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  2. Composition

iTunes for Composers

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iTunes is a straightforward and simple application for organizing and listening to music. You probably don't need someone to explain to you how it works. But there are a few unique features of iTunes that a lot people don't take advantage of. If you're a composer/producer/songwriter with a lot of music to keep track of, getting the most out of iTunes can vastly improve your workflow.

Here are some examples of the kinds of situations where a well set up iTunes library can save the day:

  • Scenario 1: You get a call from a friend who is working on a romantic comedy that needs a composer. He's about to meet with the director and wants you to upload some samples of your music so he can try to get you the gig. He says the director loves the soundtrack from Juno. Oh, and his meeting is in 15 minutes.
  • Scenario 2: A new music library calls you up and says they'd like to start representing your catalog on a non-exclusive basis. They'd like you to send them a DVD with all of your available tracks ASAP.
  • Scenario 3: You're scoring two features and a short film at the same time and need to keep track of the latest versions of every cue. Of course with this workload, you don't have a waking moment left to fiddle around with organization.
  • Scenario 4: A music library calls you and says they need some epic orchestral tracks with choir.
  • Scenario 5: Your in a meeting with a director at his office and know the perfect track to play him to describe your ideas. The problem is you only have your laptop and your iTunes library is on the computer at home.

First we'll take a look at the tools available to us and then we'll see how we can apply them to each of these scenarios.

Playlist Folders - Keep it Organized

Playlist folders are not immediately apparent if you don't go looking for them. They're pretty self explanatory: folders with playlists inside. But the simple device makes it so much easier to keep track of everything than just a massive list of playlists (like I used to have before I discovered the folders).

You can also keep folders inside of folders, but be careful about going too crazy with organization. Your organizational structure should be there to make your life easier, not more complex. Keep this in mind when creating folders and try to only have categories for things that you really believe need to be separate.

Generally I have two master folders: My Music, and Other Music.

My Music is divided into Reels, Music Libraries, and Specific Projects. The whole point is so I can find exactly what I need, when I need it. Much more complicated than this and it would become harder to find something!

Other Music is generally divided into specific styles or genres I rely on often and things I want to listen to. Specific Styles could mean perhaps I'll have a playlist of all of the Sci-Fi scores I have that I think are cool and could be useful for reference on a future project. Since there isn't a "Sci-Fi" genre in iTunes, it would be difficult to find all of these scores at once with a simple search.

To Listen is more like an inbox of music that I intend to check out when I have the time, be it something new I recently purchased from iTunes or just an old score I was reminded about and thought was worth looking into.

I really don't see a point in creating a playlist for every artist or album you own unless there's a specific reason a search can't do the job (like a group of songs that go together in a way a search wouldn't catch). For your general library that you don't need organized in a specific way, gratuitous playlists and folder hierarchy are just going to complicate things.

Smart Playlists - Make it Automatic

Smart Playlists are your best friend. I'm surprised at how many people don't take advantage of them. With just a few simple criteria you can develop a sophisticated system for keeping on top of your work. You can filter out songs by any combination of artist, album, genre, date added, comments, etc.

This is where tagging your tracks becomes immensely useful. If you wanted to know every song you'd ever written that would work well for a comedy, just go through your music and add "comedy" to the comments field. Then create a smart playlist with "Artist is You" and "Comment contains comedy".

You can tag your music by genre, instrument, players or singers involved, and whatever else you think might be useful. The same guidelines apply for overdoing it to the point where it becomes meaningless. But as long as a group of songs that fit a specific criteria would be good for you to have instant access to, simply create a Smart playlist and there is it.

Share Your iTunes Library - Access it Anywhere

There are a variety of tools popping up lately that let you share your iTunes library. Even iTunes 9 now let's you use "Home Sharing", but that only works if you're using the same network.

My tool of choice for sharing my iTunes library is Simplify Media. It's free and easy to use, and works for Windows, Mac or Ubuntu. A great feature is that you can listen to a song remotely even if someone is listening to a different song on the computer you're accessing without interrupting them. Check out to download and set it up.

Putting it to Practical Use

OK so we've seen the basic tools and they're pretty easy to use. Now let's see how we can apply them to each of the scenarios we created earlier.

Scenario 1 - Demo Reel

So to recap, your friend is going to pitch your music to a director. It's a romantic comedy and the director likes Juno. If you're diligent about keeping your music organized this should be a cinch. First check your "Reels" folder for a Smart Playlist called Romantic Comedy. It should contain every cue you've ever written that has "romantic comedy" in the comments field.

After that you do an overall search for your name and any keywords that might match Juno. Perhaps you try "quirky", "indie", and "guitar" to come up with your most appropriate material. This is a thousand times faster than staring at your entire catalog and going "Um, ok.. didn't I write some indie guitar thing once... what did I call that?".

Come up with a Smart Playlist for every broad category that you think you might be asked to demo for. Obvious examples could be Horror, Action, Comedy, Thriller, etc. Also tag your music with mood and style descriptions, such as "ominous" or "uplifting". Anything that would make it easy for you to find the track when you need it. You can even list other scores or artists you think your track is similar to. If you wrote an American Beauty knock-off, don't be ashamed to add "American Beauty" and "Thomas Newman" to the comments section. The next time a director says they love Thomas Newman you'll be glad you tagged that track you may have otherwise forgotten about.

Scenario 2 - Keep Track of Your Catalog

A lot of composers who work with music libraries tend to work with more than just one. Some libraries operate on an exclusive basis (they're the only ones allowed to represent a certain track), while others are non-exclusive and represent tracks that other libraries might also have.

In this common situation, you've started working with a new library and you need to get them everything from your catalog that's available for licensing. With a few tags and a Smart Playlist this should be as simple as burning a disc.

One way you can handle this is to add the tag "library" to every track in your catalog that is available to music libraries. Then you add "exclusive" to the ones that only one library has access to. Create a Smart Playlist that includes anything with "library" and does not include anything with "exclusive" and there you have it. Your presented with every track that the new library can use. Hit burn disc and send it out!

Scenario 3 - Stay Organized

Of course this whole tutorial is about staying organized, and here is yet another example. If you're using Logic Pro, when you bounce a track you have the option to directly add the track to iTunes with ID3 tags. Take advantage of this feature!

The moment you bounce a track is exactly the right time to add all of your appropriate tags while they're fresh in your mind. Any relevant information about style, version, special instruments used, etc. That way, if you have the appropriate Smart Playlists already set up, your track is automatically organized for you and you can move on the the next cue without blinking.

If I'm working on "Cool Film" I'll set up a Smart Playlist that lists me as the artist and Cool Film as the album. I'll also set it to match only checked items. Then when I bounce a cue from Logic I make sure to add myself as the artist and Cool Film as the album. At the end of the day everything I've written for the film is organized for me. If I made any revisions or new versions I can just uncheck the old ones and they'll disappear from the list. What's great about that is they're still in iTunes in case I need to refer to them later, but my playlist only displays the most current and relevant version of the score.

Scenario 4 - Get Inspired

This scenario applies to that "Other Music" category. If you get asked to write in a specific style it can always be helpful to listen to some examples for inspiration. If you take some time and tag your favorite scores this can become a pretty easy process.

Usually you have to rack your brain and try to remember every score you own that fits the requirements. If instead you added a few useful keywords, you just have to search for those terms and half of the job will be taken care of for you. In this case we just plug in "epic choir" and see what we get.

Would I go through and tag every single song in my iTunes library? Absolutely not. But if you're listening to it anyway and it catches your ear, why not take the 5 seconds and make a few comments so you can find it again later?

Scenario 5 - Showcase a Song from Anywhere

In this scenario you're in a meeting with a director. You have your laptop, but the bulk of your music library is back in the studio. If you've set up an iTunes sharing tool like Simplify Media, the next time you're in a meeting away from your iTunes library you can still let your music speak for itself.

When the director says they want a mysterious acoustic guitar piece instead of saying "Oh yea, I wrote something like that once" you can now say "Listen to this mysterious acoustic guitar piece I wrote". Finally you can have a conversation about music while actually listening to music!

The same thing applies to other people's music as well. If the director says they really like a certain score and you remember that you have that one in your library, you can instantly pull it up and start to discuss why they like it.


There are plenty of other ways you can put iTunes to use besides the scenarios described above. Let's say you want to know how much music you've written this year. Just create a smart playlist with "Artist is your name" and "Year is 2009". Voila, an instant accounting of where all of your time has disappeared to!

Sure, this is going to take a small investment of time at the beginning to tag everything and set up the playlists, but hopefully you can see that the benefits are worth it.

What other uses have you come up with for making life as a music creator just a little bit easier with iTunes? Share your ideas in the comments.

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