Thursday, October 22, 2009

How To Get A Gig

I get emails on a frequent basis from young composers wanting to know the answers to questions about getting a job as a composer for media.

I talk about these issues with my students in my USC and UCLA courses on Composing for Games. I'm feeling like I'm overdue in talking about it in blogdom, so here goes...

Q. How do I break in to this industry?*
A. People have to know you exist.
* This question could apply to scoring for film, TV, commercials, or videogames.

The very nature of my work involves me sitting in a small room by myself and interacting with (take a guess)...myself. Years of practicing my craft, schooling, study have done nothing to further my career due to the simple reason that the people who hire me don't live at my house. They're out in THE WORLD and I believe they're desperately looking for someone like me to help them achieve their vision for their projects. And I'm just the guy they need! If I could only just finish installing this new software...

What all those years of isolation have done is allow me to be confident in what it is that I can provide for my clients. Being a fine composer, orchestrator, conductor, producer, mixer, and technology guru means that I can handle anything thrown at me.

But that's not enough.

Having great representation for the level I'm at in the industry
Having a talented team to handle any schedule
Having a strong family of support to assist me during my emotionally rough times
Having a vision of what I want in my life.
Putting my work out there, in THE WORLD, for people to hear.
Making a concerted effort to meet new people every day, while nurturing old friendships.

These are all things that contribute to building a career and a body of great work.

Q. How did you start out?
A. With a touch of bravado?

On my first video game, I saw a notice posted on the web of a Belgian game developer looking for a "Hollywood composer" to create an orchestral score for their new game. I sent them an email saying, "I'm the guy!" I don't know why I said it that way, other than to note that, at that time in my career, after orchestrating and copying parts for 10 years on other composers projects and scoring some TV and independent films, I knew in my heart that I was more than ready to move to another level. The good news is the developers believed in me. That first score was Outcast and I am forever grateful to the boys at Appeal for giving me the freedom to explore, experiment, and challenge myself to create an outstanding score for such a great game.

In retrospect, I think you start out by stepping into the arena. You show up.

Oh, you want specifics? OK, so how about the following...
Do a student film
Work as an assistant to a composer
Marry a producer
Work as a play tester in the QA department of your favorite game developer or publisher

The specifics DON'T MATTER. Everyone's path is unique and EVERYONE has a different story on how they got started. The point is to step OUT OF THE STUDIO and move into THE WORLD. That's where the action is.

Q. Is there any help that you could offer me? Any suggestions as a working professional?
A. Be prepared. Be organized. Be professional. Be consistent. Be on time.

I can't tell you how important it is to follow the five B's. It's about doing everything you can to be ready for those critical moments when you have to pull a rabbit out of your ass and save the day right when the clients are thinking all is lost. Like many competitive things in life you're either the hero or you're the goat (note the homage to Charles Shultz). If you are the flaky type, you're just not going to work as often as other folks.

Q. I hear it's about "who you know." Who are the people I should know?
A. Everybody and anybody.

Anyone who's been in composing for media for a while knows that the more you stick around, the smaller the world gets as far as who you know in an industry. Eventually, you'll know most of the key people. The trick is, you have to want to do this bad enough to stick it out for 10-20 years. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life but compose music so here I am! The like-minded people who have stuck it out here with me, we all know who we are. The community seems smaller mostly due to the passage of time.

So, no better time than any to get started. Meet everybody! Programmers, Game Designers, Marketing, Composers, Audio Directors, Producers, Executives. Everyone moves around from time to time so, if one person loves your work and, over the course of several years and an equal number of companies plays your music for their colleagues, you're universe is instantly expanded. Trust in the laws of the universe. Keep putting yourself out there and eventually you make a connection that lands you a job.

Q. Can you point me in the right direction?
A. The only proper direction IMO is where your heart tells you it's the right path, the right project, and the right people collaborate with.

If you're the kind of person who's heartless and back-stabbing, then this section isn't for you. Just skip it as you won't understand what I'm talking about anyways.

For those of you who "get it", life's too short to work for too many assholes. I LOVE what I do, and I get a huge charge out of working with people of a similar bent. We seem to find each other. And when we do, we do great work together and it shows, because the fans dig it, the critics cheer it, and we all embrace that little golden beam of sunlight that shines our way for the moment. Then it's gone, and we're off to doing whatever excites us next.

Q. Where should I start?
A. With the beginning.

The most powerful moment you will ever have is NOW.
Oops! It's gone!
What did you do with that moment?
Did you do exactly what you had to do? Or were you waiting on the future? Or grumbling and moaning about the past?
NOW is the only time you have right in front of you so get to it!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Buster (aka Swine Flu Relief)

No, we don't have the swine flu!

Johanna and I love to cook together. It's a soul-healing past-time and we work really well as partners in the kitchen (and in our life together) so it makes for a peaceful time. Tonight we made an amazing spring soup I thought I'd share with you. Especially as all I hear on the radio these days is about people freaking out, worrying about the swine flu outbreak and will it get them and their families. My advice is don't freak dudes! 30,000 people die every year from regular everyday flu so 15 people (although I empathize with the families of those victims) is not any more than a normal outbreak.

So how can one chill with all this crazy talk on the air waves?


Make this soup! It'll be fun, healthy, and damn tasty.
You can find most of these ingredients usually at your local farmers market.

Pulpit Alert!
Support locally grown and organic farmers! It'll taste and feel better.

Johanna and Lennie's Spring Soup:

1 large leek, cleaned, quartered and chopped fairly fine
1 large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2" squares
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 knob of ginger, grated

Saute the above ingredients in olive oil (several tablespoons worth) at medium to low heat until onions are translucent.

While that's slow cooking...

1 bunch of stinging nettles, chopped leaf-size (aka "nettles" - they sting a little when they're not cooked so use gloves)
1 bunch of watercress, chopped into 1" pieces (with stems)
1 bunch of mint, chopped leaf-size
Small handful of dill, chopped fine
Small handful of parsley, chopped fine

When onions are done, put in nettles and enough water to cover them. Keep at medium heat until steaming for 5 minutes. Taste nettles to be sure the sting is completely gone (should only take a few minutes).
Add mint and stir into mixture for a minute or two.
Add parsley and dill, stirring into the soup for another minute or two.

Take soup off heat.

Add 1 1/2 cans of Mackerel packed in lightly salted olive oil (we use VitalChoice brand). You could possibly substitute sardines packed in olive oil (don't go for soybean oil it doesn't taste good) or anchovies instead, but we found the Mackerel just rocks. Break the mackerel into small chunks and spread them throughout the soup. Don't forget to include the lovely fish-infused olive oil from the can!
Add the juice of half a squeezed lemon.

No seasonings are needed with all the herbs and the salty oil from the mackerel. We find that covers it beautifully.

Serve and heal!

Maybe next entry I'll talk more about music!

P.S. If you want to add some great flavor to your earthquake preparedness kit, try TastyBite!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Post-Traumatic Gig Syndrome

Those of us that regularly work on large projects know they can be stressful and have learned over the years to manage that stress effectively in order to do the best work possible for our clients.

But what happens after the project is completed?

In my experience I've noticed that my immune system is functioning in high-performance mode, keeping me illness free until the very day after I've delivered my masters and then WHAM! I get a cold. I suspect that due to the level of adrenaline coursing through my veins and my sheer willpower to not have anything prevent me from completing my mission, I end up with an immune system crash once the gig's done and I get my first full night's sleep.

Have you experienced this yourself?

I believe I've found a solution that works quite well for me: I keep myself sleep-deprived for one week following the completion of a big project. I'll explain this in more detail...

Starting on the day after delivering my final masters, I'll sleep only five hours instead of my normal eight and continue to get up early for about a week, adding an hour of sleep each day until I'm back to normal at the end of the week. So Monday/Tuesday might be 5 hours, Wednesday/Thursday 6, Friday/Saturday 7 and Sunday I'm back to 8. I also keep my days very active and busy catching up on my correspondence, errands, and other business stuff for about 3-4 days. As it gets towards the end of the week I'll do more fun things like gaming and relaxing so by the time I get to the end of the week, my immune system has had a chance to re-acclimate. For whatever reason, this method has worked perfectly for the last 3-5 years and I haven't had a recurrence of the "getting sick after the gig" thing.

Granted, I also eat lots of organic, pesticide-free, locally grown fruits and vegetables as part of my regular diet whether I'm working or not. I go on walks with my fiancé. I go to sleep around the same time each  night. I also take immune boosting supplements like Black Elderberry if I feel the onset of anything during these intense work periods. I believe these measures add to my ability to remain healthy but I also think that I listen carefully to my body and respond when it tells me I need something.

How do you manage your stress? I'm curious to know how others deal with this issue so feel free to post your thoughts and observations.

Be well!