Before I get into today’s post, let me say a few things about my last post. Thank you for the response to that (mostly by email). I greatly appreciate your encouragement and compliments.
Please don’t think that I wrote that last arrangement from the place of discouragement. Based on some emails, I think some people got the impression that I am giving up on music because of financial reasons or because the genre has become too crowded. One person told me perhaps this was God telling me that I need a job outside music. 🙂
To clear up any ambiguity, I am not giving up on music. All I am doing is stopping the club (which is a tiny fraction of what I do). In regards to my thoughts about covering the same hymns as hundreds of other arrangers, it has always been that way; though I would say that the quality has improved greatly over the past twenty years. This is not a new struggle for me, and I have written about it here countless times.
Some accused me of making the decision for financial reasons even though I said that from an earnings per hour perspective, the club is quite profitable. No, the club is great, its enrollment has steadily grown to its current level, and I would recommend it as a strategy to almost any arranger wanting to sell online.
I said that to say this: when I said that this was about a lifestyle decision, I was speaking truth.
Lastly, some wrote that I am going to a dark place because I want to study jazz. I have never hid from you guys that my music is already heavily rooted in jazz. In fact, it is safe to say that I really never began to understand music until I started studying jazz fifteen years ago. If you hate jazz but like my music, I must do a great job of camouflaging 🙂 And if you think jazz is evil, I am not going to debate you, but with me, that ship sailed long long ago.
That brings me to today’s topic. One person asked me to talk about the process of getting an arrangement from conception to online in four hours so let me cover that today. Even if you are not interested in selling arrangements online, you might find some things helpful.
From a professional standpoint, workflow is important. If something needs to be done, somebody has to step back and figure out how it is going to get done and how to get it done as efficiently as possible. My workflow is the secret sauce for how I get arrangements online in four hours.
I will start with a list of the tools I use and then talk a bit about methodology.
- I arrange on my grand piano which has a PNOscan inside to output Midi to my laptop. I am more creative on a grand piano than a keyboard so I consider this important. In fact, my PNOscan is one of the most important investments that I have ever made.
- I put my laptop on my piano and arrange in Finale. There are people reading this that are a hundred times more efficient in Finale than me, but I can write fairly quickly. The more you invest your time in Finale shortcuts, the more payoff you will get down the road.
- I record the demo using my normal audio setup: Earthworks QTC40 microphones through an Apogee Duet into my recording workstation (an iMac running Logic Pro X).
- I build the videos using Final Cut Pro and by now, I have an extensive stock video collection to draw on. Most of it came from StoryBlocks which is still lightyears ahead of everyone else in price.
- To distribute the arrangement and promote it, I just use my website (WordPress) and MailChimp. I host the arrangement on Amazon S3 (cloud storage) and of course the demo is just on YouTube. I manage the memberships with a plugin called WooCommerce Memberships which exports the current active member list to MailChimp for me.
I should mention that a big key is keeping everything set up. I have worked to make the process as simple as walking into the room and flipping a few switches.
Now, here is the process:
- I budget two hours to write an arrangement. That includes the actual arranging as well as getting it into Finale and editing. For the most part, I do all this together. There are probably a lot of writers who arrange something completely in their head and then transfer to Finale. For me, this would be very inefficient. So I start with 10-15 minutes of developing the big picture (shape/form) of a piece and then flesh out the details while I am inputting into Finale.
- Once a piece is in Finale, I walk away for a day. Then I spend an hour playing through it for three reasons: to refine, to practice, and to record. By the end of the hour, I have: fixed any rough spots I found, practiced it to a performance level, and recorded it. I focus on writing simple music. If I write at a level where it takes longer than that to get it polished for performance, I am writing music that is too hard. Also, I force myself to record in single takes (without splices) which is another check on myself to ensure that my music is not too hard.
- At this point, exporting the recording out of Logic and into Final Cut Pro and building the video takes about 30 minutes. I have templates set up that make it easy. I export a PDF out of Finale and import that into Photoshop to create an image of every line in the printed arrangement. These images are just dropped into the video at the right times.
- The last 30 minutes is spent on getting the arrangement and demo loaded to my website, Amazon, and YouTube; and setting up the email to get the arrangement to the club members.
That is about it. Hope it helps someone.