The lean composer — past, present and future

The lean composer is one of the first series of articles ever published on our website and one of the most successful. I think it would be very interesting recapitulating the content of the first 3 parts while discussing how I am implementing this theory in my workflow, and what concepts I’d like to add to the series in future parts. Sit back and enjoy this mid-series review: the lean composer — past, present and future.

A word about the book

Before I start I should mention how the idea for this series came to mind. I started thinking of the lean composer after reading the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The book draws parallels between the lean manufacturing model introduced by Toyota and a new agile way of shaping a start-up. Moving a step further, in the direction of film music, I extracted a few guidelines to streamline the work of a film composer, maximising productivity and taking stress out of the equation.

Past

The core concepts of the lean composer workflow are MVC (minimum viable cue), cue pivots and small batches.

MVC

A MVC (minimum viable cue) is the best sounding cue composed within the minimum possible amount of time. There are various areas where it is possible save time without compromising the quality perceived by the client. Some of them are: orchestration, mock-up production, number of cues per theme, etc…

Pivots

Whenever a composer keeps the elements that were working from a rejected cue while changing the others we can talk of a cue pivot. Among the ones I discussed are the tempo pivot, the sync-point pivot, the theme pivot, etc…

Small batches

Even if it may sound counter-intuitive many areas of a film composer’s workflow can benefit from a small-batches approach. In part 3 of the series I explored how sending a few cues per time can be beneficial. I also discussed how performing all export operations for 1 cue at a time can save time. Furthermore I advised not to implement more than 1 new piece of gear/software at a given time before running some test to avoid wasting time in case of malfunctioning. I also evaluated some of the scenarios where large batches can yield better results.

Present

In mid February I had the pleasure to be a guest of the Lean Startup Co. webcast. The half-hour episode gave me the opportunity to discuss some of the reasons why I decided to start the lean composer series and how this had an impact on my work as a composer and as editor in chief of Film Scoring Tips. You can check the whole video below or head to the Lean Startup Co. page for a few highlights, a podcast version, and a full transcript.

Being invited to be a guest was a truly validating experience. Thanks Lean Startup Co. and thank you Marilyn and Frank!

Future

If you had the patience to watch me talk for a good 30 minutes in the afore-embedded video you heard I briefly touched a few of the topics I’d like to explore in the future. Here is a more complete list:

Leap-of-fate assumptions

These are the assumptions an entrepreneur makes about a product and how the customers will react to it. I’d like to explore this in relation to how a composer assumes some musical elements will function in specific ways with the pictures and how the film maker responds to them.

Actionable metrics

Opposed to vanity metrics the actionable metrics are sets of data worth evaluating regularly to assess wether or not a start-up has a healthy growth. In a similar fashion I feel there are, among the comments populating the film maker’s feedback to a cue, some information that might be more important than others. I’d like to find a way to quickly identifying them.

Split test

Split testing a product means offering 2 different versions to 2 different segments of customers. This allows to save time and to know better the customers. Getting rid of the work they don’t care for while focusing on what they want. I am already (successfully) implementing A/B testing when sending the first batch of cues to a director. I’d like to elaborate on that and find patterns that would help set the right direction for the rest of the work after those first cues are approved.

Adaptive process

A lean startup leverages on unexpected problems to make sure they won’t happen again. That occurs thanks to adaptive processes, feedback loops that help get to the source of a problem while correcting it one step at the time. A film composer often faces unexpected issues. I feel a device such as the adaptive process method could pay off on the long run and make the composer’s workflow impeccable.

The lean composer is you

What about you? Have you tried some of the lean composer’s guidelines? Did it work? Please let me know, I’d love to hear your stories and eventually talk about you in the next chapters of this series. I hope many of you will be in touch, I’ll make sure to reply to all…in small batches!


Originally published at filmscoringtips.com on February 25, 2019.