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Music Life: 12 - Omni Focus And My Lyrics
By Brian Donovan - 09/16/2009 - 05:14 PM EDT

Last time, I talked about how to create the perfect songwriting studio. And now that your gear is in place, (consider the gear your new "office") there's an important step in completing your setup so that you can start working: material. Words and music. The REAL heart of your productivity is your creativity. YOUR words, YOUR music.  Having all of it close at hand for that inspirational moment.

To complete this step of always being with your creative ideas, there's only one question you need to ask yourself: "what collection tool would be easiest to have on me...ALWAYS?"  For me, I live an extremely mobile lifestyle. At the moment, I'm sitting in seat 24A on a 10 hour, transatlantic flight, on my way home to California from London, where I spent the weekend doing a gig in front of 50,000+ people. Having never really switched over to England's time zone during the three day trip, plus having the demands of an extremely high-profile gig during hours I would've normally been asleep had I been home, I find that I'm wide awake with adrenaline AND creative ideas! I love this kind of feeling and thrive off of it. (Thus the reason this career has chosen me.) So I must say thank goodness I have my iPhone. I have recently made a change to it that has revolutionized my life and my music forever...

Omni Focus

In looking for apps from the iTunes App Store that would sync any info I wrote on my iPhone to my computer wirelessly via my MobileMe "cloud" with a companion program on my mac so I could work in either place and know that I would instantaneously and always have an immediate backup, I stumbled upon Omni Focus, created by The Omni Group company.

Why did this discovery change my creativity? Well here's the breakdown: when I'm so mobile (and even when I'm not) I have ideas that come (and go) all the time. Most of us do. Whether in London or our local grocery store. (I woulda said "liquor store because the back-to-back "L" words would have flowed better lyrically, but I love being a stay-at-home dad when I'm off the road and bringing our ten month old to the "local liquor store" just isn't right! LOL) Organizing those ideas (though I've covered how to effectively do that in the past) becomes even easier with Omni Focus as it is always on me (because my phone is.) Omni Focus does the organizing, saving and backups automatically, on it's own, immediately as I make any changes in either place. PLUS, I have a way to work on my lyrics and music on the go, yet I can rest assured that those changes will be available to me when I get back to my studio at home.

Sure, I hear you, "why is THAT so important?!" Well I just finished watching a movie on this flight called The Soloist with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., and it reminded me of one, simple, immutable truth: to be great, you must live, eat and breathe what you want to be great at. That rule repeats itself throughout the music industry over and over again: Eddie Van Halen, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, etc., etc., etc.  These artists (and hundreds of others) all have something in common - their personal lives become completely out of balance at some point in their careers because they are always focused on one thing: their craft. Whether that's singing, dancing, mastering an instrument or songwriting, as musicians, we crave to soak in that state of genius. (Thats why most of us think we haven't "made it" until we can spend all of our time, day and night, being immersed in our own genius.) We crave that creative spark. All people do. That is why what we do appeals to everyone else: we ride a thin line between everyday life and a form of "insanity" that other people can't bring themselves to let happen. And most of the time, that creative spark is extinguished because of our everyday lives and our need to foster that as well. You can't deny that side of you either, if it's there. For better or for worse, your need to control your life is inside you. And that's EXACTLY what prevents you from going out on a limb with your creativity. And guess is ONLY those people who can go out on that limb and give EVERY OUNCE of themselves and their lives to their music that become famous (or greatest, whether or not fame follows.) But your everyday life is also important to you and you can't be creative without it (that's why you've even bothered to read my article!) So here's how to foster it WITHOUT letting it interfere with your "ambiu"...or your true spirit.

When I'm done with this article's first draft, I'll break for a moment to finish tweaking some lyrics for my next album. (Remember, I'm still on a plane...) Then, come back to finalize this article and head back to another song's lyrics. This time, a single I'm working on with an old friend I met 12 years ago during our first year of college. We lost track of each other and recently reconnected on facebook. Amazing how technology can move the PEOPLE of the universe forward if used properly. This friend lives in New Jersey. Ah, I love the Internet.

So, back to HOW I utilize Omni Focus.

I purchased both the program for my mac ($80) and the app for my iPhone ($20) - YES, THAT'S EXPENSIVE, BUT IT WORKS FLAWLESSLY AND YOUR CAREER (and the time you'll save) IS MORE THAN WORTH IT...  After setting them up to work together (read: super easy) I started copying my existing lyrics into the program on my mac one at a time. Basically, Omni Focus ISN'T a piece of songwriting software AT ALL. It wasn't designed for that use and the makers of the program don't claim that it is. HOWEVER, I have unofficially spoken to some tech support reps there and they were excited to hear what I am doing with their program!  It's possible that they may adapt in the future if enough of us create the market. I hope so because there are a few additions I would love to see implemented that I will cover a bit later.

The hierarchy of the system they employ is folders-projects-actions. And there is the possibility to have projects inside other projects (you'll see how this comes in handy in a minute). So, I created a folder called Creativity, inside of which I have 2 projects, one called Lyrics and one called Music Life Article. The music life article project contains several actions, each one being the start of an idea for a new installment of this article you're reading right now. And if/when I get a new idea, I simply type it into my iPhone app, assign it to that project and it will sit there, waiting for me to come back later and finish it.

The Lyrics project is a bit more extensive. Inside the lyrics project, I have another project for each album I have outlined for myself (14 in all - did I mention I was intensely creative?  lol) In each of those albums, each song for the album (and it's lyrics) are listed as an individual action...because honestly, what is a song's lyrics (when you strip away your "message") than an action to be completed?


This helps clarify my thoughts, prevents me from looking for paper, a pen, my "lyric book" and also, because I'm SO ANALYTICALLY MINDED, takes the organization out of my head. And thus, I focus on what needs to be done. I simply open the app, navigate to the project and song, write a few lines, close the app and move on. I've finished two songs like this already in a month that has taken me around the world for work and has seen more family matters that need my attention than any other month this year. Phew.

Side note: although each of these "actions" in Omni Focus can let you record audio notes as attachments to it's respective action (thus, an audio recording of your song's latest version being sung and played) I don't recommend utilizing this feature just yet as the recordings are high quality by iphone's default and thus, your database will become extremely large and unmanageable for the iPhone to process. Keeping your song idea recordings separate in apple's Voice Memos app or something similar is better at this time.

And this is just the beginning! I have whole albums of lyrics that are being written at times I would never have been able to write in the past because of using Omni Focus now. But "what about the MUSIC!?", you ask...

I have a plan for that and I will cover it as well. It's a simple matter of using iTunes and your built-in Voice Memo app on your iPhone. No iPhone? I'll explore options that you can adapt to YOUR way of working as well. AND Omni Focus is at the hub of THAT process too! You'll see next time how I use Omni Focus to help me get my tracks recorded, mixed, mastered AND placed with artists, tv and film projects so I can wander out to the mailbox to pick up my royalty and residual 3 o'clock in the afternoon...with my daughter...

Until then, appreciate the horizon...

Brian Donovan is a songwriter/composer in Los Angeles, CA, graduate of Berklee College of Music and has been working in the music industry for over 12 years.  Check out Brian’s newest CD: “Mugu Point” at his website:

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