and download the track for free below—as well as discussing creative roadblocks alongside Machinedrum and Kaki King. Loop’s program also features a huge list of some of the scene’s most inspired producers, live performers, and companies, including music tech innovators Teenage Engineering, Goth-Trad, Jenny Hval, Ben Frost, Visible Cloaks, Nosaj Thing in collaboration with Japanese artist Daito Manabe, Laurel Halo with drummer Eli Keszler, JD Twitch, Jlin, mastering engineer Mandy Parnell, Berklee professor and Prince’s audio engineer Susan Rogers, and William Basinski.
As a precursor to this weekend’s event, Abayomi has offered up a range of tips and advice centered around creating music while working a full-time job.
Making music is not only a creative challenge, but with modern life demanding more and more precious time, it is hard to believe it is even possible to balance work with a steady professional musical output—not to mention some sort of personal life and good health. You may have all the gear but not the time. You may have more time than most but you can’t manage your own deadlines. Maybe you can manage both your time and music but you are not enjoying good physical and mental health, as well as meaningful personal relationships with people close to you. I thought I would share some tips and experiences to encourage all the creative tightrope walking music makers, who have day jobs as well, to perform better balancing acts in the modern tech world.
Form a team or be a one person swiss army knife.
The most difficult challenge of the modern music industry is representing yourself in the real world and social media as well as making music. If you are grinding on a 9-5, you might wonder how you’ll find the time to post pics to the ‘gram, Tweet to your fans, or upload a video to Facebook of your latest gig or studio jam. Ideally, you would like to dedicate as much time as possible to making music uninterrupted and with maximum focus. Enter the team.
Having a booker, assistant, or manager could help you free up the time to just sit down and focus on the music projects that are on your agenda. Turn to your fans and see if there is someone with experience who could help you or, alternatively, you can look for professional help. If you cannot find someone to assist you, consider hiring an online assistant or social media manager to take care of your online presence, be it your Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or Instagram. If that doesn’t work for you, become a Swiss army knife but try not to multitask. Consider using tools like Buffer to schedule your social media posts. Find the time to schedule all your news and online activities once or twice a week and then you can dedicate more time to purely making music.
Discipline vs Creativity: Break Creative Tasks into Chunks
A classic struggle between two worlds but, sometimes, they fit together better than you think. Creative people tend to be very disciplined but in some specific ways more than others. If you can imagine the scenario: it is late at night and you need to get up in six hours for work but you still spend four hours working on the track, squeezing your creative mind for as much creative juice that can be spared. This is a demonstration of applying creativity in a specific time.
Often, it is believed that creativity comes when it comes—that it can’t be forced. This can be true but you can create fun challenges like sketching a track in 60 minutes, or spending your lunch break recording found sounds while taking a walk, or trying to build another track out of a previous project you completed by rearranging the samples and track body. Give yourself different challenges to keep your mind stimulated. At the same time, try to find a routine when these activities can happen. Breaking creative tasks into smaller chunks adds more fun to the discipline of creating and completing music.
Seasons—there is a time for everything.
Each of nature’s seasons has its own beauty and uniqueness and so too does your musical career. It is too easy to focus on one season and forget to appreciate the others. How often do we complain about the autumn and winter and how summer was way too short? You don’t have to wait for the right season/opportunity to come around again to hope that it will improve your current situation. Welcoming changes in your musical career means you can plan out your time accordingly and set goals that fit your current status. If you are not playing gigs at the moment, it is a great time to dedicate the same amount of time you would spend playing to working in the studio and mark this in your calendar. If you are gigging on the weekends and coming back to work on Monday beaming victoriously, consider declining that remix and focusing on more lightweight online admin for a week or two. If you bought some new equipment, spend enough time to get to know what you bought without trying to immediately incorporate it into your next track. Try making a few podcasts before you have upcoming deadlines for one. Identifying the seasons in your career will help you maximise their unique opportunities.
Frustration and freedom.
Frustration can set in easily when we are trying to balance many different aspects of a musical career, particularly being creative and productive or when you are trying to take your music career to new heights. Keeping a clear head and reminding yourself what your end goals are can be difficult at times and it is easy to feel trapped in a corner like you’re not progressing. Consider letting go regularly and as diversely as possible. Develop creative games, jam with friends with no musical expectation in sight, have listening sessions with music you never usually listen to, dig through your record collection and rediscover gems, visit museums and concerts, and even just sit in silence and take a step back from your own demands. Whatever you do, try to find some freedom and a quick exit out of frustration. It sounds easier than it is but the faster you identify frustration, the quicker you can correct the path and be productive.
Set strategic personal goals.
Setting goals can help you better understand how much time you actually have to achieve what you want and help you plan the time between work and free time. These don’t always have to be music career goals. For example, planning how many tracks you would like to complete in a year means that you can divide this into how many tracks per month and per week that you will work on. Then you could divide this into tasks like creation, arranging, mixing, and review. The end result is just that you have a steady flow of creation. Another example is how much time would you like to spend expanding your personal network? Who would you like to meet to hand that demo, or work on a collaboration with? Maybe you love producing but not performance or vice versa. Set goals around your work, personal life, and the path you would like to choose as a musician.
Tunnel vision and the social media virus.
Social media is the ultimate time killer. There are entire books written on this topic and it is the substance of many academic papers and TED talks. Social media is unavoidable but how much of it has to do with making music and releasing music. A lot less than you think and with social media now reaching a critical mass, its effectiveness is questionable. It is a necessary evil but if you have in effect four hours in an evening to work on music, you don’t want to spend an hour catching up with the world before starting with your music. Your music will outlive your feed and social media timeline.
Your tunnel vision, or focus, doesn’t have to be for marathon stretches, but you have to spend honest amounts of time with absolutely no digital distraction. It’s not impossible to achieve but you may have to come up with some ways to do this like giving your phone to your partner when they go out or switching off your router so you cannot go online while working on music. Find a studio space with no WiFi connection. Find a way to spend at least 60 minutes or longer of uninterrupted time working on your craft every day.
In it for the long run—go independent.
If you really enjoy making music and working at your job why not build a solid foundation and start your own label. However, this doesn’t mean just uploading a track on Soundcloud. Invest in your own homepage or Bandcamp, get your music professionally mastered, and plan vinyl or digital releases. There are several advantages when you do this if you have the financial means. First, your label grows organically and with you; there are no deadlines except the ones you set yourself; you can release what you like when you like. Experiment with formats and promotional offers. It is easier than ever to do this but still so many musicians want to join established labels, which is much more difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating. If you manage to do this over a longer period of time, your track record is much more impressive than just waiting for the ultimate break which may or may not come your way.
Health, family, partners, and friends.
Your health can be in jeopardy if you are balancing nightlife work with a daytime job. In addition to this, working on music can be a very solitary endeavor. Consider this carefully, and be sensitive enough to listen to your body before it is screaming at you to slow down. After all, your music is an expression of you and your collective experiences. Do not be afraid to discuss aspects of your career with friends and family but be objective with what you tell them. This doesn’t mean just talking about experiences or frustrations but also your plans and how much time you need to complete your music goals. Sketching out times in a calendar for loved ones can dissolve conflicts of interest but also reinforce commitment to your art. Planning family and friends time in-between projects can be really refreshing and bring you out of the confinement of making music. Unplugging from work and music is really important, especially if it is working with a computer. Just 30 minutes can realign your mind for the task at hand.
It is amazing what you can achieve in a few hours a day. Everyone knows this more or less with all types of life experiences. The rush of the day and constant stream of information can make music making seem like a mountain of tasks on the horizon. Getting friends or professionals to help, choosing the right seasons in your career, practicing discipline and creativity, setting realistic goals, going independent, and taking time for people and relationships are all things I personally practice with varying degrees of success. It has helped me experience some great moments in my career so far. I hope it can help you too. To this day, I am still constantly adjusting the formula to navigate life and musical challenges.