Five Tips To Help You Reach Deadline Zen

Deadlines: Inspiration or Impediment?

As a creative professional, I rely on deadlines as motivation and inspiration. Sometimes they can be a bright shimmer of heavenly light, beaming angelically from the end of the day Friday. Other times, they are a hot, scary, stress-inducing firebrand, pushing you to sprint, not walk; a motivational kick in the… pants! Either way, since deadlines are inevitable, I’ve come to see them as a tool.

“I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines, nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.” – Harry Shearer

DSC_0385Some Context
I’m a composer for TV, video games and cartoons. I generally deliver a finished music file that gets placed immediately into project. If it’s a TV show, it may be broadcast the day after I deliver my file. If it’s a video game, it will immediately get implemented into the game, and entered into an extensive testing process. In both of these cases, my deadlines matter – someone is waiting for me to finish my part, so the project can move forward to next step. There is both carrot and stick associated to this; I often get paid at deadline milestones, but I’m also generally concerned (afraid?) about my deadline, as I don’t want to be the source of a bottleneck.

Five Tips to Deadline Zen
I’ve put together a handful of tips that I use to keep my work on schedule. While you may not find any of these exactly revolutionary, I find it helpful to be reminded of these ideas from time to time.

1) Break down the large project into little bits. Take one first step. Make sure you understand the big picture. If you’ve had a conversation with your client or collaborator, and you know where you’re going, then you’re ready to break the work into a smaller piece, and get cracking.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

2) Make sure you’re organized. When you’re working quickly, you can’t take time to fix your process. If you find this to be an issue, take time to work through this in the future when you don’t have a deadline.

I notice when I work really fast, I can be very creative, but I have a higher likelihood of letting small details slide, and a higher likelihood of being paranoid about whether that small details might slide! If you’re organized, these small details can have a better chance of falling into place.

“The thing that would most improve my life is 27 hours in a day. I could meet all my deadlines.” – Yoko Ono

3) Choose the right people to work with. Beware of the “Toxic Collaborator”! There are folks who think they only thrive on tight deadlines, those who never meet deadlines and those who just unfortunately aren’t very organized. There is a high likelihood that you might come across these people as colleagues, team members or clients, and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. (It’s possible that you are one of these people. It’s OK! You’re working on that, right?) It’s best to know the situation up front, so you can be prepared. It may be helpful to plan ahead by putting some extra organizational tools into place or setting some internal deadlines that occur prior to the client deliverable. Sometimes these folks are very creative, and you really don’t want to stifle that creativity, but you do need to effectively manage the project so that everything happens when it needs to.

4) Know what you’re getting into. “Is it always like this?” I like to put my deadlines into perspective. There are whole industries that have built-in, always crazy, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off deadlines like nightly TV shows, technology products and the stock market. Handling these sorts of deadlines is often the whole point of the job. If you can thrive under this sort of pressure, that’s awesome – just make sure you know what you’re getting into.

5) Plan ahead. I love being involved in planning meetings at the beginning of a project, when creative, administrative and scheduling expectations are set out. This can be a great opportunity to have some input into what’s possible in regards to timing. This is the time to get the deadlines right. I prefer building in small milestones, so my clients are incrementally checking my work as we go, instead of one big reveal at the end. For instance, it can often be better to devise four small deadlines (and perhaps incremental payments associated to that) rather than one big deadline.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

If any of these tips are interesting to you, try implementing them one at a time, if you’re aren’t already working this way. As you get back to work, I hope you’re able to reach maximum deadline Zen!

Do you have any experiences or other tips that you’d like to share about deadlines? I’d love to hear from you at info@freshmademusic.com.

Jerome Rossen is a composer, songwriter and professional musician.  He is best known as the composer for the Happy Tree Friends. Since 2005, Jerome has scored the music for this animated Internet sensation, recognized as the most-viewed web series of all time, with over 2 billion video views. He has delivered his music on or ahead of his deadlines for the last 15 years. You can learn more about him at www.freshmademusic.com.

Country and Western

blues brothers
“ELWOOD: What kind of music do you usually have here?
CLAIRE: Oh, we have both kinds — country and western.”
– The Blues Brothers, 1980 written by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis

I like all kinds of music including, country, western, pop, jazz, classical, and world – the list goes on. I listen to lots of music too that I may or may not like; largely pop music if my kids are in the car. Maybe I should be more totalitarian about their listening habits and play more Miles Davis, Mozart and Motown? In any case, whenever I’m listening to anything, I don’t really turn off my music analyzer muscle, and this was the case when Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song”  was on the radio yesterday. I’m not prepared to make an argument for whether it’s good or bad – that’s for you to decide – but I can tell you my opinion; one of the musical reasons why this song has become popular. And I’m also going to reference A-ha’s “Take On Me” .

To me, the biggest reason why “Heartbeat Song” is popular is because of the way the beat changes between a fast, frenetic feel during the verse, and a slow, epic beat during the chorus. I think dramatic changes like this one are very compelling to pop music listeners. I think listeners generally find music interesting anytime there is a part of a song that “kicks in” or where there is a smooth feel-change that feels natural, and gets your attention; that makes you want to dance or dance in a different way than the section of the song before it.

During the verse, the words bounce along like it’s bubblegum pop, although in this case, the music is actually playing against the words. Whereas the words show worry, concern and stress, the beat just keeps moving along.

“Pins and needles on my tongue,
Anticipating what’s to come”

The drums during these verses are very simple, with the kick on 1 and 3, the snare on 2 and 4 – the drums are hitting every quarter note here. There is a rhythm part played by a guitar or synth – or maybe doubled that is playing 8th notes. The verse has a very quick, driving feel. The pre-chorus has an interesting transitional feel to it. It’s a broken beat that forecasts some of the drama to come, but it doesn’t get too epic.

Then we get to the chorus. The beat here is in ½ time, as compared to the verse. If this section were experienced by itself, this could be the climax of a ballad. The feel here is very epic – Clarkson is singing in a higher part of her register, and the words are meant to be… heartfelt.

“This is my hearbeat song and I’m gonna play it, been song long, I forgot how to turn it up up up up all night long….”

Which brings me to A-ha’s “Take On Me”. This song employs this same technique in the chorus, just in a smaller dose.

In the beginning of the song, the whole feel is quite fast, again bouncing along. The chorus has the same feel, and momentum moves forward until you get to the line
“I’ll be gone….” For these 4 bars, there is a brief respite of ½ time, right before singer A-ha singer Morten Harket sing’s his falsetto high note. In the music video, it’s the moment when the animated hand breaks the third wall and motions for our blond protagonist to enter into comic book world. This all doesn’t happen as a coincidence… To me, this is one of the attractions of the song and even provides one of the reasons why this was a breakout hit for A-ha in 1985.

“In Motion” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: A Theoretical, Musical and Structual Analysis

I’ve done a quick analysis of “In Motion” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from the Social Network Soundtrack. You can hear the tracks here:

In Motion

– There is some interesting rhythmic variety in the bass line, starting at bar 3, where they use  the 3 note pattern over the 4 beat grid. It creates this built-in syncopation, then the rhythmic  figure continues over the bar line into bar 4.

– In the recording they use some interesting double-time (16th note) rhythmic elements, based on the pentatonic scale. They use this double-time tool back and forth.

– Everything changes when the melody comes in. We can call the piece in D Dorian, since the bass line establishes the key – but then the melody comes in on the major 3rd of D! We can consider that a borrowed note, a great use of dissonance to throw the track off kilter a little bit.

– The melody going up a whole tone keeps it relatively unstable, even though it ends up on the major 3rd of F, a note in the scale.

– The chords of the whole track could be considered just D minor. The other chords are just sort of passing notes to get us back to D.

– The sound and production are essential elements to this track.

– Notice how they’re able to keep interest through the track: The build, then the middle, spacey section, then the reprise.

Film Music Terms and Concepts

Film Music Terms and Concepts

diagetic or source music – source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film:

  • voices of characters
  • sounds made by objects in the story
  • music represented as coming from instruments in the story space ( = source music)

non-diagetic – source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action:

  • narrator’s commentary
  • sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect
  • mood music

Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from the a source outside story space.

Mickey Mousing – hitting action in time, and usually in rhythm as in cartoons

Spotting – deciding where the music goes – where it starts and stops

playing with the action on the picture– the music supports the same mood or theme as the picture, accompanies, enhances

(vs) playing against – the music plays a different mood, for a specific dramatic effect

underscore – or background score, the music that supports the movie. as a composer it’s probably a good idea to remember that your music should support the film – your music wouldn’t exist without it!

 Leitmotif/Leitmotives – a theme or instrument associated with a specific character

A very early example of a film that has almost all of these definitions: