Setting goals for yourself as a music producer is important. It’s also easy.
But achieving those goals? Yeah, not easy. Most producers fail to achieve their goals or even get close to achieving them.
The good news is that there’s a better way to make progress as an artist – to rely on a system rather than just luck and fleeting motivation.
In this post, I dispel a few myths about goal setting and motivation and walk you through the exact system I recommend for crushing your goals as a producer.
First, I recommend downloading a copy of our Producer Action Plan so you can fill it in as you go through this article 👇
Table of contents
Part 1 – Why most producers fail to reach their goals
- The truth about goal setting and why it doesn’t work for most producers
- Why lack of belief will kill your progress
- Motivation only works with momentum
- Goals alone aren’t enough: you need a plan
Part 2 – A 3-step plan for crushing it
- Step 1: Set a 90-day controllable-output goal
- Step 2: Convert your goal into a daily or weekly metric
- Step 3: Organize your environment (mental and physical) for best results
- What next?
The truth about goal setting
A lot of music producers talk about goal setting like it’s something new and unique.
It’s obviously not.
If you’ve grown up in the Western world, you know how to set goals. You know what they are, you know that they’re good, and you probably know that they’re supposed to be S.M.A.R.T.
Even though goal setting is a popular notion, most producers do not set goals.
Those who do, usually don’t achieve them, or even get close.
And there are three main reasons why you probably don’t achieve the goals you set:
- You lack the belief that you can achieve the goal
- You have no motivation to work towards achieving the goal
- You have the wrong plan for making progress toward the goal
How to believe you can achieve the goal
I had a friend growing up who, by no fault of his own, had severe limiting beliefs.
Everything was too hard for him.
His MO was “I can’t.”
You could put the perfect plan in front of him, and even if the probability of success was 99%, he’d still fail to initiate.
Fundamentally, he had a mindset issue. A belief issue.
He didn’t believe he could actually achieve any of the goals or aspirations he had, so he never tried.
When you’re setting goals for your artist project, whether it’s releasing an EP on Spotify or playing a show in a different country, the first barrier you have to overcome is this one of belief.
Because if you don’t, no amount of motivation, planning, or habit creation will help you.
So how do you fix this? How do you overcome the barrier of limiting beliefs?
“Is this too ambitious?”
First, you need to honestly ask yourself whether your goal is too ambitious.
I’ve had new producers email me asking how they can tour the world in 6 months.
Well, if you set a goal like that and then feel like you can’t do it—you’re right. It’s pretty much impossible. You’re going to feel overwhelmed, very quickly.
So you have to be honest with yourself.
Without discrediting your effort so far, how far along are you?
How good are you at making music?
Is this goal sufficiently challenging, or is it too challenging?
I’d also recommend that if you know you have a mindset problem, like the friend I mentioned above, then you should err on the side of “too easy” when setting goals. Basically, you need to prove to yourself that you can actually achieve something. Chances are you’ve forgotten what that feels like, and need to build momentum.
“Am I thinking from first principles?”
Second, think from first principles.
One reason why producers start to believe they can’t achieve their goals, even if they’re attainable, is because it’s easier to hold the belief that they can’t.
If you believe you can achieve your goal, that means effort. Our lizard brain doesn’t like that.
Therefore, you’ll feel the urge to come up with all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t achieve the goal you’ve set.
One of the most popular excuses I hear (and have used myself), is “I’m just not talented enough.”
Another one might be “I don’t live in the right city/country to succeed in this.”
To combat this, you need to think from first principles.
Let’s run through the first excuse: “I’m just not talented.”
What do we know is true, based on facts?
Instead, it’s about deliberate practice. Meaning unless you have a physical or mental impairment that literally stops you from being able to make music (i.e., you’re tone deaf or literally deaf), then on a fundamental level, you can achieve certain goals by putting the time in.
The exception to this is a goal that relies on market forces. If your goal is to become the next Calvin Harris, that’s not predicated on talent. It’s far more complex than that and I don’t recommend setting such a goal.
But if your goal is to produce music that sounds professional and gets heard? You don’t need talent. You can do it.
Along with first principles, it helps to use historical data to combat the inevitable excuses that rise up.
If your excuse is that you live in a small town with no other producers, so you’ll never be able to build your brand, then ask yourself the following…
Has anyone else in a similar position to me achieved success?
The answer is almost always yes. You can find examples.
How to build motivation toward achieving your goal
Once you’ve dealt with the belief problem (if you even had it in the first place—some producers don’t encounter it), you need to deal with the problem of motivation.
You have to do this in order, by the way. If you’re trying to fix the motivation problem without fixing the belief problem first, it doesn’t work. If you don’t believe you can do the thing you’re trying to do, you won’t feel motivated. Period.
Unfortunately, you can believe that something’s possible and that you’re able to do it, and still feel unmotivated to work towards your goal.
So how do you build it back up? How do you feel motivated again to work on your goals?
There are two main things that contribute to motivation, but I need to make a disclaimer first:
I don’t believe motivation is the key to achieving your goals.
I think it’s important, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Not only that, but if your goal is important to you, you need to be prepared to work through days, perhaps even weeks or months where you don’t feel motivated at all to do the work.
That’s what professionals do. They work regardless of how they feel.
Recommended Reading: Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
That said, motivation is helpful, and if we can generate more of it, we should.
To do so, you want to focus on two things:
- Building momentum
- Creating vertical coherence
Momentum leads to motivation
Setting goals causes people to feel discouraged and unmotivated because it creates a gap between effort and results.
Let’s say your goal is to produce an EP in 6 months. Today is your first day. You’re tired, you’re not feeling that creative, and all you can get down is a simple melody.
Well, in light of your goal of producing a full EP, that seems pitiful. You’re nowhere close.
Everything will be working against you at this point. You’ll feel like you should give up because the goal is too hard, and you’ll start making those excuses again.
Why? Because you’ve created this gap between current situation (a simple melody) and desired situation (fully produced EP).
Now, this gap is unavoidable. It’s going to be there. Goals take time.
But you can manage it by building momentum.
The best thing you can do when working towards a goal is to systemize the work needed to achieve it.
Want to finish an EP in 6 months? Produce for 2 hours every day. Build momentum.
Want to grow your brand and build connections? Cold email 10 people every day. Build momentum.
When you work towards your goal consistently, two things happen:
- You feel good about yourself because you’re doing the work = +1 motivation
- You’re closing the gap between current situation and desired situation = +1 motivation
Why do so many people hate working in the corporate world?
One of the reasons is that they can’t see the fruit of their labour, and they can’t see how it connects to a higher purpose.
In other words, the work they’re doing on a daily basis has little to no meaning to them.
Vertical coherence is just a fancy term for doing work that has meaning to you in the long term.
If you have a 20-year goal to become one of the best film and commercial producers in the world, then it’s going to be easier for you to sit down and do the work every day. There’s a higher goal there. A higher purpose. Vertical coherence.
So, while I recommend that you set quarterly goals, it’s helpful to have a long term vision for where you want to take this. That way you can see how your daily work and quarterly goals connect to where you ultimately want to go.
Goals alone aren’t enough: you need a plan
You can fix the belief system, you can build up the motivation, and you can still fail to achieve your goals.
Because you have no system or plan.
If I set a goal to run a marathon, I might feel motivated for a while and I might start running more often. But without a systematic marathon training plan, my chances of achieving that goal are low.
Likewise, when you set goals as a producer, you need a plan and system to help you get there. You need to translate what might take 3-6 months to achieve into something you can focus on weekly and daily.
That’s what we’re going to look at in part 2.
How do you create a plan to achieve your goals that isn’t complicated but still gets you results?
Let’s take a look.
Note: I recommend using the Producer Action Plan to follow along with this.
Step 1: Set a 90-day controllable output goal
The first step is to set a goal.
But not just any goal…
You want to set a 90-day goal that’s within your reach (it’s not overly ambitious) and where you’re able to actually control the output.
A controllable output goal is one where it depends entirely on you whether you achieve it or not.
If your goal is to produce a 3-track EP in the next 90 days, then that’s on you. If you fail, it’s your fault. You control the amount of time and effort you put in. No one else. This is a controllable output goal.
A non-controllable output goal is one where there are external influences that affect whether you achieve your goal or not.
For instance, if your goal is to release a track and get 500,000 plays on it, then that’s outside your control. It might happen, and you can certainly improve the chances of it happening by making a great song and promoting it well, but you can’t control the output.
And when you can’t control the output, you feel less motivated.
So, 90 days, achievable, and controllable.
Write it down. Put it somewhere where you can see it.
Note: I recommend setting only one goal for the next 90 days. You will be tempted to set multiple. In my experience working with other producers (and myself), setting multiple goals is a recipe for failure. Set one and focus intensely on it.
Step 2: Convert your goal into a monthly, weekly and/or daily metric
Because your goal is a controllable-output goal, most of the time you’ll be able to turn it into a metric.
Let’s take the example goal of producing a 3-track EP in 90 days.
We can turn this into multiple metrics that will allow us to keep track of how well we’re doing.
Our first and most obvious metric might be to finish one track per month. If we do that, we’ll achieve our goal.
Then, we might assume that it takes us 30 hours to finish a track. That’s 30 hours a month. So we can convert that into our weekly metric: produce for 7 hours every week.
We could stop there. But if our scheduled allowed it, we could turn this into a daily metric: produce one hour every day.
The most important metric is the one with the smallest trackable time-frame—in this case, one day.
No longer do you need to focus on this overwhelming, seemingly out of reach goal. You just need to track the daily metric and ask yourself, “Did I produce for at least 60 minutes today?”
Note: You can track your goals using my Goal & Metric Tracking Google Sheet
Step 3: Organize your environment for best results
Once you’ve set your 90-day controllable-output goal and created some metrics, you want to further increase your chances of achieving the goal.
One of the best ways to do that is by optimizing your environment in three areas:
- Goal tracking and organization
- Physical environment (studio)
Tracking your goals and metric(s)
We talked earlier about momentum leading to motivation.
One of the best ways to build that momentum and see it happening is by tracking your goal’s metric. Visually.
You can do this on a calendar by just writing an X on every day, find an app that allows you to track a habit (like Streaks) or use a simple spreadsheet.
I prefer the spreadsheet approach which I then bookmark. Click here to copy the Google Sheets template.
Optimizing your physical environment
Second, you want to optimize your studio environment so that you can focus with intensity on your goal.
Most producers do not do this, and suffer for it.
It’s also not hard.
Generally speaking, your studio environment should be clean. If there’s stuff lying around you’ll just get distracted, especially when you encounter something difficult in your project that causes resistance.
Speaking of distractions—eliminate them wherever possible. If you live with roommates, ask if they could respect your need for focus at certain times of the day, or just go to a coffee shop with headphones if you can’t avoid that.
Put your phone somewhere where it’s not easily accessible, and close everything on your computer apart from your DAW.
Remember, you’ll be tempted to do everything other than working on your metric and making progress towards your goal. Avoid this temptation. Do the work.
Recommended Reading: How to Make Time for Music and Crush Your Goals
Normally I wouldn’t talk about this in an article on music production, but it’s important if you want to be an effective producer.
You can try your best to increase motivation, eliminate distractions, destroy limiting beliefs, and set great goals.
But none of that matters if you’re sleep deprived, ruining your body with a terrible diet, and relying on substances to make music.
If that’s you, you might want to push back against what I’ve just written. But it’s true. You won’t be as effective as you could be if your habits outside of music production suck.
So get more sleep.
Stop slamming back a huge Red Bull at 9pm when you start a studio session.
Be a healthy person. You’ll make better music.
If you skipped to this point without reading the article, that’s fine. But if you care about setting goals as a producer and actually achieving them, I recommend going back and reading it—or at least bookmarking it for later.
Now, if you’re ready to follow the process I’ve outlined above and set your own goal + metric(s), then I recommend downloading The Producer Action Plan + and watching the video training at the top of this article.
It’s completely free. I just want to help you build out this system for yourself.
Recommended: 50 Rut-Busting Workflow Tips