Part 2: Day By Day

(Check out Part 1 here.)

I want to seize the moment and better my self. Improve my life. Be the best I can be personally and professionally. I want to DO something with my life. I want to honour the abilities I possess. I have so many good ideas and big dreams. I have goals, man. Goals. Huge ones. But are pursuing lofty goals the best way to go, or is there a better approach?

I recently started researching the issue of goals versus habits and made some very interesting discoveries. I read two articles which frankly, have been life changing:

Scott Adams’ Secret of Success: Failure


Forget About Setting Goals: Focus On This Instead

I don’t want to regurgitate these articles in short form, you should read them yourself. But let me share with you my thoughts and actions as a result of spending time pondering the ideas presented.

Goals are intimidating. And they look huge because, frankly, they are – at least for me. They represent a culmination of a long journey. I have been journeying in music a long time already and know that along the way the ultimate destination may change. It has for me, a few times. So it makes more sense to focus on the journey, what happens day to day, and let the resolution of that journey take care of itself.

Not only does it makes sense, it is much more rewarding to focus energy on what is going to happen today, instead of where you want to be in a year’s time, even though those two things are ultimately related. Daily you have the opportunity to achieve something and feel great. Or maybe you don’t achieve anything but all you have to do is go to sleep before trying again. We all crave instant gratification, right? Let’s use that addiction to our advantage!

The question I now ask myself is: what do I need to do today to move me towards my ultimate goals? What daily habits do I need to form in order to be the person I want to be?

The first one I tackled was journaling. This is an easier one for me because I really enjoy writing. I also paired it with one of my other favorite activities: drinking coffee. I have always known journaling was a good thing for me because of the way I process life, and it was surprising how often I avoided it in the past. When I journal I hold myself accountable and face up to how well, or poorly, I am doing. Not always easy to do, thus the avoidance. I knew that it would therefore be a great tool in helping me develop further habits. I have journaled almost every day since I committed to it in December. It has been good for my mental health and has helped me, as I predicted, in developing other habits.

When deciding what habits to develop I imagined walking to a room in ten years time and seeing myself. What was she like? How did she live? What had she done? Then I thought about what I could do today, tomorrow and the next day to become that person. I made a list of habits to develop to place me on that road and keep me there. I’m happy to share some of them with you, but they aren’t earth shattering. They are simply important to me.

The habits I’m developing include composing more prolifically, practicing piano, moving more (walking, running, yoga), eating better, quality time with loved ones……… I told you: nothing especially remarkable! But every time I journal I check in with myself. How did I do today? If I composed, played piano, did yoga, and ate healthfully then let me tell you: I feel brilliant! And if I didn’t achieve anything then I look to the next day: how can I find a way to fit those things in tomorrow? How is the day shaping up?

The thing I love about all this is that it feels easier, so much easier and much more rewarding. When I look at the habits I want to develop it feels achievable. Fun, even. I do not feel intimidated. Rather I feel empowered.

There is so much more evidence on the power of habits and I encourage you to check it out. Apparently it takes at least two months to develop a new habit. It is not going to happen overnight, nor without a lot of work. But nothing worth doing is easy.

What I have always kept with me on my creative journey is the idea of being relentless. Being a weed, constantly growing, pushing through every obstacles into the light. I know see those habits as making me stronger, each healthy a habit is like a power-up, aiding my relentless pursuit of my creative life.

I will leave you with this post from Mark Manson who asks the question: What are you willing to struggle for? Surely becoming the person we want to do be, and having a fulfilled creative existence, is worth every bit of energy we can muster.

I would love to hear your thoughts. All the best as you continue your creative journey.



Part 1: My Response to Losing Heroes

We were finishing up watching the Golden Globes and looking around twitter when my husband showed me the post that had just showed up on both Bowie’s FB and Twitter. My stomach dropped into my toes but we assured each other it was just another celebrity death hoax. But an hour later it was clear: Bowie was gone. It was unbelievable. A few days later I awoke to the news of Alan Rickman’s passing, also cancer. He was one of my all time favorite actors, I was so sad. Both of these on the heels of losing Lemmy. And then the news of Glenn Frey. Today I read the sad news that a local musician and music teacher had been suddenly killed in a horrific car accident, the result of street racing. These are crazy times, and when you review everything happening in such close succession it is overwhelming.

At this point I have to find a way to take this heart breaking information and turn it into something positive in my life. It is too easy to just dissolve in grief and fear of my own impending finale. What to do? Well I have nothing earth shattering to announce. You know the answer: Just Do It. Do the thing you want to do.

Bowie left us after releasing his 25th album. Moreover, everything he put out was something fresh. An incredible innovator, he continuously reinvented himself, pushing past the last boundary he had created. Amazing.

One my mentor’s recently lost her partner of 2 decades to cancer. She exclaimed  to me the other day “Every day you are cancer free you should be celebrating!” and it is so true. So often we need a wake up call. A brush with death, loss of someone close to us, hitting rock bottom. Hopefully as we face the new year these great losses will be enough to get us up and creating.

However, deciding to make a change is just the first step. How to you maintain the momentum beyond that first push is extremely challenging. This has been the subject of much thought on my part and will be the subject matter for my next blog post.

Coming soon, stay tuned!

2016: Work The Problem

Welcome to 2016. I have to say, I am feeling optimistic about this year. Last year was challenging for a lot of reasons. To be candid, I feel I walked through the fire and I am glad to be on the other side. Along the way I learned so many lessons and through doing so gained some great problem-solving skills to tuck into my tool belt.

Over this holiday season I watched two great shows which really inspired me for 2016. One was The Martian – finally, I know, late to the party. And the other was The Long Way Round which we have already watched a number of times, but it is always a wonderful viewing experience.

The Martian is all about problem-solving. Matt Damon is stranded on Mars and finds a way to continue surviving and communicate with the outside world all while being completely isolated and alone. It’s awesome. My favorite moment was when he was so close to being rescued but there was a problem with how his little spacecraft was going to intersect with the spaceship of his colleagues. The Captain listens to everyone stating all the issues and then she says “work the problem, people.” Love it. I hope to hear her voice in my head all year. Reminds me of Project Runway’s designer mentor Tim Gunn and his mantra: “Make it work”. I repeat it to myself when battling away on a challenging cue.

The Martian is a great sci-fi story with wonderful lessons and great adventure, but it is fiction. If you want to experience a real life lesson in working the problem, watch Long Way Round. Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman took on the challenge to ride motorbikes the long way round the world, through Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

This documentary series is full of challenges from the very beginning. Even though they had substantial financial resources, many of their problems were a result of mother nature, or red tape or time and could not have been resolved with money. It was great seeing them work through every issue. Sometimes it required asking for help, even though that was uncomfortable or embarrassing due to foreign cultures and languages. Sometimes it required patience. The only option was to stop and wait it out. Sometimes it required getting really creative. But every issue had to be faced and tackled. There was just no other option, literally no where else to go.

Watching Long Way Round I felt like the longer they were on the journey the more they trusted the problem-solving process. Their confidence grew even as the level of difficulty increased. The panic was replaced by patience. It was beautiful.

My goal this year is to openly face the challenges that come my way, and I am sure there will be a few. There always is, right? I want to approach them with the quiet confidence that I can work the problem. I pledge to first breathe, then be creative, patient and to ask for help when I need it, even if it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to go into this year scared of impending challenges, I want to embark on this new adventure believing that I have what it takes to work through every one.



2015: A Great Year of Film & Music

Hi Friends,

Happy Holidays! I am sorry I have not been in touch for a while – a long while – and I will be communicating moving forward at least once a quarter.

There is so much to tell you about!

2015 was a crazy year. It started with a bang when I found out that I was the composer for the documentary Gold Balls. I had been hoping to land that project for a few months as I think it is a fantastic story and I am a big fan of the director, Kate Dandel, and her vision. Gold Balls is a documentary about five contenders for the National Championship in tennis. And they’re all over age 80. It is a story about individuals who are filled with passion and refuse to be sidelined by aging. Now that 2015 is almost over the film is almost complete. I am thrilled with the score. I had the opportunity to work with great live players and create some really fun life-filled music.

Around the same time I started scoring the very important documentary Speaking of Dying, a film about community-based end-of-life planning as pioneered by chaplain and facilitator Trudy James. This project has gone on to be seen by so many people around the states, helping them begin the conversation about end of life and prepare for a good death. I know it sounds morbid, it is a hard thing to discuss, but such an important thing all the same.

At the beginning of February I jumped on a plan to Tasmania to spend three weeks of quality time with my family. The hour before my plane arrived in Hobart my dad had a terrible accident and as soon as I landed I went to the hospital. My time at home was very different than expected but I was so thankful to be there during such a hard time. Despite fractured vertebrae and a collapsed lung, My dad was recovering well when I left but then my mother had to have spinal surgery two weeks after I arrived back in the US. Then my dad needed more minor surgery to aid in his recovery. It was such a brutal time but we received so much support from friends near and far. I feel closer to my family than ever, despite still being far away. Family and friendship is an incredibly precious thing.

When I arrived home it was full steam ahead on so many wonderful projects. This year I scored the documentaries Gold Balls and Speaking of Dying, the horror feature The Basement and reworked my score on the ongoing feature drama Scapegoat. I scored some amazing shorts, notably the LA production Toxic Temptation, written and directed by Tatum Miranda, which had wall-to-wall score and was recorded with amazing LA musicians from the Helix Collective. I had the same opportunity with the short Zombie which I scored through the Helix Collective’s Live Score Festival. I was paired with a great filmmaker and created a score for his film which was performed live in downtown LA and then recorded at SpeakEasy Studios. Such an awesome experience. The fantastic bi-lingual short Pearl, written and directed by Amy Sedgewick, has been traveling around the world winning many awards including Best short at both Mexico International Film festival and Madrid International film festival. Other great shorts I had the honour of scoring were Dirty Laundry, written and directed by Jessica Martin, Baby Steps directed by Ty Huffer and Painted Mara directed by Jo Vernon. I also wrote a song for the multi-award winning short Come Away with Me directed by Ellen Gerstein. The song was performed by American Idol alum Hollie Cavanagh.

I have also had some other interesting projects to work on. I recently finished doing the string arrangements for Tatum Miranda‘s hip hop album that will be released in 2016. I had the honor of working with some phenomenal string players and it was so interesting and rewarding to work strings into great songs with awesome melodies, vocals and beats. It was one of the highlights of my career thus far. I continued to work on the web series Capitol Hill in collaboration with another great composer and friend, Morgan Pearse. I scored the Traffic Genie project for the City of Seattle. The traffic genie will help you figure out the traffic in downtown Seattle, while accompanied by my music! I also scored the Girls Make Games video game The Hole Story, now out on STEAM and and started scoring the Gaming Colts video game Alicorn Princess Blast. I also have been working on co-writing and co-producing an EP for singer-songerwriter Christia Crocker.

In addition to doing all of my own projects I continue to work for composers Jason Staczek, Miriam Cutler, Alex Shapiro and Laura Karpman. I am so thankful that I get to assist these wonderful established composers. I continue to learn so much. In exciting news: at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 I did the music prep for Miriam’s score for the acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground. The film is now short-listed for oscar nomination and Miriam’s score is also a contender for nomination. It has been incredible to be a small part of such an important doc. You should check out Lady Gaga’s song that she contributed to the film, it is beautiful.

Feel free to have a listen to some of the music I created this year on my Taste of 2015 playlist. You can see some photos from it here.

Thank you for your continued support. I am overwhelmed by the love and appreciation I receive from you. Here’s to a great 2016 for us all!

Say Yes

Sorry I have been so absent from writing. It has been a crazy year and 2016 is just around the corner. This year has been incredibly busy for me, almost to the point of being overwhelmed. But not quite, for reasons I will go into as we progress.

If you are a composer, or just someone with intellectual curiosity, listen to a panel with Mark Isham. He is very honest and transparent about his process. This is when I heard the first convincing argument for Yes. Isham would say no because he was busy with a project and then the project he was on would experience a timeline shift. Suddenly: you have no work. You say yes, and then when you get too busy you hire people. Genius.

A great way to get started in any business is being one of those people who step in when they get busy. Even though I am a ‘fully-fledged composer’ I work for more established composers when they get busy. You cannot buy that kind of education. In fact, you’re getting paid to learn! You get to see them work on the kind of projects that you hope to score, see their process and workflow. It is brilliant. I am so thankful for the time I spend assisting others, no matter how humble the work, because the information and mentorship is precious.

I am getting to the stage that on some of my projects I can bring on people to assist me. There is nothing better than hiring people you love to work with you on projects. It is my goal to be able to do this more and more. It feels great, and it makes me feel like I am putting good thankful energy back into the universe, hopefully help others like I have been helped.

Why are you saying no? Sometimes we say no for the right reasons: it is  not a good project, or you don’t vibe with the creative team. But sometimes it is because we haven’t done that particular thing before and we’re a bit nervous. Not sure that failure is off the table. Failure is always on the table, people. But say yes.  Your yes will not only teach you new things, even if you screw it up (actually, especially if you screw it up) but maybe it will get you to the stage where your yes will help those who haven’t been on the journey as long.

One of my favorite writers is Neil Gaiman and he has many great things to say on the subject of a creative existence. With 2016 just around the corner, I’ll leave you with this gem from him:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Want to be in the Arts? Watch Centerstage

Yesterday I was completely exhausted so I spent a much of the afternoon and evening in bed watching TV. When looking through the movie options on HBO GO I saw they had Centerstage. According to many sources (including NY Post, Vulture, Hollywood Reporter) this is considered one of the best dance movies of all time. I had not seen it in a long time, and I love dance movies, so I thought I would give it a watch. I am so glad I did.

Choosing a career in the arts is hard. Centerstage addresses some of the key challenges. I would like to cover a few of them because they are all ones I have wrestled with . FYI: SPOILER ALERT! This film came out in 2000, so you’ve probably seen it. But if you have not, and you want to truly watch it for the first time, read this afterwards!

Many of us have our creative start in our youth. By the time you are in college or really starting to “make it” sometimes it is hard to remember whether this path was actually your choice. You start to ask yourself “do I really want this?” And there is no right answer to that question, it depends on you. I was pursuing a career as a vocal performer and before that a violinist and neither of those paths were right for me. It was so hard because I had dedicated a lot of my life, time and money to those goals and realizing I didn’t want it was rough. I felt guilty. I felt obligated.

This is the challenge covered by the character Maureen, with the added complication of a parent vicariously living through your blossoming career. I loved the ending: she doesn’t dance the final concert (sending a very clear “I quit” signal”) and when her friends ask her afterwards if she’s OK she says “No. But I will be.” She was miserable and moreover very unhealthy in her dancing pursuits. Change was necessary. But giving up on something you have put everything into for so long is not easy. In fact it is brutal. You may immediately feel relief but generally it does not feel fantastic. However, you will be OK, eventually.

I think some people in the arts don’t even realize quitting it is an option. I have met fellow creatives who feel burnt out, bitter, angry and depressed.  When I hear them speak of what they do there is no joy. I wonder if they feel they have walked so far down this path that taking a detour, or moving to another road altogether, is not an option. It is. We only have one life to live, people. Live it with joy and fulfillment, not obligation and unrealistic goals. BTW if this is something you are wrestling with, read The Dip: A little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick with it). 

Sometimes we know exactly what we want. We love it, more than anything. But the very artistic community where we feel we belong does not feel we are the right fit. Meet Jody. She is a fantastic dancer, really good. However, her turn out is not good enough. She doesn’t have the right feet for professional ballet. The constant criticism in class starts eroding her passion for dance. But thanks to friends and to her drive to dance she looks to other venues. A salsa bar and then a dance class outside of the classical ballet world. She finds where she fits but it wasn’t where she initially expected. Her gift was unorthodox and she had to embrace that reality, instead of fighting against it. We have preconceived notions of where we want to go, heroes paths we want to follow. Openness to the path our talent takes us on is hard but well worth the work if fulfillment is what you want. Being a successful creative is an entrepreneurial endeavour. It often requires you creating a new trail.

The last example I found particularly interesting and that is Eva, played by the fantastic Zoe Saldana. She has IT, exactly what it takes to be a prima ballerina. But there is one issue: her attitude. The viewer is not given a lot of insight into why she has the attitude but I think I understand:

When you are a talented creative, and your giftings come easily to you resulting in a great run in your youth – being the best, being constantly acknowledged for your abilities and told how great you are – it is hard to take on rules and regulations along going from being a big fish in a small pond to a very opposite situation. Eva has to submit to the dress code, to the harsh way they teach and give criticism, to the very stringent boundaries that comes with the classical ballet world. She isn’t the best and has to work hard to keep up. At first she fights it and, as a result, misses out on opportunities. Her arrogance and insecurities let her down. But she eventually finds a balance between being who she truly is (remaining a strong, outspoken, risk-taking individual) while also embracing this new creative world and the requirements and culture that comes with it. Could this balancing act be more challenging? No. It is hard to be you and also surrender. However, I believe there is a way. This push and pull will remain a theme in our creative lives and takes on many different forms, so learning to handle it early on is very beneficial.

Is Centerstage the best movie ever? Hardly. It is a bit melodramatic and cheesy at times. But I saw myself in the story and I think it is a great way to examine our own creative journeys. Where are you at right now? Which character are you identifying with? Do you need a detour or maybe an attitude adjustment? Also the dancing is phenomenal and the soundtrack has a lot of good moments including Jamiroquai, Michael Jackson and (my favorite) Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2. Happy Viewing!

Don’t Just Talk About It: Do It!

We are coming up to the New Year. Time to make all those new years resolutions which are so often abandoned come February. It is December, 2014. In 12 months time, looking back, what do you hope to have achieved?

Since I am asking you to examine yourselves it is only fair I do the same. I am proud of what I have achieved since coming to LA two years ago. I have worked on three feature narratives and 2 documentaries. I have done commercials, video games and short films. My budgets have become larger, the minutes of music to dollars ratio has improved. I am seeing progress in my career and that is encouraging. Have you? Please, you need to ask yourself that question. If it has not, you owe it to yourself to ask why.

This year I plan to do more. I am not going to go into specifics but project-wise things for me are already looking encouraging for 2015. I have a number of gigs on the cards so it will hopefully be an exciting year. I still have a lot of hustling to do, though. No resting on one’s laurels, no matter how positive things look. In the film industry things can fall through without warning.

What do I want to improve? I want to be more prolific in my composing. I hope to write every single day if possible, in order just to have more material there when I need it. Also, I believe it is good to write out all the bad stuff so the good stuff has room to come through! I want to create more music this year than any year before. And this year I plan to carefully track my productivity as a way to both encourage myself and create accountability.

I also want to keep better track of my networking and hustling for gigs. Who did I talk to and when? Who do I need to follow-up with? How many filmmakers have I reached out to this week? I want to make sure I am as on top of this as possible. It is just too much to keep in one’s head. To be successful in this business you need to be on top of the administrative aspect. I believe I will do better if I am more organized.

What are you planning on doing? The key word is “doing”. I feel like a lot of people are talking. Posting on FB. Writing on forums. But what have you done and what do you plan to do? What have you actually achieved? It isn’t enough to look like you’re working. It isn’t enough to want to do this – whether ‘this’ is being a film composer or anything else. It isn’t enough to have a slick website.  Are you Doing It?

Film Composers: How many films have you actually scored? I can almost guarantee that if you score more films you will get better – especially if you are willing to work, receive feedback and then accept said feedback and improve. Composers have asked me “How do you find films to score?” My answer: HUSTLE. Meet filmmakers. Go to places filmmakers are and build relationships with them. Find out what films are being created and build relationships with the people making them. Make sure that you are providing music that they like, that speaks to them (after all they are the client) and if you aren’t, do that! Do the work. Do. Make sure you are doing and not just talking about doing or complaining about how difficult it is to do. What is in your way? Identify and find a way to clamber over that obstacle so you can Keep Doing!

Another question: Who is mentoring you? Who is giving you advice? My two cents: make sure you align yourselves with people who are Doing and not just Talking. People active right now in the scene where you want to be active. People who make a living doing the things you want to do – whether it be composing for film or writing or making films – whatever your profession of choice.

When I decided to become a film and media composer I reached out to every active composer I knew. People who had very recent and impressive credits. People who were in this career for the long haul, scoring the movies and shows I wanted to be scoring. The fantastic thing I have found is that there are so many amazing successful people who are open to help the up and comers. Reach out to successful people you admire and you may well be surprised with their willingness to answer your questions. Just make sure you are prepared and ready to ask intelligent ones – don’t waste any opportunity you are given!

Our time here is short. We all have daily reminders of this sobering fact. So I say to you, and to me, please don’t waste any more time. Put aside your negativity, your regret, your frustration, your fear of the obstacles in front of you, and focus all your energies on achieving something that moves you forward, as soon as possible. Take the time to share your ambitions, and your step-by-step plan to achieve your goals, to someone you trust and become accountable to them. Don’t let 2015 go to waste. Make it a doozy! And please feel free to write and tell me all about it, I would love to hear from you.

About Catherine

Catherine Grealish is a composer for film, games and media. Her most recent credits include the feature-length documentary The Art of Walking Barefoot, the video game The Hole Story and the short film Pearl.