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 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 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