2017 has been Jack Antonoff’s year.
The prolific producer and musician added to his production discography three of the most interesting pop records of the year: Lorde’s Melodrama, St. Vincent’s Masseduction, and Taylor Swift’s Reputation. Meanwhile, he released his second album under the moniker Bleachers, the high-energy, ’80s-laden Gone Now.
Below, Antonoff looks back on 2017 and offers some productivity advice for making the most of 2018.
Rule No. 1: Schedule Time To Be Unscheduled
“For me, being productive is really about messing around. I like to consciously sit down and say, ‘Okay, right now I’m not going to open anything on the hard drive. I’m just going to sit at the piano and try new things.’ It reminds me of how I did things when I was a kid. I actually schedule time to fuck around.”
Rule No. 2: Take Advantage Of That Post-Sleep Haze
“I try to work before I eat [breakfast]. Once you do anything, you’re just a little bit further away from the freedom and the weightlessness of waking up. As you start to acclimate to being awake, you become more and more reminded of who you are. And there are a lot of rules about who you are, like, ‘Oh, I don’t say these kinds of things, I don’t play these kinds of chords. I’m this way and not that way.'”
Rule No. 3: There’s No One Right Way To Do Something
“[Taylor Swift’s] ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ happened within a few hours. Some songs take months and months, and some songs come out of nowhere. There’s no right way to do it. That’s the funny thing of trying to understand productivity with art because I think everything is just a trick to try to trick yourself into getting something done. But at the end of the day you can’t. You might say, ‘If I go to the studio this many hours I’ll get more done.’ And maybe you will, but then you turn around one day and in two hours you do something better than in the four months you were in the studio. It’s funny to schedule something that doesn’t care about your schedule.
“[Lorde’s] ‘Green Light.’ There’s a song that just built and built and there’d be a verse or an idea, and this would come and then we’d do a drum beat. Some songs are just a big stone that you’re chipping away at and slowly seeing the sculpture inside of it. And other songs feel like you know, you just walked in and picked something up and it already looks beautiful.”
Rule No. 4: Lean Into How You Feel In A Given Workspace
“For the years I was living in my parents’ house in New Jersey, so maybe ages 18 to 25, my studio at the time was two speakers and an interface, my laptop and a microphone and whatever instruments. It was a pretty small setup. And for a while it’d be in the living room. We made the Some Nights album there. And then I started to hate that space, so I moved the whole setup to my basement. And I did really good work there for a little while and then I didn’t like it, so I moved it to my room. And then at one point I actually moved it to my parents’ room and I remember my mom came home and she was like, this is not happening. And I ended up moving it into my sister’s room, where I wrote a lot of the first Bleachers album. Then I moved back into my bedroom, which is the room I ended up removing and taking on this tour.
“But the point I’m making is that your body at some point doesn’t want to enter a space anymore or it does. I follow my body. In New York, I built this really nice studio in the back of my apartment. But lately when I’m home I’ve just sort of been going in the kitchen and playing guitar and writing that way. Maybe that big studio I built isn’t really the place for me anymore. You get these routines, and then one day you just never want to go back. It’s like falling out of love, you can’t predict it. But I think it’s important to recognize that the space you work in has to be one your body is excited to enter.”
i love this picture from last night. means a great deal to be able to play on song on snl in the same broken down way in which it was written. starting to feel more and more that this type of thing is my favorite: giving a large group of people the songs in the same feeling of how they came to be to begin with. friends in a room making work. even brought all the tiny little toys and pictures that were on the actual piano that ella and i did liability on.
Rule No. 5: “If It’s Too Big, Don’t Look At It”
“I look back on the year I had and it gives me a panic attack. If, on January 1, 2017, someone laid out in front of me that I was going to make the Lorde record and the St. Vincent record and the Bleachers album and the stuff with Taylor Swift, I’d say I couldn’t do it. But I knew they were going to get done. You slowly chip away at it one day at a time and keep your head down. If it’s too big, don’t look at it. If you want to do something massive, don’t look at it, because all you’re going to see is why it won’t work. The killer of productivity is reality.”
Time he wakes up. Between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m.
Productivity tools. “The Notes app and voice recorder. There are probably hundreds of thousands of voice notes on my phone. I never want to miss anything.”
Email strategy. “I let emails pile up, and then at the end of the day I call my manager and he just runs down a list of 20 things I need to address.”
Dealing with the news. “I’m not writing songs about politics necessarily, but I wrote a record during this election and [politics is] all over it. If I read a headline about Trump that sets my head on fire, what’s that going to do for the next hour of recording? Something’s going to happen. On the one hand, you don’t want to be overly connected to the world. But on the other hand, you don’t want to light a bunch of candles and disconnect and just write. It’s all a function of the art.”
Commuting routine. “I listen to the stuff I make. The car is a very emotional space, and I always want my music to hold up there. I want to hear things the way people will. I want to hear the music I’m making living in the world because that’s where people are going to hear it.”
Best (and worst) habit. “I’m very clean. I’ve got real issues with germs and cleanliness, and sometimes I’m a real bitch to be around. I do a lot of therapy to try to get to the root of it.”
Time he goes to bed. Between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.