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”.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Look for #8 on the Top Ten Myths of being a Film Composer next Tuesday.
I got an email the other day from a talented young guy who wanted to know the “rules” about writing for big band and orchestra. The following is my email response:
Based on your questions I would suggest that you look at classic lit. Buy yourself a pocket score to LaValse by Ravel and a good recording. If you are really motivated do a 6-10 stave piano reduction of the score. Use your ears and really listen to how the sections interact. There are no hard and fast rules…each situation is different which means you have to look at it from a different perspective. Never forget you are writing music to generate an emotional response from the listener. I’d say look at rules as a way to approach learning…not an end all.
Big band has its own classic literature
Duke Ellington-Sophisticated Lady, Mood Indigo, Satin Doll
Benny Goodman-Sing Sing Sing
anything by Count Basie in the late 50-s early 60’s preferably billy byers or quincy jones arrangements
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis of the late 60’s early 70’s.
you have to remember that benny goodman and swing was the heavy metal cutting edge music of its day.
Listen to all of it.
Identify rhythm,melody and harmony. Musicians play music from left to right….not vertically. A flute player is concerned about the line/counterpoint they are playing….not so much what chord it is.
Do takedowns of what you hear.
This could easily take you 1-2 years but after a while you’ll begin to see the relationships.
My education was similar to this approach but mostly listening to great music and trying to figure out what everyone was doing.
You asked…so there it is.
I’m open to emails from all so fire away.