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.”
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.