December 15, 2005

The 4/4/4 Rule

by Chris Randall

No, it doesn't have anything to do with time signatures. Wilson inquired the following in the Sound Lab Mini Synth comments: " do [you] find time for such projects? I know you have a job, a wife, make and record music, write a blog, play video games... so how do you fit it all in? Seems like I barely have enough time for the job, the music, and the girlfriend. I'm curious as to how you manage your time." I'll answer here, because it might be an interesting topic of conversation, as I know a lot of professionals read this site, and I myself am curious.

The first thing to note is that I have two "jobs." My main source of income, first and foremost, is making music. Make no mistake; writing songs is not a hobby for me. My ASCAP checks are how I pay my rent and bills. My wife runs our record label, so I don't have to deal with that, for the most part, but a constant steady output of music is required to make a living when you're not on a major.

Audio Damage, which is my other "job," is actually starting to eclipse music making, in both time and income. However, it's only really time consuming for me when we're designing a new plug-in. Adam does the lion's share of the coding; I do the user interface and the editor, then write the presets, while he does everything in between. I also do all the support and the business side of things. So it evens out in time spent, but his comes all in one chunk, while mine is a more consistent daily regimen. 90% of the support involves answering the same questions over and over again, so that's not too taxing, time-wise. Tedious more than anything else.

So, keep in mind that when you work a normal 8-hour-a-day job, you also spend an hour getting ready and going to work, and an hour coming home and reorienting yourself to not being at work. So an 8-hour-a-day job actually takes at least 10 hours out of your day. If you sleep 8 hours, that only leaves 6 for everything else, and that's not enough. You have to spend those 6 hours coming up with reasons to go back to work the next day, in my limited experience on the subject.

When you're self-employed, there's a real danger of spending 20-hour days on your pet project, to the detriment of everything else. This is not only a recipe for burning out, but it actually hinders the process. So I practice what I call the 4/4/4 rule. I NEVER allow myself to work more than four consecutive hours on a single project. So my day will be split up in to four hours of working on Audio Damage graphics or whatever, four hours of writing music, four hours of working on some DIY thing, and then the rest of the day, I'll read or watch TV with my wife or something. As long as I do that, I'm able to keep things in their compartments, and no one thing takes over my day and becomes too much like real work.

The final key is that I never spend more than 12 hours a day working, period. Even if I disregard the other rule, and don't limit myself to 4 hours on a single project, I still never work more than 12 hours in a day, even if I have to force myself to stop.

I don't know if this is illuminating or helpful in any way, but if you're curious as to why it seems like I'm a monkey on meth, that's how I pull it off.



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Dec.15.2005 @ 2:19 PM
Interesting way of doing things, Chris.

Not being a professional musician, I've often wondered the breakdown in income streams. Like what percentage comes from radio play royalties, how much comes from album sales, how much comes from live gigs, how much comes from merchandising, session work, licensing, etc?

Might you be so kind to shed some light on the many sources of income for a professional musician?



Dec.15.2005 @ 2:39 PM
Chris Randall
Well, it depends on the musician. My friend Wade makes his money doing commercial music, and that's probably the most lucrative method of making a living in the music industry.

Speaking strictly for myself, most of my income is from ASCAP. There are dozens of Sister Machine Gun songs in feature films, and almost every Micronaut song is in one or more television shows. So most of my musical income is via performance royalties. The original four SMG albums sold quite well, but they aren't in print any more due to TVT's continuing legal troubles with the Wax Trax catalog, so the publishing money has petered out on those. Of course, I (like all signed artists) never saw any artist royalties from those records, so that's a moot point.

I do get income from other sources. I also own a publishing company, and publish a few other artists works, so I get occasional payments for those. And at least a couple times a year Microsoft or Sony will buy a song off me for an Xbox or PS2 title. (Speaking to that, you can hear "Perdition" off the most recent Micronaut album, in Project Gotham Racing 3, should you be so inclined.)

The secret to making a living making music literally is quantity, not quality, though. If you spend all year writing 5 songs, maybe those songs will be perfect, but you'll only have 5 things to sell. If you release two full albums a year like I do, maybe some of it isn't the best it could possibly be, but you have 20 to 30 things to sell, and a broader palette of shit to choose from.

So, to sum up, there are two key ingredients to making a living if you're not signed:

1) You need a pool of material which can cover a lot of bases. Between the SMG stuff, the Micronaut stuff, and the Scanalyzer stuff, I have pretty much every type of music covered, and almost 250 songs to work with.

2) You have to be willing to take a net loss up front in order to make money down the road. For an example of this, I give lots of music to MTV with no sync or master use fees. However, one 30 second use of a song with vocals as a feature cue in Real World is going to net me $15,000 over the following year. So I'm not going to piss and moan about $500 for the sync fee, you know?



Dec.15.2005 @ 2:46 PM
Cool, thanks for the info.

RE: the SMG back catalog at TVT, I think most of it is now available for download at eMusic:

link []">link []


Dec.15.2005 @ 3:08 PM
Chris Randall
Fucking Russian cunts. That site is as illegal as hell. Nobody can use them and have a free conscience. You might as well get the shit off Kaazaa. At least you're not giving money to the Russian mafia then.



Dec.15.2005 @ 3:19 PM
eMusic is above board, owned by the same folk who own the Orchard, and deal directly with the labels as far as I know.

I think the nefarious Russian loophole site is allofmp3.


Dec.15.2005 @ 3:26 PM
Chris Randall
Oh, shit. You right. Jet Music is what I was thinking of. Don't know why I got those crossed in my head. So Jet Music == fucking Russian cunts.

In any case, I couldn't give two shits about those records. The money goes to Prudential to pay off TVT's debt for signing Snoop Dogg. I'll never see a dime. Like I said, might as well get 'em off Kazaa.



Dec.15.2005 @ 3:28 PM
I'm curious: how does 30 seconds on the Real World net you $15,000?

Also, how long did it take before you could do music full-time without a day job to pay the bills?


Dec.15.2005 @ 3:38 PM
Chris Randall
"I'm curious: how does 30 seconds on the Real World net you $15,000?"

Well, first off, there are four possible payment "grades." Starting from lowest to highest, they are background cue instrumental, background cue vocal, feature cue instrumental, and feature cue vocal. The fourth one pays about 10 times as much as the other three put together. So if Bunnim/Murray uses 30 seconds of one of my songs with vocals in an episode of Real World as a feature cue, I'm looking at a prime-time play of a popular show on a popular station at the highest price point. My publisher's ASCAP check for that will be about $6000, and my writer's check will be about $5500. So in two months I took in $11,500 off of one 30-second play. Now, consider the fact that MTV plays every episode of Real World like 20 times. Of course, every time they play it, you only get about a 5th of the previous time's cash, so it goes down exponentially, but for a good cue in a good show, for a song that you own the publishing _and_ songwriting sides for, you're gonna pull low five figures, easily.

Of course, like all smart songwriters, you need to own your own publishing. Otherwise, chop that number in half.

"Also, how long did it take before you could do music full-time without a day job to pay the bills?"

About 3 years. SMG went from being just another Wax Trax band to being the second biggest Wax Trax band in about that amount of time. Once I got dropped after my fourth album, I had to go back a day job (or in my case a night job; my original profession, and the one I've fallen back on, is lighting) until I got fiscal matters sorted out.



Dec.15.2005 @ 9:01 PM
Wow, thanks Chris! I didn't expect such an in-depth answer, but I really appreciate it. This post and the following comments have a LOT of good advice and information. I especially found the "quanity over quality" advice interesting. I'll do my best to keep that in mind next time I get bogged down writing a song or fine-tuning the arrangements.

If I'm ever in Portland, I'll buy you a beer (or meth, as the case may be).


Dec.15.2005 @ 11:06 PM
I second the above. This sort of reminds me of what I think Sync was supposed to be about. I, for one, enjoy reading the no-bullshit accounts of the music industry that you and Wade provide. thanks.

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