I get questions.

How does one just sit down and write a musical composition? Where does that doggone inspiration come from? And how did guys like Beethoven and the other killer B’s write what they did without samples?

And there’s the question from newly minted degreed composers with a Bachelor’s or Master’s in Comp who ask, somewhat frantically, “You want me to write what by when?”

Hence the teaching rationale for Scoring Stages 2: Something From Nothing from Alexander Publishing. This rationale was developed over time (less than 6 weeks after I arrived in Los Angeles as part of the new College Boy Brigade of film composers) when I discovered that every working professional who was working all had the same answer, “At 9AM when I sit down at my desk to write.”

This was the non-glam answer I wasn’t expecting. But since the composers giving me this answer had won Emmy’s and Academy Awards, it seemed like a good idea to pay attention and listen.

The first key composition factoid I learned working in Hollywood was that you need to be able to write, at minimum, 2 minutes of finished orchestral music per day.

In the big inning, composers had up to three months to complete a film score. With heavy deadlines looming on big production films, that was shortened to four to six weeks.

Then came TV, the one hour show, and that composition time was reduced to 5 to 10 days. Now it can be even shorter depending on the production, in some cases 3-5 days.

Under such time restraints, one can neither wait for a clear night with a beautiful full moon, nor for the swallows to come back to In and Out Burger to come up with inspiration. You must have the musical craft, the compositional tool kit, and the always useful, dramatic sense, to know what to use, when (and sometimes why), so that the music ably supports the production, in a way, that it doesn’t call attention to itself because the two so well blend as one.

That said, this doesn’t mean that the composer is omniscient and has immediate answers to what‘s given him to come up with an instantly fitting score. Au contraire! One must think. One must consider, even if for only a short period of time, the approach that’s best for the production. And this is important because this is where the composer’s individuality is placed on display, and producers come back panting for more.

The secret to all this is having chops (the musical kind, not pork), and the absolute ability to get along with difficult people and work under extreme deadlines with a smile on your face.

There are two steps for acquiring chops. The first is learning what these techniques are, at least some of them, and then practicing without the constraint of deadlines to get them under your fingers. The second step is applying them to various sized ensembles, live and/or virtual, to build your orchestration/composition chops.

And that’s the journey of Scoring Stages 2: Something From Nothing.

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