One year on

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Cruciform
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One year on

Post by Cruciform » Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:32 pm

Dunno if this will interest anyone, but I'd like to recap my first year on this road. Maybe some other newbies will relate to this and find it useful and/or encouraging for them.

I've always felt music and had many ideas but up until 2010 never really looked beyond being a guitarist and playing in a church music team. I initially wanted to start writing music for my church and in Feb.'10 bought a midi controller keyboard and between my guitar, Absynth and Drums-on-Demand loops started working on demos for church. But all I got there was polite disinterest. I have to look back now and laugh at the way things are turning out. I don't mean laugh as in "so there, you should have used me!" but in a "it's weird the way things work out very different to how we want them to" way.

Having those few tools sparked a lot of ideas for me. One day in Apr.'10 I was watching TV and zoned out to the picture and really started, maybe for the first time, listening to the music on shows and commercials and movies. I wondered where it came from. There was really good, moving orchestral work, quirky instrumentals in ads, cheesy 15s clips here and there. Some of it was clearly out of my league, but a lot of it, I thought, "I could do better than that" (egg of Colombus anyone?). So I spent a lot of time with my friend Google trying to work out where the music is sourced and how one would go about writing it and getting it used. I found a lot of gibberish and useless information. Some interesting and insightful stuff (such as the Starpolish site) was around, but mostly I found links to various royalty free sites. At the time I didn't understand what that even meant.

Somewhere in there, I found Taxi and began to read the forums. I eventually registered as a forum member and put up a few pieces for feedback to see if anyone thought I had what it took. I received some positive and encouraging replies and after some deliberation joined Taxi in early May.'10. I hit up a lot of their listings and was consistently rejected. Initially I didn't mind, because I was after the feedback and to learn how to pitch to a listing. After awhile though, the rejections got annoying and frustrating. Sure, a lot of stuff was below par, quality wise, but there were pieces I was comfortable with and couldn't see why it was being rejected. I felt like the screeners were deliberately trying to frustrate me.

As an aside, since then I've accepted the realisation that the screeners are just people too, with their individual biases and perceptions. Here's a point where I have to disagree with Michael Laskow - the screeners are not objective. If post-modernism has taught us anything, it is that objectivity is a myth. There is no such thing as an "ideal observer" free from all prejudice and able to consider only factual data. That would be a robot. But then a robot probably couldn't 'feel' the art of music. What is more the case, however, is that screeners have a distance from the music (they didn't create it) and an understanding of what the client is looking for (sometimes though the rejections still don't make sense and I have to wonder if it was just a bad day or a gut reaction to a submission). As an another aside, quantum physics has taught us that observation changes reality!

Nevertheless, what a reporter said about Joan Rivers holds true in a broader context. "People who fail in show business get rejected all of the time. Those who succeed, like Rivers, get rejected most of the time." The simple fact is, this is a business with an oversupply of product creators, so we really need to stand out in some way - that doesn't necessarily have to be in terms of innovation, but simple things like professionalism, consistent quality, timeliness, easy to work with and so on. That may not be the case in the world of pop and rock stars. ;) I think too many production musicians still consider themselves artists and don't conduct their work as a business. Of course, there is an artistic side but I get the feeling that is not close to the top of the list of prioritised qualities in successful production music professionals.

Off track a bit, so.... one thing I committed myself to was the development of skills - composition, production, mixing. Each of those could be a career in themselves but normally as solo operators we have to learn all of them, and learn them well. (At some point, collaboration just makes sense. The old buzzword: synergy. Complementarity in operation can create greater things than the sum of the parts.) I spend time learning how to use my software and equipment, I listen to lots of reference material and practice my mixing to work towards the sound I need. And very importantly, I'm getting less precious about my music. Rejection and criticism can be taken in many ways. But the best way is, "Does that have merit? Can I learn from it?" If yes, great. If not, shrug and move on.

With respect to skills development, I've found the peer-to-peer forum and A/Bing reference material to be the most valuable tools. I haven't found much value in screener feedback - just being honest. Others will have different mileage. In peer-to-peer, it's not only feedback on personal material that's useful, but reading critiques of others work. It helps develop a critical ear and the ability to listen for many factors. When things are pointed out, you start to listen for them and you can hear it in the work of others and understand what the critic means, so that's useful when critically listening to your own productions.

Reality check 1: your music is probably not as good as it could be.
Reality check 2: not everyone will like what you do.
Reality check 3: two different people who matter (ie. publishers/librarians) could have wildly conflicting perceptions of your work
Reality check 4: your friends and family will love what you do. That's their job. Unless you're fortunate like me - my wife is brutally honest!!

Getting back to the journey, after reaching a point of sheer frustration with screeners, I wondered what other avenues there were. I won't go into those details here but I'm now at a point where I have more work opportunities than available creating time. However, in my hiatus from Taxi submissions, my production skills have improved exponentially, thanks in large part to getting a great DAW and taking the time to learn about K-system level metering, and general mixing practice. So I think it's no coincidence that 4 months after my last submission, I submit again targeting as well as I could and I get a forward! The irony is, I already have more open doors than I have material and time - I've reached a point where I would probably start to get the forwards but I may not even need it. Well, I find it ironic.

Late last year, I signed several tracks to a trailer library and that really narrowed my focus as to what I want to do. Not long after, I was offered an album deal by a different library and I did 16 tracks for them. It turned out that two other writers had material in that collection as well, but that was another lesson - publishers have their own business plan and goals. Within the last month I've now been offered another album deal. This time I've chosen my collaborator so I know what to expect...I hope. I've also attracted attention from a large production library and additionally am in negotiations to create material for two leading trailer houses. What a ride! Trailer music is a microcosm of a movie/tv show/video game. It has to be powerful, emotive and often intense because it's about advertising. It's not there to support a scene or just be a background blip that is largely overlooked by viewers and quickly forgotten. It's designed to hook people and help draw them into wanting to see/buy whatever the trailer is advertising. My goal now is to become the best trailer music composer I can be. I love it, and I'm really not interested in anything else at this time.

So coming up in May will be one year with Taxi and for the busy reasons above, I'm not sure if I will renew this time. I'd probably wait until there's a listing I absolutely must submit to and renew then. Right now, I don't have back catalogue needing homes and I don't have time to write to listing. Wish that was translating to dollars sooner, but I accept that's just a question of time. My aim is to keep the pipeline full, and the dollars will take care of themselves.

The truth is, I'm still a noob..... but now I'm one with a goal, a plan of how to get there, and a commitment to learning and development. And I know that will set me apart from the other unknowns looking for a break. These are some things I've come to accept along the way:

1) The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know
2) My music is to fit someone else's vision. If I want to do art, do my own releases.
3) Rejection isn't personal. What is useless for one company might be absolutely perfect for the next, thus....
4) Targeting accurately may well be more important than anything else. The cheesiest, most cliched sounding piece probably has a home somewhere. Your job is to find it, not get p***ed off at the publishers who don't want it. If they can't use it, why would you want them to sign it and have it sit on their shelf doing nothing???
5) This is a business. Be professional.

So I don't know if that will interest anyone else, but it's been cathartic. Cheers. :D

Ps. I only just discovered Matto's interview series with Michael that's on youtube and watched it through. I'll be rewatching it. Thanks Matt and Michael. Great stuff.

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Re: One year on

Post by Hookjaw Brown » Mon Mar 21, 2011 8:52 pm

As an aside, since then I've accepted the realisation that the screeners are just people too, with their individual biases and perceptions. Here's a point where I have to disagree with Michael Laskow - the screeners are not objective. If post-modernism has taught us anything, it is that objectivity is a myth. There is no such thing as an "ideal observer" free from all prejudice and able to consider only factual data. That would be a robot. But then a robot probably couldn't 'feel' the art of music. What is more the case, however, is that screeners have a distance from the music (they didn't create it) and an understanding of what the client is looking for (sometimes though the rejections still don't make sense and I have to wonder if it was just a bad day or a gut reaction to a submission). As an another aside, quantum physics has taught us that observation changes reality!
Great read....just a note....there are companies out there using robot systems to screen music with. It will be interesting to see how they fare. Their reviews are also in depth and mind changing.

Congrats on finding your niche - trailer music - who'de a thunk it. I guess another avenue would be sizzler reels. These are a bit longer and are for submission to film festival review committees. A very small audience with godlike powers.
Hookjaw

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Re: One year on

Post by t4mh » Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:16 am

Rob!

Thanks for this! A great many perspectives that I agree with! Congrats on your successes and I hope there are many more! I too have grown through this TAXI experience in ways that I never thought I would!

I will humbly disagree with you on the subject of screeners. I think these folks have written and produced a lot of terrific music and at one time they were right where we are now. Like teachers in subsequent grades, their critiques are more or less a trail of crumbs for us to follow to get to their level a step at a time. I think they hear somthing of themselves in our music but can't teach us the whole picture in a single critique or lesson. Its probably quite frustrating for them. This is how I feel when I listen on P2P and try to say something meaningful to the composer that he/she obviously needs to "get" before moving on or up. I have to include myself in the group that needs to have these things said to me! At any rate, I think the screeners can hear what I am capable of, haven't reached yet and they more or less challenge me to go there!

Good Luck Man!
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Re: One year on

Post by kclements » Tue Mar 22, 2011 9:21 am

Cruciform wrote:The truth is, I'm still a noob..... but now I'm one with a goal, a plan of how to get there, and a commitment to learning and development. And I know that will set me apart from the other unknowns looking for a break. These are some things I've come to accept along the way:

1) The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know
2) My music is to fit someone else's vision. If I want to do art, do my own releases.
3) Rejection isn't personal. What is useless for one company might be absolutely perfect for the next, thus....
4) Targeting accurately may well be more important than anything else. The cheesiest, most cliched sounding piece probably has a home somewhere. Your job is to find it, not get p***ed off at the publishers who don't want it. If they can't use it, why would you want them to sign it and have it sit on their shelf doing nothing???
5) This is a business. Be professional.
Love this part! thanks for the thread.

I am coming up on my 1 year anniversary as well - and have a similar post in my head waiting to be written - but with a somewhat different conclusion from yours. Thanks for giving me some material to chew on as I consider my situation.

kc
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Re: One year on

Post by Cruciform » Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:28 pm

I'm glad it was worth the read. If I didn't have all this other work going on, continuing with Taxi straight away would be a no-brainer. After my break from submissions, regroup and focus on improving production, it seems like I could get more forwards. Well, at a better ratio than 1:49 anyway! :) So there's no doubt Taxi works if one is prepared to commit to improvement.

....lol. I'll be back to finish my thoughts. Just got an email saying I had 3/3 forwards on a listing. :D


....back. I can't remember what I was going to say. Anyways,....

Keith - I do agree with you about the screeners. But I only have my experience to go by and peer-to-peer has been infinitely more valuable to me than screening feedback. Their comments clearly work for a lot of people, though.

Hook - I've never heard of sizzler reels. Have to check that out.

Kayle - it's a good time to stop and reflect. Review progress and reassess goals. Good luck to you, too.

Ps. Perhaps I haven't conveyed it clearly enough, but I am in no way knocking Taxi. It's a great concept and works well.

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Re: One year on

Post by ottlukk » Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:58 pm

I thought it quite professional of you to give such a lengthy dissertation of what your first year was like. You made several excellent points. I will agree with you on the screeners. I got some very decent feedback, but I found a bunch of people who were into the "very contemporary now", and I felt they rejected a few of my efforts because they didn't have the requisite synthesizer loops or whatever. Congrats on your progessing skills, sounds like you'll do well.
Ott

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Re: One year on

Post by Cruciform » Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:36 pm

Cheers Ott. You're branded in my memory as one of the earliest to support and encourage me to take the plunge when I put up my first tracks in peer-to-peer. Others did too, but I remember you the most. :)


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Re: One year on

Post by onelight24 » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:45 am

Hi Rob, thanks for sharing the experience of your travels thus far as it pertains to composing production music! Any & every endeavor is meant to be self reflective in some way, so its great to hear about your process and how you have gone with its flow despite the lessons it has brought you: good, bad, or indifferent!

Continued success to you always! :)

Cheers,
Vincent!

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Re: One year on

Post by Cruciform » Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:03 pm

Ott - you're welcome!

Vince - I believe the ability to self-review and self-correct is vital for a successful business. This kind of exercise is useful even if we keep it to ourselves. It's great for crystallising unformed thoughts, and thinking through how to word things often helps clarify issues needing attention or even just realising it's time to pat ourselves on the back for a change.

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