This week, I’m joined by Jesse Moneyhun, a writer, editor, and musician who also happens to be my fantastic intern. Since he’s heading back to college in a week, it seemed fitting for him to share some of his insights. After all, isn’t college all about juggling projects? And Jesse seems to do a better job than most experienced professionals. Enjoy!
About a week ago, I was on a long car trip. It was one of those trips that makes you so bored you decide to rethink your whole life before you reach your destination. But instead of getting too thoughtful, I turned on my music and lost myself in appreciation of various songs. I had My Top Rated on shuffle and I loved rediscovering all the music I thought I had forgotten about. It’s strange how, more than almost anything else, a song or chord can bring you back in time—sometimes without warning.
When “Ten Years Gone” by Led Zeppelin came on, I couldn’t help but jump back to the time when I worshiped this song. I turned it up loud and listened to it as closely as I could. I wanted to pick up every last note, every last layer that the song had packed away.
[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9bP-LbR8u8[/youtube]
I remembered learning how to play it on guitar. Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, is notorious for how he layers his guitars over a song, and I had been determined to learn every guitar part in the song so I could better understand how such an awesome song was constructed. All in all, I had to learn six guitar parts to get that Jimmy Page sound.
And a funny thing happened. As I learned the song, I simultaneously thought, “Jeez! That’s a lot of guitar! How can he fit that all in this one song?” and “Really? That’s it? That’s all there is to it?” Although both questions seem somewhat contradictory, they prove a central point: When a song is built up and layered perfectly, it becomes far more than the sum of its parts. It seems like it’s all at once doing less than it is and more than it is. (For more evidence of this, search no more than Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious”).
Although the reasons for this are complex and mystical, there were certain rules that I learned from “Ten Years Gone” about juggling musical parts to make a song later up perfectly, to get that indescribable feeling.
As I listened to “Ten Years Gone” in the car about a week ago and revisited these memories, I realized that the tips and tricks I had learned from Led Zeppelin about juggling different musical parts also directly apply to juggling different projects.
Between school, jobs, writing, sports, and music, I’ve had to do quite a lot of juggling to stay on top of things. And whether or not I knew it, I was using everything I’d learned from Jimmy Page to handle all my different projects. By the end of the day, I could usually say that I was still balanced and in harmony.
So, here they are. The five things Led Zeppelin taught me about juggling projects:
1. Start out slow.
Right from the beginning, Page establishes a slow-build of musical momentum. If he started out with everything blazing at the very beginning, he would have nowhere to go and the song would get burned out pretty quickly. The same goes for starting a new lineup of projects: start off all at once, and you’ll burn yourself out. Aim for a slow-build and establish your base.
2. Double-up where you can.
When you decide to take on more projects, try to double-up where you can. If you’ve got a position at a human rights non-profit organization, consider taking on a writing or editing job with a similar human-rights focus. The knowledge and expertise you gain from working with the non-profit can be directly transferred to your editing job. You can conserve energy and improve the quality of your work by taking on projects in this way. This is the same method that Page uses to make it sound as if he’s doing much less than he actually is, adding on many more guitar parts than it seems. It would be a chaotic wall of sound otherwise. Doubling-up keeps things simple but allows you to add on a number of projects without overwhelming yourself.
3. Difference is key.
Although doubling-up is important for creating order and reducing strain, there have to be some elements that are different from the rest, otherwise it could get a bit monotonous. For example, after taking on a few projects in the human rights vein, consider accepting a job at a real estate agency. Or even start up a new dance class.
Consolidating your interests may seem like a good idea at first, but sticking to this rule too stringently can also lead to burnout.
Listen to all the different layers in “Ten Years Gone.” You don’t get overwhelmed, even in the climax of the song, because Page has worked in little lines that are different than the main doubled-up chords, which fill in gaps and provide interest.
4. Let some air in.
You also should be wary of adding so many different lines and doubling up the main melody so much that there’s no room to breathe. Part of the magic of those early Led Zep records is the loose airiness that inhabits every track. Although filling in gaps is useful and healthy, if there’s no air left in the track, no empty space, you’re going to get tired real fast. Even at the very end of the song where all the guitars come in, you can still hear the briefest of pauses in “Ten Years Gone.” This prepares us for the next phrase or guitar line and makes what comes after the pause all the more enjoyable. In the same way, without rests, you can’t mentally prepare for your work and your quality suffers.
5. Be patient.
If there’s one thing anyone can learn from Led Zeppelin, it’s patience. Just when you think that THIS must be the crescendo we’ve all been waiting for, the final passage that leads us to the climax of the song, it’s actually only half over. Understandably, this may be disappointing—but, in reality, all the parts are still lining up and preparing for an even more epic finale than you could have imagined. When you experience similar disappointment in your work life just remember, when that big lead falls through, it’s only a false ending. There will be an even bigger payoff in the future.
These five tips have taken me far, and they’ve been especially helpful when contemplating which sorts of projects to take on or how to recover from a disappointing and unforeseen letdown. I hope they’ll be just as helpful for you as they have been for me. My next project? Finally nailing that “Whole Lotta Love” solo.
What advice do you have about juggling different projects?
Jesse Moneyhun is a writer, editor, and occasional musician centered in Boise, Idaho. He is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in rhetoric at Whitman College where he is a writing tutor and teaching assistant. He’s also published Ampersand, an anthology of remarkable student writing collected by writing centers in the Treasure Valley, and hopes to continue to follow his passions of teaching and writing in the future.