Do you remember when you were at school or uni and you had an assignment that you had to get finished? You had two weeks to have it done and life was cruisy.
Two weeks out you’d be, “great, plenty of time, I’ll get stuck in tomorrow and start knocking it out”. One week out you hadn’t really made a start but you knew you had a week so, sweet. Three days out and you know you need to get this thing started and done. You write a paragraph or two feel a little better. Then you realised there is something good on TV/YouTube/Netflix to watch.
One day out and you’re only a third of the way through so it looks like it’s going to be a late night/early morning for you. Finally, bleary eyed, you’re still spell checking at 8:58am before you need to email it through to your lecturer before 9am.
Why do we do it?
Okay, I know not all of you do/did that. I know I did in highschool, at uni I liked my sleep too much and got better at managing my time and those assignments. Some people will say that it’s poor time management, procrastination, etc. and it is BUT there is also another idea at play called Parkinson’s Law.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson … in the drawing room with the lead pipe.
Cyril Parkinson, far from being a character in the game of Cleudo, was a British naval historian who penned 60 odd books in his lifetime. Sounds like he lived by his own law of not mucking around and setting effective deadlines for tasks.
Parkinson’s law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Essentially, if you have two weeks to get something done, you will most probably take two weeks. Although originally Mr Parkinson was referring to the ineffectiveness of bureaucracies primarily, his “law” has become a valuable “getting things done” battle cry.
How Can Parkinson’s Law Help Song Writers?
If you’re a song writer there are some helpful ways that Parkinson’s Law can help you get more songs written and recorded, relieve writers block and save you from drowning in your own internal bureaucracies.
#1 Setting A Deadline
The most obvious way of using Parkinson’s Law is to set yourself a deadline for the writing or recording of a song. If you want to release a song, setting a deadline for the release is the best way to make it happen.
Setting a deadline also lets you work backwards from that date and chunk your time into pieces. This helps you get the necessary actions you need to take scheduled out in easy to execute pieces.
Benefits of using this technique:
- Release more music.
- Save money on studio time.
- Keep things fresh.
- Learn to be creative under pressure.
- Increase your instrumental/vocal skills.
Here’s an example in a recording situation:
- Chunk your recording into pieces by instrument.
- Set a time limit for recording each part. Usually an hour per instrument is enough if you’re competent at your instrument and comfortable with recording.
- Because you only have an hour to record your part for a 4 minute song you’ll only get around 6 – 8 takes in that hour.
- Do a practice run through the song 1 – 3 times to get comfortable and refine your part some more.
- Try recording a couple of times through, mistakes and all. On the third take, do a chunk take where you record sections. Stop the recording when you flub go back a couple of bars and then start again.
- You’ll now have 2 full “feel” takes and a 3rd “perfect take” to comp together which should give you 1 complete take with feel, musicality and a tight performance.
- Quickly comp this together within the hour. You can always come back and fine tune in your mix prep but you want to get it locked away right then and there.
- Stick to these time limits
If you’re paying for studio time you’re going to be saving money. Regardless you’re still going to be moving quickly and be more efficient with your time. This will get the track finished much quicker and by default you’ll have more music to release.
Be Tough On Yourself
I can’t stress enough how much you need to be strict with yourself. If you’re worried about the quality of the finished product, try doing one song this way and compare it with a past productions and see how different they are. You will find the difference between the “perfection” version and the “work to a deadline” version will be minimal and you might even like the quicker version.
#2 Set Parameters & Boundaries In Your Songwriting
Not strictly a Parkinson’s law concept but if you’re struggling for inspiration setting limitation in your songwriting can actually inspire creativity. When we have limitations we problem solve, when we problem solve it force us to be creative to achieve our goal. It’s a great way to rattle free your seized creativity.
Here are some ideas of limitations you can apply to your songwriting, arranging and recording to help you find creative ideas:
- Only give yourself limited tracks in your DAW.
- Write a melody with a limited number of notes.
- Restrict the number of instruments in the arrangement.
- Limit your syllables per phrase when writing verse lyrics.
With your limitations be strict but at the same time if you if adding one extra track or one extra syllable to a phrase to make it work after you’ve tried your best to make it work without it, it’s not the end of the world. If you can “win” without breaking the rules, even better.
Creeping Scopes Because Of Creeping Egos
When Cyril was coming up with his law of work inefficiency he was thinking about the inefficiencies of government bureaucracies.
“He based his comments regarding the nature of bureaucracy on his experiences as a British army staff officer during World War II. Administrators make work for each other, he said, so that they can multiply the number of their subordinates and enhance their prestige.“ https://litemind.com/parkinsons-law/
This is a subject that deserves a blog of its own but there is a lesson to take away here:
Don’t complicate things because it makes you feel more “clever” as a songwriter.
OR to put it another way
Don’t complicate things because it makes you feel “affirmed” as a songwriter.
Make your songwriting decisions because it serves the song not because it serves your ego. (Been there).
I Fought The Law … and Then Realised The Law Was Helpful
Parkinson’s law is one of those common-sense sort of ideas that, when applied, should help you get more things done. I think the biggest thing, particularly for those of us who a perfection-centric, is that setting a deadline for songwriting will make you a more prolific songwriter. The more songs you write the better you get at writing. The more songs you record and release the more value you bring to your fans and future fans.
What are your waiting for, go set a deadline to get a song written and recorded.