Who do you want to be?

It seems like an obvious question, right?  However, I think answering this question can lead to some positive life changes, if you consider the answer. If you do take the time to think it through, I believe the follow up question that will quickly become apparent is: am I that person right now? I know I’m not. There are plenty of things I want to change. But as a result of asking myself this question many times over, the good news is I know I am on the path to becoming that person. It won’t happen overnight, and I will probably let myself down a number of times during the transformation, but I will pick myself up and continue because I am most definitely on my way. That’s exciting.

There are many things that can make us feel we are trapped. But we never are. There are so many times a day we make choices. What we need to do is to start paying attention to what we are doing, what we are saying and how we are spending our time.

One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling powerless. Some days I feel overwhelmed by my circumstances. I know I am not alone.  When that happens I grab the nearest piece of paper and I start making lists. I document what I need to do to get through. What I can do to turn it around. I outline a plan of attack. Just thinking it through and considering my options immediately makes me feel a bit better and a lot more empowered.

There is always something you can do. I feel like now more than ever there are many more ways to achieve where you want to go. This is the era of the entrepreneur. Just because you don’t have that degree or you didn’t study with that teacher, you don’t live in the ultimate location or have received that particular job experience does not mean you can’t do it.

Let me get a bit more real here: I am a film, game and media composer. But when I launched into this as a full-time career I felt like I came to the game too late as I was already in my 30s. That’s when I started my new favorite hobby: collecting stories. It is amazing to see the many different ways composers have found their way to success. Some were classically trained. Some can’t read music. Some were mentored by Hans Zimmer at Remote Control. Some were never mentored by any big name and instead had relationships with new directors and they rose to success together. So many ways to achieve the same goal! Maybe the way I “make it” will be completely unique. I hope so because then my story may perhaps inspire someone else on their way up.

Continuing my story: after recieving advice from many people in the business I decided that moving to LA would provide me many more opportunities to be successful in my field. But I couldn’t move straight away. It took another 2 years for it to become feasable. Becoming who you want to be and achieving your goals will most probably be a long term deal. But in that time I found ways right where I was to continue becoming a better composer and honing my skill set. There has to be something you can do right now to get better and closer to your goasl. What is it? Are you doing it yet?

Why am I writing all this? Because while you may not need to hear all this “rah rah rah”, I do! I am in LA. I made it through that milestone.  Things are going well and I see the progress. Yet I still have a long journey ahead of me and a lot more milestone to check off the list. But I know where I am going. I have a clear idea of how to get to there. The more I ask myself these questions, the more determined I become. Every day provides a fresh opportunity for me to be more like the person I want to be.

Catherine Grealish is a film, game and media composer based in Los Angeles. She is currently scoring the feature-length documentary The Art of Walking Barefoot and scoring the video game Ancient Aliens. Check out more about her work here.

Are you a Professional or an Amateur?

If you have read my previous blog posts you would have read me rave (at least once) about Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. This book helped me embrace the fact that I needed to be a composer. To that point I had been going after a “shadow career” (one of his very apt terms) as a music teacher but my soul knew that it wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to make a change. And I did! That was 2010.

I am still a work in progress; very imperfect and still very young in my career as a composer. I have been scoring full time since 2010 and in LA since late 2012. There is still A LOT for me to learn! I read a great article recently on how you reach certain plateaus in your creative life and I have been feeling it the last few weeks. I think the best way to put it is that, creatively, I have been feeling flat. Not enjoying the plateau, at all.

As you may know, I run a meetup for creatives on the 2nd Tuesday of every month in Los Angeles called the Film, Music and Media Happy Hour. Not only do I love creating an environment for people to connect and creative community, I also love providing the extra incentive of cool door prizes. Who doesn’t like a raffle? So I have been keeping my eye out for great gifts for creatives. On a whim I reached out to Steven Pressield for a signed copy of “The War of Art”, a book I fervently believe every creative should read. Not only did he respond to my email immediately, he also delivered with a box of books! The box included 3 copies of The War of Art, Turning Pro and The Authentic Swing.

Turning Pro literally yelled at me from the box: “READ ME”. Just the words in the title confimed what had been sneaking around my conciousness: we need to turn a corner. We need to make a change.

I am not going to do a full on book report because, like War of Art, this is a quick and easy book to read. You just need to get it and spend a few hours with it. Believe me, it is worth it. My husband read it today. He wants to re-read it tomorrow but ultimately that will depend on whether I am re-reading it……

What I do want to do is tell you about the changes I want to make to fully embrace the Professional existance. They aren’t earth shattering but I think, for me, they will make a huge difference.

For some reason, I hate making good habits. There is a rebel in me that just wants to fight that for some illogical reason. I often will stay up late just because I love it and I remember when I wasn’t allowed to. Now I can! So take that Tomorrow Catherine who needs to wake up early tomorrow: FAIL. Why would I not be nice to my tomorrow self and get some rest?!

Well, that Rebel Catherine has had her time. Now it is the era of Professional Catherine having her shot. I am going to create good habits. One of these habits will be that when I am composing, I won’t be checking FB, email, twitter etc. I will take the necessary steps to create a focused working environment. free of distractions, so I can Engage, have a chance to enter a Flow state and do some great work. Or not great work. Doesn’t matter: I will be setting myself up for success.

I feel a little more comfortable blogging this to you because today I worked as a professional and engaged in distraction-free composing. I composed for 6 hours with a short lunch break and time zoomed by. Now I am thoroughly enjoying a glass of wine and episodes of Season 10 of Project Runway because I feel Good. I created great music in a focused productive environment today and as a result I am relaxing free of shame and guilt. It is Amazing People. You should try it!

I am working on a few other professional habits: consistent practice on the two instruments I love (piano and violin). Consistent studying. Consistent  exercising. (Remember the Pricess Bride? “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”) I am sick of feeling guilty about not doing these things and I am tired of worrying that I won’t fulfil my true potential. If this is all there is, then one must give it everything.

I hope these words are helpful. It is humbling to tell you just how lame my previous creative habits have been. I always justified them to myself (“But I get a lot of work from clients from FB!” True, but even so: Focus & Engage. DO IT NOW!) However, if I want to get off this plateau and make the next climb, something needs to change, and I am confident this is it.

Happy creating, my friends. I really hope you read Pressfield’s books. I am confident you will be inspired and find a way to become a Professional, the way your soul so longs to be.

Find Your People

You want to be an Artist. A Creative. You have a calling……and it isn’t just whispering, it is yelling at you! It’s time. DO IT!

Now what? My suggestion: don’t go it alone.

The one thing I seem to come across way too much in the creative world is isolated artists. People who are battling away by themselves trying to realize their creative vision. That’s what I tried to do when I first emigrated to the US. I wanted to be a Jazz singer but didn’t know how to find like-minded people.  I took some singing lessons (not even in the Jazz genre!) briefly visited a few Jazz clubs and gradually became more and more frustrated until I stopped altogether and gave up for a while. I didn’t know where to look and I was overcome with discouragement. As you know that wasn’t the end of my creative journey (just the beginning really!) but for some it can be. Isolation can be devestating.

While creating art generally does require being by yourself for long periods of time, allotting some time to be with like-minded people can really help you stay the course. Finding a group of people you trust and who are not only doing similar work, but can give feedback on your work, can help reduce the crazy we all experience as we are trying to honour the muse. Remember 1920s Paris, all those authors, artists and musicians hanging out together? Don’t you think the community they created helped them achieve those works of literature, art and music that we now treasure?

When I decided to become a film composer I was living in Seattle, WA. The first thing I did was discover and join the Seattle Composers’ Aliance. I didn’t just go as a voyeur. I jumped in, joined the board and actively participated in what they had going on. Secondly, I found the networking event where all the local indie filmmakers got together every month and I attended religiously. But I didn’t just attend: I talked to everyone. When I heard about someone who was really doing well I emailed them and asked them out for coffee. I also joined Women In Film, joined the board and volunteered at events. I wanted to connect because I knew it was a major step in moving forward with this new and beloved vocation.

Is talking to strangers at a networking event awkward and nerve wracking? YES! Even for an extrovert like me. Some days I just didn’t want to deal with it. But because I stuck with it I got my first gigs in the business and made industry relationships that are still alive and well today. In the process I also found some dear friends. Quick Networking tip: don’t go and talk about yourself. Go and listen! Ask questions!! Be interested in what projects the other person has going on. This is the best way to network.

Once upon a time it was a lot harder to find like-minded people to hang with. But now it is easier, especially thanks to Meetup.com. This is a great place to start finding like-minded people. Also reaching out to organizations such as the the Academy of Scoring Arts, the Alliance for Women Film ComposersSCOREcastWomen in Film,  or the Society of Composers and Lyricists or something similar in your area and your field of interest. Become a member and show up at events. Here’s the thing: if at all possible, don’t just reach out virtually. Go there in person. Build relationships in person. Spend time every month in the same room as fellow creatives. I am positive it will buoy you, especially when you are going through a dry spell.

One more story before I wrap this up: I have a dear friend, Ron Jones, who has dedicated a lot of time over the last few years to build a community for composers. When I first decided to move to LA, I would travel down from LA to network and I tried to make sure it was when Ron’s Ravel Group was happening. He brings a bunch of composers together, they study music, a guest gives a presentation and then everyone has pizza and “spaghettios” (as Ron refers to it) and talks to one other. I have experienced first hand how wonderful this gathering is. As a result, when I finally moved to LA two years later, I knew I had a whole family of composers to hang with. I knew I wasn’t alone and, believe me, when you move to LA you don’t want to move here alone. This city will chew you up and spit you out if you’re alone. But If you have your people, it is a whole lot more bearable. I host my own meetup for folks in film, music and media – I hope you will check it out if you are in town.

If you don’t live in LA and can’t come to the cool stuff I mentioned, and if Meetup.com doesn’t have any gatherings in your area, I have a really crazy suggestion: why don’t you start your own group? Why don’t you be the Ron Jones for the artists or actors or musicians or poets in your area. Having a community can be a saving grace for lonely creatives. Make it happen!

Catherine Grealish is a composer for film, media and games. She is currently scoring the feature-length documentary The Art of Walking Barefoot, the short film Dating Stories and the video game Ancient Aliens. Catherine would love to hear from you so please be in touch!

 

The Fear I Share with John Powell

One of the best composer talks I have ever heard was from the final guest at a day-long LA Sundance Composer Lab event. We had already heard from the likes of Thomas Newman, Alex Wurman and other fantastic composers, music supervisors and industry legends. Last up was John Powell. I had been a fan since the Bourne movies. A composer who can make a bassoon solo work in a blockbuster spy movie is my hero. He does melody, he does energy, he does texture, and it all sounds So Freakin’ Good. And then we have the score to How To Train Your Dragon, which frankly should have won the Oscar in 2010. Did I enjoy the Social Network score? Yes. But Powell should have that Oscar (IMHO). However, I digress.

On that day, we the audience were exhausted but eager to hear what Powell had to say. He woke us up very quickly with his English wit and filthy language. I have never heard so many “F bombs” from any composer except maybe Ron Jones (Family Guy and Star Trek Next Generation composer). Powell described how Brass should sound – I can’t repeat it here word-for-word because honestly it would offend some people as it involved the words “rape” “bees” and “tits”, but let me tell you,  it was a hilarious and real moment.

Then Powell took us all by surprise. He said he was leaving the film scoring world for a while. He wanted to spend more time with his family, but also he wanted to fill what he felt were gaping holes in his knowledge of music. His goals were to improve his piano skills, study Bach and better understand counterpoint. This was fascinating to me. I also feel like I have embarassing holes in my music knowledge despite my extensive music education. (I have the student loans as proof!) Hearing him talk about this issue so openly was fascinating to me. As a result I had a burning question in mind and I waited in line afterwards to ask him.

It was finally my turn. I shook his hand and said the appropriate “big fan, love your music” type of things.

Then I asked the question. It felt highly inappropriate but I just needed to get it out!

“Do you ever fear that people will find out you’re a fraud?” (I couldn’t quite believe I was asking this of John Powell!)
“I flushed a little when you asked that,” he responded. (I couldn’t believe Powell totally understood the question!)

He went on to say that he absolutely feared this exact thing. I felt vindicated! And I was fascinated. I had to find out more…..

The fear of being called out as a fraud  has haunted me my entire professional music life. I have always looked at my peers, mentors and heroes and wondered if what I was doing even began to measure up. Did I have the right education? The right experience? The right amount of knowledge in the right areas? Didn’t everyone work harder than me? Was I even good enough to call myself a composer? I have suffered away alone, rarely discussing this with my peers.

Turns out this is a widely documented situation, known as Imposter Syndrome. Here it is, explained by the ever-wonderful wikipedia:

“The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

I find this intruiging. When this was first  studied in the psychological community, they thought it was a situation unique to women, but then upon more research found the condition in men also. You can read more about the research here and another bloggers experience with this very issue here.

I think the best way to counter feelings like this is to understand why we have them and acknowledge that we’re not alone. For me, knowing that John Powell feels exactly the same way I do, even with his level of accomplishment and musicianship, gives me hope. I share this with you in order to continue the conversation. Is this something you have ever dealt with? I would love to hear all about it and maybe we can overcome these frustrating mental roadblocks together.

Onwards and Upwards,

Catherine Grealish

2014: Time to get Uncomfortable

Happy New Year!

2013 was a really exciting year for me. I was finally here in Los Angeles. I was pursuing full-time my dream of being a film composer. It was wonderful getting to know the film and music community in LA. Amazing things happened and I worked on a lot of projects. Here’s a quick summary of what I was up to:

3 features
1 feature-length doc
11 shorts
2 concert works (one work for orchestra and didgeridoo, one song cycle for voice and cello)
1 game
1 original song for a film & 3 original songs for a musical

You can listen to some highlights on my soundcloud page.

However, 2013 is done and 2014 has begun. What now? How do I take it to the next level?

I believe the key lies in getting uncomfy. We’ve all seen that pic floating around fb: there’s a small circle labeled “Your Comfort Zone” and then a larger circle far away from it labeled “Where the Magic Happens”. I think they may be onto something.

I am reading another excellent Todd Henry called Die Empty. (Accidental Creative is also great) He has a whole chapter on this and his principal idea is (and I quote) “To make a valuable contribution, you have to get uncomfortable and embrace lifelong growth and skill development.” He believes that if an idea of something makes you uncomfortable, that is a clear sign that you need to explore further! He also believes that staying in your comfort zone leads to mediocrity and apathy. I have no intention of going down that path so it is no time to rest on laurels.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to composer Thomas Newman speak a number of times. One major aspect of his composing process is to bring ideas he has written to a trusted ensemble on musicians he has worked with for a long time. They workshop these ideas together, improvising and developing the concepts. Every time Newman talked about this, I would get very uncomfortable. The idea of giving up the control of the music and letting others work on it, maybe criticize it or (heaven forbid!) change it, it really stressed me out.

Often after composers chat for a while they finish the conversation with “we should collaborate sometime.” I have said this a lot, but recently a fantastic new composer friend actually followed up and wanted to schedule a time. I was so nervous! But thankfully I had Todd’s words fresh in my mind and I went for it and made a date. I am happy to say that the collaboration was a success. I learned a lot, little things that I think that are really going to help me moving forward.

I have learned my lesson for now, although this may well be one of those things I have to learn over and over. For now, let me wish you an uncomfortable 2014 where you stretch, grow and accomplish great things!

Cheers,
Catherine