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I am not a composer, and I am sorry if the question seems overly daft or obvious. When a composer (I have in mind someone working on a DAW) is composing their own song, why don't they get tired of repetitively listening to it in the process of composing it? How do they, when listening to the perfected piece of music in the end, tell the difference between "it sounds boring because I composed it badly" and "it seems bad as I am sick of listening to it tens of times".

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  • Looking through the diaries and letters of composers should show this happens all the time. For a better answer than "Nuh-uh," maybe edit to elaborate on why you thought it might not? Feb 20 at 16:44
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    It's not really a problem unique to musicians; it's for any creative. Authors know about putting a manuscript in a drawer and leaving it for a while because they've gotten "too close to it." Even as a performer of other people's work I often hit the point where I'm sick of preparing a piece long before I have it perfect. As a kid I actually made one piece a promise that after the concert I would take the sheet music out back and burn it. I never made good on that... Feb 20 at 16:44
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    What leads you to believe they don’t get bored?
    – Aaron
    Feb 20 at 17:12
  • They could get bored, and a lot, especially for commissioned pieces. But, more often, they get annoyed. Not always, but it's not uncommon too. They may know that it's not "perfect" (as they wish it to be), but going over and over it can be demanding/stressful. But don't be misled: sometimes composers get "too" enthusiastic about their composition for some reason, and can even make their composition "more boring" to others than it probably was at a certain point. Still, most (MOST!) composers are able to tell apart some level of distinction between what they feel boring and what others may. Feb 21 at 4:08
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    The answer is obvious: because people who are unable to avoid or overcome this boredom don't become composers. Alternatively, they become composers whose method does not include a lengthy process of revision and polishing.
    – phoog
    Feb 21 at 10:23

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We do. Or, if not exactly 'bored', we certainly reach a point where there's no further progress to be made. Maybe it's just fatigue and all we need is a break. Maybe the project has spiraled into a dead end and we need to start over, using the same ideas but within a new structure. Maybe we've made so many tweaks and corrections that the best path forward is to start over and 'play it RIGHT this time!' Maybe it's just not working and is best discarded (though there will probably be elements and ideas that will come in use in future projects).

This all ties in with a common problem for musicians/producers, an inability to wrap up a project and move on. We find people who have been tweaking and refining the same song for years. FINISH IT! Then write another one. And another. The 50th might be good!

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  • Interestingly, this is my approach when I write poetry - endless edits, and never feeling it's quite there. However when I compose music, I always reach a point where I know I've done the best I could of my abilities within a reasonable amount of time. Feb 23 at 22:22
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Taking my personal compositional experience as an example, I don't get bored of listening to my own composition dozens of times while composing it because it is incomplete. I'm not going to get sick of it yet if the accompaniment isn't in or if it's missing at least one phrase. I'll only start to get sick of it once it's complete and ready to publish.

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  • Agree with this - I don't get bored because I'm not listening to the piece as a whole every time, but to specific things I'm trying to improve Feb 23 at 22:23
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Probably because, like any artistic endeavour, the article at any given moment can usually be improved upon. If not improved, then changed. I wrote a song in the '60s, as a protest song, recorded it.(That was the 'style' then). Only a couple of months ago, changed some of the words to bring it up to date, and now, it's more appropriate for today - 60 odd years later. Doesn't mean it wasn't good at the time, but anything can be changed.

Same must go for art, where an artist decides he/she can improve on an existing piece. Or an author, changing a character or sub-plot. Or even you, telling a joke, and changing the phraseology but leaving the punchline as is. What's wrong with all that? And, especially as it's our own baby, why on earth should we get fed up with playing around with it..?

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This question may not have a straightforward answer because it touches on a wide range of topics and different people will do things differently. I’m just starting to learn composition (mostly pop-song style exercises) but I can’t see that boredom is going to be a big issue.

It is important to be clear that the composer is a very different kind of listener from the usual music lover and they do not always listen to a whole or partially completed song ‘dozens of times’ while composing. Once a basic structure is in place listening is mainly a matter of seeing what works and what doesn’t and this can be done using quite short sections of the piece. A lot of music is by its very nature quite repetitive (e.g. the many verses of early Dylan songs, or quite a few modern dance tracks) so we don’t need to listen to the whole thing to see if a harmony change or a melody variation makes it better or not. The attention given is also quite different to what happens when we ‘consume’ already completed musical pieces. By the way, working out new arrangements of existing compositions can recall some of the experience of composing.

There is also a really important point to make which has already been mentioned in other answers. If the music you’re composing is any good then you’re not likely to get bored listening to it multiple times. In fact many kinds of music can be listened to hundreds of times without the listener getting tired of it. If the composer is getting bored then they are likely to drop the piece and move on to something else (except perhaps when a deadline or a commission requirement forces a professional to do the best they can with something they really would rather drop).

This tolerance to (or desire for) listening to something over and over is an interesting topic in itself. If you’re composing for a band while playing in it and don’t like hearing the same piece repeated then you’re unlikely to enjoy playing the concerts! Some composers will try to reinvent the song each time it’s played (Bob Dylan again perhaps) but for a range of genres audiences want to hear exactly the same notes played each time. Still, a player is also a different kind of listener to someone in the audience, and the feelings experienced during a performance are rarely boredom (in my experience).

The question specifically mentions a composer using a DAW. This makes little sense in pop music where some noodling on the piano or guitar and a sheet of paper and pen are normally enough. For those using a DAW, my image is doing a quick demo of a piece either partially or fully completed, or more likely someone cutting and pasting loops and samples perhaps for a dance track or some ambient music. In this case it is interesting to try to separate composing, arranging and producing. I know how boring reviewing multiple imperfect takes of an instrumental track can be so I have a lot of sympathy for those who need to put together a final version, but this is not really a problem for the composer if they are not also the arranger and producer.

This leads to the last topic I’d like to mention. There are some kinds of music which are not necessarily intended for focussed listening (dance, ambient, etc.) but the composer/arranger/producer is the same person so they might need to have a high tolerance for listening to repetitive or ‘uneventful’ music. And my impression is that they do. The personality of whoever is making the music plays a big role in all this. There is a nice statement from Vince Clarke in a recent interview in Future Music (p 48): “I find doing all of that tedious stuff quite satisfying. I like attention to detail, listening to things very, very carefully and figuring out what parts can be edited to fit the other parts. That’s why no one ever visits me in the studio.” Btw I’m not suggesting that Clarke’s music is dull to listen to! :)

Those who get bored easily will change their workflow, while those who enjoy tweaking every little detail and listening over and over will keep doing it. There is probably no universal strategy for avoiding boredom, and every artist will find their own way to enjoy making music (or they’ll stop).

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I can't claim to be a composer, but I've worked on developing composition skills over the years, and I've listened to my own writing many, many times during the writing process.

You can get bored with your own work. But "bored" might not be the right word. Frustrated, confused, uncertain, etc. might be better words to describe the feelings during the revision process.

Another thing I notice might be described as becoming "numb" to the music. After lots of repeated listening musical effects can sometimes "wear off" and you don't seem to react to them. One thing I do to mitigate that is change the key of the music, usually just going up or down by a half step. If you compose, or notate, in notation software, transposing that way is very easy. The transposition is like a palette cleanser and lets you have the music fresh again. Another similar approach is to make small tempo changes to bring about a new, refreshed feel. Also, just giving something a rest for a few days works too.

For me personally, a lot of the troubles describe above were from the music being bad and boring, rather than boredom from repetition. To the extent that my ability to compose has improved, the process happens faster, and involves less fruitless "revision." When you don't really understand your compositional elements you can spend a lot of fruitless effort on "revision."

For a seasoned composer I imagine they spend more revision time considering various options each of which may be musically viable. But I would expect that is the very thing which makes composition interesting and a life pursuit rather than boring. When the final product is good, it's worth repeated listening.

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