“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration*.” Thomas Edison, 1901
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Thomas Edison, 1901
An audio brief is a road map, or recipe composers use that contains the logistical, technical, business and creative information necessary to begin creating music for a project. As a composer, I use audio briefs as a way to build consensus to make sure that everyone on the creative team agrees with all the details and the creative direction that the music is heading. The creative folks can be some combination of creator, director, writer, copywriter, producer, art director, or audio director depending on the project and industry. Usually if it’s a large group of people I’m meeting with, they have spoken and agreed on most if not all of these details. I prefer to go through each of these items, even if they seem clear to me, in case any of the details have changed.
Here’s the breakdown of the four parts I like to include in an audio brief:
• Logistical details include deadlines, track length and any required alternate versions. Many of the logistical details will be included in the business contract between the client and the composer, or in a less formal audio agreement. In most cases, I generate the audio brief once the contract or audio agreement is in place, so those details can be brought into the audio brief.
• Technical specifications can be pretty straight forward or complicated, specific to the project. They may include information like the bit rate, sample rate and audio file type, but can also include extensive audio requirements related to finalizing the track before delivery. It can get complicated pretty quickly in a video game project. Many details will be covered in the Game Design Document then incorporated and outlined in an Audio Master Document, which lists out information for all the sound assets in the game, including music, sound design and voice. No matter the complexity, getting these details ironed out early will ensure that the audio files can be easily synced and implemented upon delivery. This is especially helpful toward the end of projects when things are moving fast.
• The business details like the target market, broadcast medium (which may overlap with the technical specs) and any other research that might be helpful to take into consideration when exploring the direction of the music.
• The creative portion generally contains information related to genre, style, and mood. This step in the refining the audio brief usually requires some questions and probing. It There may be references to other audio tracks, or to artwork, which may be completed or in still in draft form. The initial brief I receive may start with something as simple as “upbeat, happy”. After a quick phone meeting with the creative team, I may amend the initial creative portion of the brief to “upbeat, happy – try ukulele, listen to the two reference tracks provided, light percussion but not too heavy, no glockenspiel, not too busy during first part of voice-over”. The second version is a lot more descriptive, right?
Most of my clients generally have a clear sense of what they want. In almost all the cases, they’ve worked on the project much longer than I have and have thought a lot about music options that they think will work. They also have a better understanding about any nuances and context, details that I will learn about if necessary as the project unfolds. My first job is to listen and consider their ideas. My second job is ask questions in order to refine the audio brief, and to make sure I can deliver the best music options possible. I also see it as my obligation to bring my years of experience to offer ideas that I think will work, asking questions like, “Have you thought of this other option?”. Since it can sometimes be difficult to figure out music just from discussing it, it’s often better to hear it. I find it helpful at the beginning of projects to write a few different ideas, a couple of short snippets that we can all examine, then figure out which one is working best and move forward.
During my audio brief meeting, I make sure to confirm all the items including the logistical and technical ones. Since projects often change, I want to make sure I have the latest updates. After I’ve confirmed all of these details over the phone, I will write up my notes into an email and send it to my clients to confirm. Once I get a confirmation from my client and I begin creating and producing music, I can move forward with the knowledge that the whole team is on board.
Creatives, what do you need from the audio brief? If you’re starting from scratch and you haven’t yet hired your composer, sketch out the details that you think your project needs and work with the composer you hire to fill in the remaining details. Also, don’t feel like you have to answer every question you have; in fact I find it can be helpful to know the list of questions or problems that my clients are trying to solve. Also remember, you don’t want to get stuck in process, you want to focus on the deliverable you’re going to receive. I find that it’s less important to my clients how I do my job of composing and producing, then whether I deliver what they’re looking for, when they’re looking for it. If they find it interesting to discuss audio production, I’m happy to explain my workflow and tools.
Composers, what do you need from an audio brief? Everything! If you’re looking through a brief that you didn’t create and anything looks unclear, or if there are acronyms you aren’t familiar with – ask! I would much rather firm up any details related to what my client wants before I start writing music, rather than deliver some music and have them point out something that isn’t consistent with the specs in the audio brief, or deliver something based on a false assumption that I made because I was too shy or embarrassed to ask a question. And as I’ve eluded to above, if the audio brief is incomplete or non-existent, I create it myself.
Audio briefs can be a helpful tool for communication. If used properly, they can be a foundation to a stable creative framework for a project and even to long lasting business relationship. I hope this explanation about audio briefs has been helpful. Do you have any questions? Are there details that you include in your workflow that I’ve missed? Please let me know!
Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 18 years, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, and kid’s video games. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows like “The Bachelor” on ABC, MTV’s “The Challenge” and USA Network’s “Temptation Island”. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. You can learn more at www.freshmademusic.com.
Over the last nine years, I have collaborated with around 500 kids K-5, usually twenty at a time, to write over a dozen songs about character education, science and local history. This project has been so rewarding for my soul! I’m putting this article together to outline my process, since I think it’s transferable, and so that more kids and communities can benefit from this fun process.
If you are a music teacher, classroom teacher, principal, administrator, composer, songwriter, musician or an interested parent, I would be happy to discuss any of these ideas in greater detail to figure out how to customize a program that you can bring this process to your local school, or organization.
Two quick things to note: I’ll admit that I don’t necessarily think that my process is particularly original – I expect there are others that are doing similar, worthy projects. I’m sharing what works for me, and pointing out some areas that I think are important. Also, all the benefits that I point to are anecdotal, taken from classroom teachers, music teachers and my observations.
Benefits – Why write songs with kids?
Music, plus a whole lot more In my workshops, I teach more than just musical ideas. I cover basic songwriting, general music concepts, the principles of narrative, how to construct a story, learning about working collaboratively and the creative process. Depending on the topic I have also included discussions on character education, community activism, science and history; where those last two are linked to the Common Core and to the State of California Standards. Yes, it sounds pretty deep, but many of the songs are pretty funny! (Listen to “The Plankton Song”)
Songwriting is empowering There is a wealth of great music written for kids to perform, however when kids are part of the songwriting process, and they get the opportunity to perform material they helped create, they demonstrate a huge sense of pride from literally having their ideas heard. The schools where I have written songs have a special new identity for these creations, even years later – “these are our songs”. (Watch “Kinder Than Necessary”)
Kids work closely with their topic When we write songs together, the students work with the subject matter in a number of ways. It keeps the topic fresh while they take a deep dive into their topic. They first learn about subject matter with their teacher in the classroom, then I discuss the subject matter with the kids during the songwriting process, and together we uncover then the essential elements of the subject matter – these become a main ingredient to the song. Next, they learn the song, which is a repetition of those essential elements, often memorize the song i.e. the main theme and supporting facts of the subject matter. Then they perform the songs, often for other students, and they have the opportunity to teach other kids about what they’ve learned. (Listen to “Symbiotically” from We Are Coral)
Kids teach kids There are a few points in this project where kids teach other kids, which I find to be amazing. During the lyric writing process, the kids discuss what ideas and elements are the most important for the song. They often recite facts that their teacher has taught them. Kids remember different bits and pieces, and they piece them together to make a whole story, which in turn becomes a song. Poetic, right?
The next kid-teach-kid learning opportunity happens when the kids perform their songs for other grades, younger and older. Most often the younger kids are hearing these ideas for the first time, and the older kids are getting a review or a slightly new take on ideas they’ve learned in previous grades.
Kids have different styles of learning There are always a few kids that are surprise thrivers during my workshops. These are kids that the classroom teachers report as being bored sometimes, or a little hard to reach. Music and songwriting unlocks something in these kids. Somehow, a change comes over some children during the songwriting process. In some cases, the kids might be shy and not overly comfortable with sharing their ideas in class, but somehow music affects them on a different level, and they begin to open up. The power of music should not be under estimated!
I have honed my process over a nine year period, with the help and input of some great classroom teachers, a fantastic music teacher, and some open minded kids. I have written character education songs with 1st graders, a nine song coral reef musical with 2nd graders, a local history review with 3rd graders and a song about kindness with a huge collaboration of an entire K-5 elementary school.
In all of the projects I’ve worked on, the common factor is that kids have generated all the ideas for the lyrics. I flip some words around, put them in an order, and help them figure out the main idea, which becomes the chorus. But when I say the kids write the lyrics to these projects, I really mean that they write the lyrics – to me, that is the secret sauce. That part is non-negotiable. I try my best to include as many ideas as possible and to leave whole phrases intact, so they are recognizable when the kids experience the songs.
Here’s my basic recipe. I realize this is a lot to pull together, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to sustain this for so many years. Ingredients for writing songs with kids:
1 Engaged classroom teacher – willing to spend the necessary time to see the project through, including to help the kids learn the songs
1 Topic to write about (anything could work, examples are character education, science, history)
1 Chunk of time, agreed upon by the classroom teacher and the music teacher
1 Small funding source to pay for the program
1 Engaged person to write a grant (optional)
1 Supportive administrator like a principal
1 Group of kids – Generally one classroom/group of kids works well to write one song
1 Open-minded songwriter – ability or access to record and deliver drafts and completed songs
1 Dedicated music teacher – willing to teach the songs, sometimes in lieu of learning other songs, or sometimes during classroom time
1 Confirmed performance
I generally like to meet with the kids a few times – once to introduce songwriting, once to gather ideas to write, once to introduce the song. I have been able to keep my classroom times pretty low, partly to keep the grant amounts reasonable.
For my first session, I like to present an introduction to songwriting and songwriting form so the kids get used to me, and we can get used to working together. During this process, I often try to quickly generate some ideas to begin to write a song on the spot. I make an effort here to show them that creativity can be fun and casual – all we need is a little bit of structure. (During this first session process, this song came together with 1st graders. It was a week before MLK day. We talked about Dr. King for a few minutes, then I asked them about their dreams. (Listen to “I Have A Dream”)
At some point before my next meeting with the kids, I like for the kids to have learned something from their teacher – if it’s history or science-based, they may do some research. If it’s character education, they may read an age-appropriate book.
Often during this classroom learning the teacher takes notes that they bring to this session, so the kids can see. These can be helpful for the kids to review, especially if the learning has been more than two weeks before. What I’m really looking for is for the kids to convey ideas in their own words. While it can be hard sometimes, we always get there!
I’m always glad for the classroom teacher to be present during this session, and if they have any specific notes or directions that the song should take, I always ask for their input. However, it’s crucial that teachers and other adults present participate as little as possible with the idea gathering, other than help with aspects like calling on students. Words from adults can sometimes be more eloquent than necessary – I honestly think it’s the words from the kids that give these songs their magic. (Listen to “Honesty”)
When I meet with the kids for the second session, we quickly review songwriting form then move forward to work on lyrics. To them, I make it clear that we’re just working on ideas. I try to start with a blank canvas. I also try to just listen and get them to talk, asking questions to learn more about what they know. I sometimes remind them that we’re just looking for ideas, not necessarily perfect lyrics or phrases. I find that if kids, especially in the younger grades try to give what they expect means a clever idea, it often comes out a bit forced. We don’t worry about rhyming, order or anything that might get in the way of their free thought.
Toward the end of this session, I try to make sure we agree as a group about a working main idea, that could work as a chorus. I like to try to demonstrate some music ideas that might work on the spot to allow the kids to have some input on what genre(s) might work for the song. I also try to show demonstrate some ideas that probably wouldn’t work well, maybe playing music against the subject matter (like a sad music for happy lyrics).
Next, I take the ideas into my studio and fashion them into a song. I wish I could better explain how I put lyrics into music! I realize this part of the process is pretty important but I just don’t know how to break it down to explain it… I supposed it’s like trying to describe to someone how to walk – you put one foot in front of the other, and place your weight on your front leg when you do it… but that doesn’t quite describe walking. I’m certain that each musician and songwriter would have their own process here. I suppose that the right songwriter is a rather crucial ingredient for this process to work.
I like to make the songs singable and memorable for the kids, and I try to make sure the kids can sing them, making sure that it’s in their range. In my approach, I write songs that are written and performed by kids – but I don’t write “kid songs” per se (not that there’s anything wrong with those). I have found that kids can handle pretty sophisticated syncopation and harmonic motion. I generally use Pop songs and classic Broadway songs as a reference.
I generally continue to work on the chorus first, but not always. I really try to get all the kids ideas into the song with the aim of keeping the song at around three minutes or less. Once I feel like the song has the right flow, I make a scratch recording and share it with the music teacher for a quick review. Sometimes I make a few tweaks after this process, then I make a better recording, including the piano accompaniment that the classroom teachers can use to teach the song. I will also share the draft lyrics with the classroom teacher to make sure we have all our facts straight, and change anything necessary.
In my third session with the kids, I introduce the song to them. This is generally my favorite part, as they can see the whole process come together. I find it to be really rewarding when they spot their own idea, or their friend’s “you wrote that part!” Once I see whether I need any further tweaks, I create a written music chart for the song so the music teacher can teach it, and so the school can perform it in the future.
At this point, the music teacher and classroom teachers take over the project, teaching the song to the kids. It’s always hard to find time for the kids to learn the song(s), so I find it helpful to at least get a rough idea of when the learning will take place at the beginning of the process so that the teachers can support each other.
Finally the kids perform their precious songs for their parents, and hopefully other kids.
While this process is slightly different every time, it is always rewarding for me to watch the kids collaborate, learn and perform. Do you have questions about how you might incorporate this process into your school or organization? Please let me know if you’d like to learn more about my experiences and to see if together, we can customize a program that works for you.
Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. Jerome has worked with over 500 kids to write 15+ songs and counting, including “We Are Coral” a musical about saving the Coral Reef. Jerome creates music for advertising, apps, kid’s video games and TV. Jerome has created music for Originator Kids “Math Tango: Starbase”, Leapfrog and Spinmaster. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows “The Bachelor” on ABC and MTV’s “The Challenge”. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio.
Creating and selecting music and audio for kids games has all the challenges of composing music for any game, film or TV show. Finding the right audio, and musical landscape can be a crucial component to whether the game is a success. For me, the ultimate test, after all the conversations and work, is whether kids keep the music on while they’re playing!
I have put together a handful of tips that I’ve picked up over the years that I can recommend if you need to figure out how to design, explain and/or write kids game music and audio. I’m writing this from my viewpoint as a composer and sound designer with the hope that it might help other game audio folks; and also writers, producers, game designers, audio directors, audio programmers, folks in marketing and PR, and any creative person involved in creating a kids games. My hope is that if you follow these guidelines, the music and audio in your game will greatly enhance the game, making it a critical part of the gameplay, so much so, that kids couldn’t imagine playing the game without your audio and music.
Here are my: 9 Tips for Creating Targeted Kids Game Music and Audio
- Figure out what you’re working on
When I begin a project, it’s my job to learn as much as possible about what I’m working on, beginning with the intention of the creators. I’m interested in listening, reading, and looking at everything; the game design document, any artwork (finished or not), any levels (whether they’re playable yet or not) and any relevant analytics from the marketing folks about the target market, including whether the game is a sequel. I also try to gather any and all musical references that the design team has been thinking about. If you’re a composer, plan to ask for as much as your client can give you, and be prepared to look, listen and ask questions. If you’re on the developer side, be prepared to provide these materials to your curious composers and sound designers. The more open you are to the creative folks you work with, the more likely they are to be on target with their work. While there is a certain amount of mind-reading that happens with my clients, I prefer to be a translator – to gain inspiration from narrative, visuals and design elements that my client has provided – translating all of these materials into the right audio.
- Get buy-in about what you’re going to create
Once I figure out what I’m going to work on, I compile an audio brief, a document that outlines all the information that I’ve collected (see #1), with clear directives about what I’m going to write, then I share it with my client. By sharing this information with my client, I can be clear with them about what I’m intending to write, and they can share the audio brief with members of their team, so they all know what to expect. Communication is so very important during the whole process (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-speak-music-5-tips-communicating-composer-jerome-rossen/). Establishing an open line of communication with your creative team from the beginning is very important.
- Be clear like a laser
When you’re in planning mode, creating or discussing an audio brief, clarity of genre and style will always be helpful, including specific genres, artists and tracks. If I have a client who tells me they want the music to be fun, I’m going to ask for more specific information. Do they mean something bright and cheery with ukulele and percussion? A mariachi band? A piano playing ragtime? You get the idea. These examples might all be fun in the right context, but none may fit what my client has in mind. If my intention is to be clear with genres, I will have a better chance to deliver music that will fit the game and that the client likes.
- Write up – Aim for a few years higher
In my experience with my own kids and as a guest artist in the classroom (K-12), kids want to aspire beyond their age. They want to read about the lives of kids a few years older. They don’t like to feel babied. It’s the same with music written for them. For preschool games, kids don’t want the music to feel too young. For young elementary games K-2, the kids don’t want the games to feel too kiddie-like. And for 3rd-5th and tweens, for instance, if you’re game is reaching from a pop music genre, your best bet is probably to reach for current pop music as a model. When in doubt, add a bit more sophistication to the music and you’ll be on track.
- Try to narrow the target market
Often game designers and marketing folks have an intention that a kids game will try to reach a really broad range of kids; some games are successful at this. When I approach a game where my client says they want to reach K-5, I really have to dig in and figure out whether the younger, K-2nd grade kids are playing the game differently than the 3rd-6th graders. If so, I have to make a decision with the game designers of which narrow group to write for. In this example, it would likely be best to write for the older group, the 3rd-5th grade audience, without alienating the younger kids. Also, I find an interesting thing happens – when I’m successful focusing on a narrow target market, the audio will often work well for wider audience as well.
- Don’t water down
Kids can handle sophisticated music and audio, in fact they’re expecting it. Whether you like it or not, your game is competing with all other media out there. This includes movies and tv shows with huge audio budgets, that may contain full orchestras and high-end pop producers. No matter what you audio budget is, your game can have sophisticated, well designed music and audio if you have the right preparation and the right team from the beginning.
- Scary, minor and major
If there are realistic events happening in-game, then it may be completely appropriate for them to sound realistic… but be careful, especially for the younger audiences, sometimes those sounds need to be tempered. For example, if there is a space explosion in a preschool game, it might be more effective for it to sound more fun than scary, with some synths added in for musical sound design. Be mindful about writing in minor keys. Believe it or not, only a small percentage of the music I’ve created for young kids games (K-2 and younger) includes music in minor keys. There is one game developer that tries it’s best to avoid using minor keys altogether! The only case I can remember using a minor key for this developer was in a game that helps kids identify emotions – I used a minor key for “scared” and “frustrated”, but not a handful of other emotions. In general, keep it major if you can for the young ones.
- Pay attention to the game design
Keeping track of the basic game design principles of the game will help you figure out how complex your music should be, in any given level. How long will the player be on this level? How complex is this level? Is there any data from play-testing? As far as length of track, if it’s a really easy level, and the player won’t be there long, then it may not make sense to use a long, 1 minute looping track. On the other hand, if it’s really hard and the player will be there longer, it might make sense to provide more music so that the loop doesn’t get boring. As far as difficulty, make sure the music pairs properly with the complexity of the game. I prefer to use less complex music, when the game is more complex. For instance if you’re working on a really complicated puzzle, my caveman brain gets distracted if there’s too much other stimulation. Complex levels may be well served from minimal or no melody, and fast tempos. Remember, the music is here to serve and enhance the game experience, not the other way around.
- Use odd and vintage genres wisely
I love odd genres, and I love mixing them. It’s OK to use all kinds of genres, but make sure you’re being mindful in the way you’re using them. I make sure I have a reason to use the genre I select – perhaps cuing off of the geography, landscape or shift in the narrative. Also, I think it’s great to throw a bone to the parents or caregivers now and then, as long as you’re aware that you might be including a genre that you know the kids may not understand. Remember the adults are often listening but not playing the game. Be mindful that a parent or adult might ask to turn the music down, or ask the kids to stop playing the game (G-d forbid!).
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you move forward creating music and audio for your kids game. I hope that they help you make your audio essential to your game. If you have any questions about any of the tips, please let me know – I’d love to discuss them with you!
Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 18, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, and kid’s video games. Jerome has created music for Originator Kids “Math Tango: Starbase”, Leapfrog and Spinmaster. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows like “The Bachelor” on ABC and MTV’s “The Challenge”. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio.
Pairing music with video is a really exciting process, whether you’re working in animation, advertising, film, television or video games. This step in production usually means that you’re nearing the completion of your project. Perhaps congratulations are in order? Finding the right music for your project is a little tricky, but if you keep a few things in mind and you add a dose of patience, hopefully you’ll get the results you’re looking for.
As a composer and music producer, I interface with a wide variety of folks from a variety of backgrounds who make up my client base. They often have exponentially more experience than I do in art, design, writing and business. They may be a super-talented art director, editor, visionary writer, producer or other type of content creator. No matter what their title is, the job of finding music often falls into the lap of the most creative member or members on the team. In almost every case, everyone on the team has a strong passion for music, and they know from the start exactly what they think will work. Sometimes the hardest part for the team is trying to communicate the musical vision to the person who will be bringing it into fruition. That’s where I come in.
In this article, I am addressing the process of working with a composer to create custom music. I recognize that working with a music library is also a viable option for many creatives – that is a somewhat different process.
From the beginning of the project, it’s my job to open a clear line of communication about what exactly we all want for the music, to determine who the final decision makers are, and to figure out a way to keep things on track.
In the beginning, it’s often helpful to get very granular details by sharing existing examples and quick, messy custom prototypes to really hone in on the right direction. Many projects move fast, and sometimes projects change in the middle, so getting that communication going is important for any tweaks or adjustments that we decide on to get the music working well, as fast as possible.
Once in awhile during the review process, I’ll get feedback such as “It’s not working” or “I don’t like it.” That’s clearly not enough feedback. If that’s all I get, I have to do my best to draw my client out more. I don’t need them to tell me their hopes, fears and dreams, but I do need to figure out what music is going to work, so I don’t throw out the good parts and then I need to figure out what isn’t working with the music, so I can fix it.
Very often my job is to translate emotional terms, narrative structure and thematic elements into music.
Here are 5 recommendations for communicating with a composer:
- Use descriptive language. It’s helpful to use emotional words, and try to tie them in to thematic elements in your project. It’s great to use the language that originally inspired you in the creation of your masterpiece. These ideas can be foundational for the music as well. For instance, if you need the music to build right after the sunrise, or if you need the music to pause when the main character looks away because she’s remembering how much she misses her first pet Sparkles… those are the elements to concentrate on and to communicate about. Sometimes you need the music to track a character’s mood, or you need the music to play against what’s happening on the screen.
- Be careful of using musical terms. Musical terms generally have very precise meanings, and if not used correctly, they can be confusing to your composer and muddy up your intention and in turn, your music track. I’ve been in situations where a creative person recommends that they want something raised up an octave, but they really mean just a higher key – or that they want something slower, but they actually mean in a minor key. No worries. It’s my job to translate, so if you’re not sure, it’s OK to say that you’re not sure, we’ll figure it out together.
- Try to have specific existing music examples. If my client doesn’t provide examples at the beginning of the project, I frequently put together a quick playlist that we review together. These examples allow us to begin a conversation about genre, instrumentation, tempo, and feel and anything else that might be relevant to the project – and since we’re listening to the same examples, we can generally get the majority of the information that I need to create an audio brief it one doesn’t already exist, and can begin composing. This process is also a great way to begin our clear line of communication.
- Be prepared to provide data. No matter what you’re working on, you’ve already worked on it longer than the composer you’re bringing in. You likely have some valuable insights to convey about audience, target markets and your competition or industry. If it’s a commercial, you might have some analytics that you’ve rolled into your process already. If you’re working on TV show or film, you might either have some focus group data or at least some anecdotal ideas that you are drawing from. Your composer doesn’t necessarily need raw data, but giving them a brief summary of this information can be a key insight into why you’re making some of the choices you’re making about music. This data may also inform some of the decisions the composer makes in one direction or another.
- Be open. As in any creative process, you may ask for something and realize that once it’s compiled, you don’t like it. No worries! Pairing music to picture is an iterative process. I find it helpful to figure out what is and isn’t working and to move quickly forward from that information. It can be helpful in these situations to focus on the outcome, not necessarily the process. If you’re focusing on narrative, subject matter and how you want a scene to be conveyed, chances are that you’re going to be in the ballpark of finding the right music. And sometimes even small tweaks can make all the difference between what isn’t working too well, and what’s totally working.
Pairing music with video is an exciting process. If you have the chance to collaborate with a composer who is a willing partner and good listener, then there is a high likelihood that the composer will take great care with your project – the same amount of great care that you have taken to get it this far.
I received feedback from a longtime client a few years ago. Every week, when I sent over my full orchestrations and the final mixes of my music synced to picture to the audio director, this was usually cause for a small crowd of people who worked on this project to gather around the audio director’s mixing console and watch it, some watching the whole project for the first time. It was only then, and only once the music was synced that the project felt finished. That, to me, is how I know when we have the right music.
Good luck, and let me know how your experience with of communicating with a composer goes!
Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 18, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, and kid’s video games. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows like “The Bachelor” on ABC and MTV’s “The Challenge”. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. You can learn more at www.freshmademusic.com.
I’ve really had fun creating the music and sound design for the update of MathTango Starbase. It’s been great working with audio producer, Richard Warp from Intonic Studios, and the team from Originator. It’s a featured app in the Apple App Store. If you want to brush up on your multiplication, or if you know a child who does, check it out!
MathTango by Originator Inc.
Creativity can seem elusive. For some people, it’s loaded with fear and superstition. The fear is that just by asking, trying to look the muse directly in the eye, we risk scaring the muse away!
With a little bit of faith in my heart and my fingers firmly crossed, I took some time to examine my creative process. I was somewhat surprised to learn that I go through a similar process each time I complete something creative. In my examination, I broke my creative process down into steps. Here are:
My 7 Steps of Creativity are: the spark, organization, the brainstorm, assessment, execution, revisions, declaring it done.
I realize that there are likely tons of really great ways to approach creativity effectively and there is probably no real magic to the way I personally approach creativity. This just happens to be mine.
I notice that I don’t always use each of these steps in order — sometimes I skip around a little bit, but I do touch on each one at some point. I’ve outlined a brief explanation of each of the 7 Steps below and I’m including some tips on how I try to optimize each one.
How can you use these steps and how can they benefit you? For me, I use this process for writing articles, producing music tracks, writing songs, and collaborating with other creative folks. This process may be helpful for you if you’re working on a large project that you need to tackle but seems daunting, or if you’re trying to figure out the best way to start a project — perhaps you’ve got a temporary case of writer’s block ? And why don’t we just assume that all writer’s block is temporary?
1. The Spark
The Spark is that kernel of an idea that seems to magically enter into your head. Sometimes the spark comes quickly, in the shower or when you’re driving — hopefully not when you’re trying to do both! But sometimes you have to will it into existence. Either way, you want to be ready when your great inspiration arrives. Here’s what I recommend:
Optimize Tip: Create your space
The idea here is that you want to open the creative space in your mind for the spark to come. A free mind is an inviting environment for creative ideas.
Do whatever you need to do, both mentally and physically to make sure your mind is free of distractions. When I have a lingering bill, phone call or email to write, then I take care of it, especially if it means it will free up more room in my brain to be creative. I can be easily distracted from checking my email and checking into social media, so I create some guidelines for myself.
I don’t like to begin work until I have an organized work space. If it would help you to have a clean work area, then set aside some time or put an action plan together about how and when you’re going to clean your space. And if you have to, find somewhere else to work, like your local coffee shop.
A note of caution here — if you find that the “create your space” step is taking more time than you expected (“Oh, my 5th grade class photo… I wonder where Desmond is?”) than be careful that you’re not using this as a reason to procrastinate.
When I was just starting out composing music for film and TV, I would have a tendency to jump the gun and start making stuff way too early in the process — right after getting the spark — without having nearly enough information. I would make a number of assumptions and then be prepared to deliver music based on these assumptions to my clients. As you might imagine, many of my assumptions would be wrong, my music wouldn’t be quite right, and in the very beginning, my ego was a bit bruised. If I had been a little more patient and just asked questions and listened to the answers, I would have been in a much better position.
Optimize Tip: Gather information by research or listening
Answer who, what, where and when. This is when you’re the project manager; where you identify what you’re doing, how you’re going to do it, who’s responsible for what, what your deadlines are and whether there are any additional resources that you’re going to need. If you’re working with clients, this is the part where you listen to how they understand the project, you ask lots of questions, and you clarify whatever you need to. For many creative projects, it’s often clear in somebody’s head what creative solution will work — if you’re working for that creative person, you want to make sure you get the full creative download on what they’re expecting, so it becomes clear in your head too.
While capturing all of these details may sound stifling, most creative folks thrive on having a structure so they know exactly what they’re working on. I personally love knowing what my deadline is, who my target audience is, who I’m working with, who will be reviewing my work, and what the parameters are for the project.
3. The Brainstorm
The point of the brainstorm section is to get lots of ideas together so that you can choose the best ones. Sometimes my first idea is good, but I’ve noticed that I can push myself to see “What else can I do?” or “How else can I solve this?” In situations where I’ve come up with multiple ideas, I’ve often taken elements from a few different ideas to find the winning solution.
Optimize Tip: Allow yourself to create without judgement
Sometimes when I’m writing a piece of music, I may write three really quick sketches knowing that I’ll assess them at a later time, and honestly not really worry about whether they’re good. This is the time for creating content, not judging it. It’s critical in this stage to turn your editor off so that you can freely express your ideas without the little voice inside you constantly saying “no, that sucks” or “people are never going to like this.”
This is when you can let the editor in and freely judge the brainstormed ideas. For me, I really appreciate starting the assessment process after I’ve had some space from the initial brainstorming session, whether it’s overnight or after I’ve taken a brief break from creating. This way, I can try to have a fresh perspective, and I can try not to be emotionally attached to any one idea.
Quick note — while the assessment step may take place here, and it may take place again, later in the process.
Optimize Tip: Try to be your own fair, balanced critic
The sooner you can be honest with yourself, the better. If you really like something you’ve created, and you’ve gotten positive feedback from folks who understand what you’re doing, there’s a good chance that some group of folks out in the world will like it too. But if I create something, look at it a few days later, and I’m not in love with it? I give myself permission to to step away and start again, especially if I don’t know how to make changes so that I’ll love it. Sometimes the quicker that you can judge that something won’t work can save valuable creative time to focus on the ideas that you think are worth pursuing. Besides, I always keep all my work — even the discarded ideas because sometime those so-so ideas get revised and turn into great projects.
Optimize Tip: Create fast and cheap prototypes
You want some way to be able to really quickly assess the viability of your idea. Sometimes you can only see a dramatic flaw from a mockup that you can’t see on paper. I record demos and listen. I audition instruments and see how they’re working together. If it’s appropriate, I get feedback from trusted sources. Again, it’s often helpful to allow yourself to experiment, fail and revise in this step.
Optimize Tip: Try 3–5 versions
Put together 5 beginnings. Create 3 endings — quickly, but don’t polish them yet. You want to put only enough energy in to see whether your project is working. If it isn’t, create some more. If it is, and all it needs is polish, then that’s fantastic!
(At this point, I often go back to #4 Assessment)
If you have an inkling in your gut that you should change a small part of your project, do it and see if you like it better. In the majority of these situations, a small change might take a little more time to fix, but is totally worth it in the end.
Optimize Tip: Revisions can make or break the project
Sometimes it’s easy to blast through the initial creation phase of a project, but I notice that I slow down for the analysis portion. I often find that analyzing projects to figure out how to improve them can take much more time, and can be a much more delicate process. Very often a few very small changes can make a big difference in a project. When I’m working on a music track, I try to listen to reference tracks to make sure I’m getting the mix that I’m trying for. During the brainstorming and execution steps, I may make broad strokes. In this revision step I’m more conscious of working carefully and more skillfully.
7. Completion — Declare it Done
Sometimes you have an external deadline when you have to turn in your work, so that whatever you’re working on can go to the next step. And sometimes, creatively you need a break — you’d like to wrap it up and start something else.
Optimize Tip: Try to get it finished “enough”
There are times when I’ve finished a project because I’ve run out of time. In fact this can sometimes be a blessing. There are projects that come together very quickly — 90% is finished in a day or two, then I take 3 days to try to polish the last 10% (See the Revisions Step above). Be careful with how long you take to complete the final polish. When you think a project might be done — get some feedback if you need to, take a deep breath, do one last check, then pitch it, send it, ship it — whatever needs to happen. Then move on to the next project (and perhaps start again at step #1!).
Creating something can be a pretty messy process. In my mind, I come up with an idea, work on it, then it’s finished. But when I stopped to examine my process, I realized there is a lot more to it. I also realized that I don’t generally bring superstition and fear into my creative process when I’m mindful of following the 7 Steps of Creativity.
If you have any interesting tips to share about your creative process, or if you have any questions or feedback about these 7 Steps, I’d love to hear from you. I’m always fascinated to learn about how other folks approach their creative process. I’m especially interested to see how other folks start and finish creative projects. Go make stuff!
Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter, producer and professional musician. For 15 years, Jerome has created music for advertising, apps, and kid’s video games. Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows on NBC. ABC and Fox. Jerome also creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. You can learn more at www.freshmademusic.com.
I had the great pleasure to collaborate with these 1st graders to write a song about thinking. In this hyper-speed age we live in, it’s remarkable to get this great reminder to slow down… from 1st grades no less!
This video shows the first part of the song.
And here’s the chorus:
“I’m a thinker, yes that’s me
I observe the things I see
I imagine and I wonder
About my community
I’m a thinker, yes it’s true
You might be a thinker too
We find answers and solutions
Because that’s what thinkers do”
I put this video together for Valentine’s Day. I’m playing a piece I wrote called “My Hand In Yours”. There are lots of great ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and there’s no reason to limit it to February 14th! No matter what day it is, I hope you always get whatever you wish for, whether it’s roses, chocolate, a chance to hold someone’s hand – or just some peaceful time to yourself.