Welcome to the busy world of media composition, where deadlines and pressure can be overwhelming – but only if you let them. As a composer, I’ve learned valuable techniques to manage stress and find balance. Here I’ll share my journey and reveal strategies that have made a practical impact on my creative process.
Get ready for grounding rituals, technology allies, peaceful silence, and powerful collaborations that have helped me stay calm and focused.
Finding Your Grounding: Rituals for Stability
When things get crazy, rituals can ground you. Starting my work day with a large pot of decaf coffee and a huge bowl of fancy porridge* warms up my brain and helps me transition into a creative mindset, along with morning pages and mindfulness meditation (and occasionally an early run). Routines to keep my workspace clear and organised boost my focus and purpose. The simple act of removing the dust covers from my keyboards signals the mindset to sit down and work.
Harnessing Tranquility: Technology for Focus
It gets a bad rap as a source of distraction, but tech can be helpful too. My noise-cancelling headphones help incredibly when there are unforeseen noises around (say, the gardeners are hacking away at the communal gardens again) and let me fully immerse myself in my compositions, blocking out distractions. Whilst I always recommend mixing on monitors (speakers), wired sound-cancelling headphones have a special place in my composition process, especially when I’m on a deadline.
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, I may have shared my go-to YouTube ambience videos with you already. These ambient soundscapes transport me to peaceful places, calming any inadvertent fight or flight response, allowing that quiet inner voice of creativity to be heard. If the piece I’m working on isn’t too CPU-intensive, I’ll leave a little video playing in the corner of one of the secondary screens – maybe with the sound of a rainstorm, a snow flurry, a forest or a log fire quiet in the background.
Seeking Refuge in Silence
In a noisy world, finding moments of silence is crucial. Though I often like to take breaks during the day in peaceful corners, such as a quiet moment in the nearby park, to recharge and reconnect with my creativity, early mornings are the best time for this. I’ve recently started waking up at 5 or 6am to go for a run in the local streets or park, and there are so few people around, I have the place to myself. It’s an absolute luxury, for which I highly recommend getting over the pain of an early wake-up!
As mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation is a regular part of my morning. There’s one singular benefit I’ve noticed of this practice that makes everything else so much easier. I now see clearly when my mind has gone off a-wandering down a rabbit hole, a flight of fancy, or into the depths of rumination, and I can decide there and then whether I want to keep going, with the full awareness of whether I’m on-task or not, or if my mind is becoming my own worst enemy. If the latter, I can gently bring myself back to the task at hand. Judgement-free (usually).
Journalling for Clarity
As I mentioned above, I start my day, most days, with ‘morning pages’ (per Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) where I type a stream of consciousness for somewhere between 500 and 1000 words. It gets all the angst and mardiness out and often reveals what it is that I’m actually ticked off about. It brain dumps all the to-dos. It takes me on interesting, unexpected tangents. At the end of it (and after the mindful meditation for between 10 and 20 minutes) my brain feels refreshingly clear, ready for the subconscious to bubble up all sorts of interesting new ideas for the music ahead.
Collaborating with others is supposed to be exciting, fun, joyful, and inspiring… isn’t it? Occasionally it is, but when for whatever reason it isn’t it’s better to separate ‘working’ time from ‘communication’ time (if you have the option), at least it is for me. Using whatsapp, email or other online tools, I can work with others at my own pace, without constant interruptions. Notifications are almost always off, and I check messages and email regularly throughout the day on a rough schedule.
This strategy, simple though it is, allows me to contribute thoughtfully in a prepared and organised way, whilst still being part of meaningful collaborations that enhance my work and take it in unexpected directions (see this recent collab I did with Andy Thompson for MediaTracks – I’m on violin and string programming).
You may have already heard of managing stress in media work with these strategies. I’m here to tell you that they work because I actually do them. By embracing rituals, leveraging technology, finding silence, journaling, and collaborating wisely, you can stay calm, focused and ready to bring your A-game to the studio to work.
*fancy porridge: oats, buckwheat groats, tahini or peanut butter (crunchy, obvs), chia seeds, ground flax, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, roasted pecans, hazelnuts, cashews and/or almonds, cacao nibs, oat milk and maybe, if you’ve been especially good, a drizzle of maple syrup. Now you’re either ready for work or ready for a nap. Either way, it’s all good.
Image: Filey Beach, copyright 2022 H. Fenoughty – now don’t go nicking my holiday snaps will you, pesky AI bots