More Advice to Young Composers: Time Management

A while ago, I wrote a Letter To A Younger Version of Myself, addressing some of the concerns that I felt never really get touched upon in most studies of composition. It was supposed to be more of a touchy-freely how-to, with a little bit of practical advice thrown in. What I want to discuss today is something far more practical, and far, far more useful: time management as a composer.

Now, time management is a phrase that you usually use when you’re taking about your academic schedule, or maybe your workflow at a desk job. It’s not something that many people associate with the lifestyle of the Artiste. I think that’s the reason that it took me so long to come to grips with it, and what a huge impact it has on my artistic life: I’m an artist, goddammit, not a desk monkey! Scheduling is boring, I’ve got music to make, here!

pictured: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!
pictured: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!

That attitude carried me through most of my twenties. I was in school, and had a part-time job at most, and if I needed extra time to compose, I just called in sick to either. Easy. Done. If I get fired from some Kwik-E-Mart, who cares? I’ll get another job, or at worst, take out more loans. I’ve got music to make, here!

Now that I’m into my thirties, I’ve found out that shit no longer flies. All those awesome loans are coming due, real apartments cost money, and there’s that stupid habit of “eating” you keep indulging. Also, there’s that whole part about you feeling like a complete failure without some kind of job. If any of you young composers were still on the fence about whether or not you could deal with being poor your entire life, let me help: being poor sucks. I was broke for four years, and they had to be the worst years of my life, artistically. It’s difficult to concentrate on your magnum opus when you are trying to sell your blood plasma to afford rent. You never have time to focus on your art, because you’re always afraid of your upcoming rent, credit card, and loan payments!

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So you’ll eventually find a job. And this is where time management as a composer comes in. While you’re in school, you live in an awesome bubble, full of colleagues just like you, and people who are just as time-rich as you are. Even in the summer, you go pay around a thousand bucks to hang out with other people for the summer, drinking beers and making awesome music. It’s so easy to never see the fact that you’ll never be in this situation ever again in your life. Enjoy it. Make the absolute most of it. Because when you’re done, you’ll be faced with a world that will feel very much to you like it doesn’t want you to be a composer.

After following my fiancée to Australia, I was lucky enough to find a job with an awesome company, that even deals in music. Considering that my “plan” was to work at the Genius Bar for the rest of my life, this was an unbelievable turn of good fortune. My salary tripled, and for the first time in decades, I wasn’t sick over money (granted, my student loans are deferred, and there’s a silent terror looming in the back of my mind about those). For those of you (including me, ages 15-25) asking, “well, what about a job as a professor?” my feelings about getting an academic job are for a another post, another day.

This new job, and its financial solvency, put me in the opposite situation of school: I suddenly had all this cash, but none of the time to do anything. I have weekends to compose, but the glorious eight-hour stretches of time are tainted by having a fiancée who “thinks interactions with other people are beneficial,” or whatever (she knows that I love that she makes me see people, and that of it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t do any socialising at all. Love you!). Suddenly, composing is competing with things like laundry and sleep for my time.

(Many young composers probably read that last bit and said to themselves, “Sleep?! Man, fuck sleep!” Try that shit in your thirties, I dare you! Spoiler: once you get to your thirties,
you are gonna pray for 10:00pm to roll around so you can go to sleep with some dignity, because although you’d really rather have gone to bed at 9:00, you don’t wanna think of yourself as “old.” Fuck sleep? No, my friend. Sleep fucks you.)

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Oh, so gently…

In order to write music AND have a job AND have a happy fiancée, I’ve had to look at my day and see where I can steal an hour of composing at a time. I now get up at 4:00am every morning, coffee the hell up (4 shots of espresso), and write music for two glorious hours before my fiancée wakes up, at which point I have to make breakfast and get ready for work. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll being my laptop in the train and compose for another forty minutes; this is dangerous, however, as this is usually the time I dedicate to answering email on the way to work. Borrowing time out of your day job rarely works out in your favor. I work until 5:00pm, and then take the train home; this is my “me” time, where I unwind. Then I make dinner, and promptly collapse on the couch, praying to the god of Netflix to bring 10:00 a little sooner.

(I still feel guilty that there’s all that time from after dinner until bed, but I can’t seem to do any creative work in the evenings. I feel like I’m not working hard enough, and that some crazy workaholic composer is beating me while my brain is stalled.)

The world, it can feel, doesn’t want you to be an artist. It wants to crush you with mortgages, with loans, with your own greed and jealousy for Wall Streeters’ spoils of war. The only way to fight back is to steal from the world, in minutes at a time. You don’t have the luxury of being precious. You need an hour of yoga before you can be creative? Fuck your yoga! (Yoga is for people who don’t understand how to properly be angry, anyway). Do you not feel like composing on your lunch break? Fuck your feelings! Nobody cares about your feelings except you.

The greatest tool you can have in the real world is the ability to sit down and compose anywhere, any time.  After that, it’s time management. These are your most important real world skills, aside from the tenacity to keep going.