Hello Composers, Mike here! =)
Do you want to become more productive as a composer? To be able to write and produce more music in less time?
Great, because today I have the great opportunity to interview David Olofson, who managed to compose and produce an entire album in 1 month (the cover art is in the picture), while still working a full time job.
He will share his story and experience, as well as give you tips and insights to help you improve your efficiency and productivity in music creation. Let’s dive in! =)
First: Listen to this amazing music composition he made:
1. Hello David, how did you manage to make an album in one month?
Hello, Mike! In short, planning and time management, much like one would approach a software development project. Of course, creating under pressure is difficult, but I think it helped that the album is made as an OST for an imaginary video game, as that implies a certain overall structure, and a functional purpose, to fall back on when having these “Now what?” moments.
I started by writing a small document where I outlined the overall genre and theme of the album, made a list of relevant keywords; places, characters, events, environments, genres, styles, instrumentation, time signatures etc…
Then I fleshed out a story with a track list to go with it, and started filling in the details, thinking of each track as a cutscene or game level, visualizing the environment, characters, events, emotions etc that each track would be based on.
I also made an approximate schedule for composition, arrangement, review and adjustments, mixing, and mastering, in order to subdivide the project into manageable sub tasks, and to be able to track my progress and adjust as necessary.
Then, the actual work! I tend to pretty much write and arrange tracks from start to finish, with sound design and all, especially when I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve, so I had to constantly remind myself to not spend too much time on details at the composition/arrangement stage here, to stay on schedule.
After about two weeks, I had 13 tracks that were somewhere between sketch and almost complete. I then started iterating over the tracks, filling in missing parts and fixing issues in order of importance and severeness, so that I would have a complete album of whatever quality I could manage, rather than a few polished tracks and a bunch of unusable sketches.
I ended up dropping the 13th track; the Epilogue, as I just didn’t see a need for it, since the Requiem (classical style orchestral) turned out a lot more emotional than I expected, and it ends with a quite appropriate finale already.
(For context, the RPM Challenge [https://www.rpmchallenge.com/] slogan pretty much sums it up: “10 songs or 35 minutes in 28 days. This is not a contest. This is a challenge.” This is a recurring yearly event since 2006, and this year (2019), there were over 300 entries from all over the world. Mission: Baphomet is my first RPM entry, my first attempt at writing a full game soundtrack, and actually my first “proper” album.)
2. Can you share some workflow and efficiency tips with your fellow composers?
Well, as a perfectionist, the main thing I need to keep in mind is “Finished is better than perfect!” Obviously, you can’t spend countless hours honing subtle details to perfection when on a tight schedule, but perhaps more importantly, you risk losing perspective when focusing too much on the details.
It doesn’t help that the snare is perfect if the bass is still trampling all over the kick, and the theme melody doesn’t fit the context. Regularly step back and try to determine what you would fix if that was the only thing you had time for before the deadline, and work on that first.
On a more technical note, I’d say it’s really important to know your tools, and where to use them. Searching for the right synth or sample library takes time, and sound design is even more time consuming, so if you can “visualize” what you need, and instantly pull out something suitable, that’s a huge time saver, and also reduces the risk of forgetting what you were actually about to do!
Even if you end up tweaking or custom programming everything later, I believe it’s better to do that in context, so it’s still helpful to be able to find “close enough” sounds quickly while sketching and arranging.
3. Please share your view on challenges and competitions as a way of growing as a composer.
I believe composition challenges and competitions can be a great way of widening your horizons, and honing specific skills! Strict rules and tight deadlines will reveal what you need to work on.
No shortcuts, no excuses. Deliver or fail. If you’re already doing this kind of work professionally, this might be a low risk way of trying new genres, new techniques, new tools etc in a focused manner, avoiding falling into “I’m just playing around” mode.
If you’re short on time and slightly less insane than I am, you might want to have a go at a 2 hour track challenge or similar, where the very unlikely worst case scenario is just that you somehow manage to waste two hours without learning anything at all. 🙂
On that note, I might be doing my second 2HAC (http://2hac.abstractionmusic.com) entry this weekend. Basically a bunch of people making one track each in two hours, based on a theme that is revealed as the challenge opens. No further restrictions there – but just creating a track from scratch in two hours is pretty brutal already!
4. What is your story and journey as a composer?
I believe it started when I was a few years old, and played around with various instruments whenever given the opportunity. Oh, and imitating all sorts of sounds, like some sort of biological synthesizer.
At the age of 10, I bought a pocket computer with BASIC, and a while later, I got an MSX computer that I occasionally (ab)used in a somewhat musical fashion. Naturally, I got an Amiga 500 soon after it came out, and made hundreds of tracker modules in between my coding projects.
Consequentially, I was mostly interested in game development and video game soundtracks during that period. Later on, there was MIDI and synthesizers, a bit of vocals, and I eventually got into eurodance, techno and the like, to the extent that I started writing some songs for an artist. This must have been around 1997…
Unfortunately, I was pretty much burned out already at that point, dropped out, and more or less abandoned music altogether for many years, only occasionally playing around with custom synthesizers and music for my game projects.
It was during this period that my passion for video game music started growing back, and I also started to become seriously interested in film scores and classical music.
I’ve always loved the classical orchestra, but from a creative point of view, it just seemed completely out of reach for me – but that started to change as virtual orchestration became a thing, and sample libraries steadily grew better and more affordable.
Early 2016, I grabbed NI Komplete 10 (already had Cubase 7 Artist from an earlier recording project), and… nothing much happened after that, until November that year, when I grabbed Metropolis Ark 1 on the Black Friday Monumental Deal.
That was the turning point, where it really struck me just how capable these libraries had become, and I simply had to learn how to use them properly.
I started reading up on the classical orchestra and virtual orchestration, and started building my collection of orchestral libraries, while writing small orchestral and hybrid pieces, mostly in a movie trailer format.
Kept doing that for a while, and then started joining the occasional scoring context. I believe the first one was Spitfire Audio’s Start Scoring Movies Now…
It was about that time I realized it might actually be possible for an amateur such as myself, without countless years of formal classical training, to learn how to write decent music, to specification, on time.
I started to focus harder on learning about more genres and styles, how to score to picture, potential ways of actually making a living in this field, and so on.
And, that’s pretty much where I am now; researching, learning, practicing, and thinking about what I need to focus on next.
5. What are your goals for your career in music?
I don’t have very specific goals yet, apart from doing less software development and more music. Although I’m currently leaning towards video game soundtracks and film scores, I’m interested in most genres and platforms.
I’ve been approached by a few artists about cooperation, so I’ll start there and see what happens. I’m also into sound design, synth programming, audio engines, and audio software development (I’ve developed a small scripted modular synth engine that I use for my game projects, among other things), so I’m pretty familiar with the technology behind all this as well. Maybe I can find a way of combining all these things in a creative fashion? 🙂
6. Anything else you want to add, words of wisdom and motivation perhaps?
I’ve made one big mistake that has taught me two things. I abandoned one of my greatest passions in life, and then prioritized work for money over things that could have taken my life in the directions I actually desired. I was pretty much stuck in that situation for two decades, until I realized I had to change things, or this would just go on for the rest of my life.
What I’ve learned since then is that it’s never too late to start something new – provided you actually get started – and that you can achieve a whole lot in just a year or two, even if you only have a few hours here and there to put into it.
7. What’s your website, social media etc?
Right about now is when I realize I still don’t have a proper dedicated site for my music yet, but there is SoundCloud, where I put various WIPs, competition entries and whatnot, and I just released Mission: Baphomet on Bandcamp.
I intend to release more stuff on Bandcamp in the future, in a format that’s suitable for listeners, but can also serve as a demo reel for now.