As the composer for several TV shows including Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, I’m normally quite busy. Each episode requires upwards of fifty minutes of custom music which I must compose, produce, and mix, by myself. Each morning I wake at 5:30am, have a coffee and immediately get to work. I average thirty seconds of music per hour and I write for twelve hours each day. My brain is essentially mush after that. To keep the production on schedule I have to do this every day of the week for about four months straight until the season is complete. Believe it or not, this is a reasonable schedule. It has been worse. Much worse.
For the ABC show Pushing Daisies I had to complete 45 minutes of music every 6 days. You don’t have to do the math to know that that is nearly impossible. On the seventh day I’d watch the next week’s episode in the morning and conduct the orchestra at the recording session for the current week’s episode in the evening. With this schedule going on for eight months a year, I was a wreck. I had to be driven to a rehearsal with Ellen Greene because I was too tired to drive myself safely. Ah, the good ol’ days!
I developed this work ethic while working for legendary composer Hans Zimmer for nearly twenty years. It’s embarrassing when someone twenty years your senior can outwork you day after day after day. But that’s what Hans did. I experienced this on many of his films such as The DaVinci code and The Ring for which I composed additional music. I’ve found it becomes a compulsion after enough time. Imagine it like pulling a giant weight for long periods of time. If the weight is removed you continue to move forward. When there is no work I’m used to finding something to keep me occupied. The momentum keeps me going.
Today, in the midst of COVID-19, work has all but dried up for composers like me. The work that still exists is TV shows and films that were already shot before the lockdown in March and only need final touches like music and other post-productions services before they are released to the world. I honestly don’t know when the next project will come along. I expect little to nothing new for the rest of 2020.
I never thought that I would be grateful for this shutdown, but I am.
What is a composer to do with all that momentum while waiting for the phone to ring? Unsure of how to manage my unexpected free time, I made a list.
1. Lose some weight. I’m happy to say that I’m down just over thirty-two pounds since the lockdown began. I’ve been eating a high protein diet, doing yoga regularly and getting a little more rest.
2. Write a musical. I’ve just completed the first draft on a new show. I wrote the book, lyrics, and music by myself. I also completed the sheet music. Rehearsals could begin tomorrow!
3. Improve my Italian. I talk regularly with my tutor, Andrea, who lives in Verona, Italy via Skype. “Il mio italiano non è perfetto ma sta migliorando.”
4. Write a TV pilot. This is a work in progress. It is much harder than I anticipated. Cheers to you TV writers, I had no idea how difficult your job is!
5. Read The Count of Monte Cristo. Check!
6. Create a YouTube channel. I lecture at USC, my alma mater, annually. I’ve taken those lectures and turned them into an instructional series for anyone interested in film scoring called Million Dollar Melodies. I release a new episode every Monday.
7. Home Improvement. This is a much longer list within a list with no end in sight. Door squeaks were first. And then that rusty outdoor table? Voila! It looks like new after a little elbow grease and a fresh coat of paint. That felt good.
8. Improve my piano skills. I rented an upright piano for my office and practice at least a few hours everyday.
There is so much tragedy in the world right now, so much pain and frustration but for a freelancer like me this time has been a blessing both personally and creatively. I intend to make the best use of this down time until production begins again.
Now, it’s time to get back to the list. Checking off what I complete, and adding new things as I go. For me, maintaining the momentum I’ve built up over so many years is essential. Channeling that momentum into my personal projects has been an unexpected blessing in these uncertain times.