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Good, Fast, Cheap: You Can Only Pick Two!

Good Fast Cheap by Jennifer Kes Remington - Pyragraph

Check out this Venn diagram above. I made it for you in Photoshop. You might have seen different versions of this as a triangle shape, or in list form. I was taught about this early on when I started working with my second composer boss. It really makes so much sense in any artistic field.

In this picture, there are 3 descriptors for how clients can ask for music (this actually can apply to any art). You can deliver music to a client that is really good. You can deliver music that has a low price tag. And you can deliver music very quickly. HOWEVER, you should never (and never be asked to) deliver music that is ALL THREE. It’s not impossible, but it’s like slave labor. It’s taking advantage of the musician to deliver all three. And it’s soul-draining. I’m not saying it never happens. It’s just not fair to you if it does.

It’s hard because sometimes you might not know where the lines are between these three.  You might think you are delivering something good and fast, that is NOT cheap, but in reality, maybe you aren’t getting paid that much. I sometimes get told by other musicians I should raise my rate. I don’t know what other people’s rates are, so it’s hard because you never know how far you can push your client before they’ll just hire someone right out of college who will do it for cheaper.

So anyway.

Good+Cheap=NOT Fast

My husband has been editing a pilot for a TV show for a friend now, and he’s been working on it off and on for almost a year. He originally started it when he had a lot of free time, but for the past 6 months he’s been working on his paying job non-stop.  The people in charge of the pilot aren’t paying him anything for him to edit an hour long segment ready for TV with titles for their pitch. They know he’s busy and aren’t too much in a hurry, and he’s promised to get put on as the editor (and paid) when the show picks up. This is a prime example of something asked of an artist to be good and cheap—it is not going to be finished fast.

Good+Fast=NOT Cheap

I’m not super knowledgeable about the world of feature films, but I think a lot of these fall under the “good and fast” category. When I used to work as an assistant under my second composer boss, I went through a couple periods with him where he got hired for feature projects, and they required music of the “good and fast” variety. These particular films needed something like 60 minutes of music written (with fixes), orchestrated and recorded all within a short time period in time for a proper movie release.  In these cases, it was crazy long days of writing and he even brought in other “additional music” writers/friends to help out and finish the score because otherwise, it just couldn’t be finished in time. I really don’t know how much big movie budgets are for the composers including live orchestral recording (I was never privy to anything monetary in these situations), but I think it’s a LOT. This makes sense to me. For so much quality music in a short period of time, they should have a good budget.

Cheap+Fast=NOT Good

I haven’t done many projects that demand a “cheap and fast” product, but I think library music falls under this sometimes. Library companies are becoming more and more the norm for the source of the music for reality TV programs nowadays. Musicians can write music and give it to any number of stock music/library companies either exclusively or non-exclusively, to place on any channel/program/commercial the company happens to have have deals with.

My friend and writing partner for our rock style licensing pieces actually dubbed our little accumulation of music “Factory Fromage,” because we pump it out like a factory pumps out cheese. A lot of stuff we do actually turns out pretty great, and sometimes I even like to listen to these made-for-TV-clips that we wrote on my ipod. There are a lot of times, however, when I write “tension” type cues that I’m not into (think: reality show competition stressful moment with buildup to the elimination!).  These things are pretty easy for me to whip out quickly, and I don’t really have any emotional attachment to them.  Most of the time, I don’t get paid for any of this up front. I have to wait till any number of our cues cycle through whatever libraries I have submitted them to and see if I end up getting any royalties if/when they actually play on TV. And this is where I instigate my “throw it against the wall like spaghetti” mantra and write a ton of stuff and throw it to as many companies who will place it on TV as possible.

So there are different levels of writing that you can do. Make sure you are comfortable with what you are asked for. Print out this picture as a guide! If you are going to put your heart and soul (or sleepless nights) into your work, make sure you are properly compensated enough to where you are happy.

Image by Jennifer Kes Remington

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