This weekend’s question—just putting it out there for some discussion, so hit those comments:
What if you don’t like competition? What if it turns you off, or gives you ulcers, or wrecks your sleep schedule? How do you reconcile that with this career?
First off, I’m guessing most of you are comfortable taking chances. This career comes with high risk and zero promise of reward. So the fact that you’re interested in composing at all is a pretty reliable sign that you’re aware of the gamble. People who are risk-takers generally enjoy tough competition, as well. Generally… but not always.
Risk and competition are different. Competition implies effort. A lottery ticket is a risk, not a competition—there’s nothing you can do, besides buying more tickets, to improve your chances of hitting the right combination of numbers. Whereas, if you fail to land a gig, there’s always a nagging guilt, or doubt, that remains: What could I be doing better? Why didn’t they like me? Why do I have to do this ‘schmoozing and hustling’ part—why can’t writing incredible be enough?
Today’s column is all about these inner-game aspects of the career. It’s all about improving what’s between our ears, rather than what’s coming out of our speakers. It’s a subject I want to tackle even more here on SCOREcast, if you’re interested. So let me know.
For now, here’s an orientation: some basic techniques for getting through the competitive aspects of the biz, even (especially) if you find them distasteful.
First, discipline yourself to a positive attitude. Being dejected and cynical is easy. Finding reasons to stay in the game, and to keep a smile on your face as you do it, is much tougher. It is, in fact, a job unto itself. It requires discipline—one of the great unsung commodities of the age we’re in. I think discipline is a finite quantity, with each of us possessing a certain intrinsic maximum capacity that is expressed to a greater or lesser extent depending on how we prioritize its usage and constant development. Just like building muscle at the gym, in other words.
It’s only a theory, but it seems to line up with my experience, and I definitely feel the burn when I’ve had to force a little more discipline onto myself from time to time (usually around deadlines!).
Second, expose yourself to competitive experiences more frequently… and not just in film music. Desensitize yourself through increased exposure, a little at a time. So that un-returned phone call didn’t make you feel so great? Make ten more… twenty more. Once you realize that any one failure, any one defeat, isn’t the end of the road, you should (should!) be able to breathe a little easier next time.
Third, study resources that are proven for other competitive environments. There are books, websites, DVDs that use the same fundamental mental-toughness techniques that top trainers preach day in and day out to the peak-performers in every human endeavor. This technology has actually been developed to a fairly astonishing level—take advantage, be skeptical as required when confronted with some of the ridiculous claims that are out there, and find what works for you. Make a proactive effort to improve, just like you do when you sit down to compose. Work at it.
Finally, unclench. Accept that there may, in fact, be aspects of this career that aren’t your favorite thing in the world. Put in perspective, though, they’re actually relatively minor when you compare them to the fact that, even at a middling level of success, millions of people around the world will be hearing the music you create. You’re taking your place as one of the people who shapes the artistic reality of the present moment. That’s a pretty spectacular reward, and it’s one you shouldn’t just blow past in some sort of rush to whine about having to get out there and hustle.