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The 5 P's - How to improve your work and stay employed

Creating sound or music for digital media can be hard. First you have to get the creative side locked in, then technology management and utilization, client interaction, talent acquisition and management, planning and organization and the biggest one... execution.

Frankly, if you are not organized and have not planned properly, you are in for a world of hurt and probably a very short career. That's why I subscribe to something I call the 5P's. What are the 5P's you ask?

The 5 P's - Proper, Planning, Prevents, Pisspoor, Performance. Pretty simple right? Wrong. Before I begin any project, I and my team plan it out. Why? What happened to spontaneity or creativity? Well, I save those for the creative process. But before I begin "creating", things must be organized at all levels to help start, manage and conclude the project. That's called execution. Plus for me, planning properly optimizes my workflow and creative process. I don't have to freak out because something came up and I didn't plan accordingly.

Lets take a couple of small examples of the questions I ask myself and my team to ensure we are leveraging the 5P's so our project runs smooth AND equally important, with limited or reduced stress to me and those around me.


  • What am I going to use to execute the project? Live instruments, VI's, outboard gear, synthesizers, samplers, mics, Pro Tools or Cuebase, etc.? What are the basic technological and sonic foundations of what I am going to use for this project i.e. analogous to what colors and types of paint a painter is going to use or the ingredients a Chef will use when preparing a dish.

  • Do I have what I need sonically to bring to life whats in my head? If not, where and how will I get it? This could be sample libraries, synthesizers, organic materials, live instruments, the right editing tools to make my sounds or even hiring a better or different sound designer to help me get what I need.

  • What are the technical specs of the finished project deliverables? Wav? AIFF? 16 Bit 44.1K? MP3 (Yes, some clients want MP3's), Stereo, Mono, Surround, etc. Normalized? Processed? Meta Data Requirements?

  • How am I going to manage all of the audio assets? EDAM? HD? Burn things to DVD? Etc. Are they organized in a manner that I can share, transport, export, reimport?

  • Do I have all the technology I need? Will I need to beg, borrow, steal, rent or purchase something I don't have? You don't want to have to figure out these things in the middle of a session when the clock is running

  • Am I technologically proficient to handle all of the technology needs or do I need to bring in help? You don't want to figure it out when the clock is running and 5 studio executives are tapping their fingers waiting for your to figure out where the play button is or why your Transport bar disappeared from your computer screen.


  • Electronic? Hybrid? Orchestral? Styles? Do I really have true sense of what my client wants AND have I truly decided on the best way to deliver that expectation? Plan this out!

  • Cue management - versions? Stems? Variations?

  • Do I need support staff i.e. copyist, orchestrator, musicians, singers, choir, engineer, assistants, programmers, union, payroll, etc?

  • Do I have a clear understanding of what all the key players/contributors i.e. Director, Producer(s), Studio Executives, Agency Exec's, etc. are looking for in the music?

  • Have I double checked the deliverables i.e. number of cues I am expected to deliver? Do they line up with the spotting or production notes?


  • Do I have a full understanding of the deliverable time line/schedule?

  • Have I defined, revised or optimized my workflow?

  • Do I have updated and optimized tracking tools i.e. custom Excel sheets, Cue Sheets, Notes, etc.? I have I filled in the required information i.e. Project, Director, Producer, Title, Date, Deliverable Data, File Formats, Cue titles, times, PRO information etc.

  • Do I have the appropriate contact information for all the key constituents?

  • Do I have all the information on how to deliver the final product i.e Digital Download? DVD? Email? FTP? Drop Box? Etc.

  • Budget: Package? Did you create a budget? If you didn't why not? Cost allocation? Fee's? Purchases? Etc.

  • Am I missing anything to successfully complete this project on time, on budget and on target.

  • Have I discussed issue resolution with the client? Process? Revisions? Revision fees?

  • Do I have a contract? LOI? Agreement? Something in writing? You better! Has it been reviewed by my agent or attorney? Does it cover everything we discussed/need?

I could go on and on. While these questions seem obvious, I have found in my experience that they are usually forgotten in some measure or not properly planned out. That means trouble at some point along the process.

As a professional composer or sound designer, you are hired to do a job as a "professional" (getting paid). As such, there are professional expectations that you must adhere to and uphold. First of which is being a professional. NO ONE is going to hire you to provide work on a $10K - $100M+ project (investment) if you are not professional, organized and able to deliver. Being able to deliver is greatly improved by following the 5P's.

You may have your own questions you run through, processes, team, workflow, etc. Fantastic and good for you. You are way ahead of the game. The key is to have them. 5P questions will change based on the nature of the project, client, etc. But being able to plan properly will make your life, work and relationships with your clients much better. Trust me I speak from experience.

For those that think whoa...thats a lot of work and things to think about even before I touch the keyboard. Yup. But if you want to work in this industry these are things you need to do. The good news is, once you start doing this and doing more work with your clients i.e. experience, these things will become more streamlined, tailored to your personal style and much more efficient. They will become optimized to your individual needs.

So the moral of this story is Proper Planning Prevents Pisspoor Performance. Ensure you plan accordingly ;-)

- David

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