How I compose music – pt. 01: DAW or paper

Originally I had planned to do a single blog post about my modus operandi as a composer. However, there have been quite a number of questions after I announced this, so I decided to split it up and do more, shorter blog posts. This is the first of them. Please bear in mind that I can’t speak for composers in general, nor is my way of composing to be considered “the right way” (whatever that is). My m.o. series might however make a few things clear, especially if you are just starting out and stumbled about this page looking for some general advice or if you’re not at all into composition and are curious what’s behind the curtain.

This first installment of my modus operandi series is dedicated to the question that I’m asked most often:

“Do you write notes?” or “DAW or paper?”

The answer is: No, generally I do not. I don’t work with pencil and paper at all. I can write notes, and sometimes I have to, but usually it would be something that cost me valuable time. Since I compose for samples, I have to put it in my DAW system anyway, so why bother with handwriting a score. There are exceptions to this, particularly when I craft a very sophisticated counterpoint or where complex harmonic shifts are involved that I’m not used to manage in my head. Those I’d jot down on a score sheet and put in front of me until the part is finished.

Things would be a little different if I was hired to provide a score for an actual orchestra. But even then I think would I rather spent some money on hiring an orchestrator instead of fiddling around with it myself. Many people think that you’re not a real composer if you can’t write a score. And yes, Schubert could do it, Tchaikovsky could do it and John Williams – well, he’s John Williams, he can do anything. My point is: Providing an orchestration is a craft and an art on its own that composers should have an understanding about and appreciate, but do not necessarily have to do themselves. If they can, wonderful, but there are also people out there who have specialized in orchestration, some of them not being composers and not even trying to, but they can make the music of a composer shine through elaborately written voices of an orchestra. We live in a very specialized world, and I don’t see why composing music can’t be a collaborative task in this regard.

Btw: If you’re thinking, no problem, Cubase can export MIDI data as a score anyway, then have a look at this:

That’s from my Ladyhawke Main Titles. Editing such a monster is almost as much work as reconstructing the whole score on a blank piece of paper. I’d rather compose decent End Titles instead of doing that. 🙂

Next post will be about timing and tempo. Stay tuned!

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