Motivation: What I Learned from Writing a Song a Day for 120 Days

By Samuel Orson

This article originally appeared on Medium.

For the past 120 days, I composed and recorded an original, studio-quality song, every day. Now, everything I am about to say is only credible if you believe the songs are great. Listen to a few of them so you have an idea of what was made. Thus, the primary focus of this article is to discuss how to stay creatively motivated when doing a seemingly impossible task.

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The Process

Every week, I would write six songs. The instrumentation is purely one acoustic guitar and a loop pedal (with some suspended cymbals). I took Mondays off to relax and catch up on anything in my personal life, although in the end, it just turned into working on the project. At the halfway point, I took a week off to regain sanity and finish up a record with my other band, Shit Ghost.

This was my average day:

  • Livestream the composition process (30-60 minutes)
  • Record (two to three hours)
  • Mix and master (two to three hours)
  • Upload and any miscellaneous butt work (30 minutes)

On average, it was a seven-hour daily commitment.

When I started the project in February, I was excited and somewhat mentally prepared for what I was trying to accomplish. What I did not expect was the intense mental toll that it would take on my brain and the physical toll on my body. For those seven hours, both the right and left side of my brain felt like they were going full bore. While writing and arranging the song took a lot of creative energy, the recording/mixing/mastering really worked my analytical side.

The first week went well, the second week went okay, but by the third week, I had reached a point where I felt it was never going to end. My personal life was beginning to suffer, due to the massive time commitment. It was difficult to remain mentally present around others, for my mind was always thinking about what I had to do next for the project.

I began having massive mood swings. The smallest thing would send me over the edge. I would scream at the top of my lungs exactly like the Tourettes Guy (only real) when I could not play a part right, which was often because — if we are being honest — my guitar skills are sub-par.

I was tired all the time, I had no sex drive, I would barely eat, and I was having trouble communicating effectively — like I couldn’t speak in coherent sentences.

I operated in this state for the next 100 days.

On the very last stream, as I was playing this final melody that I like to put into many of my songs as a symbol to close the project, I started to cry. I still don’t know what emotion it was. Kind of happy, sad, relieved, but I cried, and that video is below.

It was the most artistically drained I have ever been. I do feel it was a turning point for me to grow as an artist and a person. I was able to find a unique sound of my own. Now for the lessons learned.

+ Learn more on Soundfly: Learn essential techniques of recording and premixing a high-quality demo at home and on a budget with our free course, Demo Recording 101.

How I Stayed Motivated:

I truly think these tips are all unique and useful. Nothing you will find on wikiHow for “Motivation Tips.” Use these words of wisdom to keep you going throughout the 100 days.

1. Plan Every Single Day

Before I started the project, I had every hour of my day planned out from January 31 to June 26. This was crucial. If the schedule is set up for success, and you follow the schedule, you will be successful.

2. Involve Others in Your Process

I decided to livestream the composition process. This held me accountable as well as provided a sort of time stamp for the songs. Despite only a handful of people watching, it forced me to stick to the schedule in order to not disappoint them or sacrifice the integrity of the project. If you are one of the people who tuned into the livestream every day, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I truly believe I could not have made it through without you.

3. Tell Everybody About It

I take a lot of pride in being somebody who does what he says he is going to do. I blasted the project on social media and told everybody I knew despite sounding like an insane person. If at the next social gathering a fellow comrade asked me how the project was going, and I had to say, “I didn’t finish it because *insert bad excuse here*,” I would feel like a total nimrod.

4. Sleep Less

There are only so many hours in the day. When I first began this project, I would strive for the eight hours. I found myself accomplishing far less, and my stress levels were much higher throughout the day. Little tasks add up. Just sleep less.

5. Drink Less Beer

I am not against drinking by any means. What I found throughout the project, however, was that it was subtly hindering me in a way that only made things unnecessarily difficult and stressful. For example, when I would start mixing, I would crack a warm one alone. Not getting hammered or anything, but this could turn a three-hour task into an hour without even realizing.Even more importantly (redirecting back to tip four), it affected my work the next day. If I drank a fair amount the night before (which was most nights), I was not able to wake up at an efficient time or with a fully functioning brain. Trying to be creative when you’re hungover is near impossible.

What I Would Have Done Differently:

1. Write Fewer Days

While the purpose of the project was to do a bunch of songs in succession and push myself to my creative limits, I do not feel it was good for the creative process. You need time off to reflect on what you have made. I have not listened to most of these songs after uploading them. Also, my favorite songs tend to be the ones I made on Tuesday, after my day off.

2. Built a Better Setup

I did all the videos with an iPhone and recorded all the music with an old two-channel interface in my dripping-wet basement. This made the process more stressful, as things did not always work properly. The video quality is not as great as it could have been if I had a proper setup to record live sound instead of just the phone mic. I feel it would have been worth it to save the money and invest it in a proper setup.

3. Taken Better Care of My Health

I have never been a very healthy person, but this project really took a toll physically. It is personally very hard for me to eat when I am in a creative mindset. There were a couple cases where I did not eat anything for over 48 hours with the exception of coffee and Rainer. I lost a lot of weight, I didn’t exercise, and I never relaxed. It only made it more difficult to create when the body is essentially in starvation mode.

+ Read more on Flypaper: Check out our tips for putting together a home studio piece by piece on a budget in our ongoing Beginner’s Home Studio Guide series.

What’s Next:

A “Best Of” Record

Over the next month or so, I am going to listen to the songs, take input from listeners as well, and compile them into a sort of “best of” album of the project. I won’t record anything new, but I will go back and spend more time on the mix and make sure the sound quality is as good as it can get. You can pre-order that now and get the entirety of the project for $1.20 on Bandcamp, including my first two little EPs I put out a few years ago.

That makes 132 songs.

I feel like this project really helped me find a unique sound and a corner of space in the New Age music genre. After some time off, I will be writing a new album from scratch, inspired by some of the melodies of these songs and start shooting for my first Grammy. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s the path I feel I need to go down.

Thanks for reading. If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Spotify. Your support really goes a long way. Any questions, shoot me an email!

If you’re stuck in a songwriting rut, we can help! Preview our popular mentor-driven course, The New Songwriter’s Workshop, and open yourself up to the immense possibilities of song craft!

Samuel Orson is a highly experimental New Age artist from Seattle, Washington. With his unique approach to the acoustic guitar, he is able to create soundscapes and melodies unlike anything that has ever been created. He is best known for his 120 Days of Music Project, where he composed, arranged, and recorded a studio quality song every day for 120 days. Samuel is currently in the process of compiling a “greatest hits” from the project, entitled General Feelings of Optimism. You can follow the “120 Days of Music Playlist” on Spotify. 

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