“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
― David Allen
Evernote is what I use to hold my musical ideas. The Information Age we live in bombards my poor bass player’s mind with too much stuff, so I need a system to filter out the rubbish and store the gems.
In this post I’m going to take you step by step through the system I use to capture and store ideas ranging from tone tips to advice from famous bass players I’ve contacted.
Being organised and having good systems in place is as important to musical development as is knowing lots of songs and having great technique. In fact, it is your organisation, practice routine and habits that lead to those musical skills.
I can’t imagine my life without this system now and I find that it gets rid of any nagging low-level anxiety that I might have forgotten a great idea or potentially helpful piece of advice. This leaves me time and space to plan, think and be creative.
I use Evernote for clipping articles, recipes, writing lists, productivity, goals, blog post ideas and much, much more. Since you’re not here for that (email me though if you want a seriously good cheesecake recipe…), let’s dive straight into how you might consider using Evernote for music. These are just a few ideas and you should think about what would work for you.
In Evernote, you can set up notebooks containing individual notes – either written by you or clipped from a web page. You can then stack these notebooks together. I currently have nine notebooks in a stack called ‘Music’. You can also tag a note so that, instead of having notes organised hierarchically, you can just search for a note by your tag. I use a combination of notebooks (stacked together) and tags. I want to be able to locate my ideas and do something about them without them being buried and lost forever. Tags are great for that.
Here are some of the notebooks I have set up and some of the notes in them. Use these ideas to think about how you might employ something similar.
I’ve written a few music library tracks for TV which involves everything from generating ideas library companies need, to details of companies to pitch to. Other notes include:
- A list of library music tracks I’ve written and co-written and what companies they are placed with.
- Articles I’ve clipped from the internet on composer interviews, orchestration, arranging and the music business.
- Pictures of chord progressions and audio recordings (which you can easily make in Evernote) for writing ideas. I also use a physical journal for musical ideas. I can digitise anything I scribble down if I choose to.
- A songwriting black book analysing music I hear to then give me ideas for my own stuff.
Exercises/Skills To Learn
This contains a load of music exercises I’ve found. I have one note with Pat Metheney exercises clipped from a web page although I have also taken pictures from magazines to organise things in one place. Whilst writing my exercise book (Creative Bass Technique Exercises), I’d record ideas for it into a note so they were all in place ready to write up. Evernote was invaluable for the writing process of that book (and all future books, courses and teaching materials I have).
This note also contains skills I want to achieve on the bass guitar, piano, double bass and guitar. Things from this list constantly move into my practice routine so I can actually learn something new. This stops me from hitting any ruts.
I am a geek. I love Talk Bass, Bass Player, Bass Guitar Magazine etc. If I find a tip from a bass player I like I put it in a note inside this notebook. It could be a gear tip or a playing tip. I have notes for some of my favourite bass players like Tony Levin, John Patitucci and Steve Pearce. Steve was kind enough years ago to answer a message I sent to him on Myspace (remember that??). His answer contained invaluable advice and I still have it alongside that of many bass players I’ve contacted who’ve been kind enough to offer their expertise.
This notebook sees a lot of action. Probably too much as it would be much more beneficial to focus on playing or writing. I come across a lot of gear I’d like to check out from YouTube, Instagram videos, articles, friends and the internet. Instead of forgetting it all, it goes into this note.
Here are some other notes:
- This is my current dream pedalboard (using pedalboardplanner.com)
- Basses and strings to try, cool shops, players whose sound I like: it all goes here in one place.
- I’m getting a custom bass made and all the research on the finish, electronics and hardware went on a note. I was able to transfer that info to Mike, my luthier.
This is just a small selection of what goes in the music section of my Evernote. I’m safe in the knowledge that the ideas in my head – no matter how small – will not be lost. Of course, something like this requires you to review the info and I do that regularly, discarding what I no longer need but, most importantly, acting on anything important.
I pay for the premium version of Evernote which allows me to view notes offline as well as other useful features. It’s worth that to me and I have no problems paying it (it’s also a tax expense) but if you have your own method, go for it. The point is to have some kind of idea generation and storage system that works for you.
Now to spend more hours lusting after that pedalboard…