I’ve found that having a good workflow is one of the critical components as a film and TV composer . Having a good workflow will ensure that you finish projects on time, and will help free up time in your schedule for other essential task related to being a composer.
Like most projects, there are always tasks that take longer than planned. I’ve found that if I don’t schedule my time, deadlines creep up… fast!
I find that I work better when I have planned my day, and I have done all the preparation I need to ahead of time. I even schedule time in my diary to do all the housekeeping jobs like cleaning the studio, maintaining studio equipment and cleaning up the computers. I plan time to complete tasks that used to distract me. I like to think of it as managed procrastination time.
Before changing (and managing) my workflow, I would have hundreds of tracks on drives that we’re unfinished, and I would only schedule time in the diary for client projects. But now, I plan time for every task, and if things need moving, they get rescheduled, not deleted. And, no more unfinished tracks on drives.
Here are some tips that I’ve found useful, and hopefully, you’ll do too.
For me, this is probably the most vital part of my week. Whether its, clearing up my computer, fixing equipment, or updating software, the only purpose for the 45 minutes each week is to complete all the jobs that distract me during projects.
I find the starts of projects the hardest, developing a theme or motif to draw inspiration from doesn’t come instantly and isn’t always easy. This is when the need to do all the easier tasks becomes more appealing, and “the have to be done now”. So, I plan for this, but, I’ve found that dedicating time to doing these jobs has meant that I have fewer technical issues, I can always find files, batteries are always charged, and my desk is clean and clear. Without impacting on projects or my free time.
I also have time scheduled on a Monday and Tuesday morning between 7:30 am, and 9 am to research new plugins, instruments, and personal development. If I come across an article during the week or see a new library that I want to look at, I generally save these for the two mornings.
I value my time
Life as a composer means that I get to enjoy a 9-5 lifestyle, and like most composers I know, I can often be found working rediculous hours on projects without leaving the studio, but I’m happy with that, and I love what I do.
What I’m mindful of is wasting time and keeping a balance in life outside the studio. Having to work late because you have a project to complete or tight deadlines, in my opinion, is part of the job. But having to work late because you didn’t focus on the job in hand isn’t.
Being strict and recognising that time is valuable is essential. Of course, sometimes things overrun, but as a general rule, if I have something like a meeting or phone call booked, I stick to the amount of time in the dairy, and I put the time in the dairy to make sure that I follow up via email to outline what we discussed – although the follow up mainly relates to client work.
Scheduling and task lists
Wunderlist is great for makings task lists and to flag jobs that are important. I have lists for everything, it doesn’t matter if it’s in and out of the studio, or something that I know isn’t going to be done for months.
I tick priority jobs in the evening for the day ahead and stick to these tasks only during that day.
If I have a day booked to work on a scene, I would have that in the diary and then any tasks/reminders that relate to that in Wunderlist. These sub-tasks are often things discussed weeks before, things that sometimes get forgotten, and links to files on the server that I need for the project.
I found it took me around five months of practice, and trial and error to get into a routine like this, but it saves me a lot of time in the long run, helps me manage projects and keeps me focused.
I also make sure I have scheduled a time for my own work. Whether that’s writing a blog, composing some library music, or working on a demo, I make sure that I have time to work on things that aren’t just client projects. That way, I have new tracks to keep my creative process flowing, I get to try new ideas, and I get to work on genres of music that are different from the current client projects.
Capture ideas quickly
In an ideal world, we’d have an idea, and it would coincide perfectly with having 8 hours to make it into a full track. However, you and I know this rarely happens.
Ideas come and go quickly, and I’ve found it essential that I capture them as soon as possible, in any format. This isn’t intended to be a perfect recording, so I often use my iPhone or a piano track in Cubase. I usually spend around 15 – 20 minutes and I don’t edit anything; I’m just capturing what is in my head, mistakes included.
Having ideas to listen back to helps draw inspiration later, and helps keep tracks focused.
I also save links to Youtube and music files for projects in Wunderlist, if I find them inspirational, I might even send them to directors and ask what they think. Although as a composer, I do spend a fair bit of time working alone, I have found that this helps me work more collaboratively, and it builds long term relationships.
I break down sessions so that I can focus my time on specific tasks. By breaking down the whole project into different sessions, I’ve found that I can concentrate on either writing, editing, or mixing. I do a little mixing as I go for things like volume and panning, but making everything perfect as I work through the music is a lot of stress.
I find that it’s best to worry about the mixing later. Deadlines come very quickly, so I think that the most critical job to write. Get the notes down, get the parts edited and then mix. You can’t write music, and you’ll have nothing to share with the directors if you spend time during writing sessions playing with compressors and EQ settings. The only exception would be if they were needed to create an effect to compose with.
Here is how I would typically break my composing sessions down:
- Planning – I plan the project and prep my sessions templates ahead of the writing sessions. I’ll ensure that I have all the technical jobs done ahead of time, and I’m ready to write; I find anything that slows down my creativity bad.
- Themes – I spend time watching the scenes, researching and developing thematical ideas. I do this as a type of music diary. I don’t go back on previous days work, and all I’m doing is moving forward in the music. The idea is to have time to develop and explore musical ideas without the pressure of doing it to a scene.
- Composing – These sessions are purely for writing music to image. While I do like to do some mixing (only volume and panning) as I go, as a general rule, if I am happy with the musical content, I’ll keep the creativity going.
- Reviewing – This is where I’ll edit everything in full and make sure that all the parts are working symbiotically and things like the cuts are perfectly synced.
- Mixing – All the writing should be complete, and this is where I only focus on making sure every music element has it’s own space and is perfectly balanced.
Stick to one track at a time
If I am working on some library music or something for myself, I won’t start a new project until the current one is completed. This doesn’t mean I work on one whole project or with one client at a time, and it means I finish each project for myself before starting a new one.
This means that I have no unfinished projects. Ideas aren’t always good, and some projects, of course, end up in the bin. But I don’t give up and start new projects just because I hit a wall or get distracted with another idea. I might quickly capture the idea just for reference later, but I won’t work on it.
Hopefully, you’ve found some of these ideas useful, and I would love to hear how you manage your workflow. Happy composing!