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!

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