A Non-Musical Guide for Composers Entering The Industry
So you want to be a game or film composer? Good choice! It can be (and totally is!), one of the most rewarding things an artist could ever commit themselves to. There are hundreds of articles that contain great advice on things such as where to begin, how to actually WRITE music for media, and whether you should go down the path of assisting another composer, start your own company, or live the freelance life. This is NOT ONE OF THOSE ARTICLES. In this article, we are going to discuss the things almost no one talks about (at least publicly, or often) that are important as ever, and without, you will be doing a lot more worrying and crying yourself to sleep than writing. These are some of the essentials (outside of your craft) that can transport you from amateur-land to pro status. WARNING: no sugar coating ahead.
First step, get your s*** together and clean up your workspace. Okay, so you know you have to write some music. You wake up with the best intentions of getting started…you walk in to the studio with your “I <3 Music” coffee mug and sit down. You flick on your computer and monitors, and there it is…your desktop background. But it’s not just your desktop background…it’s a cluster of chaos…the spoils of wars fought with projects…a battlefield ravished with files that have no home. You look at it…defeated, and wonder where the project folder is for what you need to be working on. Then you look around your room. There’s tax documents to be filed on the counter, five books scattered around, half a sandwich from yesterday, and a sock hanging over your studio couch (why is that there? No one knows). Your thoughts aren’t on music or being creative now. They have gone on to thinking about why your life is such a mess. But your life isn’t a mess, you are just MESSY. Clean it up, because your creative self, and anyone who ever comes to say hello will thank you for it. Just remember the old adage “a place for everything, everything in it’s place.”
Step two, organize your finances. Whether you agree or not, money is important. It’s more of a fact than an opinion really. Whatever city you are starting out in, it’s going to be expensive, so do your best to prepare for it, instead of complaining about it. Want to record that new demo? Money. Take that director out to dinner that you want to impress? Money. Recently I have discovered that money doesn’t have to be the evil, oppressive dictator that we make it out to be. For most of us, our finances weigh so heavily on our lives. There are simple steps we can take to set up an automatic infrastructure that allows us to be in financial control, so we are thinking about creating, and not whether we have enough money in the bank to go on that date this weekend. Here are just a few ways to start heading towards getting a handle on your money, because you really need to start if you haven’t already:
1) Use the one-month rule. Do you really need that new sweater, or new synth (have you really learned how to use the last one yet?). Sit on it for a month…if you still need it that bad, go for it.
2) Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to stop doing things or spending on items. You just have to remember this. Spend on the things you love doing and purchasing, and be crazy frugal about the things you don’t care about.
3) Set up a simple bookkeeping system and understand how basic personal finance and taxes work.
4) Don’t go in to debt. If you are in debt, make it your focus to pay it off.
If you can do these four things, you will be well on your way to not worrying about your bank account, and focusing on the things that are important in your life.
Your Mind & Body
Step three, organize yourSELF (your mind & body). I love Taco Bell…no seriously…it’s a problem. But you know what I love more? Being able to focus when I’m working, and not being so jittery from that mountain dew I just inhaled that I can’t even command z when I make a bad audio edit. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest, and being healthy, sleeping correctly, exercising, and eating well all fall in to this category. So, what’s the magic trick you might ask? Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn’t one. There JUST ISN’T. Most of us have been depriving ourselves of bodies and minds that could be pumping out amazing music, because our brains are so blocked with junk we can’t see straight. We would rather drink that soda because it tastes better than water, watch Netflix because it feels better than running, and stay up till 3am instead of getting to bed early. Stop treating your mind and body poorly, and start taking action. I wish there was a shortcut, I really do. Get to bed earlier, and wake up on time. Join a gym (or just do some push-ups…c’mon, just do one). Eat a skinless chicken breast instead of making mac and cheese for the fifth night in a row. It’s not easy, but for your sake, and the sake of your art and life, start making the right choices. It’s all about starting, as with anything, once you begin, it’s a lot easier to keep going.
Be Respectful & Use Common Sense
Alright, this one’s a biggie. Do you find yourself developing an ego that your actions don’t support? Have you ever thought yourself to be better than the person next to you? Did it ever cross your mind to disrespect someone who has been where you hope to go, and think it would get you somewhere? If not, YOU ROCK. If so, check in with yourself and then ponder why you are making such destructive decisions.
Probably the biggest mistake I see composers entering the industry make, is overstepping their bounds, and having an inability to recognize their place in any given situation. “Their place” seems like a harsh way to word it doesn’t it? But it’s certainly the most realistic way of putting it. A quick side story for context. I once spoke with a now veteran composer who was the assistant to an A-list composer years and years ahead of us all. They were in a mix session for the composer’s latest score, and the engineer asked if anything should be changed in that cue. Instead of the A-list composer giving his answer, the intern thought it was his shining moment to interrupt, and say “I think the cellos should come down!” Needless to say that day did not end well for one aspiring writer. This is of course an extreme case, but all the time I hear horror stories of smaller “infractions” in which younger composers interrupt someone they are trying to learn from, etc. Here’s the bottom line. If someone has been there before you (or hasn’t been for that matter) and is offering their precious time to help you develop as a person and an artist, you need to be respectful, use your common sense, and act accordingly. This goes for the workplace, networking situations, meetings, dinner with a mentor, any situation involving other people. No one likes a person who is too big for their britches, and lacks the self-awareness to act professionally. Be gracious, be humble, be kind to everyone you meet, and use your head. Oh, and don’t be late…no one likes that s***.
Get Things Done
Do you talk about working and how busy you are, more than you actually work on getting things done? We all do from time to time, it’s only natural, because composers are fantastic procrastinators. But for the love of god, please stop. Other than being a good human, the only thing we leave behind at the end of this life, is the work we did, how we made people feel, and the art we produced. The universe is funny that way, but also extremely simple. What you give is what you get.
“Discipline is freedom” is one of my favorite quotes, penned by author and retired Navy Seal commander Jocko Willink. Those three words pack quite the punch. Once you realize that the only way to escape all your worries in the world, is by sitting down and doing what you were put here on this little blue marble to do, your life becomes all that much easier. Why would you not do your work? One word: FEAR. If you’re anything like any other artist to ever walk the face of the earth, you’re scared of failing, you let self-doubt paralyze you, and the opinions of others stop you in your tracks. So, by not putting yourself out there, what you are really doing is failing every day. So actually…failure becomes comfortable, it is your normal. What we really fear more than anything is our success. We fear that we might put something out in to the world and that people will love it! True success is uncharted territory for most of us. The only way to truly achieve it is to ruthlessly create and expose our art to the world. Only then does success become the norm, and failure becomes old news. Use this as fuel; let it fire you up to think that every day could be a success if you open yourself up to the idea of it.
Work your butt off. Work until you think you can’t, and then work some more. I’m not just talking about composing either. Work on building genuine relationships, work on your family, work on yourself. Let the effort you put in do the talking, instead of the words that come out of your mouth. Sit down, do it, be great.
Being a composer is anything but boring. If you’re anything like me, you’re in it for the adventure. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be here reading this article, so you’re a rockstar. As you move forward, continue to develop your craft, foster relationships, learn Learn LEARN, and keep these non-musical ideas in mind. I promise they will help you to become better than you thought you could ever be. Enjoy the ride.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
About the Author
Andy Forsberg – Core Team Member/Editor, Designing Music NOW – Composer
Andy Forsberg is a composer for film, games, television, and records. With his roots in Colorado, Andy wasn’t born into a musical family. Having a father who was a NASA engineer, and a serial entrepreneur in the private engineering sector, and a mother who made her career as a marketing director, Andy’s foundation was more entrepreneurial than musical. But at a young age, Andy fell in love with playing percussion, which led to his passion for composing. From Star Wars, to Super Mario Bros, to the Mighty Ducks, Andy was inspired by many of his favorite films and games, which would eventually lead him into composing for visual media.
While attending the Berklee College of Music as a film scoring major, Forsberg quickly became a well respected member of the Berklee community, serving as coordinator of the school’s Film Scoring Network, a recruiter for admissions, and an active clinician and lecturer on campus. Forsberg has credits on numerous films, TV series, advertisements, and games, and formerly served as marketing director and studio assistant for renowned composers William Ross (Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Barbara Streisand, The 2014 Oscars) and Ryan Shore (Penn Zero: Part Time Hero, Prime, The Millionaires’ Unit). He was also a co-founder of Los Angeles based post-production audio house, Hexany Audio, where he served as lead composer until early 2016.
Forsberg also has a prodigious passion for education and travel, and is an active clinician and lecturer in film/game music and lifestyle design around the world.