My goal in starting this website and podcast has always been to make our professional film music community “smaller” as we naturally grow “larger”. Over the past year, our website has undergone many alterations and we’ve experimented with various ways to communicate and interact as a community. Some of these methods have worked and some of them have needed further tweaking, but we’ve always strived to make SCO the very best experience it can be. To commemorate our anniversary, we will be launching even more new features at SCOREcastOnline.com in the coming weeks that will make the site even more robust as we seek to better serve this community.
One of the things that I believe differentiates SCO from the rest of the pack is that we are all working professionals—none of us are offerring knowledge or putting something out there for public consumption that isn’t a tried and true method, technique, philosophy, or question in our own daily working film music routine. It annoys me to no end to encounter people who really have no idea what it is like being a working professional in this business, yet they either want to tell you all about how to do it or they have an opinion that they feel is relevant— never mind the fact that they haven’t written a note or edited or mixed music for the last fifteen years. How can this person *truly* know what it is like NOW in the film music business, other than to simply speculate on something they know very little about? (And for the record, I’m NOT talking to those of you who are just coming up in the biz—”Looking for” work and “talking about” work are two different things. To me, one is of merit. The other? Not so much.)
Which leads me to a potential discussion with you: GOING PRO. What does that mean? What is the difference between being a professional film composer, music editor, orchestrator—what have you—and being an amateur hobbyist?
Understand this difference: I’m NOT asking, “How does a person make the leap from being an amateur to being a professional?” Or even, “How do you break into the working community?” Instead, I’m seeking to illustrate and highlight the differences in the two species—because a working film composer and a film composer who isn’t working are two VERY different animals… and the reasons why, at least to me, are extremely telling and very educational for all of us at every stage of the career.
Like many of my working colleagues who’ve had any amount of success at this gig, I’ve lectured in plenty of film music classes at the university level. After years and years of doing so and talking with hundreds—if not thousands—of students, my spirit of discernment operates at a fairly high level: I’m able to tell which students have the chutzpah and internal drive to eventually find their way into the professional ranks and which ones do not.
I have a lot to say on this topic, and I’ll spread it out over the rest of May in various articles I’ll write, but in the meantime, and to get the party started, here are two immediate thoughts that come to mind that I feel are relevant to all of us:
Everyone screws up. On almost every project I’ve ever worked on, somebody somewhere has messed something up. Sometimes the mistake is small and it goes unnoticed and gets swept under the rug, and sometimes it’s a Category 5 disaster that cannot be ignored and the entire scoring team, from the studio executives on down, hears about the blunder. Usually, with some quick thinking and a little magic dust, it is fixable. Sometimes it costs the person their job.
No matter what, and in every case, a professional takes the responsibility for everything they do, good or bad, pretty or ugly. There is no pointing fingers, no whining about how someone else is to blame. If you did it, you own it.
As a film music pro, there is no surer way to kill your career than passing the responsibility buck. I used to compose music for NBC’s “The Apprentice”, and “The Celebrity Apprentice” is still a huge guilty pleasure in my home for both me and my family (I finally got them hooked!). One thing that has always fascinated me about that show is how well the teams work together and have each other’s backs. That is… UNTIL they get to the Boardroom, where they, without fail, start throwing each other under the bus in an effort to stay on one more week. While I understand that this is part of the dynamic that makes a show like this work, it still blows my mind how far people are willing to go to cast blame on others for what are so obviously their own poor decisions. Many times, Trump sees right through this kind of crap and yells, “You’re Fired!”
What’s worse? These are all people who are working professionals! Truthfully, I’ve lost much respect for many “celebrities” that I once held in high regard by watching them sell their teammates out to stay alive one more week. This isn’t an indictment on Reality TV. It is an indictment on not taking Personal Responsibility For Your Own Actions. You have to own your own shit. If you did it, face it and be a professional about it. Own up to it, fix it quick, and move on with getting your job done.
Everybody makes mistakes, but one of the things that differentiates a professional from an amateur is the ability to own up, apologize appropriately, and make things right.
Acting vs. Reacting
This is another personal core value of mine, and it’s a doozy.
Are you the kind of person who waits? Waits for someone to call, waits until April 15th to file taxes, waits to have the tough conversation, waits to deal with broken gear, waits to put processes and people in place until “I absolutely need to”, waits to demo for a project until it shows up on IMDb, waits, waits, waits, waits, waits?????
If yes, then you’ve got a problem. Mark my words: You are going to have a hard time in the film music business.
Again, a delineation: I’m not talking about “timing”. Appropriate Timing is an art unto itself that I will discuss later this month as we dive deeper into Professionalism. No, I’m referring to “putting things off”. Procrastinating.
I like to do the opposite. I act NOW. If I hear about a project in it’s early stages of pre-production and I want it—I jump on it TODAY. Not tomorrow, not Friday… TODAY. If I learn of a potential scheduling conflict that is headed my way, I handle it this very second. I do not… wait.
I pay estimated quarterly taxes. I don’t wait for April 15th to do all of that work. I pay business expenses at the beginning of the month instead of at the end. I deal with staffing issues when they happen, not after they unfold. I take my team out for regular play dates instead of waiting until they are dragging ass and need a jolt of emergency R&R.
I diagnose computers or take them to the “doctor” at the first sign of trouble rather than waiting for them to go belly-up two days before a deadline.
I initiate conversations with producers and directors and I do not wait for them to seek me out by word of mouth. I make it a point to network, socialize, and mingle. I work to meet and befriend at least one new person in my life every single day.
I return all of my calls and emails once in the morning and once before I go home for the day. I follow up with all of my team members on each project by sending something nice (when appropriate) or telling them in person how much I appreciate them.
All of these things are in an effort to work ahead of schedule. Ultimately, it all becomes important on the day that a big project hits my studio, along with the realization that if these things aren’t already done, they won’t get done for the next 4-6 weeks. At that point, it’s too late—I’m committed. The work now dictates how I can spend my time, and no matter what, I have to maintain focus to meet my project’s deadline. This means that many of these aforementioned tasks must fall by the wayside in order to meet that commitment, and so I must operated in my “downtime” with a bias toward working ahead of schedule.
Most people I have encountered that are only sort of poking around with the idea of making a career out of composing act exactly counter to the way I just described. They toy around with these things. But professionals don’t. And if you want to ascend to the next terrace in your career, you can’t either.
I had an instructor once who used to tell us that the best way to get to the next level in anything in life—sports, music, business, relationships, fitness… whatever—is to “start living and acting on that level”. How true this is.
Where are you headed and what do you need to change in order to get there?
I await your comments below.