By Joel Falconer
Recently, Arjun Muralidharan of The Good Musician recommended a system of organization using a supply drawer so that musicians could ensure their songwriting materials were always handy. His system is a good one, but as I thought about the way I work with my band Midnight.Haulkerton, and when songwriting alone, I realized that over time I’ve become an almost exclusively digital writer, and a bit of an embodiment of “the paperless office” in practice.
1. Prepare a system of organization that is scalable
Organization is still important - if not more so - in the digital realms, so I have a folder system set up that keeps recording project files, lyrics, biographies and various promotional copy, images, tabs and notation all separate and highly organized. Over time, any creative person generates a mass of material so it’s vital that intellectual property be organized stringently from the outset.
For instance, my music folder is split like this:
- Album 1, 2, etc
- Recording Projects (Logic files, etc)
- Promotional Material
- Marketing Plan
- Recording Projects
- Music Marketing Campaign (General)
This structure accomplishes several things:
1. It keeps material from various albums separate. If there are many songs in your collection, this is invaluable.
2. It keeps “Various” unsorted songs in one place, out of the way of your albums.
3. It keeps lyrics, recording projects, and notation separate so that you can find each component more easily and as your collection expands, files are not permanently lost.
4. It keeps paramusical elements organized by project so you don’t use the wrong art for the wrong album or website.
5. It keeps the overarching master marketing campaign separate from the marketing campaigns from each album.
I have a friend with several thousand songs on his hard drive, but he hasn’t even implemented alphabetical folder organization - it’s impossible for him to locate anything he’s written unless he knows the exact title already.
2. Keep the best applications handy to capture ideas quickly
Of course, Arjun didn’t only discuss the method of organization, but the tools for the job. Ideas disappear as quickly as they come, so the best applications are needed to capture them. Here’s what I use:
Pages or Word are great for writing lyrics.
Keep a good tabbed browser such as Firefox handy so you can look for inspiration or use a good rhyming dictionary. Reason and Melodyne for capturing musical ideas quickly in notated/midi form.
Logic Express to quickly arrange a song structure and have it ready to come back to for further writing and recording.
Skype - I love collaboration, and many of my collaborators are in various places far from here. Skype solves this problem.
iTunes, because sometimes that melodic idea is just out of reach and some musical inspiration from your favorites can help.
3. Keep logs of your communications
Like I said, I use Skype a great deal for international collaborations on lyrics and sometimes, melodies. While it’s a good idea to send copies of those collaborations by email after the session for backup (and, of course, as a courtesy) it’s also important to keep chat logs. You might want to go back for a line or verse you didn’t like at the time, or you might just lose the lyric in your Word document. Either way, logs of both your collaborative chats and emails are essential.
4. Don’t unwittingly relinquish your intellectual property rights
According to Tom’s Hardware, instant messaging programs like Windows Live Messenger and AIM stipulate that anything transmitted on their network becomes their intellectual property. This is why I specifically mentioned Skype above - you get to keep what you create! This is important, so let me repeat for you skimmers:
DO NOT USE ANYTHING BUT SKYPE TO COLLABORATE OR SHARE YOUR SONGS, EVER.
As a musician, there is nothing more valuable to you than your intellectual property. It may sound horrible to the idealist hobby musicians of the world, but the intellectual property rights to the song are more important than the song itself.
5. If you haven’t shown everybody, don’t show anybody.
Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration. As a matter of principle, when working in the digital world, only share unreleased songs with your trusted collaborators or people who have signed a non-disclosure agreement with you. Preferably, those who are your trusted collaborators will have signed non-disclosures too. It takes two minutes to do this by email and protects you. Don’t make the mistake of trusting too much, because I promise you that it WILL bite you in the ass at some point or another. Get an NDA, no matter how much you trust the person you are dealing with.
Sounds draconian, huh? No - it’s just a standard industry practice for professional musicians. If you don’t do this, you’re crazy. If you don’t do this, you WILL get your intellectual property stolen, trampled on and will miss out on all the profits of your own work. Don’t wait until you have been screwed over to start protecting yourself. Every musician with a career does this, so if you want a career, you need to do it too.
These tips may save your career one day, from all kinds of catastrophes: good organization may prevent the loss of a hit song, and good protection stops some charlatan from running away with your song and making money off it for themselves. Commit them to memory, write them on your skull with a tattoo needle - just make sure you don’t lose your career to digital mishaps now that you’re working in a digital environment.
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