Composing Under Tight Deadlines

Jims-Studio-Film-ScoringOne of the more challenging aspects of creating music for film projects is composing under tight deadlines. Several years ago, I attended a panel session about film and TV composing where one of the panelists was the composer for the TV show Survivor.  He began his talk with the following bit of sage advice  … “how many of you here are composers?”, at that point everyone  raised their hands. Then he said “O.K., how many of you are writing at least 2 minutes of fully-produced, mixed, and mastered, original broadcast-quality music every single day?” At that point only one or two people still had their hands up, while the rest of us slowly brought our hands down. Then he said, “Those of you who still have your hands up are the real composers.  To the rest of you, that’s the level you need to be at if you want to be a TV or film composer”.

His message was clear. If you want to get hired as a composer, you need to hone your skills so that you are able to create quality music consistently and quickly. You can only get there by doing it a lot!

I took this advice to heart, and set out on a path over the next few years to challenge myself to write as often as I could. While I still can’t claim to be writing 2 minutes of music every single day with demands of a full-time day job, I did hold myself accountable to write more often and get better at writing in various genres (see the following link for various self-imposed projects along that journey my songwriting projects).

Composing Christmas Instrumental Music


As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts about the creative process, care and feeding of your creative mind,  song ideas normally don’t come to me as a bolt of lightning from the clouds. Instead, my creative process often needs a nudge. I’ve found that it works best for me to assign myself projects to provide that spark of inspiration to get me started down the creative path.

Sometimes these assignment ideas come from things designed to help me grow as a composer, such as learning how to write and arrange for certain types of instruments in the orchestra. Other times the ideas come from a more practical reason, such as recognizing the types of music getting placed into TV shows and making an attempt to create music to fit those genres.

Discovering the Magic of Django

Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt

One of the most effective ways I’ve learned about music over the years has been to listen to recordings of my favorite players and transcribe (write down the music note-for-note) their recordings. Growing up in an era before the Internet, guitar tablature sites, or Youtube, I was accustomed to sitting in a room for hours of dropping a record needle onto a track until I could learn a guitar part from the recording. It took a lot of patience, and some songs were much harder to do this with than others, but I learned a ton about music and guitar playing by doing this with various songs. It helped to grow up in a place like Tucson, Arizona where the summer days were too hot to be outside anyway, but perfect for sitting inside my room with my guitar and a turntable, trying to learn what I could from my favorite records. I was thrilled when CD players first came out and made this process a little easier. (I’m definitely showing my age here!)

I recently decided to revisit that same approach with the aid of a modern MP3 software tool (Best Practice) for slowing down audio playback without changing the pitch, to uncover some of the magic that I’d been hearing in my favorite recordings by the great Django Reinhardt.

Django’s music is a recent area of study for me after hearing his influence in so many other players that I’ve admired over the years. It’s easy to find his influence in all of the great Jazz guitar players that came after him in addition to Western Swing players, and Rockabilly players of the 40s and 50s. One of the best examples of Django’s influence is in the playing of guitar virtuosos Les Paul and Joe Pass. You can also find evidence of Django’s flashy style in the guitar solo of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”, which is what first prompted me to explore Django’s music in more depth.