Composing : Quality vs Quantity by Joyce Kettering

Quality vs Quantity

Hey all,

I was wondering how the composers on here work on their craft.

Here's my approach:

So I write music everyday and the way I do it is I have a first music session where I give myself 30 minutes to come up with a new tune (sometimes with prompts like a picture or an idea but sometimes just improvising, starting with loops or random chord progressions).

When the timer goes off, that's it. I bounce the project and I'm off. I get back to it in later sessions, usually 15 or 30 minute sessions. I try to avoid working more than 30 minutes on a single project to keep my ears fresh.

I've had good results with this. Sometimes the first draft is surprisingly good and I barely touch it. Most of the time it's not great but has a few elements I can work with and develop at a later stage. Sometimes it's absolutely terrible and there's nothing I can salvage! :)

What do you think? Would that work for you or do you go about it a completely different way?

Senator Jaiz

I break my studio sessions into one of four types and only focus on that type of creation during the session.

1. Sound design and improv- I work on new sounds and short passages. It is very informal. If during the session I get a sound or a clip that I feel has potential in a new track or project I either file it away in my "Work In Progress" folder, or if it is a really inspiring bit, I get up and get a beverage or a snack, talk to the dogs, or whatever to clear my mind then I switch to...

2. Composing and writing- This session is just that, work. I have an idea or a project and I get to creating and writing. I do no sound design here. I work with what I have developing structure and compositions. If a sound I have does not work I fix that in...

3. Arranging and Mixing- This is where I make the stuff I came up with in session type 2 work. Whether it be trading out patches, over-dubbing, or getting into the mixing and finally mastering.

4. Practice- Jamming out to either my music or other tunes to build my performance chops up. This can be running through scales, finger exercises, or just playing. No official writing or sound design. But if I do come up with something good, much like in number 1, I will either file it in the WIP folder or go take my break (beverage, snack, dogs, etc.) and then jump into session 2.

Meraxes Soneu

Usually, I don't even start with the music, I bombard myself with images, quotes, stories, etc in the direction I want to write and I leave it alone for a while. Then I come back and look for a motif. When I have the most exact motif possible, I figure the scales and the chord progressions and then I start to develop from there.
My system is different but I like your 30-minute rule because I've found myself overwhelmed sometimes during the process. I'll try it :-)

Zane Trow

I might work on a single piece for years; crafting; tweaking. For example I am currently working on a suite of ten interconnected works, six months so far, just past half way. any stage any piece can be quickly edited and adapted for use as soundscape installation or soundtrack or whatever....this means I have a constant set of flexible options to call on as needs be. My work is all electronica mixed with found environmental and historical recordings....working between the real and the digital allows for both an extended methodology and a fast turnaround.

Joyce Kettering

That's great! My overall process is actually very close to yours Eban and Meraxes.

I use a lot of images and quotes from books I enjoyed reading to find inspiration like Meraxes and break down various types of working sessions like Eban (although I really should schedule more practice sessions!)

I try to avoid working on a track for too long but I see what you mean Zane. What I do is have a maximum of let's say 15 or 20 work sessions on a single track (rarely more than 2 hours at a time) but those sessions are spread out across several months. I like to let the track sit for a while without listening to it. When I listen to it after a while, that's when the big breakthroughs tend to happen.

Meraxes Soneu

Joyce Kettering BTW: One thing that has worked really well until now was isolating myself from any stimuli. And by that I don't mean just being left alone to write but being forced to be isolated. That happens to me in the metro: once there, I must sit down without any option to do anything else and music starts to flow. Call me nuts but I've composed a couple of pieces there. :-D

George Fir NAMM2017

Joyce Kettering

@Floyd, so does that mean that for 3 weeks you basically riff and play around with notes until you find melodic parts you like before you think about an arrangement or do you have a general idea of where you're going from the beginning (for example, do you know at the beginning that you'll probably go for a ballad or pop song or do you let the melodies you come up with guide you)?

Adrienne McLaughlin

The first and hardest thing that I do is coming up with a new concept to write about. Right now, I want to work on modal mixture and layering in a choir setting. I want it to be strictly voice without any added instruments, which means the voices need to be filling enough to carry any melodies going on. If this is a concept I'm not used to, it might take me a few weeks to get a solid idea for what to write. Once I get going, without any distractions a piece will take maybe 2 week to get done depending on the length of it.
I need a completely sterile work space, my bedroom is too comfortable and distracting to get any work done. I usually go to the music building at my university to work in, and once I start properly I write for 4-6 hours straight without a break. I'll go back every day to get it done, but the hardest part really is coming up with a new concept and learning enough about the style to make it sound the way I want.

Jonathan Price

I've always found deadlines to be inspiring. Historically, they're certainly an opportunity for Quality PLUS Quantity, whether it's Mozart's Little G-minor Symphony, or Goldsmith's academy-award-nominated score to Chinatown which he composed and recorded in ten days.

George Fir

For professional composers try-Walter Piston Harmony and Counter Point- also Charles Louise Hanon

Joel Irwin

Here's an idea to try since I am doing it as we speak (i'm on a 5 min break). Try scoring 4 - 11 minute short films in three weeks. I had 6 days each for the first two (the first was 12 minutes - wall to wall music... it was a documentary). The third I had four days and this was all practice to the 'fun one'. I started the last 11 minute one yesterday and it has to be done tomorrow night.

Try doing that with many instruments, perhaps full orchestra. Don't try writing about 9 minutes of music for just one instrument (the other three were not wall to wall but had a lot of background music underneath the dialog).

And now let's complicate it further - you have a director who likes to micromanage, asks to review each scene in a dropbox mockup and a bunch of scenes asks for some changes. And the director sends you three links to temp tracks and a bunch of hit points. When you write happy and uplifting they change the requirement to sad and vice versa. Welcome to real life! I'm going through it right now with a smiley face on me and in my voice.

When you work under these conditions, watch the scene maybe once or twice, make a decision what will work and go for it. You really don't have a chance to write something different. It's time to go with your gut with the first version and keep moving. The only way to work under the above conditions is to keep the coding momentum with occasional breaks for your body (and sometimes maybe even some sleep! :) )

George Fir

For professionals who want to learn about the future of audio and film music please look here

Linwood Bell

I struggle to get a 15 or 30 minute break. lol

Wesley Dinwiddie

I do the same in a roundabout way... lately i've either started with a video that I can compose to, or I'll take a look around the web to see what kinds of music people are looking for, for their productions and I'll come up with something that fits. Do you have any suggestions on how to find short films to compose to?

Wesley Lawrence Curry II

Everyday....first thing.....5am (literally) until about 8 or 9pm. I take a late afternoon for lunch/dinner, and do spend about 3 hours of the day on the net doing things like this. Have been at it for 5 years like this and simply don't get tired of it.

Linwood Bell

There are all kinds of ways in which we can compose. I'll share this sketch. From here you'd orchestrate; maybe throw some stuff out and add some counterlines, whatever. This is kind of a mess to look at. I wasn't going for neatness or spelling here. I'm banging' out an idea. I was going through this with a "student" the other day to show him how it was done. I started it with only 4 notes and explore them and their relationships in a few ways. It's a way to get something out of basically nothing. Of course, you have to be musical with it...

Wesley Lawrence Curry II

HI LINWOOD, Just listened to your piece. I have a few times copied a set of chords and pasted them as 7ths to the chords....then played that in the bounces of the DAW....I first heard the idea in the ending music to Breakfast at Tiffany's ( The Truman Capote book put to screenplay) and heard the like idea, albeit instead of in the upper register, in the left hand. It is one of my favorite sounds for piano...exciting, FULL, (the full part I really like in your piece) and, as you proved, given to dynamic melodies, which sound normal and pleasant to my ears, but to the outsider an abstract place between jazz and classical orientation. I really like your piece, thrilled to hear it. I look forward to hearing more.

Linwood Bell

Hi Wesley! I know the music you're talking about in Tiffany's..those 4th chords and whatnot. Henry was something else. That thing I posted, I'd probably voice it for BB and strings, but it was just an idea I found on my drive a couple weeks ago. I did it a few years ago. It's pretty much just exploring 4 notes and like I mentioned, a way to get material out of nothing. Have a great weekend, my friend. It's gonna be a hot one here in Vegas. Hurry up October!!

Wesley Lawrence Curry II

Hey, I am medium busy right now. If you would like to send me the metadata, or the Midi Bars I would upload them to my DAW and give some arranging a try. Let you hear what I can do, no charge for a sketch...and go from there. Might play out in months to come.

Linwood Bell

I've got an arrangement of it I did for full orchestra someplace. I just pulled this sketch up to go through with someone to show them the technique for a lesson and thought some here might find it interesting since this was kind of a "how do you compose" kind of thread. It's easier to see what I'm doing in the reduction than it is looking at a full score, even though this is pretty sloppy. Here's your mission....the 4 notes are A C D G. Think of those in every shape you can. Think of those note in every inversion and order. Analyze that piece. Now write one. Hey...but if there's ever anything I post that you want midi or .sibs of, it's yours.

Wesley Lawrence Curry II

Five Narriations on ACDG...for Linwood Bell.

Linwood Bell

Nice improv Wesley! It's nice to have different tools in the toolbox to call on when you need them. In my example, just about everything is related to those 4 notes and the intervals they can create. The melody, harmony, root movement. It bounces in/out of different keys and stuff, but the structure is always there relating back to the interval relationships of those notes. It's all just point and click onto a .sib page. Just one of hundreds of ways to milk music out of very little when you need to be able to write something fast and there is no time to wait for inspiration. lol

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