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.16.2005 @ 4:55 AM
It was funny because I was thinking the same thing - how you managed to fit all of this stuff in to your life. I am a self employed programmer/composer and I often get into terrible 15 hour days to get things out - by the end of which my brain no longer works and I have no social life. I hadn't thought of the 4 hour theory but I'll give it a go and see what happens.
Anyway - love the site - it keeps me going in troubled times ;-)

Dec.16.2005 @ 8:49 AM
Wade Alin
mmmm. meth.

That is some really useful and interesting info there Chris. While I idealize about a 4 hour rule, I usually only have 1 really pressing thing to work on and it usually gets about 20 hours a day of my attention followed by 2-3 hours of insomnia thinking about it. That has a lot to do with the nature of commercial work, the deadlines and constant revisions involved with a project. I?ve also found I?ve been gifted/cursed with the delirium factor ? once I?ve worked on something for ?too long,? the creative solutions start pouring out and instead of making mix and production decisions that I later regret, I usually come up with my best work at that point. On the flipside (the contradictory side), I never let anyone around me work on something for more than a few hours, they just completely lose their ears and seem to start hearing shit that isn?t there ; )

On an ASCAP and commercial music note, I?m definitely working with the lowest grade. I?ve done 2 (and a rotating 3rd) of the HBO network promos (?and now an HBO original documentary") as well as the main themes for 2 of the Starz networks (Cinema and Edge, if your curious). The budget was about 10k per spot for a :30 peice, of which I get around 35% ($3500-4000 a job) and the low grade ASCAP seems to generate mere pocketchange - inspite of the high profile of the spots. I?m talking a couple hundred bucks per statement ? all combined, seriously. The music house and the networks themselves both take publishing. There?s a lot taken off the top. Of course, I never have to speak to the client or deal with any BS and for me, that?s quite worth it. And if I get 30 jobs a year, you can do the math. I've gotten 40 jobs one year, and 5 jobs the next. Of course, if I ever decide to start dealing with the clients and running my own house (something I might do in the future) my income triples. The terms seem a bit harsh to people outside this industry (similar to your royalties with TVT) but with all the sheer number of people trying to break into this profession, it makes sense that the houses and networks hold the upper hand.


Dec.17.2005 @ 1:44 AM
I totally agree.

These opinions and experiences matter. They teach me a lot, and I take them to heart in my endeavors.

Of course, Chris could go to the restroom with a Casio, record the first thing that came out, and he'd have my 15$ US.

It's refreshing to know that experimental, intelligent musicians can make it on their own. It gives me reason to try on my own. Of course, it seems like actual performance is next to nothing in the big scheme of things. Live shows for small bands reek of a waste of time anymore.

That having been said, how does one go about getting things on television networks and such? They're not particularly forthcoming with contact information, obviously for good reason.


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