Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Managing the Unmanageable

It's been awhile since I've had something to say. Usually, I like to chime in only when there's a subject that I'm really passionate about AND when I have a good idea of what I want to say about it.

I've been thinking about today's subject for awhile (months, that is) and for the longest time the only thoughts I had about it were that I was clear on the title (listed above). Not much substance there but a catchy heading eh?

So, I'm finally sitting down and hashing out my ideas when it occurs to me that my life has been borderline unmanageable for months! Call it a combination of work and life schedules colliding, taking on too much, whatever.

Point #1 - I've had a lot on my proverbial plate lately.

In December of 2009, I was full-time composing music for the new LucasArts/EA/Bioware MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. In the middle of a hectic composing schedule, I completed teaching a fall semester of Composing for Games at the USC Thornton School of Music, archived all my old scores (with lots of help from many of my students scanning my scores into pdf format THANK YOU!!!), packed up all my belongings in about a week (including my studio), moved from Los Angeles to Sonoma County in northern California, unpacked and re-setup my studio in a day and a half, and started composing and orchestrating again like a madman in order to meet our live orchestra recording schedule which was to begin a few weeks after I moved up. This does not include any personal life stuff that also needed to be done (like laundry and grocery shopping).

BTW I'd lived in L.A. for about 25 years since I graduated from college. Talk about changing the scenery!

Once I moved up north to join my fiance (who was already up here for a few months working at her new job), I completed my composing work on TOR (The Old Republic for short), composed a bunch more material for some music libraries, started a bay area based music prep service called SkyPrep, spent 6 months looking for a house to buy, attended GDC (Game Developer's Conference), closed escrow on our house, created an online version of my UCLA Extension Composing for Games course and taught it remotely from my new digs, worked my first official bay area music prep gig for Mark
Griskey's Force Unleashed II recording sessions, and a bunch more stuff I don't even recall doing.

Sound like a lot? Wait there's more!

Point #2 - There are layers of manageability within layers!

Two days before The first day of recording some music for TOR, I get a call. "We need 9 cues orchestrated and parts copied in two days, and oh, can you compose an extra cue?"
My answer - "Sure, just email me the files when they're ready and we'll make it happen."

You might be thinking, "Has he lost his marbles?"
My answer - "Nope."

Life and work are full of examples of things that seem unmanageable. The key is to stay calm and cool. Know exactly what you can accomplish on your own and where you'll need help. Prioritize by order of importance and deadlines. Plan for success by bringing in your backup team early enough to make managing everything not completely insane. Be honest with yourself about what it'll cost you (more on this later) and finally, execute everything to the highest level possible under the circumstances.

SO let's go through the list using this example:
1. Calm and cool? - Check! Seriously, I was fine with all this. I have an amazingly talented crew and we kick ass so I was confident we'd get it done.
2. Me vs. helpers - I knew I could compose/orchestrate the new piece no problem and orchestrate 2 of the 9 cues myself. I brought in 3 other guys to handle the other 7 cues plus my brother Phil kicked butt on the parts for all 10 cues. All within 36 hours.
3. Plan for success - Whenever I do anything in a crunch and bring in other people, I always play to their strengths. One of my guys is great at battle cues so guess what I gave him to do? Yup. Battle cues! I look at the whole list and selectively root out what I can do quickly and efficiently in addition to what every person on my crew does well.
4. Be honest - What did it cost me? Well, I was a bit tired :)
5. Execute - Check! Check! Check! This is about stepping up at the proper moment and knocking it out of the park. You don't think about it much you just get in the zone and do it.

It's really about making sure you have all the tools you need for success in a very competitive and challenging life. Any areas you feel are weak ones are those that need propping up with more knowledge, improved crew, and better management skills. These are things you can get from experience, research, and referrals.

Ever since asteroids smashed into the earth and destroyed a few dinosaurs (perhaps even earlier than this?), we've been managing the unmanageable. I'm not planning on extinction any time soon but I am continually pondering how to keep improving my craft, my abilities, my crew, and my life.

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