1) PENKA, YOU SUCCESSFULLY CROWDFUNDED YOUR CD ‘THE WOMAN ASTRONAUT’. CAN YOU TELL US WHY YOU DID IT AND HOW IT HAS HELPED YOUR CAREER?
I believe that an artist must cultivate his/her own individual style and sound. An artist must have a point of view, an attitude and deeply felt convictions. I composed The Woman Astronaut to solidify my own personal voice as an artist, and to grow and stretch. Releasing this CD was a triumph. I got my first studio scoring job (NDA), got a top agent, new composing jobs, visibility and competitive edge. Met a lot of decision makers. Because of this bold act of self-determination combined with my generosity towards the community, I received Game Audio Network Guild’s Recognition Award. The CD was released on the biggest soundtrack label Varese Sarabande, received rapturous press, radio play, more awards.
2) YOU PERSEVERED IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING FEMALE COMPOSERS?
Write exceptionally powerful, great, distinctive music. Write more compelling music than anyone else. Embrace the idea that women must strive to be better if they chose a historically male-dominated vocation. Be always professional. Develop business acumen and entrepreneurial attitudes. Be a skilled and charismatic collaborator. Be supremely reliable. Be always positive.
As far as career building is concerned, be consistent and methodical in your pursuits. A written Annual Business Plan keeps you accountable (for instance: scheduling 2 business lunches a week with potential job-givers; attending 3 events weekly — screenings, film festivals — where you can do “hopeful networking”).
Solidify your brand as a “working composer.” Many women composers (myself included) are doing a lot of things (e.g., composing, performing, arranging, orchestrating, singing, holding assistant jobs). This in itself is not bad at all — it’s great. But are these multitasking women perceived as “working composers”? Compose music, score films and games if you want to brand yourself as a composer.
There is an unconscious bias against women in entertainment, in all departments including composing. (For instance, that women are not as reliable; will buckle under inhumane pressure and 40-hour workdays; that women are not AS interested in composing, etc.) How to overcome this unconscious bias? It’s in our power to develop great leadership skills, positive can-do attitude, and fortitude of character. It’s in our power to have an awesome work ethic and commit to developing our talent by doing consistently top-notch work. (Hollywood professionals get impressed by consistent talent growth!) Working on professional projects and visible brands is a key to success and career growth.
3) HOW NECESSARY ARE BUSINESS SKILLS FOR MEDIA COMPOSERS?
Business skills are vital, they are absolutely essential for anyone who is running a small business, as freelance media composers are. However, our careers are challenging, because they sit on a nexus of 4 vital skill sets: (1) being a great composer, (2) supreme collaborator, (3) technically fluent and (4) with an entrepreneurial attitudes and energy. If any one of these four skills is lacking, then the career would stagnate. In addition to business skills, the successful media composers have strong, charismatic personalities, tons of willpower and discipline, insane work ethics, and inspiring style as artists. Directors and producers like to work with people whom they can trust on every possible level – that the music will be top-notch, that the composer will be a team player devoted to the success of their project. Business skills are vital, but force of personality, convictions as an artist, people skills, and being a master of your craft are just as vital.
4) HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ABILITY TO COLLABORATE EFFECTIVELY?
It’s absolutely essential for the media composers. We work with another person’s vision daily. Our job is to support their vision, but before we do that, we need to get inside their brains and hearts. Keep an open ear, listen to their needs, and understand their tastes and sensibilities.
When presenting our score-in-progress, another crucial skill is to receive feedback openly and to implement all revisions, with a can-do attitude and a smile. Make your collaborators comfortable by asking them to speak in conceptual and dramatic terms to you, as if coaching an actor. Don’t expect them to talk about clarinets and counterpoint. Become an effective communicator verbally, but also “read” non-verbal cues. Become intuitive, resourceful, positive, and trustworthy.
We work with creative people who have dreams, who have invested years of their lives into a script, or film, or a game. I’ve scored indie games where the game creator mortgaged their home to bankroll his game. Working in the indie world is quite humbling. I would encourage composers to talk with many producers and ask them about their daily lives to get a sense of how incredibly hard is to produce any title, be that an indie film or game. Composers always spend the producer’s money. Hence, our ability to understand another person’s vision, expectations of the job, temperament, working style, daily hurdles can help us become fabulous collaborators.
5) WHAT ARE SOME GOOD WAYS TO CREATE AND FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS IN THE GAMING INDUSTRY?
Be a gamer, play as many games as you can. Become a part of the gaming community to understand how game creators think and work. Observe their challenges and workflow. Attend Game Sound Con and GDC to learn and network. Meet developers and ask them about their work, their needs, their dreams.
Game scoring is exceptionally technical and specific. Each game needs to create its own distinctive “sound” and musical aesthetics (style), to stand apart from the competition. In certain ways game scoring is similar to jingle composing or composing hit songs (in a sense of creating a memorable theme, distinctive “sound” and style) rather than composing just a noodling underscore. But game scoring is also cinematic and evocative as it needs to create the emotional depth of fantasy worlds, characters, factions and campaigns. I would encourage you to listen to tons of current and past game music. (Type up “the 100 top games of 2015” and learn the soundtrack of every game.) Then, compose your own masterful music. Then, learn interactive scoring. (Read Chance Thomas’ fantastic textbook “Composing Music For Games.”) Have something fresh, individual, awesome to bring to the table. Understand the musical needs of a game. Practically all games I’ve scored had different interactive systems, different needs.
I wish all composers much success in their pursuits!