Making the Transition and Setting goals

A good friend of mine asked me recently about making a transition from one career to the next. This is something i can speak of and i think there is a core element of this movement that negates any previous vocation or position. That is to say, it doesnt matter what you’re currently doing, it matters where you want to end up.

Ill briefly explain where i was and then where i have ended up hoping that in some way, my words make some sense for you.I longed to be a composer for as long as i recall. Actually thats a lie, i wanted to be an active musician/ music maker in some capacity no matter what it took. So at the age of 15, we had a very special thing happen upon us at our secondary school.

We had a professional recording studio built onto the school. I mean that’s pretty amazing for a state public school and its only now in later years i realise what a privilege that was. So i spent ALL my time trying to duck out of all my other lessons and head into the studio. My mentor was a hugely experienced performer, composer,producer,arranger and MD. He had a catalogue of very big clients he had toured with, produced etc and i knew i was in a great position to learn.

Now from being asked to make half of Kajagoogoo cups of tea, stripping SMPTE on quarter inch and programming drums on some very random albums and sessions, i also got down time. A ton of down time.

So what would you do??? use this time , this precious time to the maximum and practice all your new skills, or would you toss it off, be a true arrogant teen and know better?? Well despite all those huge blessings,i was the fool. Fucking clown shoes i tell you. I had a guy who taught me every secret he knew about this business, showed me how to handle clients, and understand several areas of the trade i knew little to nothing about. My response was to fumble around with his eldest daughter and pretty much ignore his best intentions..

Fast forward a few years and i began my career in freight forwarding. This my friends took me right up till approx 2010 to understand and appreciate i needed a way back out. 20 years of lifting and carting around cargo and boxes. Loading trucks and all manner of hard graft shit. So i needed a way back into music. I’d bought and sold a ton of synths, screwing around with a single core pentium pc with a basic controller and a Korg Triton rack. I really just spent so much time not knowing what the hell i was doing that when i look at where i am now, i have NO IDEA how i got here lol!!!!

But the way it all started was this. i started listening again. to music, to people. And thats the biggest factor in all of this by far. you listen to those who do know what they’re talking about and you learn to research the market place and understand the place you wish to be a part of.

I stopped writing all the self indulgent, arty farty nonsense crap that only me, the missus and a handful of polite relatives would sit and nod to. I mean its fine if you want to be an artiste, a creative who has no compromise and wants to remain a true, free Yoko like spirit. But the price 99% of us pay, bearing in mind genius is a bullshit word smacked around the place all day long, is a life slightly more ordinary and progressive than this. If you only want to create “art”, then writing for tv, film, radio, advertising etc, really isnt for you at all. It is a job after all. And don’t be telling me its all just a utter joy day after day cos it really isn’t.

Its like it is for anyone who has to live from their musical earnings. From a rock band , big solo singer to a chap like me writing in humble means but making it work. ITS FUCKING HARD WORK. And no it doesn’t stop being hard work if you’re Jon Bon Jovi. Ok, so you get the Heather Locklears and a huge mansion, a pub in your garden and every luxury car and private jet you could wish for, but those work days are LONG and full of intense hours. Everyone works hard when it comes to finding any level of success. It’s not discriminating and it favours no one. So just get one thing perfectly clear. Making this all come together will mean stopping those excuses you keep posting all across Facebook.

The stuff you tell everyone why you cant. You’re just too busy to put in the work, or as above, you wont compromise your art. Well step 1 is quit. Seriously. If working savage long hours doesn’t work for you and everything you compose feels like you’re selling out, then you need to do something else. i dont know, fucking hug a tree, get some 9-5 job that doesn’t require anything above or beyond, but don’t even bother with music.

No one is telling you this?? Is this the advice you’re not getting from friends??? Well i’ll be honest and lay it out as i see it and as it applies to my findings and those around me.

So the big question, and lets for a minute assume we are doing something full time and want to find a way to get into writing music for a reason, a paid reason, and how to make this a transition that wont bankrupt you. How can you make it work.

Well as we have now got into how hard you need to work i’ll tell you what i needed to do, and you can do your own math and apply some basic tweaks to your hours etc.

I worked at least 40 hours per week. On a permanent night shift. Some weeks it is closer to 45-50 hours. I get home and try to get to sleep as soon as possible. By the afternoon i get up and within 30 mins i’m writing music. i write cue after cue., whatever it may be. Practice and push. Try all the styles and sounds you hear in tv everyday. Then you stop for dinner, then you have an hour or so to say goodnight to your very young child, kiss the other half good bye and back to another night shift.  Whatever you do now, regardless of what hours and shift pattern are, how many times you hit the gym or help out a relative to the shops, you are still gonna have some time left. But that time is called “sanity time” .

Now sanity time is what we humans don’t declare to others. Its a few hours but cos we use up so much of our time during a day, we don’t class these sanity hours as real time we can use. We just say to ourselves, if i write music in my only spare time, i’ll surely die. When in fact, it rarely comes close to a life and death tussle between a boxset of your fave tv show and that near death bright light lol!

You have to start saying, those few hours? i need to invest them . Like any saving or investment, time isn’t a commodity we see as a monetary asset. We don’t imagine “time” will pay the next mortgage instalment but in the long-term, and provided you work hard during those hours??? It is a huge asset worth more than any quick fix.

I spent a long time just honing up. Bringing back every skill i ever had. Remembering what everyone had told me and all the guys i brushed off when i was a kid cos i thought i was going to be the next massive Trevor Horn in my day lol. Then its a case of finding the work. Who wants this music?? Are they agencies, website opps? What are they and how do i get on board??

So you start having conversations again with those in the community. The people around you have pretty much every single answer you ever wanted to know, about EVERYTHING. Seriously. So get some names, some companies to hit up. For all the hours you wrote, gather your finest 3-5 cues and make a reel. A 30 second a piece reel collage to fire off. This is the most sobering and tedious part of trying to find a way in, and this part is perhaps the most hit and miss. Some will listen, others will plainly just not. But it takes a lot of rejections and some half decent replies to start finding a groove with what you are doing.

So you go back over and over, revising cues to make them work, finding new ways to get that technique down. And come up, resurface and try again, and again till you just simply wonder if this was all a huge waste of time. But here’s the thing, you’re prepared to work this hard, you are investing “time” and you are improving even if you don’t see it.

I strongly recommend retrospective listens of all your early works as you plot across this mission. Its healthy and its extremely telling. It shows you tricks you forgot or misses, it highlights the way it didn’t work to the way you know it now does. Its a big plus for any composer. So go ahead and cringe, but its a valuable tool for you.

If you spend the time listening to your peers, and keep your eyes and ears peeled, you will start to gather some decent contacts. Some ok companies to climb on board with. So after all the re writing and getting it right, you stand a great chance of them listening and not throwing the CD in the can or deleting your URL from their page. And it only takes one bite of interest to fuel you onto the next stage.

Having someone show even the slightest belief in your work can move mountains over night.

Now from my experience it was finding an advert asking for some ‘up in your grill’ high tension cues. I had swooned and re hashed some ideas based on a bunch of Bourne cues i had heard. i mean i got deeply into the punch of it, the surprise, the sharp mix and then i thought, well i have heard a ton of this on tv. Its everywhere. So i see this ad and it says a show on Discovery needs high tension action cues contact blah blah….. so i did. On the basis i have nothing to lose at all. I had already written a trillion ok to bad cues, so it was time to send off a few that MIGHT , finally, be in the ball park .The right format structure, the right pauses and edit friendly points. The strong ending sting etc.

And i had got this one right. I was asked to write 10 more of those as the producer was loving them. Great!  I get paid. I’m working full-time and being paid half decent cash here. What a bonus and should i just regard this as supplemental income?? Is there anything in this at all???

You recall i said about sacrificing your spare time??? well when someone does want you to write music and pays you, and its for a half decent sizable channel, those hours are going to be more intense. And the weekends??? That’s time you will invest too. You now need to start thinking about being better, faster and having some more current sounds and tools to do the job. So i did exactly that. I had a wage and some income i could spend on this stuff and slowly but surely i’m expanding this pallet and also writing more rounded cues. So you learn to trust your writer’s instinct and start becoming more efficient and more flexible. If its genres you don’t know, make them bloody genres you do. And do it fast. Spend more of those hours listening and honing.

Submit more and more and you will see you and the client base start to become mutually happy with the way things are going. So this all carried on for quite a long time. For me time is all supremely precious. Every hour and every day is a chance to meet at least one goal. So set yourself targets you can reach, but always present yourself with something you cannot do, and find bite sized ways of combating this flaw, for want of a better word.

After a year (that is an eternity for me btw), not only had i written a few hundred cues, but more and more were being placed, published and set to good use. Now this next part need not apply to man nor beast and i know i have written this publicly before but it meant a huge amount to me so for one last time, ill make it public once more.

My father in law became very sick very quickly. I had suffered the loss of my mother in 1998 so you would think part of me was amply prepared for a return visit from this serious illness but i wasn’t. It knocked me and my partner for six. It was something surreal in a movie or a compelling weekly show but it didn’t belong in our world. And you know what i’m going to say, so skipping forward for all concerned, my father in law passed and in a period of no greater than 5 short months.

I have a 3 nearly 4 year old son, a mental crazy busy career loading lorries and decent wage and prospects, but nothing at all in my heart. And for that first time ever, his passing hit me like a brick. I asked myself what i was waiting for?? When do we start living?? When is it ok to take risks and to run with it??? I have a mortgage, a hour consuming job, a life at home, so how do you make such a transition???

Rather boringly i revert you to the paragraph at the opening when i said you work hard. When you STOP making excuses about time, the art, compromise and the bullshit. i just sat down with my partner and a bloody good accountant and we talked about what it would take. I spoke to the head of the company i was writing most my music for and i said, what can i do to make this a full-time job?

I’m a lucky guy in one respect cos i had built up a lovely relationship with the boss. He had become a friend to me. And he basically said, this works for both of us – i get a ton of great cues, you get to follow your dream. So we both made the leap. I write a chunk of music per month and i get some upfront cash and my back end. I also write for several other libraries and i add in cues as i go, writing as much as i can.

The wage drop was huge, yes. The stress went up a fair amount too, but you already guessed as much. But this is over two years on from the big leap. I have my own company, i am paying my way, i am enjoying this job. Its what i was meant to be doing but can you just walk into this and not expect a huge change??? It will change you on so many levels. Your appreciation of yourself is no bad thing either, but you will see just how remarkable you are when you invest “you” into this. You use those hours, you earn less for a long time and you have to beat down a lot of doors with the promise of rejection.The bottom line is the following and i apologise for such a huge ramble!!!

Start using all the hours you REALLY HAVE. Stop making up lots of excuses about how you wont sell out or wont learn new things. Stop letting any and all negative bullshit into your world, onto your radar. start listening, believing and improving. The transition from one career or place to another is always going to be a risk. Life is a risk so get over it. You do only get the one shot and its never too late no matter what you hear. You can crossover from pretty much any industry and any commitment into a chosen musical career. But no one will do it for you, your bitching moaning and pity wont pay any bills, and it wont allow you to grow and become any better.

Negative people will destroy everything you have and all you believe in. Its about a life changing amount of effort and drive. Its about setting down some goals you can tick off. A long and constant series of small doable goals.When you tick them all off as you go and then dare to look back, you will have grown – trust me.

I want to break into a few more blogs about how to get some networking going, how to promote what you have and who you are, creating something and then building on this. And this is coming soon. I’m kind of on this big journey with all of you, my friends and colleagues , and i appreciate all the time you take to read this, and then come talk to me.


2 thoughts on “Making the Transition and Setting goals

  1. Wow, I am genuinely feeling a lot of respect for you right now because what I have just read is almost a mirror of my life right now. Thank you so much for being honest and sharing your very heartfelt story. It has both inspired and encouraged me to continue as I had recently lost a loved one and with everything else going on in my life was about to give up on my dream of becoming a full-time working Composer. I have taken your words and am letting them guide through my next decision points. Thank you so much!

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