When you work in your passion, it is often the case that you started off doing it as a hobby. This is definitely true for me and for many musicians I know. When it comes to mastering your craft, practice is incredibly important. While things like technique are straightforward to practice, how does one go about practicing the creative element of their craft? How does a composer practice composing?
The first time I seriously started working towards becoming a composer, I decided to take one of my lecturer’s advice to compose every single day for a month. While at first, I thought this would be easy, I soon realized the biggest challenge. Writing uninspired. In a business like media composition, you often have to compose things in a short space of time to very particular briefs and tight deadlines. In an environment like this, you can’t sit around waiting for the muses to touch your soul so that you can start working. My exercise, while incredibly challenging and at times almost soul-destroying as it was, has helped me develop techniques and strategies for composing. I very soon learned the hardest part of the process is the first minute. If you can just get something started the rest is a cakewalk.
While the skills I picked up working like this proved to be incredibly useful when I started getting actual work (I finished my first feature film with approx. 60 minutes of music in 4 weeks), it also had its downsides. After finishing the exercise I continued composing 3-4 times a week creating small content for my Instagram. I was addicted to working. I felt uncomfortable skipping days, I couldn’t sleep unless I did something that day. Meanwhile, I was hating composing more every day. This carried on for almost a year and a half when after a 1-week challenge of composing I decided to take a proper week off. I just wasn’t enjoying composing as much as I used to. While I had the odd inspirational idea here and there, most of the music I made was bland and boring, because that is how making the music made me feel. I realized if I was going to carry on composing I needed to find a middle ground.
So what conclusion can we draw from my exercise? Becoming more disciplined as a professional, mastering your craft is obviously important. But perhaps working smart instead of working loads is the way to go. I still recommend composers who want to improve their skills would try at least a 1-week exercise of composing every day, but doing it religiously is just not effective and is actually counter-intuitive in some ways.