Oh, the doom of May 18!

Oh, the doom of May 18!

May 18.  The day is burned in my mind.  It ominously looms over me like a storm cloud, on the verge of raining havoc upon my world.  So what dreadful tribulation shall befall me on this date?

May 18 is my album’s tracking deadline.

No big deal, right?  Wrong—I still have to finish writing one of the pieces (which I’ll refer to as “F Minor” for now) on the album.  That’s a serious problem—really serious.

What went wrong?  How did it get to be a week before recording while I’m in this situation?  Nothing went wrong—it’s just how making an album goes.  I built in “extra” days and weeks, but I’m still running out of time.

The quesiton is, can I write a piece in one week?  Can I learn to play “F Minor” with confidence in this timeframe?  Well, yes—I have to.  Something has to be on track five, and I have every reason to believe that something will be on it.  It’s really just a question of making myself do it, how well it will turn out, and how miserable I’ll be for the next week.  Let’s find out…

How much can I do in 288 hours?

How much can I do in 288 hours?

“Equinox” and “Precipice took me four months each to write—or an estimated 100 to 150 hours per piece.  Let’s do some math.  With twelve days to finish “F Minor,” only 288 hours remain.  Subtract a good 50 hours for the time spent setting up and recording all the pieces from the 14th-18th.  And then, to be liberal, factor in 7 hours of sleep each night, 2 hours a day for practicing other pieces on the album, 4 hours daily for eating and other non-music tasks, 13 hours spent at church during the timeframe, 4 hours for giving piano lessons, and 6 hours for other social activities; we end up with 115 available hours to spend writing the new piece—assuming an extremely intense schedule (which probably won’t happen).

I’m aiming for a four and-a-half minute piece—less than half the length of “Precipice,” so with 115 working hours, that means I have around 26 hours to spend on each minute of “F Minor.”  Yes, finishing another piece is possible. 

But still, even if the total number of hours I spend on “F Minor” is similar to what I’ve spent on other pieces, twelve days is still twelve days.  There’s something to be said for spreading out a composition over several months, because sometimes the best ideas come when you’re resting.  On the other hand, I’m finding that having a time limit forces you into creativity (as discussed in my post, “Composer’s Block: Pushing Past the Walls”).

Under pressure, innovation soon bursts out.  There’s no time for waffling around, so I simply must buckle down and write something.  Sometimes, deadlines drag me, along with my ideas, kicking and screaming, until the welcome end, but I console myself with the fact that there is an end in sight.

Until then, I’m racing the clock.  I originally intended to base “F Minor” off a piano pop ballad I wrote last year, called “I Am Free,” which would have made this week much easier.   I was going to adapt the existing piano part to include the vocal melody and to follow the same song structure.  However, I’ve been hearing new ideas in my mind, and now it’s a completely different piece.  I didn’t plan for this.

It's not even a lead sheet!

Trying new methods for composing

In light of my time limit for completing “F Minor,” I’ve been using a new approach that’s helping me compose faster.  I began my work by deciding to follow an ABACA form.  And though I usually write a score simultaneously, for now, I’m only doing a “lead sheet.”  To save even more time, I’m not even notating the melody yet—I’m just naming the different melodic ideas and writing their names above the corresponding chords (not really a lead sheet, but that’s okay, right?).

I never work like this!  It almost feels like I’m cheating.  But when it comes to meeting deadlines, you gotta do what you gotta do.  A new method might be the key to creating something even more original than I could have imagined.

Even with a novel approach, however, a time limit is still a time limit, and the pressure is on.  Indeed, I am greatly encouraged that, in 288 hours, it will all be done.  Well, the composing and tracking will be…  Then I have another 288 hours (twelve days) for editing—which I’m sure will elicit its own post…

So, readers… How do you cope with an impending deadline?  What methods do you use to streamline composition?

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 21-year-old composer, pianist, music producer, audio engineer, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum. My neoclassical, self-produced piano album "Airborne" is available now on iTunes.

3 responses »

  1. […] overuse injuries.  I realized experientially that sometimes my best compositions come with deadlines, and I wrote more music this year than any […]

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  2. Sam Wright says:

    I would use leads sheets or make a ‘skeleton’ if there are multiple musicians. The lead sheet may not only contain the melody alone in the staff, however. You should do well and I shall enjoy listening to it.

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