Dart arrows missing target

A chief reason why some composers fail, based on long observation, is because like it or not, they don’t want to accept and admit that they’re in the music business, and that to succeed financially, a support team that’s rewarded financially must be built to help the composer achieve their goals.

Recognizing the need for a team becomes the starting point once the composer accepts the risk factor involved in succeeding and as a consequence, has put a dollar value on their time, realizing that money is made by creating original music and then marketing that music.

The composer’s team can and often does include copyist(s), orchestrator(s), music contractor, music editor, IP attorney, agent, and the focus for this article, a separate technology team, or one very enlightened tech.

Sequencing programs are the primary tool by which music is produced today. A sequencing program is its own musical instrument and must be learned by the composer. No one can do this for you. You have to learn it on your own and develop proficiency with it.

Here the composer must confront a realistic learning issue that began in Silicon Valley with the creation of the value priced (compared to IBM) mini-computer. With the mini-computer, you embraced the lower price and accepted the lack of documentation and training. With IBM, you paid a higher price and got the training. In some instances with IBM, you could even get certification on what you learned. Composers need the IBM approach, but what they’re getting is the mini.

The result is that composers often work with incomprehensible manuals and accept it because they’re getting the software at such a value price. This is as true for sequencing programs as it is for audio plug-ins and sample libraries. I’ve been producing third party support manuals since the Yamaha DX7, and in all that time, nothing has changed with most manufacturers for training their customer base.

Most manufacturers want to create and not train. Most sample library developers want to create and not train. Most audio plug-in developers want to create and not train. Most soft synth developers want to create and not train. Their mantra for customer training was coined by W.C. Fields who once said, “Beat it kid, you bother me.”

You can whine, “It shouldn’t be this way.” But it is.

Within the music production process are three types of individuals you’ll need on your team. The first, at least in the beginning, is a specialist on your sequencing program who can also aid you with the system integration of third party software. The second team members are specialists either on a specific program or sound design. The third is the recording engineer. And the recording engineer must know how to mix in your sequencing program. If they don’t know how, you’re going to pay them to learn because rare is the individual willing to learn to do it for free.

All sequencing programs have similar features, but the implementation of those features widely differs. Sequencers enable sequence recording. Most sequencing programs take what ‘s been performed into the sequencer and convert it to notation. Such programs, on average, do about 75% or better of what a dedicated notation program can do. Third, sequencing programs today have an audio engine built in that enables recording and editing with virtual instruments, and live recording. Most sequencers come with a rack of effects along with the inclusion of soft synths.

With audio recording now built into every sequencing program, the composer is now required to learn a completely new skill, recording and applying audio effects, which is an entirely different art form and course of study. Recording is, in fact, it’s own degree program. And it takes years to learn and master. And that’s stereo. Surround recording and mixing is a step above that.

With the inclusion of virtual synths, there’s now the potential need for learning synth programming and there are multiple programming styles.

Consequently, the music technology learning curve is Himalayan.


Thus, the first step in team building is accepting that manufacturers aren’t going to teach you how to use their product. Instead, manufacturers often delegate this off to forums, where members attempt to teach each other. Sadly, many of these are often hit or miss in their ability to help, though larger company forums can be extremely valuable.

The second step in team building is recognizing that no sales rep at any retail store can do the job either. That’s because the manufacturers haven’t trained them. And there’s good reason – employee turnover at music stores is high. By the time the company gives the salesperson the software and training time, they’re gone. Unfortunately, outside of Apple and Microsoft, few are the manufacturers running certification programs that could help solve this problem.

That’s one reason why a composer must not look to the store salesman to be the “manual that should have been in the box”. This is a very common customer expectation that can rarely be realized because of the sheer amount of product on the market for a salesperson to learn.

Consequently, specialization is absolutely required. And specialized knowledge should be paid for since it makes the composer’s time more productive by giving you back the time you need to create.

The third step is taking care of your own personal education by getting quality training videos and books from established companies. These will mostly be on sequencing programs, but there are a few videos on audio plug-ins. For videos, Alexander Publishing, Groove 3, Lynda dot com, and MacProVideo are four worth checking out. Plus, many who do training vids are often available for consulting. YouTube can be a good source, though searching and watching to see if the instruction is beneficial can be time consuming. For computer books, I usually begin with the Missing Manual Series since its author, David Pogue, started out as a Broadway conductor and Finale user.

The fourth step is called conferencing. This is where other users of a program agree to communicate together, at least for a short period of time, to help each other learn the program or a piece of hardware. A warning. There’s operations and there’s concept. You can easily learn button pushing routines. But audio learning is its own mistress, and a demanding one. You are far better off learning how to get a competent professional sound, and then when the budget is available, bring in an engineer, especially for the virtual orchestral mix.

When I was in the ad agency business, I learned an important lesson from David Ogilvy who founded Ogilvy and Mather (now simply called Ogilvy). That lesson was to surround myself with those who are my equals and my betters.

That is the key philosophy behind building the successful team along with seeing to it they get fairly compensated for their efforts. Professionals don’t mind the occasional question, but incessant brain picking with no financial rewards is just another form of stealing conveniently glossed over by the notion that somehow it’s owed to you.

To conclude, if you want to succeed you must build a team. No one is successful by themselves alone, especially in music.

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