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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.

Permission to Speak Captain. The unspoken rules of self promotion and internet manners.

Man with black tape over his mouthWe all know the required etiquette for waiting our turn in a doctors surgery. We know how to behave when we are in other peoples homes, places of worship, airplanes and just about any other convenience or public place, so it makes you wonder why we cant quite achieve that level of social norm online.

The world wide web was created sometime between 89 and 91 with Berners Lee sending out those first text body comms, and sparking something that would change our lives forever. Bearing in mind we have had some form of spoken language for millennia, and have  been creative artistic people since we strutted about in caves, you would think that a mere virtual place to chat and swap ideas, would be an innocent stress free medium and everyone would just get along.

The history of this globalisation ‘tool’ is still in day one infancy. No one knows less cares about being polite 24/7 playing by unofficial forum rules, being moderated and herded by over zealous site admin any more than they do when 18 and on holiday with there mates bowling across town like you pretty much own it.
You can take a tour of your community online and just like in ancient times, street preachers proclaim the end of days, how to live a clean life, tales of sorrow and woe and words of self appointed wisdom. Yes, the internet has so many opinions now, everyone and there cat, yes CAT, is a blogger like me, or a part time broadcaster who thinks there big view of the world needs to be followed.

Its the difference between advice and offering a perspective on how you have found parts of your life came out complete with highs and lows, versus loud belligerent ego herding you into there click. The power of this Un Policed social medium is no one really understands where the boundaries are and if everyone else is even paying attention. i mean theirs nothing worse than standing in line and the cashier pulls down the window curtain for the day whilst others are skipping the line and cutting in.

This is a new civilisation but realistically, its not even a good 15 years old. Most people just didn’t go online at all until 10 years ago as dial up moved to the side and allowed for life to move at a sensible speed.So bearing in mind, this brand new place that connects you to every culture, every good or bad habit you didn’t realise you had, is it any wonder that when we learn to use it to assist our lives or careers, we are either scared witless of breaking too many rules that others just impose at a whim, or we aren’t even sure how far your voice will reach. A lot of us are trying new ideas, ways to be noticed in our working career and we still aren’t harnessing what there is out there.

I’m not any level of an expert in web related promotion but what i have seen so far is, it is so colourful, fad/ trend driven, that you need to link all your promotion and tie it into something tangible.

Like a campaign for example.

Perish the thought we might collate all our ideas for a project and find a way to schedule some info once a week, tie in other media to generate easy cross platform promotion! lol

The simplest way to think of trying to have a voice online is to think numbers and the pyramid effect you need to actually reach people. You have something new to show people, you tag where you can, you also say check out some new artwork on Pinterest, or catch me on twitter for exclusive download links. i mean you can just link from a host of options and have them self circulate like a whirlwind effect, and the part that matters, everyone who has seen it and shows interest, is helping you by leaving there trail online too. They might tag a friend, re post on Tumblr or facebook,google+ etc.

Having a focused project like this is great cos lets says your releasing an album of trailer cues or a collection of your new folk pop tracks etc blah blah, you can announce something very cool is coming,and you cant beat adding an actual date with that.

Thats why movie posters, album releases,books etc all have that date stamp. Not just so you make a calender note, its cos it looks exciting. its physiological. Your hard wired to respond to things that you believe are important, even when its actually quite low key and unimportant.

Follow up on that date with a new date!! Show some artwork pics, a small blog about the making of your new movie, 4 track EP or whatever it is you want to generate some clicks from. Seeping out your media in an organised schedule means a lot to people.No matter what you might think about how bloody trendy and flaky we are all now, we still love to know “when its coming out though”??

A schedule is brilliant cos its training your audience to subliminally be in your eyeline roughly when you want to be seen.

Saturation

Now this is the one EVERYONE brings up a lot. How much is too much self promotion????

I have a bug with this topic and ill explain why. Now in any other real world situation, lets say you were buying radio tine, tv ad time, billboard posters, mag article space etc THE WORKS, how much does this really affect you?? seriously??

I mean are you REALLY that pissed off that you keep seeing an artist on tv? If you have that level of repulsion, to be fair now, it means you are so not there target audience and your unlikely to be swayed by any amount of super catchy tunes, what the band does for charity, and the last thing they ate for dinner, but if you vaguely like this kind of music, your keen, this is for you.

You get pulled in, the catchy tune gets under your skin, its the genre you love, and this new band is actually pretty cool so your responsive now to all the ads and radio play. Think about all the biggest bands or artists you adored as a kid, now can you recall you were never sick of hearing about them?? of course you weren’t, you had posters on the wall, you watched them on chat shows, on tv and in movies.

So why we have such a huge aversion to self promotion? Bearing in mind, as above, we are happy to skip the rules online cos frankly we’re just not sure it really matters cos its not real eh?? its just computers and online crap?? right?

We hate to promote cos we think a few relatives and peers (when i say peers i mean no one that will employ you, just 500 others who do the same job as you), will get so sick of this stuff, you might be……

 

drum fucking roll please………….

UNADDED ON FUCKING FACEBOOK.

Seriously?? This is what stops you actually promoting what you do? you and the rest of the entire world understand the concept of marketing.Your either spending millions driving it home or your buying into it. Does it really matter that a 100 of your composer friends for example have dropped you from there feed cos this guy is always on the sell?? Your trying to sell to an industry, not a stream of friends and buddies.

I just say to friends and family, if my shit drives you nuts, don’t stress, just unadd the feed.

Then you get this golden gem, “i only use my facebook music page to promote so it doesn’t annoy anyone”

Yeah cos there are 2 big things wrong with that statement. Firstly you aren’t really using the page, and most people aren’t actually doing what they claim annoys the crap out of you, and secondly, its so so short sighted to just lump all those eggs into Zuckerbergs basket. You have so many ways to communicate now you really don’t need to be worried about the world judging you on this one platform.

Dont you find that part funny? We worry about that kind of promotion thinking a million people will think im a schmuck when a million people is exactly what you want to reach!!?? Who gives a crap if the ratio of a million viewers equates to 800k think your work is mediocre and just annoying? Your could break that down over and over and if it leaves you with say 10,000 interested viewers who want to know more, they will do the rest for you. its FREE. They will re post to friends who DO like this kind of shit.

Your need to hone into a market and audience is so much simpler now. All the like minded groups, chat board, forums,social media sites etc will have trending, things we want to see. When you get some of this working for you, you have an army of publicists working for free who are talking about what you do.

As corny as it sounds, even when its not always good, when people aren’t saying great things about you, there still working on your behalf cos your reaching a huge audience and again, you can ratio that exposure down to some hard core followers.

If your looking for work, you do need to be inventive. You need to look polished, professional, punctual with your promo schedule and deliver something great as often as you can .Saturation only falls on its backside when you are screaming through a brick wall at the same time as 1000 others, all shouting at something that cant respond.And standing behind that wall is nothing like your target audience. Hand out some thrash metal CD’s and concert tickets to the retirement home down the street just for kicks, cos you know there gonna be great numbers……..

Saturation is when you start allowing yourself to feel self conscious whilst bombarding a tiny minuscule audience.

What i have tried to do, is meld networking into a way to promote something about what you do, and then as i said, link and branch this into other types of medium other platforms. Even when it seems there is no big immediate reaction, remember when your selling a brand or product, it takes the big companies millions of dollars, huge airtime and every trick in the book to make some of this stick, so don’t be shocked and all fucking upset just because 2 weeks or posting on facebook didnt bring about new gigs lol

Try forming a schedule. Write it all out and understand how and why your using other mediums and sites to create this machine.This entity that will take on a life of its own. I know that by looking at all the people i love to listen to and follow, 90% of all the work is done for them. I cannot go anywhere online in communities, enthusiast sites without seeing the same names coming up again and again.

But when you spend time looking at how much that person is contributing? its actually not a great deal. They just delivered some regular elements to there brand to your door on schedule and with some variety.

Blog posts, video blogs, teaser work, self promo congrats patting oneself on the arse posts, you name it, its all a piece of it.

As for tactics, you need to be honest and real with people, your audience and/or future Client but that’s just my take, my opinion and what im happy to live by. You wont have everyone playing house rules if we believe there are any! You will see so often, internet sociopaths, bleating on, but not giving an opinion, there crafting a way to make you feel small, to feel like any other way of life, way of thinking puts you on the outside, exiled.

All i will say as a signing off comment, only ever take what you need from people when they offer advice or an excerpt from there journey. It will only work for them in that exact dynamic blend. Your beliefs, your ethics, your sensibilities are your own and your big and ugly enough to work all this out on your own. You don’t need to be part of any gang, any club or click, so you never need anyones permission to speak per se, but the adage “opinions are like arseholes, everybodys got one”, stands the test of time!

As for actually daring to be heard, to promote what you do? Don’t be afraid to sell who you are and what s great about you.Let those numbers do what they do, you will grow your target audience the more you put into this. Just please please look beyond the safe FB haven and really exploit those platforms. There all making millions of dollars from YOU because your audience is there potential sales revenue for advertising etc

 

Taking Inspiration

I have had a nice break from blogging and this for several reasons has given me chance to work through this entry. Sometimes just having an opinion can cause quite an unexpected stir and i have certainly been entertained the last few weeks seeing all kinds of counter attacks and some lower base movements over what is, just one guy sharing ideas and thoughts. So without further ado, i want to broach the dark and sometimes unloving world of inspiration and ideas and underline this with the reminder, this is just MY take on music, the industry and how it has affected me. Some of you MIGHT find some elements useful. To either disagree with and know full well your method is better for you, or it may add a piece or two into your own melting pot.

I do write a lot of music. Ill state the obvious for some of you here but yes i admit i have always felt really driven to try as many new styles as i can, and to fear nothing. To the point where sometimes it plainly just doesn’t work at all. I mean, no ones perfect right?? Far be it from me to even suggest im a composer who has crept near a state of perfection! cos that’s as far from the truth as it can get. But lets start with how it makes you feel to write music.

When you delve into your earliest memories of listening to music and then your first ever jams to your fave record,  you might recall that fearless naive sense of exploration you once had.When your learning, and you have zero expectations, its probably the safest period of your musical life and the most adventurous and giving period too. You have no state of mind of looking for success or a gig. Your not comparing yourself or judging what you do. In fact self doubt in this formative stage is non existent. Its just FUN. You jam, maybe gig with a local band, you pick up instruments you can make sound truly hideous, and you give everything a go.

This for me is a feeling i try and latch onto when im writing now. From the age of around 13 i guess and im 38 as i type this. I try to remember that music is precious to me on my own terms without critical worry and scathing reviews, or judgement from anyone suggesting it simply isnt your best, or your work is selling out and hitting it low. I have written dozens upon dozens of product demos and during this time ill be honest and say they weren’t all great. Some of those tracks are so experimental and a bit out there, that some of the content would be tough to digest. But the important part is, i didn’t care of no one loved them. I just think its ok to be that kind of writer. To not be beating yourself up over a weird avant garde mentality in pushing for new ideas and sounds. It was ok when i was a kid, and its ok right now.

If you always second guess new ideas and new inspiration and bag it, shelve it before its even begun, then its no wonder you feel limited. You keep screwing the lid tighter and tighter each time so a piece of you doesn’t emerge and if you start developing an over critical view of all you create, then trying to write at larger volumes will become a pointless and most def fruitless pursuit.

I would happily find a specific thing i want to do, be it a genre style or mood i want to invoke, and write 20 cues one after the other to start finding that sweet spot. A familiarity and warmth. Like its a new home to you, and then writing more and more ideas for me personally, comes easier than just feeling so alienated in a new style.  You can spend weeks over 8 bars and sweat for the art and all power to you. I would certainly never suggest that someone who has the liberty and freedom to spend weeks per track is the bad guy. But life and your career needs a balance between how much time you can actually spend and what your trying to achieve.

Im fully aware that if i take a year out to explore a life long project , i wont be paying any bills during this time. We have no home and our small family would starve. So until i can do this, writing larger and faster is a survival tool for me, but also a valuable tool for growing new skills and developing instead of being stale and a one trick pony.

So how do you find inspiration for yourself?? What works for you??

Its always a highly subjective thing but i enjoy asking this question and i have hijacked lots of peoples methods for getting a release and learn to explore with greater yield and enjoy the down time in order to recharge and digest new things. The things i have heard and taken onboard i actually use in a juxtapose. And my favourite is this.

“Only listen to what you have done, what you want to do and stay original”.

This first part i do have a big interest in and it is something i can relate to. You can sometimes under estimate how completely brilliant your brain is. We assume that its all quite short term and secular. That we only take in what we focus on and study. But we all know this not to be true. As creatives we are aware that a life time, from birth to present day, we are absorbing every single sound that our ears detect.As i type this, a perfectly awful modern pop song is playing behind me in an ad break. Will i remember all the lyrics and chord progressions??? well i hope not!, but chances are its up there and its filed away without me knowing it may have some value later on.

Being true to your own exploration is def an undiluted affair. It makes you feel at the very least, like you are raiding your mental catalog for things that mean something  ‘to you’.At that point, the only person rolling there eyes and questioning, is just you. I also find all manner of retro spective listening to your older works a huge benefit. The forgotten tricks you left behind cos you just didnt see the value or the beauty in what you do.When you distance your ears from your music for even a few weeks, a re listen can show you places you need to goto. It helps you learn faster and it also keeps the inspiration and idea factory fueled and the fires still burn.

“You only listen to the work of your favourite composers,bands and songwriters”

This is the counter argument, except no ones actually disagreeing. Whether you chose to sit and study great music from others or not, as i said above, your taking in a huge volume of ideas and little sparks of new ones to come.It can help you a great deal for a myriad of reasons. One i find a productive boost for me is listening to certain types of music to understand arrangement better.Maybe pic up some new thoughts for production value. Some times you just get a idea from almost nowhere at all.So subtle can the suggestion be, you hear one train of thought, one snippet, and you have a whole new idea from this morsel.

I heard a track the other day by a great composer. He had used an electric piano to build up a sense of pace and also a organic feel in the mood. Now i pretty much raced to my DAW and its important to highlight the following. I then started riffing some ideas but at no point did i TRY and rip the original, nor was i interested in the mood and story of that piece. Its great but not where i need to go.But it gave me a small subtle starting point to head in a new place. Working with some cool delays and time sigs, the tiny reference to the cue i had was long passed but what emerged was a pretty good idea.

Its not stealing, its not ripping other peoples property. Its just trusting your instincts. You can find inspiration in so many ways when you hear other people writing their best. I get a huge buzz when i stroll through the hard drive and start loading up some pretty bizarre patches and libraries i had long forgotten. Just giving them a play through and in minutes, that sound you had written off as “never gonna be helpful, like ever in the history of my career”, now becomes the focal point of a new cue.

It doesn’t matter how bad you think a writing session can be, as i have said, no one at that point is hearing your work and your view point is skewed by self doubts. You spent an hour playing John Williams scores and now all your noodlings feel flat! Well thats got bad idea written all over it hasn’t it. Stop comparing.  How many times have you played through some new music and thought, this is all great production – wise, but i dont feel the emotion or where im going with it. Yet you can hit up other new tracks and you hear a much more understated arrangement with less bells and whistles, and just a 100 times more emotion and richness.Dont confuse listening to other types of music and composers with making comparisons. One road leads to complete doubt and worry and the other leads to some liberation and fire in your belly. I dont actively listen and think “my god that guy is just so much better at writing this kind of music”, i just feel like i have seen some new ways to adopt that for myself and self teach. Negativity in others is the biggest stone around your neck. When you kick jealousy out of the equation and just replace it with a hunger and interest to move forward, thats a healthy kind of envy and can create a positive surge.

So i do find both schools of thought a winner but in moderation and when you need to draw more from totally different people or to delve back inside the huge catalog of sound that is your mind, and dare to pull something out, whether you immediately recognise it as of great value or not.

Inspiration does tend to strike when you give it room to move. If you watch and listen to the behaviour of any child, you will see that from the age they can walk and talk and form sentences, they are already trying things for the first time. A small mind that isnt carrying around any worries about household bills, meetings, trying to catch the train, did i file all my taxes correctly? etc, They have a nice blank page to work with and a big handful of crayons. And despite the Jackson Pollock nature of their ideas and artwork, its still an expression without limitation. As you grow older, that space you have becomes filled with worry and responsibility and its a big shame we have to see this in our kids. We need to them to grow and be aware, but at the same time, your engaging emotion, and head space. The frontal head thinking that enables us to walk and talk, have an mp3 on our ears, clutching a paper in one hand, a umbrella in the other, already doing “mental math” over how your day will go and what you need to accomplish.

Children don’t do this. They simply are taught to take on so much responsibility, it absorbs all that frontal and immediate space. So this leads me onto the simple mechanisms i have used and many of my friends have told me to adopt. Taking breaks!!!! Its ok if your a one man machine on a mission to rule the roost and succeed, hurling cue after cue over your shoulder, but with no pauses or ‘jolts’, that head space we treasure, it becomes cluttered to breaking point.

Its pretty much a bottle neck and all the daily woes and struggles are just filling up that space allowing none of the long term magic to pass by. Those collected scraps of audio, the pictures in your mind, heart felt memories, the experimental moments of insanity, are all sitting behind a wall of daily fears and struggles.

So the jolt to unblock this can be as simple as a walk through a park. It can be going out for a drink and just laughing your head off till it hurts and tears fill your eyes, It can be something of such an intense focused nature, their isnt any place for clutter. I had the pleasure of visiting a great guy whilst in LA a few weeks back and i went shooting for the very first time. Now if you are of non USA heritage or upbringing, then being able to do this at all can be something a little tricky to achieve in your country or origin. But my word, the release from all the thoughts and fears was so crisp in my mind.

Complete focus on one very important thing = everything else fades away. You don’t need to always think, ‘i need to fuck off and go hug a tree’ when someone says, stop working and relax. It just means find your own ‘jolt’ and activate that part of you again. Unblock the path for ideas and new feelings.Take all the blogs and advice you read everywhere and tear it up. Find the morsels of info that can and will apply just to you.Cut and paste new ideas into your worlflow and never fear trying new ways to work. You can quite simply hit delete and start over!