The issue of procrastination is a tough topic, and probably one of the top five things we music people do not like to talk about. However, if we are honest with ourselves, the question is not “Do you procrastinate?” as much as it is “How do you procrastinate?”
While most of the world would view procrastination as a negative, sometimes it can be a very useful tool to accomplish perfect work. A guest lecturer I once had at USC said that his version of procrastination was to keep his sketches from a certain orchestrator until the very night before a session. He found that the orchestrator’s initial instincts were often dead-on accurate, and over the years he’d realized that leaving the orchestrator with the music for too long would impair his otherwise perfect choices for the orchestra.
I think all too often, the world defines “procrastination” as a negative characteristic in people, which is not necessarily the correct definition of the word. Procrastination can be positive or negative. But the real meat and potatoes of this discussion comes down to one simple word: planning. Procrastination is all about planning. Procrastination can be a useful tool, but you have to plan for it.
In my career as a composer, I utilize the method of planned procrastination all of the time. There are certain things that I simply do better when under pressure, and since I know that about myself, I allow for it in the schedule. I tend to keep pretty organized during a project and have key methods for staying on-task during a harsh deadline. I carefully plot out all of the steps necessary to deliver my score on-time and on-budget, and that includes the things I know I will put off until the last minute.
Now, that doesn’t mean that things aren’t stressful during deadline week (just ask Brian Satterwhite about this, who learned of my planned procrastination on a recent project we did together!) During deadline week, there is just a perfect storm always brewing and you often become a fireman instead of a composer. You can still, however, allow in your planned schedule for these types of fires to be started as well as adequate time for them to be put out.
In our business, you are in a position to write a certain number of minutes of music per day, and falling behind on that means that you will be in big trouble down the line. EVERYTHING must be planned for in a film music schedule.
For example, many of us on the SCOREcast Core Team are passionate about mentoring others in our industry. Joe Trapanese and Lee Sanders both are involved in teaching courses on film music and music production at universities here in Los Angeles. Brian Satterwhite hosts a great radio show in Austin and promotes film music publically as a contributor to many popular online publications. For all of us, helping others is important, but it requires extreme planning. I am a very generous person by nature, but I know myself: I’ll give away the farm and not have any hens left to feed my own family with. I do not have the time, financial bandwidth, and overall resources to be generous to everyone all of the time, so I have to plan for it. I simply know to “X” out a couple of days a month where my whole day will just be spent doing nothing but helping someone else. When planning out my financial budget for each month, I know to “X” out a certain number of dollars that are just going to go to someone else who needs them worse than I do. And the list goes on and on.
So, SCOREcasters, I ask you: What do you need to plan for? Usually, it will be a weakness about you that requires extra planning for. Sometimes, it is a positive thing that you do as a person that requires the extra planning. The point is, there are only so many hours in a day, and each hour given to you is one during which you should ultimately be writing music for your deadline. Do you wait until the last minute to work on important tasks, or do the tasks which most people deem important not fall so closely to the line on your list of priorities? Do you do the hard things first and the easier things last, or vice-versa? Do you give time in your schedule for unexpected phone calls, daily office interuptions, and children blasting through your studio doors after a long school day?
Talk to me.