Why Limiting Yourself Continues To Breed Creativity, Productivity, And Better Sounding Tracks

| Rant, Tips

When will we let go of this idea that the more options and time we give ourselves in the studio, the more creative we will be?

For the past 6+ years I’ve shared a simple message: limitations set you free to make music, good sounding music.

And nowhere else was this true than the past 30 days, where thousands of you joined me in the One Song One Month Challenge. Today I want to break down three powerful lessons I’ve learned from watching this challenge unfold all over the world.
Less Is More

Embracing The Magic Of The Deadline

It’s funny how as creatives, musicians tend to hate the idea of putting a time limit on their work.

The concept of setting a deadline to write, record, or mix a song (or album) seems off putting and somewhat foolish. Won’t that simply make me rush through my creative process and deliver subpar work?

Not in the slightest.

In the fact the opposite is true if you DON’T set a deadline.

If you keep all your studio sessions or project goals open ended on the time frame, the chances are much higher that you will NEVER get around to actually finishing things. Especially if you don’t make music as your full time gig.

The deadline makes you accountable. Even if you don’t actually meet your deadline, you’ll likely finish not to far off, which is still an effective way to work.

Missed Deadline

Even a missed deadline can make you more productive than no deadline!

But deadlines (like the 30 day time limit in this recent challenge) do more than simply help you finish projects – they help you deliver a BETTER SOUNDING project.

And there are three distinct reasons for this.

Reason #1 – Deadlines Force You To Stop Focusing On The Gear

When time is short, you need to move.

When a deadline looms large, it forces you to zero in on what you really need (key word being need) to achieve your desired result.

If you have an open ended window in which to record some drums for your album, you make it super easy to get off track with microphone testing, over experimentation, and endless searching online for “the best microphones to record drums”.

All of that is energy wasted that could have been channeled into actually recording great sounding drums with the gear you already have.

During this 30 day challenge, many of my students realized they didn’t have time to go out and buy that preamp, microphone, or plugin they’d been eyeing. Instead they shifted their focus from gear to music creation, and they were rewarded for it.

Remember, the more time you play with your “limited” set of audio gear, the better you will know that gear, and the better sound you will likely get.

Reason #2 – Deadlines Help You To Focus On The Song

When you’re on a tight deadline, and you give up the idea of focusing on the “perfect” gear setup, a wonderful thing happens: you can no longer lean on gear as a crutch for a bad song.

Your attention is immediately diverted from equipment to the music. You can stop asking things like “Is this the best DAW to record in?” and instead begin asking “Is this song actually any good in the first place?”

Focus On The Song

Marty is focused on the most important part of recording – the song!

80% or more of what makes a great recording sonically has to do with whether or not the song itself is a great song. 

Bad (or mediocre) songs that are masterfully recorded and mixed still sound lame.

What does this reveal? That the most important element of any recorded piece of music, is the music itself!

The more brain power you can shift away from gear decisions to songwriting and arranging decisions, the better off your song will be. Which means the better off your final recording and mix will be.

Reason #3 – Deadlines Help You Take Your Craft Seriously

Potentially one of the most important reasons to work on a deadline is that it changes the way you view yourself as a musician and engineer.

If you simply walk into your home studio and fire open your DAW whenever you feel like it without a written plan or deadline, you are creating an environment that screams hobbyist – this is a place where you come to dabble.

Instead, if you have a date on the calendar that you want to have a song written, or an EP recorded, then when you step into your studio you will view things (and yourself) differently.

Now you’re operating on a timetable, like a professional studio does. They have time booked for bands. Now YOU have time booked for bands (i.e. yourself).

The psychology here is powerful as it makes you take yourself and your craft more seriously.

The result? A better performance, better recordings, and a better mix. All because you are more focused and it is no longer just a game, but something that is “for real”.

Be More Creative And Productive This Year

Here’s the deal: if you want to make more music this year, and you want it to sound better than ever, then do yourself a favor and embrace some limitations.

Limit the gear you use. Perhaps start by narrowing down your mic locker or even by deleting some plugins on your computer.

Limit the time you give yourself in the studio. Put some “studio sessions” in the calendar and set goals for what you want completed when.

Limit your distractions. When you go in to your studio to work, just work. Don’t have Facebook or Twitter open. Don’t check your email. Just do music. Humans can’t multitask anyway, so give up trying.

All in all, limiting yourself will actually set you free – helping you do what you stumbled on this website to do: make more (and better sounding) music in your home or project studio.

If you want to know more about how limiting your options in the studio can actually help you make better sounding tracks, then read my popular eBook The #1 Rule Of Home Recording. It’s absolutely free and jam packed with practical tips you can use today.


Get Better Mixes By Simply Changing How You Start

The first 60 minutes of your mix will affect everything. Here's my proven method!

41 Responses to “Why Limiting Yourself Continues To Breed Creativity, Productivity, And Better Sounding Tracks”

  1. Pete M

    Adding ‘studio sessions’ in the calendar is a great thing to do. I even write down, what I’m planning to do, so I don’t just sit there, because I ‘booked’ studiotime. A wonderfull tool and really works.

    Have a wonderfull day!

  2. Mads Bo

    While I didn’t QUITE finish the ‘OSOMC’ I followed along and did my best work to date as a newbie, with one year of hobbie experience. I had (semi)’finished 3 arrangements prior to 1. Jan ’16, but Grahams challenge fueled my fire and this January saw me recording and mixing a song that is lightyears ahead of what I did the whole 2015 (still not release-ready though, he added sheepishly…).

    The kicker: While I’ve seen all the ‘5 minutes to a better mix’ + bought the Jumpstart Series and learned a LOT technically from that, it is Grahams constant reiteration of ‘Limit Your Options Like Your Life Depended On It’ that has finally hit home and forced me to view my meager setup (guitar, bass, wee small Akai keyboard to play VST’s) as a means of unleashing creativity instead of being a barrier.
    That adage is the very first thing Graham introduces one to when signing up, and while it may not be as exciting as ‘sweetening’ the tracks, the importance cannot be understated (which is why I move to suggest it should be the #2, #3 and 4#th rule of home recording as well…).

    • Chris Fezzler

      I’m right there with you. Rank amateur and ole dude just getting into this. So I understand you 100%. I finished something but it is decidedly amateurish in every way. But I had fun and learned some new things.

  3. John G

    This was the perfect challenge, and I’d like to keep this up with all the other folk here. Just as a short story…I’ve never released anything after 1 1/2 years of writing. This month I had a lot of gear issues, the worst of which was my amp dying completely. But in short…I finished. I’m hoping to do 2 songs this month and actually show people my music instead of hoard it to myself.

  4. Josh Maitland

    Finished my song up last night – my friend and I wrote this well over a year ago and had been sitting on the demo for way too long and even before the “challenge” we had been planning to record this one in the early part of 2016.

    Anyways, the OSOMC was a good kick off to the year! I took the challenge and we began tracking on Jan 8th, finished up mastering and released the song last night (Jan 31st)

    Set the “official” release date as 2/2/2016 for symbolic reasons, but its out there now!


    • Josh Maitland

      P.S. – I agree that having an attack plan is key every time you go into the studio

      I’ve got Google drive lists for every song I’m working on update the lists with “changes” whenever I listen to a demo/mix – I add everything to the list, ideas for instrumentation/arrangement changes, stuff to add or cut, and technical stuff like EQ/compression/balance/panning/automation adjustments

      Then when I get back to the studio, I break out the list and make each of those changes, before doing anything else.

  5. Rob Tari

    Hey Graham,

    I agree with you about the importance of deadline in 600%.
    In the other hand, I got a friend, who recently told me when I was about to fix a deadline for a mix he should make that “Sorry man, but I won’t mix with a deadline.”
    Now, I have sent your post to him as something worth reading and taking into consideration.
    Let’s see.

      • Casey jensen

        Get Graham I have I weird question seeing if you could help me out. I was just wondering were I should have my volume knobs set at… I have m audio bx8 speakers 28th volume knobs on back then I run threw a knox pro witch has a volume knob on it and I run that to a Mackie big knob whitcg also has a volume knob what should I set my volume knobs to on my speakers and my knox to get proper volume output for control on the big knob…. I have my speakers volume knobs turned half way up on both of them then my m box volume knob is half way up would that be the correct way to do it or is there a better or proper way thanks for your time please help

  6. Rob Tari

    Something else,

    My grandfather taught me something very useful.
    He told me:
    – Do you know what plan is?
    – ???
    – Plan is a dream, with deadline.

  7. Tony

    Graham, this was a brilliant idea. Instead of “waiting for inspiration”, I kept chipping away at it and, low and behold, inspiration followed. I wasn’t able to master my song because I ended up taking on a project from another musician who is PAYING ME to record and mix his songs. I attended a very, very good recording school last year; I see The Recording Revolution as graduate school. Keep up the great work and thank you!

  8. Ryan holms

    This made me focused, spent weeks since it was mentioned writing and recording and mixing not really finishing… then 3 days before the deadline I just decided to start up a new session from a different template with a new idea/song and in 3 days I wrote/recorded/mixed and mastered a totally new idea to the point I said ‘I would listen to that’ even if it still isn’t perfect. Massive thanks !

  9. Jon

    The more I work on things, the more I am coming to understand that the majority of my “creative” problems in the studio are really just problems getting organized. Anyone else finding that to be true?

  10. Bryan Vanderhill

    Yes, Jon, I know what you are saying. Even after I get in the studio I can think of a hundred things to do before firing up the DAW. Once I actually start working though, time starts flying by and I’m having a blast and ideas are flowing. Funny how that works.

  11. Bryan Vanderhill

    I want to release a Christmas EP (6-8 songs) by Thanksgiving. Tonight I’m going to sit down with a calendar and figure out what goals I need to accomplish each month to get there. May have to give up the MLB channel this year. Or put a TV in the studio.

  12. BJ

    It’s so Awesome having closure on a song and starting with a clean slate for the new month.

    I get the sense a lot of you are feeling that same vibe.

    • Bryan Vanderhill

      Yeah! Starting tonight on new project. Wish I didn’t have to work for a living!

  13. Liquid Solids

    Great article! I wasn’t able to participate in the challenge due to some other stuff going on right now, but I’m pretty close to releasing a song or two, and this was a great, un-subtle shove in the right direction. Congrats to everyone who has a new song that they didn’t have a month ago!

  14. Exon Depot

    Big Thanks!!
    Excellent piece of advice.
    It’s funny how, by looking at the trees (devices, plugins, improving a segment ad infinitum) you lose view of the forest (music: the song – the big picture).
    Thanks again & Regards

  15. Colin Tench (@CorvusStone)

    Amaziing! The first thing I said on the form was “I do less now”. Seems like that advice got through very nicely.
    We had a month but I won’t say how long it took me to produce my track and video. because I doubt if it is the kind of thing that would show great skill in production.
    It did make me focus!

  16. Chris

    I finished my song and was so glad to have the deadline. Had some late nights to make it happen where I probably would have just punted if not for having a date I was working towards. Speaking of, I was watching for the email we were supposed to be getting today regarding submissions. I hope I didn’t miss anything as I only received the email regarding this blog post. 🙂


  17. Izzy

    Even though you may hate deadlines at the time, they are the best way to get things done. Especially if you’re a procrastinator like me, if I didn’t have deadlines I’d never finish anything. Some good advice!

  18. Rosti

    Graham, I’ve been wanting to release an album for the past 3 years or so, but never came around to it. I’ve spent countless hours in my studio but only release one single during all that time.

    Started the challenge right with you, but I’m only half-way done. However, I really like the song I’m working on and the fact that it’s written and I have a hook recorded makes me smile with hope that maybe I could have an EP released in 2016.

    The prize will go to someone who made the deadline, but at least I have a project that will be finished soon.

  19. Ben Whiting

    Every time I feel under-motivated or uninspired I put on my Beatles CDs and remember what THEY achieved with a 4 track console and the need to get out 2 or 3 albums a year, plus singles, plus songs for the fanclub…

    And that’s without the relentless schedules they endured, especially at the beginning!

  20. Chris Lloyd

    Hi Graham I was just wondering whether there would be any sort of list published with everybody’s entries? Id love to see what other people had achieved during the challenge and I think it would help us all to appreciate the hard work that everyone had put in.

    The magic of the deadline is strong and has really helped to reinforce the correct mindset if you want to achieve so much more than we do at present (for me anyway) haha

    • Graham

      Hi Chris – Haven’t really thought of a good way to do that. There were about 2,000 actual submissions.

  21. Barry Peters

    I found your website about a month ago, and it has given me new inspiration and technical tools to get recording and mixing. Thanks so much. I also received a new computer for Christmas so I took the step from KRYSTAL Audio Engine to Reaper, so this month has been awesome with processing and software power, and lots of tips and encouragement. My January song is almost done, and my February song is also nearing completion! Thanks for your help.

  22. Jack-E Wilson

    Hey Graham,

    I started listening to a few of the great songs recorded by some of the other entrants, and I was thinking that it would be super cool to compile a list with song names, authors, and links so we could find them a little easier.

    Is this a possibility? Also, I’m trying to re-arrange my schedule so I can make your gig in Santa Monica (I’m about an hour up the coast). Tryin’ hard to be there.

    Blessings and thanks,


  23. Mark Horton

    Great advice! You might have addressed this elsewhere, but another issue with productivity is not having a space dedicated purely to making music. Not only does it make it a hassle to record and be spontaneous, but it’s much harder to stay focused on projects when you’re in the same room you do other important things in, like sleep (I’ve noticed the reverse is also true).

  24. vickie sweatt

    my family was looking for Copyright PTO/SB/30EFS last year and was informed of a great service that hosts a searchable forms database . If others are looking for Copyright PTO/SB/30EFS as well , here’s a http://goo.gl/GXnVrc



  1.  V6 – Vääntöä Vähintään Viisi Vuotta Vanhoilla Vehkeillä – Konesoitto

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read previous post:
How To Release Your Song Digitally (One Song One Month Challenge 8/8)

I don't care how good your song is and how good the final mix sounds, if you don't release it...