Illustration by Matt Hamby
I can two-step. That’s it. Also, I killed some line dances at my dude’s wedding last year. But that was just to impress a girl, so even that doesn’t really count. I know I have more rhythm than most white people, but just enough to dance to “Purple Rain” at family reunions. But, see, rhythm is important. Every song has rhythm. Even Classical music has rhythm.
The entire earth works on a rhythm. I’m assuming the Universe does as well. It’s really just math when you think about it. Musicians live inside of melody and rhythm. The right combination of both can make a hit song that the world connects to. But I’m not here to talk about how to make a beat or how to find a rhythm in your music — you (should) know that already.
I want to talk more about how to find a rhythm in your life and music cycle.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum in this column, we’re moving further and further into the age of the independent musician. Artists who build their machine from the ground up, from producing and recording to touring and promotions, are more and more in control of their own destiny. Sustaining a full-time career off this can be very difficult, but it isn’t achievable without rhythm — personal rhythm and career rhythm. And you can’t have one without the other.
I’ve been doing music full time for about two and a half years now (by the grace of God), and one of the first things I’ve learned in adapting to the change in lifestyle is the necessity of a daily and weekly rhythm.
When I first quit my job, I was scared I’d run out of music shit to work on after the first few weeks. Like, after a month in, I’ll have done everything on my “To-Do List” and maybe just get another “normal” job.
Quite the contrary. The “To-Do List” still exists and is about 40 pages deep now. In my initial excitement to go into this full time, I’d wake up at 7 a.m. and go to sleep at 3 a.m. for days at a time. Things like eating, exercise, bathing and general hygiene were annoyances. They were distractions that got in the way of what I wanted to do all day long (though I can’t front like they still don’t when I’m in a zone).
But that can only last so long. I totally threw off my rhythm and balance and I had to make up for it, so I wouldn’t have a mini-burnout (though I still do about two times a year at least). What I came to realize was that I had to treat this just like a “job” — lunch breaks, days off, bathing and other “9-5” stuff. Finding the rhythm of a daily routine was so much more important than I initially realized and it has really helped bring clarity to the importance of finding a steady career rhythm.
“Career rhythm” is difficult to explain, as different artists have different career choices and paths to take. But since this is a column directed at “local scenes,” the choices narrow a little bit. The way I see it, artists have two jobs: 1) make music and 2) get the music out to people. But in those two steps are hundreds of little steps.
Without diving too deep into details, this is what I see as a basic rhythm to somewhat adhere to: live and experience shit; write about it; record what you wrote about; find the right music to fit what you wrote; find the right engineers to mix and master it; get your artwork, image and online presence all set up; begin hitting open mics or rocking your own shows; live and experience all that shit; write about it and expand your sound; push your boundaries. Rinse and repeat.
That’s easier written than done, but those are good, basic habits to work into your routine and it allows you to slowly expand outward more and more as you continue to repeat the process. When you get to the level where you’re ready to tour more heavily, you’ll begin to realize how important your daily rhythm comes into play. Touring tests this more than any other area of an artist’s career. It takes you out of your environment and comfort range, so sticking to your daily rhythm is the main thing that keeps you from going completely batshit crazy on the road or upon return. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
In closing, don’t get too attached to any particular rhythm. That’s the biggest trick. You can only two-step for so long before you have to change it up. You can only use a drum pattern so many times before it feels stale and weighs down your evolution. Use some of these tips as a basic template, but never be afraid to think outside of your box and experiment with new ideas.
One thing no one in music will ever get tired of is a new idea.
ILL POETIC is a multitasking Hip Hop artist and producer whose column appears here monthly. Contact him through www.illpoetic.com.