7. Be willing to kill your babies
It’s a highly dramatic heading, but it's an important lesson that I learned from film-makers. Every film student will tell you that the hardest thing is deciding on which scenes to cut from the final film. After all, they put so much effort into filming each one. Each one of them is like a perfectly crafted baby. Each one looks stunning. Each one sounds wonderful. The actors performed beautifully. But in the grand scheme of things, something about the scene just doesn't work. So you have to remove the scene from the final film.
This is called “killing your baby.” And it's a very difficult thing.
The same editing process exists in music. I'm sure you've experienced it. You've spent a couple days working on a section of a song. And on its own, the track sounds fantastic. The groove, the strings, the build-up. But the moment you brought in the vocalist, you realized that it's not what it needs to be. That whole section has to drop completely, be super simple, intimate. And as difficult as it will be, you have to ultimately make the adult decision to cut out the great work you put into it. Ego is the first thing that will hurt. But what I've learned with time is that if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. No matter how pretty it was.
So get rid of it for the better good. And who knows, if it's as good as it seemed, maybe you'll be able to reuse parts of it in another project in the near future.
8. Stay organized
When a feature film can consist of over 80 different cues (pieces) of music, each with multiple revisions, session files, bounces, stem exports, etc., you're bound to end up with a ton of files. What if you're working on a couple projects at once? How you keep all of that organized will determine the efficiency and speed with which you're able to get things done. If a director is coming over and says, "Hey, remember that film we did 4 years ago, there was this cool instrument you used in this one scene. Can we use it again?" If you have everything organized in a consistent way, you should be able to find the right file quickly. Thankfully, nowadays there are many varying ways to keep things organized.
First, make sure you have a hierarchy system that makes sense. In my studio, I have a dedicated hard drive called "Projects". This is where ALL of my project files live. I then have four subfolders for each genre that I work in:
Movies - for anything that's film/tv related
Pop - the name says it all. If there are vocals, it probably goes here
Orchestral - this is anything that's orchestral but non-visual
Other - a place for anything that doesn't seem to fit anywhere else
Shows & Entertainment - this will include any live stage shows, musicals, VR experiences, theme park attractions, firework shows, etc.
This type of sub-division instantly lets me easily filter projects by the group they belong to. In each of those folders, you'll find a subfolder for every single project. If I work with a particular director/client on many things I may create a special folder to house all their projects in one place. Once you step into the actual project folder you'll see that each one of them has the same organization within.
Session File(s) - I use Logic Pro X's Alternates to keep all my cues and revisions organized in one place
Bounces - this is where I'll place all my audio exports and bounces
Documents - this will house any documents like notes from the client, progress spreadsheet, and most importantly the signed contract (you don't want to be scrambling to some other drive to find the contract for a specific project, that's why I have it here)
Original Files - here I'll place anything that the client sent me, be it reference tracks, video files, etc.
The important thing that I took away from some of my greatest mentors was to clearly label everything. The last thing you want is to find seven files called "Stereo Output.wav" and have to waste your time listening to it to hear what is what. So name things accordingly. If I'm creating bounces, stems or individual track exports, each will be labeled with the full song title, version number, and the optional stem/track name. If you made fixes to the mix/arrangement, the session version number should change from say v4 to v5, and any new bounce from that session should have the same updated v5 label. That way just looking at the name of a file you're able to know exactly what it is.
This may seem like a lot, but it's worth the time. It's all about keeping things organized in such a way that you're able to find things quickly. Less searching means more time to make music!
9. Stay backed up
The most terrifying thing is to be working on an important project and suddenly, when you come back into the studio the next day, the drive you were working on doesn't turn on. The drive turns out to be damaged and you have lost all the work you've put into this song! It's a truly horrifying experience. If you've never had a drive die on you, I'm sorry to tell you, it's coming. It happens to everyone. Whether it's because you accidentally dropped the drive or some kind of corruption due to aging, hard drives are physical elements that do break.
Make sure you're fully backed up.
You can use Time Machine or an advanced backup system (I use Chronosync) to keep all your backups running on an automatic schedule. I have four main 4TB drives in my studio. Each has a different purpose and houses different types of files. But each one of those drives has an identical clone backup drive. The backup task runs automatically every hour to make sure that the clones are up to date with the latest data. If anything were to happen to one of my main drives I could easily instantly swap it out using the clone and be ready to get back to work right away. Having hourly backups means that if I would have lost any data in the process, it would have been whatever I was working on since the last backup task so at the most just the last hour of work. That way I never risk losing days, weeks or months of work. Imagine, if the next Star Wars movie is about to come out and they have to cancel the premiere because the video editor's hard drive died and they have to start editing from scratch. So you want to be backed up.
Having local backups is your first line of defense. But what if something happens to those local drives (the main ones and the clones)? What if they get stolen? What if a pipe bursts and floods your studio? What if there's an earthquake and they're physically damaged beyond repair? Unfortunately, accidents do happen, you just want to make sure you're prepared for when they do. Online cloud-backup services like Backblaze, iDrive, and Carbonite are worth the investment. Most of them are super easy to set up, run automatically in the background, and cost no more than a cup of coffee a month. They'll give you the peace of mind that all your data is backed up online and stored on multiple servers across the world, giving you access to all your files wherever you may be.
10. Learn from your mistakes
Occasionally, things may not go as expected. Sometimes relationships don't work out as planned. You may mess something up. You may misjudge the time needed to get something done and be late with a delivery. You may have a falling out with your client. Sadly, it happens.
Some of those situations are easy to pick up from. Others may take years for your to recover from. However, the important thing is that you learn from your mistakes. Try to dissect what you did well and what you could have done better. Make a mental note of those errors so you can identify the patterns when they happen again in the future. We're all learning and constantly improving. So use those slips to grow and become the best you that you can be.
You may work in a completely different field of music, but I believe that these tips will help you become a better bandmate, songwriter, music producer, composer, and overall musician. Each one of these tackles a different aspect of life, but can be applied to many situations. I learned all these lessons from working on major motion pictures and TV shows, yet I was able to implement them in my professional life as a whole. Take the time to see how each one of these can apply to your career.
Some of these are concepts you may already be doing, and if that's the case, bravo. Others may take time as old habits die hard. But they're all worth the effort. Sometimes it's the small improvements that can be groundbreaking in the long run.