I don’t know if anyone will find this interesting but I always enjoy reading about other composer’s processes.
Earlier this year I was working on my last two episodes of the season for The Orville. They were both massive jobs with a ton of intense action music for a 95 piece orchestra. All great, all cool things but still stressful.
I had lately become more and more critical of my work on the show, often getting very frustrated when I couldn’t come up with material that satisfied me as worthy. With these two massive scores looming I decided I needed to take a radically different approach to writing or I would be miserable for the whole composition process.
I had recently read Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking which is about the power of intuition, instinct and first impressions (putting it rather simplistically, it’s a complex book.) It gave me the idea and inspiration to try something different in my process.
So, I vowed to approach these last two scores without filter, committed to putting down my very first idea and moving on. This went for everything…I’d watch a scene and hear a key and that would be the key of the cue. It applied to melodies, always jotting down the very first thing that popped into my head, including the starting note and register which often then dictated which instruments would play it. It applied to orchestration, rhythm, meter and range, again going with whatever ran across my mind, no matter how bizarre.
This is not to say I always went with everything…some things didn’t work with picture for some reason, some things didn’t work musically and I would go back and revise. But the vast majority of my very first instincts were not only right but often surprising, as if someone else were writing them. Discarding the ‘looking over the shoulder’ thing I’ve always done was incredibly freeing.
It wasn’t as if I’d given up caring, more accurately it felt like a game. Like ‘what’s the universe gonna give me today.’ And as one might guess the result was shocking. Not only was the process no longer agony, it was much faster and actually enjoyable (sort of. Writing is pain, I’ve grown to accept that. As Dorothy Parker said, ‘I hate writing, I love having written.’)
The resulting music also had a certain freshness to it for me. I wasn’t rehashing old licks and tricks. And again, often it felt as if it was not me that had done the writing. Now I will say that I was doing this with decades
of writing film music under my belt. The data bank has been pretty filled up over that period of time with information. I’m not sure I’d recommend this for composers just starting out. But giving myself permission, in fact demanding that I stay far away from worry and anxiety, led to a far more enjoyable and productive process.
Give it a try!