You Can Go Your Own Way

Being a “composer for media”, man i do hate that bland title, you will no doubt be searching for all the nifty latest tools, the USB and Wireless controller options to map your favourite libraries. You might be listening in on mixing/ mastering tips, hawking video casts to glean new ways to work and improve your skill set. You may even spend so much time in a community, and in various groups, that you start to really soak up a lot of ways to work.

I don’t have a problem with that, it wouldn’t really make sense to take issue with improving your average day at the office. But their is certain point where it starts to feel a lot like duplicating someone elses setup, or their work management and less about what actually suit you.

Its very easy to just go and buy the same software and hardware controllers and emulate another composers method. I’ve watched a lot of guys first hand at work and im always reminded that, despite all the tools and sounds we have in abundance, we are at our core, so very unique. But something strikes me about using a LOT of the same gear and methods, in that its sometimes diluting an instinct and gut feeling.

Let me explain best i can on this one.

If you have say, 10 composers all using Logic, Mac pro,a few controllers mapped for essential editing tasks, CC input etc. We all share the same short cuts and we now go about organising the same way. We all had endless discussions and came to the conclusion, we all like Omnisphere and 2-3 string libraries. In fact, in this example lets keep the structure nice and tight to make the point.

During a long series of late night procrastination chats, ie: after 11pm via FaceBook, we whittled down so many ways to go about our work and what our preferences are, those personal choices just become more and more blurred. In seeking a favourable starting point, we diluted some actual personal decisions.

Now that’s a broad stroke, but its a valid one i feel. Not in a random looking into the sky, dreaming random thoughts kind of way, but through years of conversations working with lots of people. One thing i noticed was that many years ago, ‘pre internet’, their was far less cross talk. Less exchange.

So we had to learn a very specific route all to ourselves using all manner of choices that rarely imitated anyone elses. Walking into one studio or setup, was drastically different to the next.

Its one of the many reasons i re embraced hardware again. We had a LOT of it. Not always through choice but purely because we just simply had to run like this. Their were a rack of Akai S series samplers, a few Roland synths, tons of expensive, room engulfing outboard and lest we not forget  the true sea of cables and a big desk devouring the room. I pause to say “studio” as its one cool parallel about back then, as to where we are today.

We all built something from nothing and every choice was even more considered due to the far greater costs to run. Like run anything at all. Outside of an Atari ST, a sampler, Mackie desk and some tricks up our sleeves, most of us were only buying exactly what we know we needed. I mean really needed. Each purchase was more considered and one false step, led you back to a long road of saving. Professionally, no one can afford to just buy a 2 grand synth or a 5k chunk of outboard and hope it all pans out.

But that’s where we have changed in our approach, our perceptions and we have forgotten what a little personal choice was like based on restrictions and just making up your own bloody mind.

I love and hate in each measure how easy things really are now. From gaining work 5500 miles away, buying a full orchestral library that cost hundreds of thousands to make, to having a very high production value is but a plugin preset away, you know who you are Ozone user!

The people whos work tends to excite me the most, are those who aren’t always wanting to follow the trends right now. Those who can play instruments and don’t want to lose that valuable connection, that strong musicality they came into all this with in abundance.

I mean, when the power is down, can you sit and strum a GUI?

Its just as valid to know who you are when you make music of any kind. I know guys with walls of Mac, some with very basic home PC’s, some who have never booted up a computer and create wonderful music minus the ones and zeros. I know very successful guys who are using some famously tired and out of date gear, but still make astonishing music under awful limitations by todays standards.

Where i feel worried, is when we listen a bit ‘too’ much. Take too many tips, start to emulate too many other creatives. When you are all just using mainly one synth in your work and you know a million other guys are too. When your just finding ways to get that sound <

Its worrying for sure. Again, its where i found a slice of personal freedom buying more hardware again, playing more bass guitar when i can, pick up interesting real instruments you can have a tactile relationship with. When every decision is, i guess i must buy that type of computer because everyone told me to. I would be a fool to use XXX Daw down to the lower than average opinion poll in the group i use.

Its most certainly cheaper than its ever been. For newcomers, trust us tired old dogs, its a damn sight cheaper and easier to run a typical writing, recording session than it was 25 years ago.Its also very easy to come about work. But that’s saved for another rant in a different blog, some other time……

Id just say to anyone who is writing “music for…(pauses to sick a little)”, just remember who you are and the very unique set of ears you have. How your interpretation to writing music is as perfect and unique as your listening experience. No one really hears the same thing. Outside of the sonic foot print of any music, we all write our own story, relate to the personal experiences we have, the life we have lived. And does this translate into how we sound like others??

Yes shamefully for all that unique emotional living, we can come out dangerously mono. In some musical genres, i fear this is approaching a big crunch point where trend based emulation is getting ridiculous to the point of a bad photo copy running over and over.

When someone sticks their head above the noise and you discover they are just doing it completely as it feels to do so, its such a big breath of fresh air. I mean you don’t have to run your Ukulele through a Pittsburgh modular, or adopt a weird bizarre hipster lifestyle.  It really is just spending some time investing in a few less GUI’s, and taking some time to be you and enjoy your own interpretation.

The risk long term isn’t one of, we didn’t quite keep up with the trends, its just that we simply did, and too our detriment.  Be yourself, learn to enjoy your though process, dont listen to any of the nay sayers. Just enjoy.


Composer Art Vs Client Needs – The Big Divide

Whether you are writing for music libraries, trailers and promos, game scores or anything else commercial, it’s imperative you appreciate, respect and acknowledge that it is exactly that – COMMERCIAL.

There is a huge divide between our art and what we work on for a client.

Now the big reason I bring this one up is I believe its holding a lot of people back. From honing to a brief, actually thinking like a client or customer, or just having a basic understanding of the current climate and the market place you are driving at. You simply cannot look at every “job” as a place to be just your “art” and screw everyone else. It won’t work, you won’t get paid and all you are left with is a FaceBook moan or a smart arse blog just like this one to vent upon.

Part of what motivated me to blog this was the amount of convos I’ve had in which I’ll get a PM notification, open it up and you get a chat that’s something like this (or a variation of……)

“I replied to a brief by company XXX, they want tension music for a show but they said my stuff is too emotional, and the mix/production quality isn’t good enough”

What follows will either be disbelief in any advice you are giving, or better still, the air or vibe of ‘Well if he can do it, and his stuff sounds crap, then why on earth can’t I?’

Now I will state categorically, that is a rare event. To have someone come ask for help and systematically judge you. Like ‘Can I have all your client leads, and why isn’t my music selling, and what’s so great about you anyway??’ It happens, and yes it’s as awkward as it sounds too.

The elephant in the room is the commercial aspect of the industry. For some reason, unknown to me, there is a really poor attitude to those writing for libraries or custom brief work for TV. It’s seen as something throw away, rubbish, like you didn’t care for one second about it, you made it too quickly and on a academic or ego level, where are my awards bitch?? Hahaha!

No, it’s not art. It’s not you trying to convey lots of complex personal emotion. It’s writing under instruction. So yeah, when you score to picture, you get some room to do your job, to think, to feel and follow the story. But you also follow a lot of temp music too, by some other guy.

You follow implicit instruction in your spotting notes, and if you are very lucky, there may be some great union between you and the film maker that allows you to do much more broader brush strokes and dare I say it, invoke your “art”.

Right at the bottom of the page, classed as least important to someone of art and substance, is your pay cheque. You almost don’t want to take it, because how many famous composers and artists do we know who said, “nah keep the money, I really do just live for the art”??
Yup, bullshit. I call bullshit on the mixed principle, the convoluted moral stance or opinion, self worth, social presence and standing. It is a job no matter how you colour it – whether you enjoy it or not is another matter.

You work for someone on a job and it may or may not allow for you to pull all the toys out of the bag and bang away, but we like to eat right?? We like to have a place to live??

So let’s get that in proportion first. No one out there is just simply brilliant. You have to work extremely hard to find a voice for yourself and understand musicality. Not be taught it, but just plain feel it in your bones.

So back on point, it is a blog, we do rant you know……

What does an audience member want?? From say a tv show?

They want a theme tune, they want something that just keeps the flow and feel of the content. Move the story or documentary along with a mood, a vibe and pace. What works in cinema??We need trailers to capture us like hungry kids in a sweet shop, all eyes and ears on a big screen, a big chunk of music, snappy edit.

What your client usually wants as the end result, is something you want too. But the leap from audience member, bum firmly planted in seat, to creative composer, all gets lost in translation somewhat. You forget what makes the thing exciting to listen to. You instead go in search of the art in it all. Well if it’s a pet food commercial, for one, there is little wiggle room for lots of art and accolades lol.

It’s the same when it comes to mixing as it is for you to write those notes in the first place. What we think we ‘prefer’ to do over and above, what is appropriate for us to do, that’s the big bear for a lot of people.

“I hate plinky plonk dramedy, all those marimbas and pizz, its crap”

Well, it’s something haha. Yeah, ok, for the most generic of requests and needs, it can be rudimentary and for the target show and audience, you know what? Sometimes you need to throw out the high ideals and extensive training you have, and just do your job. Do the work and be thankful you’re getting paid. Hey, tell you what – at the weekend, go collab with someone and write your solo album Opus and session in some Peruvian nose flute, that no one gives a crap about. It will sell modestly…..again, you don’t care about money when it’s art, you will love the process. The entire experience will enrich you like an Apple Watch advert – Ukulele win.

Sometimes it’s hard to think that way when it comes to any work. You have to make that little bond, understand exactly where it’s headed, what show, what scene, or what product. I know a majority of composers hate the word product, I get that. The sense that your work or again, the art, is somehow devalued because it’s serving a function. Because you didn’t feel in control or have enough creative spread. Well it’s kinda rare.

But it’s all to serve a need. Even with your private, personal album noodlings, you still want people to listen somehow. If you have a nice paid job fulltime and music is your hobby, you love to give it all away for the fun! That’s great, but a career musician or composer still needs to eat and have somewhere to go home to. A 9-5 and a weekend hobby really isn’t anything like the feeling of being full time, flying by the seat of your pants, hoping you land those cues, that the pitch hits the target.

That’s why even during those times I’m writing a very commercial piece I might not be totally in love with, I say to myself – this is what you do, it’s not all f*cking skittles and rainbows every single day. You need to get your hands dirty. Just like any composer you’ve heard of. As big as they come, they ALL spent time in that trench writing for all kinds of bizarre, weird and crappy gigs. It is a career survival skill and if you don’t learn to adapt, you will niche yourself into artistic obscurity but apparently be magnanimous and enriched because music feeds your soul, or some other idealistic crap along those lines…..

Hobby it, or do it for a paid purpose, but always appreciate the huge divide.

I’ve worked on projects where I have wanted to pull the skin off my face, some times I love it and wish it would never end but in between the love and madness, there is knowing why it’s not working at all.

Now from a writing point of view, I always do a lot of research. If it’s a tv show, I check to see if there are any episodes of this running. Can I listen and hook up with the vibe? If it’s a new project, then yes, you are in the woods a little more, but research the genre, the kind of shows that network makes. The overall feel.

Ask lots of questions as the usually fare means being told little. Execs, EP’s are famous for having “ideas” and by the time the show comes to air, they have gone full circle, with a 100 changes and hardly any of them resembles the first email of “Can we have this”.

Now you COULD drop in a selection of nice world percussion in the middle of a cue that has no need for it at all, you COULD track a live solo in the middle to give it a nice change of feel, but if you were watching this drama unfold on tv, and then had to endure an out of place Dhol drum pattern or an extended solo, at what point would you sit up and think what the hell happened there? It’s a good thing we do have many things in place to stop our deepest urges getting to air!

I tend to listen and research a great deal. If I ask composers, then I respectfully ask about certain things or ask general advice, leaving it open to them to either invite you in for tea and biscuits, or tell you to mind your own business lol. I’ll play list music, watch shows, films, ads, anything that gets you into that commercial zone. Analyse why the simplicity of that cue made the show come to life.

Or how that simple melody or underscore was the thing that was needed, not the intricate heavily melodic piece you want to write, and damn everyone else if it’s not received well and awarded at a later date.

It’s like, when I want to screw around and write cues for just me, I do like a good synth noodle. I like to experiment, and during that time, I’ll learn a few skills for later, do some weird shit and basically have downtime fun. But I wouldn’t then bring my synth weirdness to the table for the next project “just because I thought it deserves a come back” or “the audience doesn’t know shit, they will love this Moog patch as much as I do”.

They won’t.

Have a little respect for what anyone does in their creative career. Do a lot of ground work. Listen, watch, revise, throw away and start again. Think as a customer, as an audience member, as an EP (perish the thought), but understand the nuts and bolts of it all. If you only want art, if you just want pure expression, get a 9-5 and fill your weekends with guitar solos and nose flutes.

Your neighbours will love it too.


Fat, Sick & Composing

Composing daily. Meeting deadlines and running off mixes, edits, more writing, around and around. Website updates, promotion, admin, more admin, around we go again.   For a lot of us, this represents something all too familiar in our work regime. We work long weird hours depending on where the client is based. If like me, you live in the UK, you are 8 hours ahead of west coast USA. That’s a blessing and a curse rolled into one and here’s why. Ok, so when you’re ahead, everyone who can grab you isn’t conscious. They are all sleeping soundly in their beds. That’s awesome.

But the downside is, when they awaken, you have a constant stream of emails and calls and you are back on duty for the rest of the evening and sometimes a little longer. When you sit at that station, you are working on the go, so your mind, body and lifestyle supporting this are very much hand to mouth – lets grab coffee, lets grab something quick. What the hell is daylight anyway???  I had got into this pattern from day one. It was totally self assigned, and no one made me do this. I just lunged at work with both hands. I mean seriously?? Someone out there wanted me to write music! I felt blessed to have the chance and I didn’t want to disappoint. In fact that sensation of not delivering quickly, and perfectly, gets to me. I get quite sick of comments that only suggest quick music is somehow always flawed. That it can’t be done. Something will give if it’s too quick.

Well I’ll say it one time, I call bullshit of the highest order. I don’t profess to be anything or anyone special, but I can do it. End of story. I get asked to write a thing, said thing gets done. As soon as I can do it, to the best of my ability with all the love rolled into it. Now the problem isn’t the way I make music. It’s not working fast and intensely that gave me my health issues, which I’ll get into now. It was that my mindset was just one speed.

So ok, I felt terrible, that’s my opener for you. I had spent most of my adult life very active and managed to keep my weight to a level where I could say, I’m ok, I’m over weight – yeah, I smoke too much, I eat the wrong things, but I’m active. But as we all know, just being active doesn’t count or mean shit. In fact it’s just a way of delaying all the other things you do from taking hold of you. That’s just fact. It is what it is. If you smoke 20 a day and eat nothing but pizza but you jog a lot, yup you’re still gonna get some heart problems later on in life. I don’t make the rules, it’s the way it happens. Be skinny and boast about your high metabolic rate but no matter what you “think”, you are killing yourself for later life.

My stomach felt awful, I had dull aches on my entire front. From chest to, well, everywhere! So it got me scared. I thought I could get away with this frankly cos I’m indestructible like we all think we are. Well I did. So Doc takes my blood pressure and says, well this isn’t great. It’s too high and you’re very over weight, you do no exercise and your diet is awful…oh, and you have smoked for 20-25 years.

So the prognosis isn’t looking ideal from anyone’s moral stand point. I couldn’t “jog” this one off if I wanted to. No amount of good will or disbelief will make me feel better and the life long headaches?? I could do without those too! So next he says, he will take other readings but it’s likely I will need medication to control my BP and once you’re on them, that’s it for life. Then the blood test came back and I’ve got some mean high cholesterol although the silver lining is blood count is good, blood sugar stable and within range. So that’s not information I wanted to hear, but I was glad I knew now, rather than 10 years on and I have a stroke or heart attack and start wondering why.

My reaction was, I’m not going on the drugs until I get my shot at fixing this. I mean you can’t tell me that’s the road we are heading and I get no chances to put this right! I said give me till next week and I’ll show you some improvement and what I know I can do. I walked home, feeling quite upset actually that I’d just dropped myself off a cliff eating every kind of crap, working long hours and smoking, being excessive and not caring. How was I about to hit 40 and hadn’t realised that this wasn’t a good idea? I’d made 3 successive trips to California and each time, I’d destroy a lot of amazing big big food groups!! Taking no prisoners and just slaying racks of prime rib, big steaks, burgers, surf and turf plus all the fancy dressings. I could list the carnage, but someone would petition me on some form of animal rights disgrace. I was a one man live stock deficit machine. No really, count your cows and chickens cos I’m coming through!

So how do I not work so hard? How do I start getting exercise? What exactly do I need to change? The short answer was, everything must change. And so it did……….a life long smoker, that’s a tough habit to break – even more so if you have already given up in the past. Your mental memory of that event means giving up again can certainly be like taking on that 1000 step climb to the temple carrying a whole cow on your shoulders, although I guess the option to put the cow down and eat it would have eased my load! So no more snacks. No crisps, chips, chocolate, tea, coffee, burgers, and fast food at all. Nothing with too much or any salt. No saturated fats, no high simple carb foods. You name it, I stopped eating it. Actually I tell a white lie, I had a morning cup of tea with skimmed milk and one sugar, but you need to start a day with some form of sanity or the rest of it won’t happen.

I ordered a vaping E cig and gave that a hit. I was pretty shocked but it was ok, it felt like something I could do. Until I realised it was “ok”. But before I quit, i researched a ton. Anyone who knows me, knows I love a bit of research!!!! I spent HOURS upon hours looking, reading and getting right to the bottom of this one. I wont go and bleat all my arguments and attack the stupid claims being made – but it’s safe, in short. A decent vaping setup and that’s me off full cigs. 2 months on and I still love vaping. I get my hit but minus 1000’s of shitty chems and carcinogens that were surely going to deal me with a poor hand sooner than later. I didnt have a problem giving up chocolate. My legendary sweet tooth was declining over the years to the point I had become a savoury chap. So that’s not a hill for me to climb. We got into the Joe Cross juicing with fantastic results. Both myself and my partner Lisa, we got the very best from this whilst retaining a decent healthy evening meal. We struck a perfect balance and by walking 3-4 miles a day to start off with, we started to feel mobile again. For a few weeks, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just walking.

Now just a couple months on, I’ve lost 24lbs and I’m still on this for another 14lbs thereafter. I haven’t smoked, I had one cheat day binge on my birthday and we still love our new lifestyle. We dont see this as a diet, it’s a permanent new way of eating for us now. I genuinely don’t crave 90% of those things we don’t have now. Just every now and then I think, I could murder some chips or I could eat this and that but truthfully, my resolve is solid. I can’t bear the thought of being that heavy, slow and sick again. I’ve checked my blood pressure since, it’s super low now. Like well inside healthy range. My resting pulse went from 90bpm down to just over 60. So what’s the new regime???

Well I work from waking up (after some vaping, email reading and a juice to kick off the day!) until lunch, when we usually hit up our second juice and a good walk. From the afternoon onwards I can choose to go back and do more work or just play it by ear. Maybe to some extent some of the relentless drive has gone, but it can’t be maintained without some cost. Having written 2000+ cues since sometime in 2011, that’s like 20- 25k mixes, hundreds of hours of admin, research, sound design – the list is endless. It really was like condensing 8 years of work into 4. What I feel I can achieve hasn’t dipped. My focus and energy have gone up, so in a different style of working, I can very nearly achieve the same output, even though I spend more time with the family, chilling and exercising. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

The lifestyle of a solitary composer can be a seriously rewarding but dangerous game. I’ve seen folks lose their marriage, their health, their social skills and much more besides. I don’t really have a big lesson sum up to offer anyone but I would urge anyone to re assess where they think they are. Just take a minute and think, am I doing this and feel ok, so I’ll do it as much as I please? Will this affect me later in life, and do I care?? I can’t answer anyone’s personal life choices for them and wouldn’t want to come across like a cheap web campaign trying to sell anything. I’m really not, but selling the idea? Maybe.

Namm 2015, California & food for your soul.

I recently returned from my second trip to the NAMM convention. Its now my 3rd time in California, and that drug, the vibe, it never wears thin on me. From the long long ass haul across the pond, all 11 hours of it, coupled with a pressure cabin headache, nothing could break the trance i was under.

Maybe plane food has that effect i cant say, but im always in a excited stupor about heading to the west coast of the U.S.

What draws me there again and again isnt just NAMM, its so much deeper and more connective than that. It really is the entire wrap around atmosphere when you step off the plane. Standing at terminal 2 awaiting your ride, im just smiling from ear to ear.

This one was really special to me. Finally getting to spend time with some friends i have made over the years, and when you do finally meet, there is no awkward pauses, nothing aloof or odd, its just putting on your comfy slippers, grabbing a coffee and gliding into it seamlessly.

You tend to notice a lot of cultural differences each time you make that trip. They begin as subtle nudges but after a short while, its a constant flurry of really cool differences in behavior, expectation, ambition, colloquial nuances and well, they have much nicer places to eat than ive seen here!

I tend to spend a lot of time day dreaming too when im out there. I guess being so close and personal with your own daily life and the things you convince yourself are relevant, the stress you pile onto stress, it all seeps away for a short while.

That moment that grabs you when you just miss your family. You know what they really mean to you in a out of body kind of way. I mean 5500 miles has that instant effect on your whole system.Its not jet lag, although i feel i have consistently lost all my battles with the time zones, its that longing. But part of me loves that. I think its healthy to have a moment or too when you are so far removed from your life, you have a chance to see all the rich heart tugging value, passion in its wake.

Im probably the worst guy to have go to NAMM and come back and report all the findings. Utterly awful. Id make a terrible journo, even a fake one…….

but it was a brilliant show. I visited last for this in 2013. This time round its a completely new vibe which i wasnt expecting. In the space of each passing hour, you see people you never met, those who your so glad to have spent time with.  Its the hub of all things creative and musical.You can effectively walk in and be blinded by all the “things you want” and come out with sore feet and a shopping list, and thats fine. But i came away with so much more.

Taking the break from writing, im not a travel and write guy just yet, its so refreshing to cleanse your head of every project your working on and allow new ideas in, letting people into that space where only busy ideas and music occupy. Its then that it strikes me, more and more its about your connection to people.

There isnt a community unless you have something to contribute. Whether your driving people nuts, too many opinions, dont know when to speak or shut the hell up, but its what you bring and how it matters. How people matter.

So when im standing there with friends and colleagues i dont get to see all year round, i am the big softy. I am just enjoying every second. It feeds a part of you that we spend so much time guarding. Its perhaps, the easiest thing to be to become a cynic. To scathe and hurl banter, make gossip, turn someones thoughts, words and music on its head, so its time we just cut away all the people in our lives that feed on this.

When you only surround yourself with people who love what they do, adore the craft, relish new ideas, the competitive streak always has little to cling onto. You are embalmed in a kind of butter! haha. Nothing bad will stick to you. Being in this part of the world, it always makes this feeling louder. Its amplified above all the noise, all your own head noise.

Its funny but it takes all those convos when you meet, to yet again affirm that you are far from the only one feeling all the weird insecurities. On any level, on any rung of the career ladder, every single creative has this pang.

We often work alone in our humming tech filled rooms. The sound of coolers, a mug of coffee within reach, staring into a screen more often occupied by someones rant on facebook.

Eventually we plunge into our next project, the next big cue. Its so so easy to become too isolated. Its already too easy to make music. i mean its absurdly easy to put out something that can stand up against the next best cue. Too easy maybe.

Im not a “turn up to all the events” kinda guy, never have been and never will be, so maybe thats part the reason my pilgrimage to NAMM, to California hits me so hard in all the best ways you can imagine. Some self cast chains are cut from you, you soar above all the mundane and you start reaching for something again.

Every single time, i swear down, bar none, ive come home and felt invincible. Like there isnt any good tangible reason not to succeed and meet those expectations. Again though, its not just that climate, easy going vibe, the tempo of life, its  the people you surround yourself with.

This time round was a little different, new. Something has changed in me and a week on nearly and i cant shake the feeling. Its like ive got shot once and for all, the negativity cloud that just stalks you somedays. I looked above me, felt my tee for any rain spots and nope, nada, its still clear and positive up there.

There must have been some in flight exorcism service i was unaware of just before the “finger sandwich” and weaponised blueberry muffin.I could ramble on for hours about the weight thats off my shoulders, which is odd actually as ive committed to so many things now, in theory i should be under the car of Nurse Ratchet for what im taking on, but im not. I love it, bring it on.

If a simple trip to California does this, if its the bewildering charm and spell of Namm at full tilt, so be it. I cant bottle it, i cant sell it on, but i would recommend anything that performs a rest or reboot in your mind and heart. If there is something you can do to disarm and just embrace something, anything that makes you sit up and love all those big things in your life, reminds you that you bloody can, then take it at all costs.

Yaiza Varona ‘Le Chef Compositeur’ – Guest Blog November 2014

On art vs industry


Once upon a time, in a magic land called Music Industry, there was a composer that was giving much thought to what she was writing. Maybe she shouldn´t have, because occasionally that led her to speak in third person.


Anyway, she also loved going to the point so here we go.


LE CHEF COMPOSITEUR – Hamburgers vs Risotto With Truffles (A tale of art and industry)


Like Ancient Romans´ architecture, I believe tracks need to have:


  • Firmitas (to be well built and not collapse),
  • Venustas (beauty) and most importantly,
  • Utilitas (the building must serve the purpose it was built for).



Now let me make sure I´m meeting all three criteria adapting whatever project I currently have in my hands to them.


I cook music. I love cooking some music dishes better than others, I´m naturally better at cooking some than others and my kitchen is more prepared for those certain dishes I do more often, however no matter what, I work in a happy, efficient kitchen because I enjoy cooking music so much.


As someone who cooks, I encounter two scenarios; I cook for a customer, or I cook for myself (or some loved guinea pigs).


Let´s imagine that hamburgers are successful, demanded by a big majority and associated with fast food, while truffle risotto requires investment, slow cooking and finesse, and it´s more on the delicacy end.


Scenario 1: Customer walks in, requests 15 hamburgers to be cooked within 20 min.


Hamburgers. Again. AGAIN. Don´t people eat something else?


I can try and convince my customer that there are other dishes in the menu, that my risotto is fantastic and that he or she should wait for 2h and invest more in live truffles as it´s more than just nutrition, and ask him / her to rely on me having the skills to pull off an otherworldly risotto.

This would be a funny situation, right? You as a customer walk in, know what you want (and you might as well not give a damn about truffles anyway), and if you´re happy with the service and like the place you might return later on and actually give that risotto thingy a chance.


Which means in this occasion as a chef, I´m stuck with doing 15 hamburgers within 20 min. A few crunches, red band tied around my forehead, the fun begins!


In this scenario, I become a mercenary: I’m focused, ruthless, on a mission, like in a videogame. Step one: let go of wanting to do a risotto. Next time. Wipe mind clean and embrace the concept ‘Hamburger’. It just so happens I love hamburgers too!

I find the most efficient way of cooking what I am requested with the means at my hand. I don’t have to reinvent hamburger all over again. The recipe is perfect, and you can have it as often as you wish, can’t go wrong like that. And more importantly, as much as I keep on falling in love with hamburgers, I try and add my little personal ingredient and sign them all with a big Y on the top.

This is no McDonalds dodgy stuff. This is MY hamburger.


Scenario 2: I´m on my own in my music kitchen.


I need to spend time alone with my tools. Reminds me why I started cooking music in the first place.

If I’m cooking home – who cares what do I use or how do I accomplish it? I put together whatever I fancy if I feel it feels right. Cocoa and chilli can belong together. In any set I need something to contrast, a slight dissonance, a touch of rawness just because. But who cares? That’s just my aesthetic, my taste. Is my plate nutritionally balanced? Has everything you need? That’s all there is to it! Especially after having worked so hard on the hamburgers, I owe it to myself.


This is the time for me to allow my artistic self some space to breathe and do whatever I fancy: no deadlines, no constrains, no pleasing others, I am GOD in Yaizaland; I rule, destroy and create.


I enjoy spending ages perfecting my very personal truffle risotto. I also gather information about who may actually be interested in such dish.


One last advantage of this mental division: whatever I develop in one area helps the other and viceversa. The resources I come up with when being a mercenary help me focus and not be too ethereal when writing as an artist ( for what is the use of a track that never gets bounced, however high idea we have of it in our mind? ) and the techniques I slowly discover when taking ages to write I can later accelerate my everyday writing.


I love being a music mercenary. And an artist. I am lucky like that!


This is my current approach to writing, but obviously there are many others from which I could learn so much.


Now, I would love to hear how you cook in your music kitchen.

Help others – Help Yourself

Sometime way back in the mid nineties, we had this basic tool. I call mine AOL online lol. It was a dial up, slow arse means of wandering into dingy chat rooms, waiting for MSN news to load, not knowing entirely why your even using it, or maybe it was just more exciting than Encarta? But slowly and surely, we started talking to people on the other side of the world and doing things we couldn’t do before. We might have had a pen friend, a hard to reach relative or a passion for places we will never visit.
It opened doors. It opened so many do quickly, we became ‘online sentient’ in a peculiar way. Even today, when we are not buying crap from eBay or fighting over a senseless clash of personal opinion on a subject completely meaningless, we are communicating more than ever.
With this new era, and as technology and telecommunication advancements came to fruition with super fast porn,sorry broadband access, for a few quid a month, we can now work together, talk to someone face to face whilst watching a full HD movie that used to require a journey to Blockbuster.

The one thing i really like about the internet right now, today, is we are learning to accept one another and help someone with no tally or score sheet. Tutorials, walk-throughs and guides, You Tube videos, live webcasts, hangouts and more. Support groups by the score and an answer for nearly every question known to man via a voice activated search engine.
The time before this? Before we could just randomly ask someone 5000 miles away how to setup VE pro on a slave pc?
We kept everything close to our chest. As creatives, we shared very little in fear of losing an edge, losing your contact. You had to drive up and down the country, send out a million costly CD’s with maybe promo packs, setup meetings, phone calls and book expensive studio time for quite a simple session by today’s means.

Whole communities of composers would just be part of a small known clique. Its probably a sensible and survivalist way of handling yourself when you consider all those factors. The immense time and money price you pay to forge a career in an age where everything was a conscious effort. Maybe that is exactly why we shared so little. Not because it was so hard to do, but the effort that goes into breaking a new contact, massaging that deal?
The work on the table was effectively shared and by very few. Most of us couldn’t just jump on a flight to LA and expect to groom relationships or check out of LAX and be greeted by a suit taking you to a big studio, network etc.
But today?? Now we can hook up with anybody in a matter of minutes. The downside is saturation for sure. One giant global door that has no locks, no checks or clauses, no restrictions, no real effective Policing of your personal ethics and morality. At least not on a civility level of basic manners and respect.

The upside of this is the way we are embracing this big open door. This huge portcullis. We are more equal than ever and willing to hand out information to others. We can conduct full remote sessions with entire orchestras several thousand miles away, or have a full set of custom stems sent and then loaded into our DAW’s only hours after a Skype with someone.

So what does it mean to be willing to help? How does this work exactly?

For me personally, all that i have found from trying to give something back, is you need to remember where you were a few weeks ago, months or years. The early days when you were asking a million questions and finding everything so intimidating, you questioned if you would ever learn your industry.
The reward for all of that is really simple. Its not a monetary gain on any level, its not a means to get something buck free or start a spreadsheet on who owes you how much time and favours.

Its about teaching yourself something along the way. The process itself of being asked, is like asking yourself those questions and what they all mean to you. Its a means of growth.

You can overdo it like anything else taken to excess. If you spend too much time everyday trying to help someone else, your work and family life can easily suffer.
There is a balance you must strike and through some stumbles and silly mistakes on your part, you will find a happy medium of working with others and the time you need to stay afloat. If any of this sounds like too much hard work, i still think you would be missing the whole point.

As long as you work by some simple rules and guidelines, you can offer so much of your time and none of this should feel like an effort. Be upfront with people your working with and say, “im only too happy to help, but i will be busy during XXX days or after 5pm i tend to switch it all off and spend time with my family”

Maybe you can try a system where you can ask that person to leave you a bunch of questions and you will get back to them as soon as you can??
If its hands on creative help, that’s fantastic, but you still need a basic framework to operate under.
But i think the most important thing is, learn to walk away. Sometimes, just sometimes, no matter how many ground rules you set, what you think is fair and just, isn’t seen the same way to others.

I cant say everyone is in this like you will be. I cant promise you wont meet one or two people who just ask and ask relentlessly, forgetting those ground rules you mentioned, and become angry and disillusioned with you are no longer on 24 hour call.

Over the last 4-5 years, ive seen this quite a lot, but its human nature. For some, just a few, you will encounter those who only want to take, and are passive aggressive when you don’t come up with the goods.

You have to rise above it every-time. Chalk it down to something that didn’t work out, but don’t stop.
People aren’t inherently all bad, selfish takers. Never allow one bad experience mar this journey you are taking.

There are reasons some people dont want help even when they verbally ask you for it. Quite simply, its pride.
There is nothing worse a feeling for some, when they have to admit they need to ask but once they have that info, they find ways to disassemble who you are, what you know. Everything you say and stand for has no currency or credence and they are long gone.

It can however, work like a dream. Its all a little Utopian in a way, without having to mention it, to call out, but when the chips are down, its great when you see so many people selflessly lay down what there doing and come to your aid. Its not a pay it forward system, but i guess in an unspoken way, it has the right message behind it all the same.

If no one helped no one, all you had was your solitary wits, your sense of ruthless survival, we would end up in that world when we couldn’t reach anyone like we can now. It would descend back into a system of “pay me for my time” and thats it, doors closed.
I do like helping when i can. I like to stave off obvious problems. Stop your friends from walking into something, or a contract that will eat them alive. We have the time and love to raise a friend or relatives spirits, its the same thing when you reach out online in a community.

I tell my son he can do anything, that nothing is beyond his grasp if he works really hard at it. The teaching or ethic behind that is the same you pass on to others. No one ‘likes’ to see others hurt, failing or walking into certain danger. Its not about opening your diary and telling someone everything about you.
Its not giving up all your leads and contacts, offering them all your best production tricks and hints, sending them freebies or anything inbetween. But it is still a process of giving something.

I think it sends out the right kind of energy and vibes back into the world too. Im a big believer in creating that space, that world you want to live in where someone can just do something for you and want nothing in return. Where manners are second nature, and you can make time for people who may be just starting out or fumbling around for some sense and reason in what there doing.

Its not an easy thing to just let that part of you be so willing. Yes you will face those who will take a dig at you, undermine what authority you have to be helping, that you are far from qualified to advise anyone.
That side of it will actually never stop. Its the price paid for just putting yourself out there, so learning to ignore the detractors is a task in itself.
Usually, its spurned by jealousy and resentment born from comparisons to what you are doing and what there not doing. But dont give in! Always always rise above it.

When Something isn’t quite right – And how to fix it.

I remember a few years back when i wanted to begin writing music for commercial usage. I wont say “music for media” as no other generic bland label turns my blood as quick to be honest. I posted up a few of my tracks to a forum, and the response i got was unexpected and it did shock me.
It wasn’t high praise, a pat on the arse and a nod from your peers. It was a critique and a fair and brutally honest reaction to my work. You know what? It smarted.

I felt immediately like a failure. Day one out of the gates and i suck at this. Lets down tools and sit with a bowl of lemons all day.Well once you pry yourself away from a little self prescribed pity, the next step is making a big decision. Its a decision that will affect you for a long time to come. Simple put, do i take constructive criticism or do i basically say “screw them all, what do they know”?

Recently, i have had emails, ive read posts online with all manner of would be composers trying to strike out and wondering why on earth the industry isn’t clawing at their portfolio. What does one have to do to catch any breaks at all.
And the culture now is one of, i kinda deserve this shit. I went out and bought the latest string library, i bagged some amazing percussion samples, i have a decent DAW to construct in, so what gives??

Well heading back to our decision we made, if you chose to ignore anyones feedback when it wasn’t all sparkling and ego basting, then you are in for a very long haul experience.
I felt quite angry, how dare this person say it was written clumsily and that the form and structure weren’t remotely commercial, and the sounds were “ok” and the mix was so-so.
How dare this one person that i looked up who had spouted, and his accolades, his multi film scoring career, tv advertising back record, hugely successful tv writing and say to me i needed a lot of work and my music was a hobbyist at best.

But after what was a day of sucking on said lemons ^, i turned that corner. Well of course what he is saying holds water. Not only due to this distinguished career he had undertaken, but he had nothing to gain by just lying to me. I honestly couldn’t see any posturing in a new composer with weak material rocking this guys world where he would be making it up.
So i stopped making excuses. Ok so he said my writing structure was too song like, and i hadn’t written it for any seeming purpose. So is it for a show reel, scored work, tv placement etc??
Having played back my finest 3-4 i had to conclude he was 100% accurate in his critique. Id confused the issue with no actual target for the music. I wasn’t writing for anything, anybody, merely to please myself in the most self ingratiating, indulgent manner. There was little to no chances of anyone else liking it at all at this point.

But ive been writing for so many years, what gives??

Well its the story of just because isn’t it. Just because you have a lot of experience in one area in music doesn’t qualify you to leap headlong into the next.
It was fair to say there was something not at all right with my attitude at that point and the mechanics of the music on several levels.

So with a swift change of attitude, ie:not treating those you ask of to listen like lepers purely because there honest critique doesn’t gel with your ego.
And studying as hard as possible to understand what does what and in what medium.
Learning the rules of audio engagement if you will. Understanding how your music will effect the product your selling. Will a 12 minute epic opus show anyone you can write for promotional trailer work? – probably not.

Will a selection of full on rock tracks illustrate your ability to morph, to adapt and be versatile in a constantly changing market?
To understand what someone needs from you as a composer, writer, creative etc, is 90% of the battle. If you understand all those things, and you have the skills you built up over the years, making that transition isn’t going to be quite as hard.

What does get old and tiring is when you DONT change your attitude and adapt.

But surely i can write anything i want and eventually someone will recognise my amazing chops and sign me up and the rest is history?

I would imagine the sheer batting average for that philosophy is about as low as you can get. Maybe count them on one hand over decades. Dont allude to being the next Thomas Newman and just cant catch a break, everyone’s wrong, why are they listening?

There is a big difference between being heard and being acknowledged.
You know sometimes the music you have right now, this minute, is actually bad.
It can be just awful despite all our best intentions. Yes you are being heard but no one will take time out of a busy day to delicately tell you why you suck so much.

You’re going to have to self medicate and fix your own wounds.
If you start getting things right, if you work really hard, and i mean REALLY fucking hard, you invest in some decent sounds and equipment so your hands aren’t tied behind your back, you will get some feedback slowly but surely.
Ranging from, yeah i liked that first half, your programming is great. You might not win the ultimate prize of “this is a great cue, totally see this in XXXXX”

But just don’t blame everyone. the world at large when you don’t adapt. When you refuse to hear feedback that your family or friends didn’t make.

I read so many comments recently of why cant i sell more music?? Is it the market place right now?? Where else can i send my music??

How about you don’t for a while?? Maybe your not selling because your not listening or growing.If you still think everyone’s an arsehole and you deserve your spot, good luck with your other job and prepare for a life less gratifying.
For those of us who slept past decent education, myself being one of them, go and study. Less facebook less moaning, less blaming and study.
The main overall reason you are not selling music is 99.99999% all you, not your lame excuses.