Truth be told? Creating a Top Ten List about art is a dubious and pretentious endeavor at best. My goal was to create a format to be able to share my life and experiences in an effort to spur your mind and help you on your way.
Dreams. Goals. Desires….
…we all have them. Maybe you want to be famous? Maybe you want to be rich? Or, maybe you have such passion for the work that all you want to do is to have the opportunity to be engaged in the process of doing it more regularly.
If I were presumptuous to give you advice it would be these two things:
- be yourself!
- never, ever, stop learning
Think about it. There is only one of you. That, by definition, makes you unique. Celebrate and embrace your individuality. This is what will differentiate you from everyone else! The hardest thing for any artist to do is to understand and be clear about who they are. Give yourself some time for reflection to figure out who you are and what you want to be.
What do I have to do to “make it”?
If there is a “myth” we haven’t discussed it would being successful in life (let alone being a film composer) is not a destination to reach. It is a process to engage in!
There will always be new challenges to face, hurdles to leap and mountains to climb. Embrace these as problems to solve. Remember that very few problems do not have answers….they may just be difficult for you to see. I am very confident that if you are engaged in writing music for film that you are a “creative problem solver”. Learn to apply this special skill to everything obstacle you face and I guarantee you will be surprised at the results.
I’ve talked about branding, marketing and sales…methods to help you reach your goals.
There are no guarantees in the music business OR life! It may sound trite but remember that expectations not met create disappointments.
- Be engaged in the process without attachment to a specific result.
- Be in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or fantasizing about the future.
- Be kind and generous with everyone you meet…you never know when they will re-emerge in your life.
- Being an artist is a noble endeavor…one that feeds your soul and affects all who listen to your work.
What Is A Brand?
If I were to ask you this question would you have an answer? If I asked you to describe your brand could you tell me? Do you even know why it is important?
Let me ask you a few questions:
- What are your “Core Values”?
- How do you support (pillars) your core values?
- What is your “promise” (mission statement) to your customers/audience?
- Where do you want to go? (aspirations)
- If you asked someone to articulate who you are what would they say? (Brand Characteristics)
- How do you work? Who to you work with? (Culture)
- Describe your professional “personality”.
- Can you identify where your best opportunities are? Can you describe your image?
Your music is a commodity.
To be successful in marketing yourself you must start think of what you do as being a “product” that is bought and sold. Yeah , Yeah….I know this sounds hardcore. It doesn’t have much to do with making music. Or does it?
Believe it or not, I still get uncomfortable when talking about my music and my career…even after all these years. I have found, through painful trial and error, that when I think of my music as if it were an inanimate object I am much more at ease and less self conscious. I remind myself that I am expressing my brand not myself. I can then focus on the other person and be confident. Never forget- it’s all about connecting with who you are talking to.
What does that mean to you?
Think of your music as your “brand”-
which is to say that “you” are different than your brand.
The questions above describe the basics of branding a company, product or individual so that the reader or potential buyer can determine quickly (10 sec. or less) if you have given them sufficient reason to engage them in what you are offering. Doing this effectively requires you to be able to articulate your message (promise or mission statement) succinctly without hesitation. Rehearse your elevator pitch! It will give you a big boost of confidence.
In recent times there has been much emphasis on “branding”. You might think “branding” is cool graphics, great trailer style music, attention grabbing etc. Ever ask yourself how they come up with that stuff? (a great video describing what a brand is).
That being said: branding is about creating a shared experience that denotes quality, service and value that the user carries with them. To express these ideas to a listener, reader or employer you must be clear about the meaning of the message you are delivering. Here is an analogy: to be a successful orchestrator one has to learn how to write in “in the language of the orchestra “. Getting to the heart of who you are, what you stand for will make your sales process more effective.
What does this have to do with making music?
The more you work, the more chance you have to make music.
Your manager? Your agent? Your publisher? Your friends? Sales happen organically…I’m a musician….not a salesperson.
Let me ask you a couple questions: Do you want to be paid for your services? Do you want to make a living by making music? Do you want to be respected for the work you do? Do you believe that you are worth the money you are asking for?
Like it or not if you want to make money at making music you will be much better off if you accept that you are running a business. And, like playing an instrument, the more you practice, the better you will become.
Here is a dirty little secret:
You have to value yourself before anyone will value you.
What is your elevator pitch?
One of the hardest thing for the creative individual to do is to succinctly describe and express who they are and what they want. If I were to ask you: “who are you? what do you want? “how can I help you?” can you answer in 25 words or less?
My attention is the most valuable resource I have. I don’t like to waste it. Neither does a potential boss. When you find yourself in a networking situation have your elevator pitch rehearsed and ready to go. It’s a sign of respect and competence. It will give you confidence too.
Much like a first date it will be apparent in a couple of minutes whether or not there is any possibility of a good fit. The thing to remember is that timing is everything. Nothing may happen at first…but- if you are successful at making a connection you leave the door open for something in the future. And, you never know, a chance encounter may be the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Be Prepared. Be respectful. Interpersonal skills are a must. I’m sure you know people who seem to effortlessly schmooze with anyone. Let me tell you- it is a skill that can be learned. I’ve found that listening, paying attention, being attentive are great skills to nurture. Remember: it’s not about you. It’s about the relationship.
“People work with people they know….who they feel they can have a relationship with.
There are the rare instances when someone will hire you because they “have” to have what you do….but that is the exception. And, even if they did hire you….they still have to get along with you.
How do I improve my networking skills?
Think of it this way- you would never dream of performing in public without practicing first? This holds true with networking too.
- Practice your elevator pitch.
- Ask questions….about them! Most everyone likes to talk about themselves.
- Pay attention- make eye contact, have a firm handsake. Pay them a compliment.
- Focus on how you can help them….not how they can help you.
- Be authentic.
…it’s all about making the connection.
How does this get me a job?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There a lot of people out there. If you stay within those people you know your opportunities will be limited. And, you just never know where potential opportunities will come from.
Besides- you may not want to work with just anybody.
A successful collaboration requires intimacy and trust. It is next to impossible to share those amazing moments of discovery and invention without it.
“I have the artist’s disease- I want everyone to love me.”
Truth be told I hear “no” more often than I hear “yes”. It took me a long time to realize that my self-worth didn’t depend on what others thought of me. This is so important let me say it again: my self-worth doesn’t depend on what others think.
This gave me the freedom to be myself and just go for it…and risk rejection. And, if someone says “no” then I just remind myself that “I must be talking to the wrong person”.
What drives you?
Do you want to make a lot of money?
Do you want to be famous?
Do you crave attention?
What drives you to do what you do?
Even though I have had my share of success I really don’t think about any of that. I chose to be a musician because I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else! Some one once said of me: “You didn’t choose music, music chose you”. My motivation wasn’t derived by anything in the material world. I was obsessed by the process of making music…that was where I wanted to be. Consequently I did everything I could to put myself in situations where I could satisfy that desire. I practiced, I studied incessantly, I listened to music constantly all the while thinking that if I was the best I could be…then that was all I could expect of myself (Thanks Mom!). I kept my standards high…focusing on making the rewards of my journey intrinsic and unaffected by the outside world.
There are no guarantees in life, or in art.
Call it ignorance or naivety…the beauty of being young is that your lack of experience is actually a benefit rather than a detriment. It’s easier to take risks simply because you don’t know any better!
At 18 I joined a quartet (2 were my high school counselors) that worked a lot doing weddings, parties etc. The third member was a jr. high school band leader. He was one of the most bitter, disillusioned people I had ever met. How did that happen? He didn’t have the courage to fail. Rather than risk being rejected or failing he chose to take the “safe” way out. In the process he gave himself a lifetime sentence of self doubt. Poor guy. It just ate him up. At that moment I knew that I would rather fall flat on my face than not know if I was good enough to make a go at being a professional musician. I applied to Cal State Northridge and promptly left the small town I lived in. I figured: “Better to fail spectacularly than to never try”.
In my early twenties I was terrified by the prospect of having to make a living in music in the big city. It was my first time away from home. I had no idea how to get a job. I was uncomfortable in social settings. I had no concept of business. I asked my mentor early on one day: “how do I get a job”. I was desperately trying to figure it out. His response:
STAY HOME AND GET GOOD!- people will find out about you.
That made absolutely no sense to me at all. Gee thanks!
Even so, I had no reason to doubt him so I accepted his comment and went about my business. I decided to work as hard as I could to be the best I could be and let the chips fall where they may. Soon enough, people started to pay attention and opportunities arose…strictly because of my obsession with being the best I could be. In hindsight I understand the wisdom of his remark. all too well.
It would be easy for me to say that if you followed this advice you’ll find success in the music business…that all your dreams will come true. Truth is: no one knows. There is too much that is out of your control.
Success all depends on your definition
Success can be defined in many ways. Looking back at my 43 years as a professional musician, and 53 years as a pianist I can honestly say I am rich beyond words. I have been fortunate enough to know and work with more creative geniuses than I can name. .
Will you be rich and famous? I have no idea. But,
I do know this.
The first step towards success is to know who you are and why you want to do what you do. For anyone else to be able to understand you, you have to understand this in yourself at a very deep level. AND, be able to articulate it to others.
If you listen to your heart and stay true to what it is telling you it matters not whether you are filthy rich or a pauper. It matters not whether you have fame or live in obscurity. No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy peace of mind or a happy heart.
Life happens from the inside out….not by looking outside for validation, self-worth or satisfaction.
So…whatever it is you are dreaming of, just go for it. There is no shame in failing…only in not trying!
I don’t need to be concerned about the business of music-
You can call me “Schroeder”. I spent my youth playing the piano incessantly. I started writing songs when I was about 9. Most every waking hour I had a radio blaring in my head. I couldn’t stop it. So, I spent all my time pursuing that which I could not ignore…making music.
Because I had developed skills as a musician and was gifted with talent, opportunities presented themselves and I started working as a musician at 14. By the time I reached college I was a “working musician”. Even so, my goal was not to make money. My interest was always to find a way to stay immersed in the art of making music. This desire to led me to leave college the first chance I had to go on the road. I didn’t really care how much they paid me- I probably would have done it for free!
Setting myself up…for disaster.
Fast forward to years later. I had been working steadily for years…not because I had a great business acumen but actually in spite of it. I had an employable skill, was dependable and, for the most part, easy to work with. Things were great- until there was a problem with the business side of things. Because I had not paid attention to “the business of music” I found myself in numerous situations I was totally unprepared for.
The constant dilemma for the artistic person is to “balance”their need for expression with the pragmatism required to make a living.
In a perfect world I would wake up every morning and joyfully make music all day. “Oh… what a wonderful world it would be.”
Unfortunately the business or “your” business has to be taken care of just like any chore. If you have support staff: business managers, agents, managers, copyists, programmers, tech support, musicians, accountants, they have to be managed. You must maintain and be in control of yourself in the relationships with those you work with.
A few things to consider:
- Not everyone is a “friend”.
- Confide only in those you trust
- Be clear and focused about the job you are asked to do- if you don’t understand…ask questions.
- If you are going to subcontract or look for help be “specific” about what you expect from them.
- Use the golden rule with everyone you work with. This is terribly important. Your reputation precedes you. If you rip someone off, sooner or later it will come back to you. Conversely if you treat everyone with respect and integrity you will have more time to spend on music rather then wondering what people are saying about you. This is now more important than ever due to the transparency of the internet.
To manage your team effectively you need to be comfortable with basic business principles such as:
- read your contracts- fine print too!
- understand the “actual” roles of all those involved (agents, managers, copyists, etc) and how they relate to one another
- knowing how to budget your time and money.
- understand the “market value” of the services you provide.
You may be wondering about why business acumen is important? Today not only are we required to be expert musicians- we have to also create and manage a personal “brand”. I’ll go into branding in a future post.
The takeaway from today’s blog should be: understand business to the extent that you can operate effectively with those you work with and take care of yourself in the process.
Don’t kid yourself: this is difficult for everyone!
But- it is not insurmountable.
“How Do I Deal With Deadline Pressure?”
Many moons ago when I first entered into the business I vividly remember being panic-stricken about coming up with ideas on demand. At the same time I knew that if I didn’t meet the deadline I might never get another opportunity. I lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety. I had stress for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In hindsight I realize that the anxiousness was due in large part to the fact that I was completely undisciplined and unorganized about my time. I had no idea how to even approach the problem let alone deal with the situation effectively.
My mentor, Billy Byers, always used to say: “if you sit there long enough it will get done”. He was referring to the fact that most of us would rather be doing ANYTHING but sitting at a desk in a quiet room alone–for 12-16 hours a day. (remember- I started in the business prior to the advent of the PC). Needless to say I endured many, many sleepless nights.
Live TV has to be the most demanding job I can imagine. I would get an assignment on Tuesday for a show that would record on the following Monday and be on the air on Tuesday night. You have to be on your game because there is no time to do any rewrites. There was no time. And, if I didn’t deliver my reputation would read: doesn’t deliver on time meaning I was unreliable and no one would risk taking a chance on me. I couldn’t afford for that to happen.
What did I do?
I learned how to divide the number of score pages (or minutes if I was composing) into the days available to create a benchmark of how much I had to complete each day to stay on schedule. For example: I have 10 days to a session or deliver for a final mix. If I have 40 minutes of music to deliver that means I have to do 4 minutes a day to make my deadline. If it were an orchestration I would divide the number of days by the number of pages and then create an excel doc to keep track of all the details. I became a slave to my spreadsheet. I made a video about this that you can see on youtube.
The 15-Minute Deadline.
Back in the day I would write through the night to have music ready for pick up first thing in the morning. I would keep a small TV on my desk to keep me company and help remind me of the passage of time. I didn’t want to get “the stares”. Did you know that you can fall asleep with your eyes open? Many times the end credit music would wake me up on the hour.
When I really got stuck I would arbitrarily mark up the sketch into increments I felt I could accomplish in 15 minutes. That way I could kick myself in the butt if the alarm went off and I wasn’t keeping up.
I only used that in extreme cases. Whenever I had to do an all-nighter it proved to be very effective.
The point is this: to keep your sanity, maintain your health and relationships I strongly suggest learning how to be disciplined about how you spend your time. You can thank me later. 🙂
Coming up next: “Oh Great! I have to deliver on time AND BE BRILLIANT?”
I don’t have to worry about technique
Let me ask you: Have you every tried to build anything? Have you ever tried to put something together without reading directions? Have you ever cheated on a test or tried to get some one to do homework for you?
Let’s say you wanted to build a simple box out of wood. Sounds simple enough. But, if you look a little deeper there are many, many things you need to do to successfully build a square box out of raw wood. First you need a design with dimensions. Then you will need to figure out how to purchase the wood, what kind wood you want. Then you will have to cut the wood to size. Assembly is next followed by finishing. Building a box from scratch out of wood requires expertise (or at least working knowledge) of many tasks. If you are a carpenter for hire there is another dynamic to consider: you are building this box to suit some one else’s taste!
This is not as crazy as it may sound.
Direction (what type of score does the director want) = Design
Budgeting for production/ instrumentation = What type of wood do you want?
Writing cues that fit the film = cutting the wood to size
Recording your score = assembly
Mixing = applying finishes
I meet a lot of songwriters and entry level composers. Invariably when they find out I’m a film composer their eyes drift off as they daydream about hearing their music in film, darkened rooms, tv etc. Internally I chuckle because they have no idea what is actually entailed. If they only knew.
There is very little glamour in being a film composer. It’s just a lot of hard work.
Unfortunately the only way to survive in this business is to have a deep seated passion for it. I always say: “the only thing that will keep you company at 3am while working on deadline is your passion for what you are doing”.
So much to know…so little time.
The truth of the matter is that to be a good if not great composer requires a lifetime of learning and maturing. It never ends. Therein lies the attraction for me…every day is different. As a creative person this is why I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning.
Of course there are the obvious musical disciplines to be aware of. Add learning about relationships, networking and people to the list. This will carry you as far if not further than any musical chops you may have.
The 80’s were boom times. There was so much work that it became acceptable for less than competent composers to be hired to score films. If you needed help there was enough money to hire a support staff.
Times have changed.
As fees continue to slide it is more important than ever to become the best you can be. From a purely selfish, pragmatic point of view: the more hats you can wear….the more money will stay in your pocket.
From an emotional point of view….there seems to be a direct relationship between knowledge and anxiety. The more you know the more comfortable you will be in every part of the process.
From a creative point of view….if you embrace learning as a lifetime endeavor you will never be bored. There’s always something new!
The life of the artist is fraught with pitfalls most people are not aware of. Artists look at the world differently than most…it is what makes us unique. For me, being open and generous is my natural state of being. When it comes to music I have never felt possessive about my abilities. My skills are a gift from God. I had very little to do with it. I freely share because the music is not mine to own.
The art of being vulnerable in your business life is an acquired skill. In this crazy business of being a creative you must accept that wearing your heart on your sleeve has great rewards but there are also risks that are not always apparent.
I believe that to create my best music requires me to be in a safe, comfortable place and almost devoid of thought. When I am working for someone else, or, if I am collaborating with others there must be a high level of trust for me to do my best work. I am bearing my soul…naked for the world to see. If there is not that level of trust it is all too easy to be mundane and ordinary as a means of self-protection. Being ordinary is worse to me than being hurt so, I look for any branch in the raging river to grab a hold of to give me a glimmer of hope that those I am working with are worthy and can be trusted.
Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
No matter what the situation there is the distinct possibility that not everyone you work with will share the same values. In my case I have been used (and abused) by many who sought to personally benefit from my generosity of spirit. In the end that is okay though I could rattle off a laundry list of perpetrators if I were a bitter sort of person. You see, I made the choice to honor my inherent nature and optimism rather than be a slave to forces beyond my control. I would much rather deal with the sting of disappointment than wear the golden handcuffs. It is what makes me be able to sleep at night.
There is no way to avoid being hurt in this business. It comes with the territory.
The more appropriate thing to think about is how to set boundaries to protect yourself….WITHOUT hampering your ability to trust. Learn to trust your judgment. Learn to identify your true motives. Learn to listen to what your inner voice is saying. Weigh the risks and rewards. If you accept the risks you can deal with the disappointments…nothing ventured nothing gained. Learning to let go of your disappointments will serve you well in music as well as life. This reminds me of the Buddhist parable of the two monks.
Through all of my ups and downs I never, ever, regret engaging in my life to the point where I would potentially be disappointed.
Sure it hurts sometimes. But, the upside is so remarkable and richly rewarding that I willingly accept the risks.
And besides– tomorrow is another day! Quincy Jones has a great saying: “I have 28,000 days–I’m not going to waste one of’em”.
“I’m the composer- I’ll write what I think is best…”
Is there truth to this statement? Yes. Most of us, save songwriters who are accustomed to collaboration, are the masters of our universe. We spend a HUGE amount of time alone…we even talk to ourselves or our muse. One famous composer friend even has a name for his muse. He calls her Shirley. Long durations of muteness (being wrapped up in the moment) can create problems. When I was young I would spend hours upon hours, by myself in my studio. When I would take a break if the phone rang it felt like I had a mouth full of cotton balls. Long hours spent alone is something we all face in different ways.
I’m going to assume that you have already gone through the interview process, made a deal, spotted your project and are now left alone in your room to begin work. An empty canvas waiting to be filled with paint.
Early on in my career I had the attitude: “I’m the expert. I’ll make the musical decisions. I’ll be in charge of what music the direction the music takes. After all, I’m the one who has spent a lifetime becoming an expert. Right? WRONG!!!
Film is a collaborative medium
It became apparent to me almost immediately that I was uncomfortable and ineffective in a collaborative environment. I didn’t know how to ask questions.
More importantly- I really didn’t know how to listen.
I was so used to making decisions by myself I was a fish out of water. Sure, I was confident that I could write great music. But to be an effective film composer there are a couple of things to consider:
- The director (or producer) will not only have an idea about what the music should be- they will have strong opinions.
- Chances are if the director could do it themselves, that would…and you wouldn’t be needed.
- Directors are control oriented people. Talking about something they can’t control (music) can be very intimidating
- We, as composers, are not hired to be “right” about our opinions. We are hired to serve the vision of the director/producer.
- Arguing with your boss about this lick or that sound is career limiting. It works for some…but they are the exception
We are hired to bring our expertise….but our experience and expert opinions must always be expressed in a way that supports the director/producer’s vision be it correct, misguided or flat out wrong. I’ve heard it expressed in these analogies:
“I layed a lot of carpet today”
Where do you want the couch? The same place it was before we moved or where it is now?
Making a movie is a study in collaboration and compromise.
The quickest way to get fired is to argue about your vision being better than the director’s. I am not suggesting that you be entirely subservient (although it can be that at times). I am suggesting that you learn how to communicate in language that the film maker understands. Learn the language of storytelling.
If you express yourself by extolling the virtue of this chord progression, or the incredibly clever musical solution you’ve come up with…chances are the response will be a blank stare. If you learn the language of the film maker: plot, protagonist, subplot, character development, story arc, spine, backstory etc. you will be easily understood by the director and thus be able to communicate effectively.
The art of the film composer is this to:
- take direction
- understand the story that is being told
- bring the sum total of your experience and talent to bear to serve the direction you have been given
- collaborate with those you are working with effectively
- fashion a creative compromise that is satisfying to those who are paying your bills.
To paraphrase Carter Burwell: “I’m in the business of making people happy”.
The biggest challenge for the film composer is connecting the dots….learning how to integrate all of these non-musical elements successfully into a piece of music. (Yes…you ARE being paid to write music…not wallpaper as some might suggest).
Learn to identify all of the different pieces of the puzzle, serve them jointly and independently, and you will on the road to becoming a competent film composer (which means you are a “safe” hire).
Tip of the day will come on Thursday.
Next week: Top 10 Myths About Being A Film Composer-#7 “I don’t have to have any technique…I can hire someone to do that”
If you are interested in a private lesson or consultation via Skype email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week: “I don’t have to worry about technique”
What, if anything, can I control in my career?
Control is something we all struggle with as artists. We have a odd job to be sure. We are continually asked to invest enormous amounts of ourselves in whatever project we happen to be working on. We are also asked to turn on a dime if it’s not received well.
What I can control is…
how I approach the business and how I manage my emotions along the way. When, (not if because it happens to all of us), you get rejected, best to remind yourself that it’s not personal….it’s about the work and whether or not you were able to serve the wishes of your boss. Learning how to let go…move on is hugely important when you are being a creative person in a business world.
Because there is so much you can’t control I’ve found it best to focus on what I can control and let go of what I can’t. I can’t control what others say or do…but I can control my effort and energy. My dear mother used to always counsel me: “Do the best you can…that’s all you can do”. Sage words to be sure.
What I can do is to examine every project, every opportunity and try to grow from the experience. Believe it or not, the best experiences are the ones where you get beat up. Crazy but true. You will find that if you remain open and curious you will find something to gain in every experience you have. It is the ability to go with the flow that creates the possibility of a serendipitous act. As Quincy Jones once said to me: “we are all inundated with opportunities every day.” The trick is being able to be aware enough to be able pick the best opportunity.
Fact is you might meet someone tomorrow morning who will change your life forever. If you are not ready to receive it…the opportunity will pass you by.
Growth as an artist…
comes from getting beat up, picking yourself off the ground and getting back on the horse. Mind you- the definition of insanity is repeating a behavior continually thinking there will be a different result.
Challenges are always a good thing. If you come through to the other side then you will have grown as a result. If you reach a deadend you will have two choices: fold and go home or realize that your approach wasn’t working and you’ll have to find another way. Either way…you will be better off.
Keeping my sanity requires me…
to always be conscious of why I am doing a project and keeping the motivation fresh in my mind. Is it for the money? Is it for the love of the music? Is it a favor for a friend? Am I betting that something good will come out of it? Whatever it is…keeping my feet on the ground, well, at least one foot, gives me enough to hold on to so the ups and downs don’t overwhelm me.
When I was young I was humbled by the mass of opportunities that came all at once. At that moment I chose to focus on becoming the best that I could be…regardless of the circumstance and accept the result.
At the end of the day….all I can control is the quality of the work I do and I well I relate to those who I am working for…and that I can always…always get better.
Next week I will be talking about a hot topic these days: personal branding.
If you are interested in private lessons email me at: email@example.com
Look for #8 on the Top Ten Myths of being a Film Composer next Tuesday.