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I started film composing around six years ago, apparently. Facebook reminded me of that yesterday. The ‘On This Day’ feature popped up a photo of my “studio” February 2010. It must have been right after we bought my mac desktop and loaded up my new film composing software (Digital Performer) and a few synths and orchestral libraries. As you can see I have everything set up on the dining room table, right across the breakfast bar from the kitchen. What is the saying? “Curse not the day of small beginnings.”

Studio Then and Now

I remember being all excited to dive right in and then almost immediately being stalled, struggling so bad because I couldn’t even get the metronome to work. THE METRONOME! My ego was bruised (“But I am So Good with computers!!!) and I was fearful of all the hard work that lay ahead. However, I acquired some expert help. I kept working, kept learning and here I am today.

The last six years have been interesting. Thankfully I made some decisions early on that have paid off down the line. The main driving force behind the decisions was the idea of investment. I was painfully aware at the beginning that even though I believed I was good at the craft (and getting better every day) I had few credits and no years of experience specifically in film scoring. But everyone starts at the bottom, so I decided to look for people who were at the same place at me but were most definitely going places.

How do you tell? I have no crystal ball, I assure you. Here’s what I look out for: do I like the project? Does it have legs? Do the meetings feel productive and exciting? Good vibes and happy feelings go a long way: we’re working in the arts after all. Other things: organization. Good communication skills. Lack of flakiness. Invoices paid on time. Happy cast and crew. And remember: if they are good, they are watching you for all the same things. Are you delivering on time? Are you easy to work with? Are you putting out a good product? This is definitely a two-way street and there’s not point investing in them if they never want to work with you again.

So: what if the project doesn’t have legs? What if the director is a flash in the pan? Should you not take the gig? Or if you do, should you feel bad about it? Nope. There is someone else you must always invest in: you. One way we invest is making good music, and it is even better if we get paid to do it, right? I take gigs that are low paying or potentially will go no where simply because it gets me off my arse and writing music and getting paid to do it. I always make sure to retain full ownership of the music, that is key. Then something you got paid only $100 for you can now reuse and keep making more and more money off it. In addition to cold hard cash there is experience, credits, and relationships with that other person on the crew that clearly will be working on better projects very soon.

The most important thing to do in this business is to have a long term view. The life of a film composer, or an actor, or a writer, is all about being relentless. Hanging in there. Not giving up and continually finding ways to survive while simultaneously creating and innovating. Everything you do should have a place in your overall game plan of making it; making an enjoyable existence in your field. Note: it is OK that the game plan this month is different than last month. That is all part of evolving and learning.

So: happy investing, people. Invest in yourself and find other people in your field that are equally worthy. I’d love to hear your stories of your investments paying off! The thing that is exciting about my career right now is that people I invested in at the beginning of our careers are now coming back with bigger budgets and cooler projects and they still want to work with me. It is amazing and incredibly gratifying. I wish the very same for you.

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

and

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.

 

 

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.

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.