When you think about Christmas break in college, you might imagine sleeping in, spending time with family and old friends, and just doing nothing.  While it’s true that I did do all of the above a little bit, for me, going home is always a time for recording and composition.

This is what my "break" looked like

This is what my “break” looked like

My parents have wisely decided to keep my piano with them so that whenever I want to record, I’m forced to come home. (Otherwise, I might never leave Nashville…)  So with three weeks over Christmas break, I had to make every day count.

I had a lot to record: two new pieces for my album, the piano part to a new orchestral work, and a ridiculous number of stings for the production music libraries.

What’s a sting, you ask?  Essentially, it’s a snippet of a longer piece of music.  A lot of the time, a music supervisor only needs a thirty or sixty-second clip of music for a commercial or TV scene.  If I already have pre-edited clips of my tracks, I increase the chances of my music being used.  As soon as I got to work creating the stings, I realized I was almost in over my head…

I had to somehow shorten all of my piano pieces into 15 second, 30 second, 60 second, and 90 second versions.  If you know my music at all, you know I don’t write short pieces.  I even had to figure out a way to compress the 11-minute “Precipice” into a minute—not an easy task.

Deciding which segments of a piece to include in the different stings is an art.  You usually can’t just take the thirty seconds at the beginning; it might not be developed enough.  If you take a chunk out of the middle, it might not make sense by itself.  I quickly realized that sometimes, coming up with these stings can be like rewriting the piece all over again.  

The most important thing when deciding how to edit a track for a production music library is to make it interesting and catchy right away.  You have to imagine what a music supervisor would want.

I used to think the giant clock was a waste of space... Now I get it!

I used to think the big clock was a waste of space, but it’s perfect for recording stings.

Another problem I ran into was figuring out how to fit the pieces into exactly 15, 30, 60, and 90 seconds.  It’s kind of important that the track isn’t a second longer or shorter.  To make this easier, I pulled up Logic’s giant time display window so that I could watch the time while recording.  This also helped me not have to go back and cut things out later to make the track fit.

Creating all of these stings for libraries has made me realize all over again how much I have left to learn as a working composer.  I’m new to this process, and I don’t really know what I’m doing in a lot of ways.  I’m just figuring things out as I go.  But I never would have gotten this far if I only did things I thought I already knew how to do.  Sometimes, the only way to learn how to do something is to do it….

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 22-year-old composer, pianist, audio engineer, student, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum––a Charlottesville native making my way in Nashville! I write music for orchestra and small ensembles, but my debut solo piano album Airborne is available now on iTunes.

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