The right tools in the right hands can really put your productivity on steroids. But when you’re first starting it can all feel really overwhelming.
On one hand you're excited and you want to know EVERYTHING. On the other hand it’s really difficult to keep your head above the water, when you are constantly bombarded with information, recommendations, tools and tactics. The result is you spend more time reading books and blog posts, and learning about the latest tips and tricks than doing actual work.
How to start without overwhelm?
I was faced with a similar feeling of overwhelm when I first started making music on my computer. If you’ve ever visited a music store or picked up Computer Music Magazine, you have an idea of what I’m talking about.
There are so many programs, plugins and sound banks to choose from. There is so much hardware that you could invest in. You can spend an infinite amount of time just going through the free resources. And you can spend an infinite amount of money on “the pro” versions.
When I first started blogging, it really reminded me of my early songwriting days. So many tools to choose from. So many online courses to take. So many tips, tactics and strategies.
Then I took a step back and thought, how did I solve this when I first started in music? How did I manage to make my way from an overwhelmed wannabe in my bedroom to a pro musician who knows what she's doing?
Here’s how: start with crappy tools.
Choose the simplest tools to get you started. Choose the free versions and embrace their limitations. Don’t upgrade. Spend as little money as you can. Don’t worry about optimising anything. Worry about creating.
Embrace the limits
How did I start writing songs? I had a computer. I bought a keyboard second hand. I got the cheapest software that I could find. And then I just started.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I had exactly 255 sounds that I could get out of my keyboard, and they all sounded pretty bad. All the magazines were giving away CD’s with thousands of sounds for free every week, but I decided to stick with what I had. Instead of searching for better sounds, I spent my time on writing songs. My songs didn't sound professional, or even particularly great, but writing them helped me to work on my ideas, and actually doing the work helped me to improve over time.
When you’re starting out, start with something simple and cheap. If you are intimidated about installing a self-hosted Wordpress website, start writing here at Medium.com. If you are terrified about publishing your blog posts, then write under a pseudonym until you’ve built up your confidence.
If you feel that you don’t have time to hang around on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, Google+ and Instagram all day long, then don’t. Just pick the one you are comfortable using now, and make the most of it. Or maybe (gasp!) don't waste time on social media at all. Just do what's important right now.
Find Your Voice
Eventually I got together with other musicians, who had better gear. We wrote better songs together. Of course better tools made the music sound better, and as our skills improved, we started to sound more professional. Yet, the fundamentals of songwriting remained the same. Had I not started with the simple set up, I would've never been able to progress to the more advanced things.
Working on the basics with a basic setup helped me to get clear on the most important stuff first: my style, my voice and the clarity on what kind of music I wanted to make. If that stuff is not clear first, no amount of professional tools is going to help. If I hadn't solved those issues, I would've never been a useful to the more advanced partners. I'd still be figuring out the basics.
If I had focused on my tools rather than the songwriting, I would still be catching up on the latest software and gear, because there’s always something new to check out. If I hadn’t written my own songs, I wouldn’t have found other people to work with. Most importantly, I would've never got started.
Limitations Can Free You
You will learn what the best tools are for you. The advanced tactics will become your every day habits. But to get there, you need to start with whatever gets you started, and I've found that the limitations of your tools can actually free you to do the things that will eventually earn you your place among the pros.
The important thing is not to master the tools, but to start creating something, so that you can become better at it. Very few of us are born with our unique voice and style. You only discover them by doing more work.
Start by creating rubbish. Start by being embarrassing. Start by trying things out. Your tools are not going to help you until you’re a bit further down the road.
In the beginning, the best tools for you are the ones that keep things simple. Take away the overwhelm, avoid analysis paralysis and choose the bare minimum to get you started.