Work more efficiently with a composer: What is an audio brief, and why do you need one?

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.

Songwriting by Kids for Kids – A Recipe and Process for Writing Songs with Kids

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!

 

The Recipe

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

 

The Process

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.

Seven Steps of Creativity

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.

2. Organization

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.”

4. Assessment

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.

5. Execution

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)

6. Revisions

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’m A Thinker – Collaboration with 1st Graders

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”

 

fb.me/9qt1attfZ

A Musical Valentine from Freshmade Music…

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.

 

 

West Coast Songwriters Conference

General’s Quarter’s, Fort Mason
San Francisco, California

September 26 & 27

For more information:
https://www.facebook.com/events/705182576279828/
http://www.westcoastsongwriters.org/conference

I’ll be moderating 2 events at this year’s West Coast Songwriter’s conference.

The first is a speed-networking event with the guests and attendees of the event. This should be a fun and chaotic way to meet and network with tons of folks in a short period of time.

The second is a panel “Streaming Unraveled”. We’re discussing where the music industry is in regards to streaming and distributing music. We’re going to showcase some of the the powerful tools that artists and songwriters can use to get their music out, reach their crowd, and get onto the path of making some money.

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.