Today’s composer has to be someone who can balance writing a perfect score with both the business and logistical sides of the gig. We have to manage studios, accounts, relationships, finances, and the myriad other details that enable us to do what we do. The key to it is creating the perfect environment that will help you be as effective as possible in doing so.
I don’t know about you, but I HATE clutter. I heard once that “You cannot be creative and tidy at the same time,” and while that might be true for some people, for me it just doesn’t work. I need a clean space every morning to get started in, even if I’m smack in the middle of a project or a cue. Similarly, I cannot stand to leave my studio in disarray when I leave it at night. It makes me feel as though I haven’t gotten anything done, even if I’ve hit my minute goal for the day. If things are out of order, I don’t feel accomplished. I don’t get there every single day, but I certainly try to, otherwise the next day begins off-kilter.
To achieve this, I’ve developed what I feel is an efficient system for staying organized and keeping things humming. My criteria for this system is that it must be:
- Easy to use
- Self-organizing, and
- Available at all times
These days, aside from sketching out cues, not much goes down on paper, and what does (receipts, incoming invoices, etc.) gets scanned and filed onto an external hard drive every month. To handle everything else, though, I’ve relied heavily on some really useful digital tools to help keep my studio neat and free of clutter. Each of these tools are completely free and easy to use. Additionally, all of them are software-based and can be cloud-contained with a little jerry-rigging on your part.
NOTATIONAL VELOCITY (Platform: Mac; $/free)
I get a lot of ideas. Musical ideas, SCOREcast ideas, ideas for my team, business ideas, and ideas for things that need attention from the other roles in my life. I need somewhere to organize and index all of those ideas. Back in the day, I carried around a Mead Composition Book to keep all of these ideas in, with dates in the margins to index the pertinent info for later retrieval. However, now I’ve discovered a great digital tool called Notational Velocity. Notational Velocity is a killer application for the Mac that lets you easily enter notes in a self-organizing way where the concept of “searching” is not a function of the program, but its entire interface. You can store anything in Notational Velocity from a text snippet to any file type that you have stored on your computer. I write all of my SCOREcast posts in Notational Velocity and I am writing my book in it as well. I also write down thoughts as they come to me, reminders
about events, and details about meetings I take. Notational Velocity organizes each of these “notes” in an alphabetized database that is stored within the application.
For you iPhone and iPad users, Notational Velocity syncs seamlessly with another free application called SimpleNote. SimpleNote is a small footprint iPhone/iPad app that does the exact same thing Notational Velocity does, in almost exactly the same way. The cool thing is that these two independent companies have decided to work together to make the mobile experience easy for those of us that want to keep our note database with us at all times. SimpleNote is also free, and only requires that you register a free account in order to allow it to sync with Notational Velocity over the cloud.
The best thing about Notational Velocity is that it is fast and easy to bring up, whether you are on your computer or your iPhone/iPad. Both Notational Velocity and SimpleNote sync upon shutdown, and the sync is instantaneous, so you never have to worry about things being mirrored on either platform. With both of these free (!) apps active in your workflow, your notes are always with you when you need them. You’ll never lose an idea again!
GOOGLE DOCS (Platform: agnostic; $/free)
I love Google. I think they are one of the only companies that are really working hard, daily, to make the enterprise user as happy as possible. My only gripe is that Google and Apple can’t get along and play in the same sandbox; MobileMe is cool, but it doesn’t come close to doing what GoogleDocs can do… for free. Fact is, if you want to get the paper part of your business online, GoogleDocs is the way to do it.
GoogleDocs is an online suite of word processing and spreadsheet applications that is accessible by simply registering for a free Google ID. If you use Gmail (which I also highly recommend—you can easily funnel all of your POP 3 email accounts through Google’s Gmail interface), then you are already there.
I’ve pretty much put everything on GoogleDocs: all of my accounts receivable/payable, all HR resources for leading my staff (personnel documents, tax forms, NDAs), intern to-do lists, and critical business documents (studio inventory, software serial numbers, orchestra rosters, etc.). You can see by the graphic to the right that I have a lot of things shared with my interns and my assistant. In the GoogleDocs menu, you can choose to share any file with anyone, whether they have a Google account ID or not. In addition, the newest version of GoogleDocs allows you to also upload and store other file types for storage such as .PDFs, Apple Pages documents, graphics files (JPEG, GIF, PNG, and TIF), and Word and Excel formatted documents. My employee handbook that I go over with everyone who joins my team at the Musicave is formatted in a PDF and stored in my “Staff” folder in GoogleDocs. My “Staff” folder, as well as several other folders, allow me to keep things tidy within the menu, and I can easily share entire folders of documents with anyone I wish. I can also color-code folders and files/documents to help distinguish which groups of people I’ve shared certain items with.
In theory, you could put your whole scoring workflow online with GoogleDocs. If I sound a little bit ridiculous about this service, it’s because it has essentially changed the way I do everything at the Musicave. It makes group collaboration a snap, and keeps everyone on my team in sync with where we are at any given moment.
CUE TRACKER (Platform: Mac; $/free)
I’ve written about a few programs that I’ve used to keep track of scoring workflow before. However, that was back when I was just getting out of the habit of using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything as I scored, and things have progressed a little since then.
Cue Log manager and Cue Chronicle are still very relevant programs to use for keeping your scoring crew in sync (and I highly recommend you checking out BOTH), but there is now another alternative that I’ve recently come across called Cue Tracker, written and programmed by a cat named Sean Dougall who has assisted for some of the best composers in the business. Cue Tracker is awesomely simple and refreshingly easy to use. It is Mac only (sorry, PC peeps!), and I will say that it is a little more useful than Cue Log Manager but a little easier to comprehend than Cue Chronicle—it kind of falls squarely in the middle of the two as a nice middle-of-the-road alternative.
One of the coolest things about Cue Tracker is that you can easily customize the way in which each person on your team can view information. In addition to that, Cue Tracker has several routine templates built-in that can be turned into viewable screensets. You can choose everything from spotting notes, cue status reports, take logs, mix logs, cue sheets, and many, many more. It is a snap to print out any of these screensets as reports or save them as PDFs, HTML markup snippets, or simple RTF documents. The screensets are a cool function because very often I don’t need my music editor seeing all of my notes back and forth to my orchestrators or the orchestrators’ notes to the copyists. By customizing those screensets, you are able to provide each person with only the info they need in order to do their jobs.
The only drawback to Cue Tracker is that it is the one tool on this list that does not natively support real-time syncing. Dougall says that he is working on “server-sync” as an upcoming feature in a future release, but he’s been saying that for a little while now. However, if you are a Dropbox user, you can just as easily drop the application’s “Content” folder (right click on the app in your Finder) into Dropbox and use that file to sync with every other person that you need to have access to the central project file. Incidentally, this method also works with Cue Log Manager, so if you need to sync with someone else you can do it pretty seamlessly this way.
Here’s the deal: I’ve auditioned and then ditched a lot of tools to get to the simple and effective ones I’ve landed on here. These might not be for everybody, and yet you might figure out a way to use them better than I have. Whatever the case, I’d love to hear YOUR recommendations for things that would either better these or ways that they can be used in better fashion to get us all up and running effectively and organizationally.