As a film and television composer, Giovanni Rotondo is not in a line of work traditionally associated with startups or Lean Startup initiatives. That all began to change when he joined a startup in London called The Rattle.
“The Rattle is both a career incubator for artists and a startup incubator for musical startups,” Giovanni explains. Initially, he joined as an artist, but was intrigued and inspired by the startup culture and started having ideas of his own that applied to the world of music. He shared his idea with Chris Howard, the co-owner and co-founder of The Rattle. Chris suggested Giovanni read The Lean Startup. As he read it, Giovanni could feel the connection between the startup world and his occupation.
“I really dove into my mind to see how to apply these concepts to my work,” Giovanni says, “and…I found quite a few ways.”
The Minimum Viable Cue
On his website, Film Scoring Tips, Giovanni wrote a three-part series of blogs called “The Lean Composer,” (blogs: here, here, and here). In these blogs, he explores the key elements composing artists can learn from The Lean Startup methodology.
The first and most striking, idea that resonated with Giovanni was that of the minimum viable product (MVP). But, in applying it to his world, he calls it “minimum viable cues.”
In the world of film composition, a piece of music that has a beginning and end is called a cue. While working on a scoring project, composers must submit initial batches of cues to a director. This can be a daunting and time-consuming task. “A successful first batch of cues can mean a successful overall writing experience,” Giovanni explains. So a problematic first batch of cues can be a disaster.
Giovanni realized he could make this phase in the process more efficient by sending the cue sooner in the process. He does this by developing the music to the point where it sounds good and conveys the idea, but isn’t fully refined yet. “[Directors] don’t have to know it’s not perfect,” Giovanni points out, but still, “it must sound perfect to them.” Refinement can come later in the process.
The Unintended Psychology of A/B Testing
Another Lean Startup methodology that Giovanni has successfully implemented into his work as a composer is the idea of A/B testing.
“I’ve started to submit first batches of cues in A/B versions,” he explains. This allows him to test the work on the directors to see which versions work better. Plus, he believes there’s a psychological component involved. By submitting options — rather than just one iteration — it can make the recipient feel they have to choose which option is best, rather than simply accepting or rejecting the submitted product. “It’s almost like you take refusal out of the equation.”
And even if one of the versions isn’t accepted, it’s a good way to either rule out areas not to touch or highlight one good direction.
Finding Pride in Your Pivot
But even with finding ways to better maximize time and success, in a creative industry, failure is a large part of the journey. “[…] Many times it’s not even a particular person’s fault,” Giovanni says, “It’s just two artists trying to find common ground.”
That makes it all the more important to learn how to accept, learn, and move on from failure. “My heart still gets broken every time [a cue is rejected],” Giovanni says, “[so] it’s a matter of how fast you can recover from it.”
One of the ways to deal with failure is to find ways to pivot. But in pivoting, you should still try to be as proud of your new product as you were with the original concept. It’s a matter of adjustment. When he’d pivot on a cue, Giovanni would keep some of the elements he thought were working. It helped him feel as though he hadn’t wasted time and that he was ahead of time.
For Giovanni, this ability to pivot and still produce excellent work “makes me feel like I have superpowers now.”
Get Outside of Your Box
Moving forward, Giovanni wants to continue to apply Lean Startup methodologies into his work and the musical community. He wants his blog to be a place to present fresh and up-to-date methods for film composers.
“For me, the best part of adopting this new set of […] rules is that it takes the stress out of the experience. And the more fun you have doing it, the better you do.”
Giovanni also stresses the importance of exposing yourself to external cultures and influences, like reading books that are outside of your field or watching movies that are genres you don’t like. It’s important to not just close yourself off in your one area of specialty. “There’s something to learn in these experiences,” he says.
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