Good, Cheap, Fast

Good, Cheap, Fast


Sometimes I am tempted to have the three words of this title tattooed on my hand. Or even better, have these words tattooed on other people’s hands! Good, cheap, and fast represent the three corners of what is called a Project Triangle—a graphic example showing the influence of time, resources, and technical objective upon a given project. Basically the idea is that one can successfully accomplish any two of these elements in the outcome of a project, but that having all three is not possible.

For example:

  • A project can be completed quickly and well, but it’s going to be expensive.
  • A project can be completed quickly and cheaply, but it probably won’t be all that it can be.
  • A project can be completed cheaply and be really good, but it will take time.

This concept has been so true in my experience that I have come to consider it an undeniable law of the universe. It is surprising how many people and organizations have never heard of this, and do not take these elements into consideration when a new project comes up.

How does the Project Triangle apply to musicians and composers? Take a musical commission. A chamber orchestra wants you to write a brand new 10-minute work for a concert that is two months away. That’s a fast turnaround—you will have to put everything else in your life on hold while you work on the piece. The commissioning fee is $1,000—not very much, but that is the reality of the orchestra’s financial situation. Can you survive on $1,000 for two months, if you have to stop the presses for this commission? Or take a different scenario, that you have a teaching job or are a full-time student, and are in no position to drop off the face of the earth to make this happen. What to do??

Taking into account the principles of the Project Triangle, there are a few options for consideration and negotiation:

  • Simply agree to the initial commissioning idea and go for it. The final product might not be truly well done though. (Fast and Cheap)
  • Tell the chamber orchestra that you really want to make them a fabulous work, and that given the extremely tight deadline you would have to set aside all of your other projects, which means stopping your flow of income. Is there any way they could add a bit more money to the commission if they really want the work for that particular concert? (Fast and Good)
  • Tell the chamber orchestra that you really want to make them a fabulous piece, which would be far more fabulous if they would be willing to present the work on a later concert, maybe in four months, or even next season? This would give you more time to compose, while keeping the commissioning fee at the same rate of $1,000. (Good and Cheap)

There is no correct answer, only different perspectives on the same situation. It depends on values and what end result is most important. The same holds true for companies and organizations, whether the project is building a new website, opening up a new branch of the office, or expanding the services offered by the organization. Careful reframing and negotiation based upon the needs and desires of all parties involved can minimize bumps in the road towards making a plan or venture—musical or otherwise—come to life.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

3 thoughts on “Good, Cheap, Fast

  1. Armando

    Interestingly, I recently had a variation on the third scenario which managed to work in my favor. An orchestra which just performed a work of mine asked if I would write them something for the end of the season. There funding situation is not ideal, so I would have, like your hypothetical composer, had to drop everything else for a rather small pay out. So I offered a solution of my own: I said I would LOVE to write them something, but, could I do so for next season. Since they already had a piece of mine on the books for the end of the season, and it had already gone out in the copy for their season advertising, etc., I offered the possibility of having them program another piece, albeit one that had not been premiered yet. That way, they get essentially TWO PREMIERES for the price of one and I get to hear a piece for large orchestra that’s never been done before AND create a new piece for this group for next season.

    Sure, the money could be better, but two performances is better than one and definitely better than none.

  2. danvisconti

    Hi Alex, one of the thing I really like about your analysis of these types of situations is your recognition of the importance of compromise. Composers often suffer from crippling purity complexes that can inhibit oneself from coming up with the compromises and innovations that are necessary for the ultimate success of a project. Just as in in hunting for apartments, we can’t have it all; but if we’re both clever and sensitive we can find the best option for our circumstances. Thanks for your post!


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