THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE FOR MUSIC ENTREPRENEURS

5 YEARS OF SOLITUDE

In October 2023, I celebrated my first 5 years of running Silence+Other Sounds. Some of you may know that Silence+Other Sounds is a one man business. Despite lately I’ve been relying more and more on collaborations, I’m still the person in charge of the vital parts of keeping the thing going. Being alone is a blessing and a curse: in my book, nothing is really more empowering  than being independent. Managing my own schedules, taking independent decisions, not having to deal with team-work politics: it’s just invaluable to me.

But here’s the catch: it’s hard. I mean, it’s very hard. It takes an insane amount of work and, above all, you’re required a sensei-level kind of discipline (still working on that). 

During these 5 years, I found out that alone entrepreneurs are not alone at all.  I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people working in the world of music and sound for pictures, mostly composers, sound designers and other companies developing virtual instrument like myself.

If there’s one  common denominator for most of them is exactly this: one person, spending most of his or her time working on their project, ALONE. And again, the guy who’s writing right now is no exception.

Said this, let’s dive, I’ll share a very broad concept  known as the 80/20 principle. It  massively helps me day to day to run my company on my own in an efficient way

If you’re a composer, a freelance sound designer or even an independent game designer, you might find some interesting insights.

TYPICAL SCENARIO

So imagine this. You have this great vision for a sample library/piece of music you want to make . In the abstract level of your fantasy, this thing is nothing short of phenomenal. You picture in your mind the captivating, deep and lush sounds. You can hear them coming from some forgotten recess of your limbic brain and man, it’s a sure shot success. 100% guaranteed.

But suddenly, a somewhat ominous yet invisible force manages to grab your ankles gently floating in the daydream-verse. It drags you down to this familiar place commonly known as reality.

In that place, you remember very vividly that as a solopreneur everything is on you. If you really care about making this amazing product you better start putting in some work.

Because you don’t know any musician who plays that forgotten medieval horn that for some reason you became so disturbingly obsessed with. And no, you don’t have yet a place with an acoustics that is worth of that magnificent sound. Oh right, then it’s time to consider the budget. And perhaps you are not too sure about how to script that sound layers management functionality that you really think must be featured in this de-facto non existent library. In other words, there’s a crapload of stuff to do and you just need a rock solid strategy to plan everything carefully and start making.

THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE FOR THE MUSIC ENTREPRENEUR

You’ve probably already heard about it.  The 80/20 principle, also known as Pareto principle, states that 80% of the results that you get are produced by 20% of your efforts. Vice versa, 80% of the work generates only 20% of results. It’s a very broad concept which extends to computer science, project management, healthcare and so much else.

For example, in product development it’s often found that 20% of a product’s  features  drive 80% of its usage.

In social interactions, roughly 80% of the value comes from nurturing relationships with few individuals who provide support and guidance

The list goes on.

No matter which project you’re working on right now, it’s a fact that you have a limited set of resources. They will be broadly time, mental/physical resources and finances, or more commonly a combination of them.

So, how can you address said resources to that 20% that will yield the majority of your desired outcomes? How do you know first hand which is that “vital few” and how much are you going to allot for it?

Let’s say you’re a composer and you’re just been asked to score a short movie: where does that 20% lie?

THE ``VITAL FEW`` OF THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE

I’m not sure if there’s a one-size fits all kind of answer, but I can share with you how I managed to identify my vital 20% in my sample development work.

If you scroll the comments in my Youtube videos, especially the product walkthroughs , you will notice that the most recurring ones  are about originality and quality of the sounds.

Quite obvious right? No matter the instrument, hardware, software, analog synth, Stratocaster guitar or a sample library. You’re likely going to base your choice on a certain quality of the sound that resonates with you. But one might ask: how did you actually manage to create/record those sounds?

REAL WORLD APPLICATION

Well, here’s the interesting part that surprised me the most when I actually realised it. Let’s take an example my most 3 successful products, which are Stringache (Horror Strings), Maleventum (Viking War Horns) and Omen (Shamanic Voices), in random order. For all these 3 libraries, I had a very detailed idea of sound in my mind. I recruited different musicians and asked them to play or sing some very specific things that I needed in order to realise that vision. And none of these musicians had any prior experience in recording sounds for sample libraries so I really had to do my best to make sure that they saw my vision exactly as I did.

And in order to do so I didn’t spare any mean. I’ve written very detailed briefings. I’ve provided them with plenty of sound references, with chunks of movies where I spotted sounds that inspired me. I’ve even copied excerpts from books! In short, I had to help them getting to the zone, without actually “dragging” them, but in a very gentle, transparent way, not getting too much in the way of their expertise.

In other words , wearing the producer hat. Once that we were on the same page, they delivered some stunning sounds, that I have used in different ways to structure the whole library.

HOW I APPLY THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE

Probably it’s clearer now where I managed to find the “vital few” in the development of those libraries. It was about finding the right people and communicating with them effectively. That’s it. In case you’re guessing, that roughly took around 25% of the whole development.

As you see, it had nothing to do with complex sound design techniques. We didn’t record in super-expensive studios. In my case the “vital few” lied in something that I could have overlooked very easily.

HOW YOU CAN APPLY THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE

You might say “hey, but I’m a composer, I don’t develop libraries, I do not spend my time recording sounds”: fair. As I said before, I don’t think there’s a one size fits all kind of strategy to apply the 80/20 principle effectively. However, I can tell you the strategy that eventually led me to a map of how I address my resources when working.

Let’s say you’re working on a project right now (I’m sure you do). During the entire timeline of the project, try to spare a little time everyday to document how much of your resources you have spent on a given activity that day. For example, today I’ve spent 3 hours working on a melody. Or maybe, yesterday I’ve spent 2 hours searching for the right library. Feel free to go really granular on this aspect (well, as you’re here you can have a look at the Silence+Other Sounds catalog).

If you do this daily, over the entire timeline of the project, you’ll end up with a very precious map of how you spend your resources when you work. When you’ll deliver the final submission to your client, according to their feedback you can go back to those notes, and find a correlation between what they say (your outcome) and where it comes from (your resources).

CONCLUSIONS

Yes, I know this can sound boring and painful. But I promise you that if you stay at it you’ll learn to spot the vital few  before starting. I can tell you that it will save you a lot of headaches and remarkably boost your productivity. Additionally, it’s a great way to discover more about yourself. I had no idea that I was good at finding people, putting them together and communicate them effectively. Some of these musicians now do custom work for composers who purchased the library, which makes me really proud.

In conclusion I hope this has been fun and helpful. If you have some productivity strategies that work for you , feel free to connect with me at giuseppe@silenceandothersounds.com and let me know.

Have a nice one,

Giuseppe

Giuseppe Caiazzo

Sound designer, producer, programmer, nerd. Founder of Silence+Other Sounds.