Joel (City States)
SPB: How do you find the time to work on so many projects and do your regular day job (if you have one)?
Joel: At the risk of sounding overly technical, a lot of my productivity just comes down to really rigorous planning and time management. I do have a full-time job as an art director for a great agency in downtown Chicago, which makes it hard to stay on track as a songwriter in my spare time. So when I'm free and available (in other words, not asleep or at work), I kind of approach my music-making like I do my design career: I have a plan before I sit down. I tend to have a playlist handy—featuring the songs of other artists'—in case I'm stuck and need a source of inspiration, and if a composition isn't working I simply move on and try writing something else.
That's not the whole story, however. Though I now have four threads of music I work on—City States, Avvenir, Contretemps, and Modal Voices—which has resulted in lots of output in the last 18 months, I started my music career with 10-year slog where I really struggled to create. Case in point: between 2006-2013 I only released nineteen songs! I was slow, self-critical, prone to bouts of crippling indecision and, as a result, not a lot got done. By comparison, since May 2014 when I released the first City States LP, Geography, I've put 22 songs into the world, and by this time next year I will have released over 40.
The truth is, writing a good song is hard, learning to be efficient is hard, overcoming your own personal hangups is hard. With that, I'll offer a piece of unsolicited advice to anyone who is having a rough go as a songwriter: take your time, learn your craft, have a plan, and find a way to remove yourself from the burden of self-censure.