Which hill to die on-(a composer’s guide)

My wife said something to me last night: “You’ll probably tell the truth and piss people off”. It was not the nicest of comments but it is something that is worth talking about.

There needs to be some clarification here. In a musical context I ALWAYS tell the truth as I see it, based on my experiences. However, in a business context telling the truth can be counter-productive. There is a phrase/cliche: choose “which hill to die on”. What that means is choose your battles very carefully. Not everyone is able to accept the truth nor is it even desired. Most times all of us want people to agree with our POV. Sometimes that doesn’t always line up with the truth nor does it allow you, the composer, to fulfill the job you were hired for.

As a musician it’s pretty simple-either you execute the part or you don’t

As a composer it’s not that cut and dried. We are dealing with people who react emotionally, most without musical knowledge. This makes communication that much more difficult.

I have found it much more successful to talk about  story, character, subtext to directors, producers etc. rather than the virtue of this note or that note. Also make note that this exercise is not necessarily about the “truth”. It is usually about agreeing with the POV of the director, producer etc. and figuring out a way to serve that need.

So the challenge of the film composer, or salesman if you will, is to stay away from looking for acceptance of your work. That’s nice but not necessarily the job you’ve been hired to do. More importantly is the task of being able to LISTEN to the director/producer, interpolate what they are saying into musical terms and always remember that they are the boss…their POV is really all that matters. If you lose sight of why you are there it is all too easy to let your own ego get in the way…silently sabotaging your relationships etc.


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