Sounds Good Column with John Daniel


It’s a bit ironic that I hurt myself around the time I was planning on writing this article. I sprained my ankle carrying my bike down the stairwell of my apartment when a broken gate and a slippery stair conspired against me. I had to keep my ankle iced and elevated, forcing me to spend some time on the couch where I got to see if The Walking Dead lives up to its hype (and I’d say it does).

So, I’ve been less productive than I usually am. However, it was certainly nice to kick my feet up (above my heart) and relax a little. All of that rest has led to a bit of cabin fever as well as a fresh flow of creative juices.

Self-care is important for everyone, but is especially vital for creative professionals. Numerous studies have confirmed a link between the creative mind and mental health issues (1). While I am generally blessed with good mental and physical health, I am no stranger to sleepless nights and seasons of melancholy. I’d like to share with you what habits I’ve learned to maintain a creative and positive mental space.

#1: Regimented sleeping (2). Coming up with a good sleep routine was half the battle! I’m a night owl, so left to my own devices, I stay up ’til dawn and sleep ‘til dusk – a familiar routine for a lot of musicians.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that I need about 7 hours of sleep. Any more – even the oft-recommended 8 – and I’ll stay up way too late. So I’ve taken to getting up with my wife in the mornings at 8 am. While the early mornings can be brutal, I’m still able to stay up until 1am, leaving plenty of time for nightlife/gigs and after-hours music making,. It took me a while to figure out 8 hours of sleep was too much, and that being a little tired when I wake up is good for me. Plus, I do some of my best mixing when I’m up early and catch some of that creative space that lies somewhere between dreaming and consciousness.

If sleep is a particularly difficult issue for you, please see footnotes (3) and (4).

#2: Quiet time. Working in sound, I find this one is especially important. Just like I’d imagine a plumber needs some fresh air at the end of her day, I need some daily silence. For a lot of spiritual people, this is a good time for prayer and meditation. Find time daily to clear your thoughts and refocus on what is important to you, even if it’s only for ten minutes (5).

#3: Regimented scheduling. I grew up in Santa Cruz, California’s central hub of hippies and counter-culture culture. I always kept my schedule open and took care of business as it came up. All that mattered to me was having the freedom to do as I pleased, when I pleased.

This worked reasonably well for me through college, but when my schedule became less static, I found myself overlooking too many things. So I started creating checklists, made throughout the day to guide the next day. That worked well, but the list began to encroach on any time I had to be creative

Consequently, I built a schedule. The first hour of my day, unless I feel like some sleepy mixing is in order, is set aside to clean. Cleaning daily often means that it doesn’t take anywhere near an hour. But, it’s a load off never having the dishes, trash, or any other funk build up. Next is breakfast, where I can catch up on news and return phone calls/emails. Quiet time is scheduled in after that, so it’s never skipped because I’m hustling too hard. Next is my “open schedule”, where I make time to be creative. I always start with practicing so it doesn’t get lost, and my saxophone skills never stagnate. If possible, I schedule all static appointments (lessons, rehearsals, recording, etc.) after lunch so this consistency can be kept.

It sounds goofy, but there’s a lot more free time for doing what I want when my day is structured carefully. Structure isn’t just for Type A corporate folks (6)!

#4: Exercise. Some people think exercise is just for looking better and living longer, but that’s just the beginning. It helps your creative mind just as much as it helps your body! Exercise is a great way to clear your head, boost your self-image, make your heavy gear feel lighter, and it may even be more effective at fighting depression than medication (7). Regardless of your favorite way to move that body, it’s important for us creative folk to work up a sweat at least five times a week.

There is so much more I could say about this topic, but I’ll cut it short here. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you want to talk about it further: [email protected] Here’s to creating healthy minds, bodies, and music!








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About the Author

John Daniel

John Daniel is a talented and versatile wind instrumentalist who has been teaching and performing for over 15 years. A Northern California native, his first professional performance was with the Mt. Madonna Big Band (playing tenor saxophone) at just thirteen years old. Professionally impressive from the beginning, his first gig led to positions with the Kuumbwa Jazz Ensemble and several other jazz bands that toured throughout California and Nevada. At eighteen, he played Carnegie Hall with the UC Santa Cruz Wind Ensemble on bass clarinet. John holds a Bachelor of Music in Woodwind Performance from the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music. John has performed with various professional orchestras, chamber ensembles, concert bands, jazz ensembles, rock groups, and world music groups.

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