We are all in the same boat. We all are being forced to adapt to the blistering pace of change we see in the world. It’s unsettling, it’s scary, and, worst of all, nobody knows what will happen next. Alvin Toffler predicted that we would live in a state of “cultural anxiety” in Future Shock. Who would have known that what he predicted in 1970 would come true?
For many, death is something to be feared…hence the massive pain we see in the world as we witness the end of the Industrial Age. And why is it that death is promoted as the ultimate “dark” experience? Are we even aware of what is dying?
It appears that the 300 lb. gorilla in the room is that what we have known to be true is not only being questioned, it’s dying. (Kubler-Ross talked about grief in her famous book: “On Death and Dying” ).
Fear not…what is dying is what we are conditioned to believe…not life itself.
Life constantly moves forward regardless whether we like it or not. Engaging fully with life is the hard part…especially when we are desperately holding on to the past to make sense out of our future.
Accepting is to let go. It is impossible to truly accept and be fearful.
If you understand the process of grieving you will be on your way to accepting your current circumstance.
The fascinating thing is if you let go, you won’t break. You will be set free.
If you are a business owner, a marketer, a concerned individual or all of the above it probably occurred to you that “community” is a buzz word that is generally misunderstood depending on where you stand.
Building a community is hard work. And, like any endeavor, without clear goals the chances of success are slim to none.
When defining a goal there are usually more questions than answers. What can easily be missed is in this process is the underlying intent behind the action.
Are you honest with yourself about why you want to build a community? Is it for money? Is it to satisfy your ego? Is it altruistic? Is it to amass power?
It can be all or none of the above.
Beyond understanding the building blocks needed to create a community (barrier to entry, influence, shared emotional values etc), it is important to be clear about your underlying motivation as well. Clarity of purpose (intent) and motivation will guide your every move going forward. Success will require following a predetermined road map along with enough gas in the tank to get you there. Intent and motivation provides the fuel needed to make the journey.
It’s a funny thing about human beings: we all perceive information differently and to a large degree will spin information so that it falls in line with existing beliefs (confirmation bias).
In “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell talks about our innate ability to determine truth from fiction based upon facial muscles, instinct, context etc. No longer is “do as I say, not as I do” a valid strategy. This falseness will be apparent to everyone. Like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, let’s hope you are not the last to know.
Building a sustainable community requires being clear about your intent and motivation. The quickest way to discover that is to look inward with honesty. Your audience/community will then be able to determine if the value you offer warrants their attention. If they choose to participate it will because they perceive that membership is of higher value than the real or implied “barrier to entry”.
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!
“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”