Throughout my career I’ve spent a lot of time looking for opportunities to compose music for a living and learned a whole lot on that journey.
I’m really thankful now to be constantly busy, doing work that I love — composing and playing music for a living. In my full-time job at IGT, I work on up to seven different casino games at a time. Although the deadlines are staggered, they all need my attention. And in my spare time, I work on freelance projects in other (non-competing) branches of the game industry, TV and film.
It’s great to have so many opportunities to create music and to exercise my creativity in a wide variety of musical styles. But it’s also quite a juggling act. From one day to the next, I’m pulled in different directions and need to focus on whatever task or deadline is critical at that juncture.
Over the years, I’ve established some work habits to keep myself on track, while also avoiding burnout.
• BE LIKE SANTA: “HE’S MAKING A LIST AND CHECKING IT TWICE …”
Put together a checklist or spreadsheet that clearly shows the milestones and deadlines for each of your works in progress. Then tackle the responsibilities in order of chronological urgency. This isn’t to say that you can never take a slight detour from one project to the next. Sometimes inspiration will strike at random and you’ll push the record button on some ideas for a project that isn’t due immediately. That’s fine, as long as you don’t ignore the deadline that looms largest. Missing deadlines is a sure way to convince your employer or client that you can’t be trusted to do your job.
• OR YOU COULD THINK OF IT AS “TRIAGE.”
When you seek treatment at a hospital’s Emergency Room, a triage nurse will assess your condition. If your illness or injury is relatively minor, you can wait a little longer than someone with a life-threatening trauma. You can apply this way of thinking to ranking your own priorities. Which of your job duties should demand most of your attention right now? Which job duties can wait until a bit later?
• ASK FOR FEEDBACK, EARLY IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS.
I mentioned having “milestones” for projects. For example, if you’re composing music for a game, you may be asked to deliver a first attempt at an opening theme by a certain date. The game producer will review that material and let you know if you’re proceeding in the right direction or are way off-base. The sooner you get this feedback or criticism, the sooner you know if you should continue with the style or vibe that you’ve created — or whether you should tweak it, or come up with something entirely new. Why waste other people’s time and energy, as well as your own, if you’re not clear about what works for the project?
• TAKE BREAKS.
You know the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Working non-stop and never resting is counterproductive. Work hard, of course, but be sure to set reasonable limits. Eating, sleeping, getting some physical exercise and also taking mental breaks are essential to your creativity and to preventing stupid mistakes. You’ll come back refreshed and renewed. And you’ll usually find that you have a clearer picture of what you need to do and are able to get it done faster.
• LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
With each project, there is a different twist or another skill that needs to be learned to pull it off. You might be surprised at how these new pieces of knowledge will help you with future projects. Push through that learning curve. As my mom always told me, “Never stop learning.”
• EACH PROJECT IS UNIQUE.
When you are working on multiple projects, one will inevitably bleed into another. Just like getting a song stuck in your head, you tend to gravitate toward that song in your work. But the project you are working on right this minute is unique. Listen to all the feedback you get and use it to create a fresh approach. Go outside of your comfort zone, explore genres that you were passionate about a long time ago or simply think through imaginative new ways of doing things. Anything is possible as long as it serves the needs of the project.
• DON’T BECOME A PARODY OF YOURSELF.
When you labor over one very specific skill set and/or style for a long time, you get really good at it. Watch seasoned, successful recording artists. Every time they come out on stage, they deliver a stellar show. But watching them the second night seems like a repeat of the first (which is why they make the big bucks). While this is perfect for live performances, it doesn’t work for composing. Embrace everything new, different or challenging. It will make you much more valuable to producers.
It’s pretty surprising to me that I am able to juggle so many projects at one time, but I think that diversity is the key. It keeps things fresh and always interesting. If you aspire to innovate, great things can happen to you as a composer. Just keep tabs on all those balls you are juggling to make sure they stay in the air.