How do composers sleep at night?

There’s a link I’ve identified between web designers and composers.

Britten’s diaries, letters and various biographies document the emotional roller coaster of the creative process.

I remember first reading about Britten’s inner-most thoughts back in 1997 and feeling slightly voyeuristic. I rolled my eyes at the diminished self-belief and the strained relationships. I rather liked that. I liked the way the comparatively banal detail of his everyday life afforded me the opportunity to puncture the loft reputation post-humously bestowed on the composer.

Just so we’re clear, I’m a Britten fan.

Last night, an unexpected thought. I was looking at a website I’ve been working on over the past few weeks for a client. It has been a hugely pleasurable process. Distracted from the usual office politics, I’ve been able to focus on the articulated need and the detail and complete on the contractual promise.

When the website finally goes live, the feeling is something odd. That’s the moment in time when the ship has left the berth. Sure, I can keep tweaking and correcting (that’s how Web 1.0 works after all), but the moment the website goes ‘live’ is the moment when as a creative individual you feel most exposed.

The paradox is that the period prior to putting a website live – building the website on a ‘test server’ – invariably involves using a web server which is available to anyone who happens to possess (or find) the necessary website address. It never concerned me that people might see what I was doing when I was ‘building on test’, yet the moment it’s moved to a difference public webserver suddenly I’m incredibly self-conscious.

It was late when I looked at the finished product ‘on live’ last night. True to form (at least I’m aware of it) I immediately zoned in on the margins and gutters – there’s really nothing worse than a misaligned block of text – and descended into a spiral of self-loathing.

I mounted a personal intervention and stopped proceedings before clambering out of my pit of self-induced despair and turning my attention to Witless Silence on BBC One.

Come the morning, my view on the very same website was … entirely different. The tweaks necessary were inconsequential and swift, and when complete triggered an unexpectedly overwhelming sense of pride.

It got me thinking about composers. How did they deal with the exact same creative process? Would any of them past or present dare to admit to tiredness-induced self-doubt? Would they dare to describe in such intimate terms the experience of crafting a new composition (in itself a battle of conflicting internal dialogues) and what interventions they mount to right the metaphorical ship? Would they dare to reveal the emotions experienced in the run-up to and during the first rehearsal and subsequent premiere?

There are a couple of podcasts yet to be published with composers about which I have this vague recollection I may well have asked the question. I hope so. Because I think anyone who gets the opportunity to have their work realised by a whole other team of professionals has a far more stressful working day. I’d like to know how they deal with it.

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

Note-taking, scribbles and revisions

Don’t underestimate the usefulness of note-taking, scribbles and doodles. Scribbles allow the mind descend into a fantasy filled euphoria. What-ifs quickly become possibilities. And as soon as there are a handful of possibilities there’s a framework. Sometimes all that’s needed is a loose framework to help see the wood from the trees.

Note-taking forms part of the creative process itself, making the end product – the realisation of those notes in the creation of a ‘thing’ – a considerably more straightforward if functional process.


None of this is necessarily new, although the joy experienced as a result of experimenting with this form of forward planning did come as a surprise. The illustration shows a page of visual notes I made last Sunday afternoon planning out blog posts for the week.

The Eurovision post comes later today. And #Tweetcamp on Saturday.

Kat Sommers on creative writing

Google+ has revealed something a colleague in the relatively far away land of Oxford Street (I work in White City) has been working on in her free time for the past 25 weeks.

Kat Sommers is writing a book. And she’s documenting the process.

Clearly the two of us are sympatico. I adore documenting everything as my extensive (yet fundamnetally dull) diaries I’ve kept over the past twenty five years illustrate perfectly. The only difference is that Kat is very good at concision and at delivering short punchy blog posts. My oh my, how much could I learn?

Kat’s latest post on her writing process and progress flag up a few gems, quoted here.

… characters shouldn’t spend long on their own. Not enough happens that way. They shouldn’t buy coffees and think about things in cafes (one of my godawful early attempts). They should bump into each other, have words, not say what they mean.

Interiority for interioity’s sake is boring – it should be used as a brief respite, an interlude that casts more light on character, a pause between scenes in which the conflict (story) unfolds, not in a straight line, but like a flower. (Or a big ugly red cross, if you’ve only got Microsoft Paint on your shitty Dell.)

And most important: as a reader, I am not aware of the overarching story. Perhaps, as I often do, when I finish the book I’ll think about all that, go over the structure in my head, break it into turning points and crises and climaxes. But at any one point in a book, I am in the moment, in that particular scene, reading as a very real problem or insight unfurls.



Follow Kat on Twitter @dogwinters

Video: Masterchef Synesthesia / Swede Mason

This video – Masterchef Synetsthesia – has clearly been doing the rounds on the internet. It’s hit rate was at around 650,000 when I stumbled on it courtesy of Adam Cadman from the BBC’s classical music marketing wing.

Recently I’ve been banging on about content. The importance of editorial. Why it’s vital to make sure that an inner passion or personal investment is displayed in whatever it is you’re created. Because that personal investment will shine through. Just as it does it this masterful demonstration of audio tracking and video editing.

There’s humour in it. Not least because both Masterchef presenters tread that fine line between being hugely annoying and having a cult following because they have a tendency to trot out cliched lines. That doesn’t really matter. Because the end product emphasises the brand in a way that traditional PR and comms fails. It’s not going to make me like Masterchef anymore (the recent series saw me turn my back on it in favour of Channel 4’s brilliant Cookery School) but still as a piece of content it really succeeds.

Nice work. I hope to God it was borne out of a genuine desire to produce something witty and not at the behest of some other greater power. The latter would be depressing.

#RADFEST10: It takes a long time

As I wrote in another blog post, the Radio Festival sessions featuring Timmy Mallett and BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans were touching, reassuring and inspiring.

Really great radio needs inspiring people. It’s not just someone with a great voice but someone with ideas. Those ideas might come from a producer. They might come from the presenter. They could be concocted through great team work. Whatever the source of great radio, it’s difficult to generalise. It’s impossible and ultimately pointless to apply a template to churning out good stuff. It just won’t work like that.

But there’s one point I didn’t hear mentioned at the Radio Festival, which should have been. A truth which hardly anyone says out loud. And they should. Especially as we’re all supposed to be living in a more transparent world: Producing radio takes time. A long time.

I don’t mean the craft – the actual process. That’s a matter of days maybe weeks. Rock up with a microphone, record something and then edit it back at base. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The production process is straightforward and should be.

No. What takes the time is reaching the status of “radio producer”. At least it is in my limited experience.

A friend of mine from the BBC recently got his name in the Radio Times. He’s worked at the BBC for a while now. A few years, if I recall correctly. I first met him five years back when he was working at BBC Resources. Five years later he’s produced an edition of World Routes for BBC Radio 3 after having spent a considerable amount of time as a broadcast assistant. When we first met we both confessed our dream to work in radio production. Mr Craven has reached the goal. Good for him. I’m very pleased. No really, I am. I’m not in any way jealous at all.

My point is that it has taken five years. That’s no statement on him, by the way. I’m not suggesting for a moment he’s been a lazy wotnot achieving this particular goal. Far from it. More that he’s stuck with it for that long because that is how the media industry is. As much as us storytellers rely on overnight successes or like to condense years of hard work into a more manageable few months or weeks, the truth is the lead time in the media industry is considerably (and perhaps unnecessarily?) longer.

And if radio really does need to sell itself back to the listener and potential listener so as to secure future audiences and make the distribution of DAB just that little bit easier, then a quicker turn-over of ideas generators needs to be made possible.

I’m not calling for revolution. I’m just saying. The river needs to run a bit faster. Because, if we’re looking to secure new audiences – young audiences – for the future then the stuff they listen to on the radio needs to have been created by people who may have gone through less of a gestation period.

I’m not whingeing. I’m just saying. Five years seems a ‘bit too long’.