I love list articles. They aren’t for everyone; if you hate list posts, then come back in two weeks. I’ll be back to strictly prose. Meanwhile for the rest of you, here are two weeks of lists. In Part One I will be exploring integral aspects and approaches I’ve incorporated into my composing and music business life. These items have helped me become more stable, successful and prolific. Many items I have already mentioned throughout the blogs thus far, but I enjoyed compiling them all here.
Next week in Part Two I will be discussing rituals I have added to my personal life that have helped me cope with being a freelance creative. I hope this is interesting for you but I am also doing this for me; looking back on what I have been doing and reflecting on how it has helped. I know this will encourage me do things more deliberately and consistently. Hopefully this will inspire you to do the same. Feedback and reflection are always such a good thing. So let’s begin…..
Integral Activities and Items in my Music Business Life
Plan the month, the week, the day
At the beginning of the month I write down everything that is on the menu for the month. Then on Sundays I list what needs to be achieved that week. Then every morning I list what needs to be done that day. If my To Dos are out of my head and on paper I can breathe a bit easier. And crossing them off as they get done is so freaking satisfying. It is also a really great way to show yourself: “Look! I am being productive!”
I have a white board that has all the projects that are happening right now. I find this comforting to look at. It is encouraging (and sometimes a little sobering) to see the work I have scheduled. It also helps me not forget a project that may be on a slower timeline.
Come to work clear
If I start the day with journaling and yoga (which I will discuss more next week) then I start the day with a clearer mind. The anxiety or stress might still be floating around in the background but at least I have worked it out on the page. The yoga also calms my mind but also helps me unscrunch my body and be more mindful when I sit down at my desk. I am less likely to hunch over if I have just spent 20 minutes stretching, opening up and becoming more physically aware.
Do it now
I look at my list and see what can be knocked out immediately and quickly. The emails, the contracts, getting stuff out to my team so they can get working. Sometimes this is frustrating because I want to dig into composing or working on the bigger thing, the thing stressing me out the most. But this way I can feel productive immediately and then I can focus better on the bigger, more time consuming tasks.
Plan the day with a time grid
I don’t do this every day but at times it is so helpful. (This is introduced in the book Deep Work by Cal Newport). I might need it if I have a lot to get through in one day, or if I have a lot of anxiety about what I have going on, or maybe a lack of motivation. It is another tool to keep things moving. I do x from 11 – 12 then y from 12-1 then take a lunch break, do something chill. Then we keep tackle z from 2 – 5.30 and then we have a walk.
Deep Work – Be Present
Once I am doing the thing that will take a while, I commit to a certain amount of time and really try to fully be there with that task. No distractions. Be present with that thing. This is how you can find Flow. This is how you really enjoy whatever the task is. Be in the now and don’t worry about what is next. Again, read Deep Work by Cal Newport to receive more insight or Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
“What I am doing right now?” mini whiteboard
This is to help me with the item above. If I do get distracted, like I have to take a call or the cat throws up on the carpet (let’s be honest: if they throw up on the wood floor it can stay there a while) then it is a visual cue to help me get back into the thing.
Having a template in Cubase (the DAW I write in) ready to go really helps me. I know I can start writing immediately. As I work on a project I build on that. Once it is in a good place where I feel I have nailed the sound palette for the project I create a new template based on the name of that project.
Vienna Ensemble Pro
This server has definitely been good to me. Everything is always loaded up, good to go, so I don’t have to wait for my core instruments in my template to load. They are already there. Yes, it is another thing that can go awry in addition to your DAW. It is far from perfect. But I love it. Side bar: yes I have my synth vsts and my loop perc vsts loaded in cubase, not VEPro so I can mess with the patches more easily.
Give my brain time to compose
When I am starting a new cue I like to watch it before I have to sit down to write. I let my brain have time to think on it. Before I go on my daily walk, before I do the dishes, or before I write emails and deal with paperwork I watch the cue, I read the notes I have based on the input from my director/producer and I give myself time to hear what needs to happen. When it comes time to sit down and write I have an idea ready to explore. Writing in your head is definitely a skill worth developing. Come up with an idea – it may not even be a melody, it may be a texture combined with a time signature and a tempo. Hear it, and stick it on repeat in your head so you’re sure of it when it needs to come out of you.
Of course this will also be on next week’s list but it is here because I consider exercise an integral part of my working life. To be clear: It is is not in addition to, it is part of. If I don’t exercise, I know my work suffers. And as I mentioned above, I can still compose or orchestrate while I am exercising. If my composing/score producing schedule gets super crazy, I make sure my exercising becomes even more locked in. No Skipping.
Just Write Something
I try hard to create a safe space for myself when I write. I just try and finish an idea, while embracing the fact that it might suck. It may be wrong. But just start. Do Something Now. It has been proven time and time again that the hardest part about doing anything is Starting. If you give yourself permission to suck, starting is a lot easier.
Stop Before You’re Empty
When I stop for the evening I try and leave whatever I am doing in a state where I am clear on what is going to happen next. For instance I have the next idea in the cue quickly sketched out, and in need of orchestrating and refining. This way when I sit down to write the next morning I have a place to start. Hemingway had a quote about this….but I can’t find it. I just wanted to mention it because this is not my idea, I stole it, but it works really well!
Keep up my instrumental skills
I am trying to practice piano and guitar more regularly so when I have to track I am not rusty. I need to do the same on violin (even though especially with this instrument I much prefer hiring one the many brilliant violinists here in LA). Practicing also benefits you generally as a musician, and (hopefully!) it is really fun. Please, it is so important to have musical fun! Especially as we are writing music for a living and according to client demands. Jump on an instrument and just play what is in your heart for a little bit.
Every week (if the writing/arranging/orchestrating schedule will allow) or at least twice a month I try to go to an event where I can connect with my community. This may be my composer community or my filmmaker community. Hopefully a balance of both. I make sure I am still getting out there and making new connections. No matter how steadily work is coming in, you should not rely on that. Keep making new connections.
Just as important, or maybe more important, is having quality time with people. I am now trying to have a coffee or lunch date once a week with a business contact. Networking events are great places to see people, and meet new people briefly, but it is so challenging in those situations to have a real quality conversation with anyone. Taking the time to follow up and have that quality meeting is key.
Keep track of contacts
This is something I am still trying to find a good system to handle. I do OK – I do have a spreadsheet with folks in it and a “last contact” date, but it is not maintained well. I would like to get way better at this (and find the appropriate software to handle it, if it exists – happy to hear your recs). We all meet people that we truly connect with and want to collaborate with “at some point”. In order to get to that point, you need to stay in touch with that person. I think people that master this arena are the ones who will be most successful.
I’ve been seeing a quote in different places all week that millionaires have at least 7 income streams. I have not been able to confirm this statistic but it makes sense to me. When I first came to LA I noticed how a lot of the composers I admired were composing for themselves but also doing additional music for others or also orchestrating or also teaching. Doing something else along with composing. This isn’t the case for everyone, but it is true of many. At least when you are starting out (and by “starting out” I mean the first 10 years of your pursuit as a freelance creative of any kind) I find it is easier if you embrace diversifying your income stream, instead of fighting it.
When I first came to LA I was doing composing + music prep + teaching a lot of private lessons to students of all ages. What I found was that I was really good at all three and that there was an opportunity for me to build a fulfilling and financially stable professional life by embracing these three areas. Now, the three areas look very different for me today than six years ago. I do a lot of composing, I manage a business that handles all aspect of score production, and my teaching is limited a very few private adult students that I adore (all in industry) and then one-off teaching/speaking engagements at different educational facilities. I thoroughly enjoy these three aspects of my music life.
Have a team
I have been developing my team since moving to LA and now it is formally known as Joy Music House. My first assistant was composer and audio engineer Robinton Hobbs, who is a founding member of JMH and has now leveled up to taking on a variety of music work. But thankfully we still work together pretty much every week. My assistant is now composer and singer/songwriter Hope Thal. I am so grateful for her. She is fantastic, puts up with me and is up for anything which is a relief because we end up in such a variety of music situations! Then there is Joseph Carrillo and I think the best way to describe him is as my music life partner. He is a founding member and team lead at JMH. He is the one I send my music to for ears, and every thing I orchestrate goes through him before it reaches the client. I hope we are in each other’s music lives forever because I don’t want to do it without him. Then there is the rest of the JMH crew who are all amazing composers and team members. It is such a….well, a joy (sorry, but it is the best word) to be a part of this collaboration.
I am always working on being a better leader, communicator and delegator. It takes hard work and I feel like I always have room for improvement. But collaborating with a team is so much better than doing this alone.
I have become a student of business and I am always trying to learn more in this area – a lot to learn. I read business books and blogs, and keep track of business leaders in my industry and other industries. Learn from their success and mistakes. When I started approaching my composing life as a business it was a really positive perspective shift for me. Books I am reading right now: Thrive by Arianna Huffington and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz along with the book on finances by Lis Keung and Ellen Rogin: Picture Your Prosperity.
That’s all for now…..
This is probably the most word-y “list blog” you’ve ever read but I hope it is has been helpful. I feel like I have hit upon many of the integral aspects of my composing and business life as it currently stands. See you next week for the examination of integral aspects and rituals in rest of my life……