Illustration: Franco Égalité
Balancing family life with music can be difficult to say the least.
Whether it’s just you and a partner or you have a family with twelve kids, it’s important to strike a good balance between working and being present for your family. That said, while being a full-time parent or partner is already no small commitment, musicians also often work around the clock.
In my opinion, the key to balancing family life and a career in music is learning how to be fully present in every moment. When you work on music, you have to commit your full attention to producing, composing, mixing, etc., and your family deserves that same focused attention when you’re with them. Currently, many people are finding themselves working from home. For some musicians who have children, juggling parenting and producing can seem tougher than ever – but it’s not impossible. As a father of four, I have a few tips on ways to balance your time and attention that will hopefully lead you to success in your career and your casa.
1. Involve your family in the music creation process
One of the most challenging aspects about making music is needing the ability to completely focus on the task at hand. From social media to streaming services, life today already contains countless distractions. On top of these, once you have little ones running around, having long stretches of uninterrupted creation becomes a luxury most parents can’t afford. It can be frustrating to have to constantly start and stop working in order to attend to your children, but when your kids are young is a golden time that never comes back. It’s best to appreciate the fact that your little explorers want to figure out the world around them, and that you have the ability to guide them.
One strategy to create a more symbiotic relationship between your parenting and production is by involving your kids in music creation whenever you can. I routinely leave my MIDI controllers and synthesizers out while I’m working, in case one of my kids comes by and wants to play with the knobs and buttons. This allows them to engage with a part of the music creation process, while also giving me an opportunity to explain some aspects of music to them in a way in which they can understand.
Recently, I worked on the music for a commercial, and I had my older sons help me come up with some melodies. Involving them in the process yielded some unexpectedly creative results; I even had them record background vocals on the track. I’ve also made beats with my three-year-old son, sampled my two-year-old daughter playing the kalimba, and recorded music for my partner’s audiobooks. When working on new tracks, I often do the ‘kid test’ and play my music for the family without telling them it’s my music. A child or your significant other’s honest reaction can be the best metric for your music (especially if their reaction isn’t a good one). While it may not be the most productive method for completing music, collaborating with my family has allowed me to appreciate the quality time we get to spend together as well as find new creative ways to work on projects.
2. Get a good pair of headphones
As a drummer, I’ve felt the struggle of not being able to practice indoors for many years, and as a parent, I realize that after a certain time at night, playing loud music or anything acoustically isn’t really a possibility. That’s why doing a little bit of research and investing in a good pair of headphones is very important. Although no pair of headphones can replicate the feel and sound of studio monitors, the ability to work late nights and early mornings without disturbing your loved ones is crucial if you want to be efficient with your time.
As a parent, I also recommend having some cheap headphones around that are good enough to reference your beats and mixes on, but cheap enough that you won’t cry if you one day find the wires ripped apart or the jack broken (trust me – I’ve lost many nice pairs of headphones to toddlers). This way, you can use the nice headphones when there’s minimal risk of baby interaction, and the less expensive ones whenever you’re doing something quick.
3. Make use of mobile music production apps
Having the ability to work on ideas while you’re on-the-go is important for all music producers, but even more so for those who are also parents. After all, you never know what bangers you can make while waiting in line to get toilet paper.
Some particularly powerful mobile music production apps include FL Studio Mobile, GarageBand, Zenbeats, Koala Sampler, and the Splice mobile app. Many of these apps can integrate with your DAW or allow you to bounce stems so that you can complete your beats on your desktop. And even if you don’t have the ability to tap out a full beat while you’re running errands, using voice memos will allow you to remember song ideas or even collect samples from your everyday adventures.
I’ve also found a number of mobile production apps to be very kid-friendly. I’ve used BeatMaker 3 to teach my son’s preschool class how songs are made, and my kids regularly entertain themselves with the Minimoog Model D app.
4. Wake up early
When I was younger, I could stay up until the early hours of the morning getting lost in the creative ecstasy of making music. Now, as a full-time parent, I get tired pretty much anytime after 9 pm. My recommendation for all the musicians who may suddenly find themselves on parent duty around the clock is to try to get everyone to sleep early (including yourself), and to wake up earlier than everyone.
Finding pockets of time to work before your kids wake up and after they go to bed is critical if you want to be a productive parent and musician. Even if you wake up early, you likely only have a few hours at most before you’re back on parent duty, so it’s important to learn how to be productive with your time. At best, I usually get two hour slots for undisturbed work, so it’s important that I prioritize the most important things during that time and split up smaller tasks throughout the day. During these spurts I usually try to divide my time into two one-hour tasks (ex. working on a mix), four 30-minute tasks (ex. finishing tracks, vocal editing, etc.) or six 20-minute tasks (ex. making beats). If you work efficiently and focus on quality over quantity, you’ll feel more accomplished once you shift back to family time.
5. Be fully present with your kids and significant other
Whether music production is your full-time job or still a hobby, the truth is that you’re extremely fortunate if you have the privilege to be living with your significant other, children, parents, siblings, or other relatives and loved ones. As musicians, sometimes we like to prioritize ‘the art’ above all else, but I believe the most important things in life are the moments you spend with the ones you love.
I guarantee your family will appreciate your undivided time and attention over your latest beat. As you focus on building a great catalogue of music, don’t forget what’s most important to your ‘life bandmates.’ Make time for your partner, remember important days, and don’t forget date night even if it means just watching a movie and having special snacks after the kids go to bed. If you have kids, know that the little moments you spend fully engaged in their world sometimes means the most. I invite you to seize every moment you can to make beautiful memories; the music can wait.
Charles and his band (The Love Experiment) recently released a pack full of soulful vocals — check it out here.
April 28, 2020