Saturday, 14 September 2013

When its Ok to be losing.

I realised recently, that I’m actually investing more time into ‘just trying‘ and by that I mean taking a risk in life and in this career trajectory. Its exact known route is a big a mystery to me, as anyone who knows me will tell you, but this is the key thing, isn’t it?  Trying, pitching and eventually, if we understand how we won those scars, the period in which we become a slightly better version of our former self. A composer 2.0 equipped for the next opportunity.
It’s tough to create an attitude based on being so thick skinned and relentless, but I truly believe it becomes second nature after a while. You pitch for so many gigs, you get so many rejection emails and calls, that you pass the gnarly patch of taking it all damn personally, and start to digest all the feedback and investigate the reason you came close but no cigar.
That thicker skin, that ability to learn is crucial for any creative. Being told no isn’t the big plague infested insult you perceive it to be. It’s a very powerful message and it’s up to you to take it in and move forward, to understand the failing and repair. I have had the conversation many times when your peers would discuss the merits of playing back your own work in a one man retrospective, a mixtape made just for yourself lol, and whether it has any value to do so. I’m a big advocate of doing this.I’m like most composers who want to identify what place they are trying to carve themselves out in the big ugly and brutal industry – some days I’m just convinced I’m the untapped game audio scoring king waiting to be discovered, the next day I’m thinking the day to day scuttle with placement and sync tv is my lot in life, and for those very special moments, we all bask in our own John Williams part of our mind. Admit it – you do this a little…….
But therein lies the point. You pitch for EVERYTHING, fear no genre or part of this global beast of a market place. Pitch for all your worth and shoot nice and high. At least higher than pitching for free film scores lol, pitch for things you have convinced yourself only the select few should be aiming for. And then what??? Well, wait and see. If you hit hard for 10 gigs and get 10 rejection notes, ask them why but in a constructive manner rather than “If you don’t tell me why you don’t love me, I’m going to burn your house down” kind of investigative probing.
This info arms you with something that is of great value. I’ve had so many rejections it tells me two things at the very least.
  1. I took part, I believed in myself and I had nothing at all to lose and all to gain.
  2. Every scrap of info I got in feedback allowed me to listen back to my work, and see what I did wrong.
So there you go. All ego encompassing retrospective playlists of works all by YOU, are by no means an evening with a narcissist – it’s an opportunity to see how you grew, how you digested that info and developed.
Ok, the reality is not everyone will tell you why you sucked, or partially sucked. Some producers, supervisors,agents,coffee boys, won’t get involved, you will just be told in the shortest sentence that is possible to type so they can move onto rejecting 10 other composers. But it doesn’t hurt to inquire. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When you do get a good chance to probe further or even get the elusive second crack at the title, LISTEN to what they told you. Some of this info is cryptic, and I mean really cryptic. The language in which most people speak in this industry (outside of any musicality or humour) is just so coded, we’re looking for another Rosetta stone made especially for understanding music supervisors. We’re still waiting lol!
I spend a few hours per week listening to older work, failed pitches and also all the pitches that you did win, digesting all the pieces of information from all this work and understanding why it isn’t important what your personal and critical taste is, you have to understand the commercial brand of taste and flavour. When you stop beating yourself up so hard, and wallowing in artistic self inflicted pity, you can step back and repair all your music and your bad habits. Don’t get me wrong here, I mean, seriously, who likes an email that tells them they sucked and why on any kind of regularity? But when you can translate that info into moving forward, those failed pitches will not only turn into shortlisted attempts, but positive wins and I stand by that 100%.
I also find this ‘journey’ you take whilst battling for work means you come to find a place you not only enjoy more, but you find areas of considerable strength. Not everyone will be the king of all things cinematic but will be much better than perhaps you or I at pitching for an album of flat out rock cues perfectly played, edited and sculpted for advertising. I’m no expert nor a spokesman for any composer, but I find it hard to imagine John Williams being the guy for epic dubstep! You, however, can be the guy who is winning those gigs.
So through a process of accumulating some battle damage, not taking it all so personally, moving on and trying again, you will become 10 times the composer in as short a time as 12 months. And in a remarkably evolved way. Then you can spend more time writing for genres and markets you excel in and let JW and co go back to being quite good at scoring really big films (and there is not one ounce of envy in that statement, I promise lol!). There is of course one obvious parallel to this entire blog, the guys who just won’t. And if it is you, then I’m not going to hurl abuse or become the almighty self righteous – it’s just up to you.
You only get something out of all this if you are prepared to really work hard and apply all the energy you do all in aspects of life into this. Imagine combining all the enthusiasm and positivity you carve up for all missions in your day/week, add them all up and then double it etc. It’s another tough thing to enter in to but it’s something that becomes a personal declaration that you will just devote so much time and energy into what it is you’re trying to achieve. But sitting back and being very angry at not getting anywhere, not being prepared to do any work, telling others how bummed you are, isn’t doing you or your poor friend any favours. Don’t get bitter, don’t project every emotion you can possibly have and bring everyone down around you 24/7. Just understand what it was you just spent time trying to achieve, and damn well try again. So the hell what if the next guy is telling you about this amazing big gig they landed??? Well that’s great, but after the congrats, what the hell does it have to do with you on a creative level?? Why are you now thinking this has any bearing on your ability? The kid next door to you came off his stabilisers on his BMX 3 months before you did, so what?? He didn’t turn out to be Matt Hoffman or Dave Mirra and it all has zero bearing on your path, and your growth.
No one out there pitches one idea and becomes a internationally adored composer with countless movies and extensive staff and catering in tow. Be relentless and remember, it’s ok to lose.

Thinking outside the black box

Thinking outside the black box
I have come to a recent and welcomed discovery of late. As much as I have become a collector of all things virtual, and the need to be up to date with sample libraries, and having the latest must have VST synth is deemed the way forwards, I’m now travelling full circle back to a world where hardware synths are not the enemy. I understand super fast productivity, I really do. I try and not let too many a day slip by without composing my heart into various cues. Even on a brief-less, project-less day, I’d prefer to sharpen my inner tool set and create. But I’m not powering up analogs waiting for temperamental VCO’s to reach barely tunable stability, I’m not loading in disk after disk of sounds via floppy disk (come on we still remember those, don’t we ??), or hoping a performance template on a Roland has recalled hours worth of tweaks. Oh no…..I’m firing up a basic work template and all my needs are up and running in a matter of seconds. On a bad day it’s a couple of minutes with a bigger template, it’s time absorbed into the duty of making coffee and scratching my behind in earnest. But for all those years of having it easy, and trust me when I say this, I’m a big fan of the way we have moved forward in music production – what has happened to the explorer??? What did we do with that inner kid synth tweaker? There is no love for anything that’s hands on much these days, and it scares me a little. I mean OK, if someone said to you the studio of the near future would be so seamless, you could just rattle off cue after faceless cue and spend as little time dwelling on the detail, this would surely be a good thing right???
I disagree, or at least I do now lol!
Once upon a very long time ago, I recall the utter joy and adventure of trying to coax a sound from a Prophet V. I know that wading through disk after disk on an Emu II+ just delivered so many A- HAH moments I have lost count of, that lost inspiration fix I got from hardware fooling that I don’t seem to get from virtual synthetics and Kontakt libraries. In fact it’s  little more some days than identifying what can be super useful for daily use, organising short cuts and mini templates, and making a mental note of where might be handy to go, again, in a super fast productive manner. But at what juncture in your composer life did you lay down and succumb to just plain ‘code’??
It all feels really disconnected and cold to me now. That quick fix joy of instant satisfaction is losing its appeal. I have a D50 that had spent years stored underneath my bed. A legend taking a long nap. But after spending so much time again harking back, I know that this precious time can offer so much more. So I took the leap of faith and bought a Moog Phatty and a Waldorf  Blofeld with more to follow. I just miss that exploratory side of me, when I’m able to really connect with an instrument. I know some of you might be thinking, ‘Yes but this is hardly being one with a classic Les Paul, a limited edition strat, a hand carved percussive instrument, or a luthiers wet dream of a middle eastern guitar of some kind!’, but its the exact same thing regardless of what you interact with. I do get some hands on vibes from my virtual gear, I won’t deny it, but it still feels somewhat disconnected and impersonal. Being face to face with just code and a GUI leaves me wanting so much more.I have no immediate plans to gather a world of synthetic hardware and struggle. I won’t be replacing all my instances with Kontakt, Omnisphere or Zebra with a poly Moog or a Elka just yet. But I will integrate, and whilst I’m making this cross over, I WILL be having fun again.
It’s not just gear lust, or being nostalgic. Ok, maybe just a little, but if  it does take a little longer one night (and let’s say we sacrifice watching our favourite TV show to spend an hour finding some amazing one off gems!), with our hands, connected, interacting, is this such a bad thing??
It’s what I miss about being a creative. I can program a virtual synth and I can mouse click my way through the process, but it ends up feeling just that, a coded process on a PC monitor. If you have any means to delegate some of your time to this lost part of yourself that you shunned in favour of a mouse gesture, I’d urge you to do it. Entertain the kid in you. That sweaty palmed teen who was so sure a Fairlight CMI would make you an 80′s super star, or that if you had one day with a wall of Moog modular you too would become Tangerine dream or Vince Clarke overnight. It’s good to feel this way. Its good to dream and be immersed. A lot of this hardware is very affordable now too. Ok, there is still an unruly price tag on a lot of analog classics, but search and you WILL find – that is for certain.
For those who remember fondly the good merits of hardware, that sheer moment of knowing you made it happen in a very direct way, that there was no super fast short cut, just time to digest sound, and a pallet of colour you forfeit when you just click preset sound after preset on Omnisphere etc – you will feel some of this longing too. And I swear categorically it will definitely make you 100 times the programmer you think you are now, or maybe you just don’t feel you are. It will instill that sense of joy and empower you with knowledge that directly connects you to the daily VST world.
So what about the cross over hands on tablet based apps I hear you mumble in discontent?? Well, you’re right. You’re so right. And the beauty of some of these is that with a little thought and not a huge financial investment, you can get that hands on buzz and a means to integrate into your setup with a lot less pain and potentially head scratching!
I would urge you to just take a leap of some kind. Even for the £12.99 app synth on a lazy sunday afternoon with the headphones on, trying not to annoy the dog with random saw wave/noise osc  meltdown screams, it does something positive to the creative in you. Even if it’s just that you play that guitar a little more than you do now, or dust off the drum kit in the garage/shed –  just make sure you have time to re boot and connect with expression and being connected with sound that doesn’t only involve your familiar PC/Mac rig. There is life outside of the box, trust me, and the rewards are there in spades.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Writing at volume and why you're more motivated than you give credit for...

This is one of those questions i have asked composers over the years and im now being asked myself, which is really nice and it feels like that one area alone has travelled full circle.

How do you write at large volumes and how does one remain motivated to do so??

The answer is probably not as complex as you would think and most of this i believe stems from trust.
That is to say, trusting your own gut feeling about how music feels to you.Its about how much weight you place on your shoulders.

I dont ever feel that any client, producer,editor etc can ever beging to compete with the amount of stress YOU place on your creativity.Its a lot of about over thinking it all.Placing a lot of stress over "can i be me and be original, can i show the world my own voice in every cue"

This is great, dont get me wrong, having your own way of writing and voicing is extremely important, but never for the sake of not being able to write at all.I would never let me inner muse get so bent out of shape trying to be a John Williams,Thomas Newman,Silvestri etc because in all honesty, its not going to happen.

What you find about your own sound and identity is what others see in this music.Eventually you will start to develop things about your music that are purely just you.The beauty of which , is you never really understand why you write like you do, and the honesty of your music comes from just saying "i do trust myself,its ok"

But that's the barrier isnt it?? Saying its ok to explore and make mistakes or take risks above your station, or so you perceive.
When i write during a typical month, i get all the cue calls, briefs etc and i just gather as much info as i can.
Sometimes, well pretty often really, the info is sparse and likely to change and evolve as the producer of a show for example, totally changes their mind midway and you have already written 20 cues.....

Dont worry, this is not only very normal but you will get used to it!

I just start with the genre itself.What is the place i need to be first and foremost.
Is it a drama led cue, comedic, suspenseful, do they want or need any synthetic elements, organic and natural??
Fast paced or ...well, you get the idea on that one.


When you know the vicinity you need to be in, and perhaps the pace as mentioned, you have a scope of instruments you can reach for, then you can start riffing those ideas.

Its only as daunting as you make it.I actually feel comforted once i know the location of that music.
And when i say this, its my way of talking riddles that makes sense to 'me' so your inner lingo will be what you use to voice your journey, but once i know im writing tension for example,
ill be in a dark room in my mind, or a nervy subway,maybe a apocalyptic waste ground etc.

Just a quick visual kick in the synapses to make you feel how those instruments will work.
Then i would just think of ways to make it develop, nothing too OTT.for the most part, the cues ill write will be massively supportive so just some light melodic ideas to sketch out.

And every composer tends to come from a slightly different starting block.Some think like drummers and percussionists(which i personally do), some are guitarists,some play a woodwind or brass instrument, and those among us have a great orchestrators ear for what can be done and what cant.

But this critical point right now, is the brick wall a lot of composers face.Despite visualizing the mood you need, even with all the right sounds at your finger tips, your riffing things and just erasing them/

This is that point i don't entertain that sensation in writing.I trust the idea, and i develop it.
I have always worked at great speed.This is just me, but i find working very fast and rushing out quick ideas gives me far less time to doubt them and judge them

Does that make sense???

well to me its the key.you can come back and clean up later, but working at speed is critical for getting ideas out before your demon tells you to re write them over and over.Write quickly and from the heart.
Its more instinctive to do so even if you think its a mad way of working.it works.

picture yourself on the airport travelator, the one that moves flat from one side of an airport to another, but for a lot of us, even though we're still very early to get to the gate which doesn't depart for over an hour, We;re walking with the damn travelator lol!!! we still motivate to move forward even though by its design, you can veyr much relax and stay put.

you see it alot.if someones late their running, so forget that.but those who still walk with a pace when their being moved, its cos you want to keep feeling like you are moving forward, that your moving things at a pace of your design.

Its a little extra motivation that you don't think of but you all have and in large amounts.I write just like this.
Even though the process with modern tech is very fast as it is.compare it with 1988 and you will at least agree on that point, it bares no resemblance.

but writing instant ideas, recording and moving on, you can get a sense of a piece of motivation you don't tap into.
Does it feel wrong and plain weird if you have never adopted this style??? yes of course no question.
But stick with it!!!!!!

push yourself to create, trust what you do and remember, you can come back and hone and tidy later.
In the same way your stomach has like a 7 minute duration where the info travels to your brain to tell you you're full up, its the same for me with writing.


The most i have got from this unspoken duration for me, is about 4 hours max.
But during this time, i can write and complete 5-6 minutes of music and sometimes a fair bit more.All rendered to audio and ready to post.I can break for a couple of hours and repeat the process again.
It is a style that is very in congress to what you will want to naturally do.

Does it sacrifice the music in order to become a one man production machine???

To my mind, the answer is very nearly no.it just doesn't you ever miss a trick cos you moved at this pace, yes you can but can i point out that many weeks after writing any cue, you still get this same feeling that you would have written in something better, more developed.

In fact years after you will have this sensation so its as norm as it gets.

I dont by any means feel like this is anything like a trade secret if any kind.It has worked for me for many years.Sometimes it enables you to hit your targets and still have time to spare.
This week which we are right now in day 4, i have written 6 cues and 2 product demos but i have time now to write this, listen and research,(which we will get to in just a minute),and spend time with my family.

Templates and how they work for you.....

This is a very controversial one actually as the amount of debates ive been involved with about using templates and then just running with a blank screen, you wouldn't believe.But despite having a good chunk of RAM and a decent CPU,i still dont employ a big template but this is largely due to moving around from one genre to another, that the template would just be a huge bloated mess for me.

Plus i like to have access to things i need when i can use them, not having a screen that endlessly scrolls.I enjoy the process of just discovering things as i need them.
Its part way a blend of working with limitations and also working with an endless amount of choice.

Sorry if thats a confusing statement lol, but by having a empty template im not drawn into certain sage decisions but by having a couple of drives full of sounds, i can discover little by little new exciting choices.

And make bizarre combos.We were talking about identity at the start of this, and this is another mechanism to promote that happening.By limiting what you see, we tend to compose too much visually now anyway,your being drawn into a place you can cherish and make a connection with sound that isnt utterly obvious.
And back to research,does it help??

Up to a point.i reserve the right change my mind on this one as time goes by © lol!!
but essentially for me, its learning what works in writing format for tv show.I can see what devices and tricks,meters, modulations,sounds,pace, works for certain shows.how they like their cues basically.
if you know what your client buys, you can write a lot better than going in blind or over confident that "you know best".
you do, kinda, thats why you were hired, but the customer still knows what they want.so research will mean you understand perfectly what your doing.

you combine this understanding with the method i outlined above about writing at speed, and your end result?? it will be many more minutes of music than you currently write, you will see a brand new perspective on your work that maybe others catch a glimpse of.
you might even start seeing your own voice appearing in music, cos you wrote it fast enough not to doubtr every measure.