Why do we have 1.8% women composers programmed in concerts and 1% women scoring feature films
THIS IS LONG. PLEASE READ IT SLOWLY IN ONE TAKE, when you can.
This problem has another big and deep side that all these wonderful and brilliant recent articles and FB threads don’t address.
Music composing is the hardest craft to master. It takes a decade for anyone to become proficient, just not to suck. It takes another decade to cultivate one’s creative voice, attitude, unique perspective and powerful artistic statement. The ONLY way to grow as an artist is via real-life opportunities. In the line of fire! Via commissions, film scores, feedback, peer critique, client critique and constant, constant learning and growing.
You don’t become a master composer by reading books. Not by attending school (this is just your foundation). It’s daily CRAFT and ARTISTRY. You only become a MASTER by doing it consistently EVERY day for decades, and growing in your mastery and artistry along the way, without distractions.
WHERE, WHEN and HOW do women composers get opportunities for artistic and career growth?
In my 18 years in Hollywood I have seen how guys help each other, teach each other, give each other scoring opportunities – small and big, and how they pull each other through the ranks. The classic example is the model that Hans Zimmer established – young composers apprenticing, cutting their teeth on endless synth programming, score tech assistance, and additional-cues-writing. Then, they become masterful, and then strike it on their own. This is the career path of many revered Remote Control composers – Harry Gregson Williams, Steve Jablonsky, Junkie XL, Atli Orvarsson, Lorne Balfe, etc. I know a few LA (guy) composers who at the dawn of their careers were mediocre and meh (no names). Only through constant growth, constant opportunities, insanely hard work and development of their talent, artistry, musicality, some of them are now Leading composers. Their IMDBs are hundred miles long. From jobs on which THEY GREW AND LEARNED NEW SKILLS. On each job they received mentoring, guidance, critical feedback. On each job they felt the fire (by clients) to perform and deliver at their very best. Because it was a JOB! Because THE STAKES WERE HIGH! Because they had to push themselves and deliver above the expectation! You see my point?
I’ve also seen how women stagnate. They are multi-hyphenates (e.g., singer – assistant – arranger – orchestrator – violinist – whatever). Their energy is not as focused on singular growth as an ARTIST-COMPOSER. Not as focused on singularly branding themselves as COMPOSERS. On singularly getting JOBS AS A COMPOSER. (An exception to this rule is Catherine Grealish – look, she is singularly focused on getting SCORING JOBS !!! And a shining example for all women composers! Go, Catherine, Go!)
What are the women composers’ paths of growing their SKILL SET? So few women are in Composer Assistant position — which maybe the most sure way of mastering the composing skills than any other (e.g., being a copyist).
You don’t grow as a composer by being a copyist of genius music by JW! You grow as a composer BY COMPOSING your own crappy music first, then better music, and then your own masterpieces !!!! You grow by revising your music, by being dragged through the mud with crushing critical feedback from clients, by inventing solutions to impossible demands by clients, by learning how to collaborate, how to write great, impactful music. Of course, this is ONLY IF YOU STAY ON A CONSISTENT PATH OF GROWTH and don’t quit in the meantime.
I’ve seen how women composers stumble in their (very hard) journey of REINVENTING THEMSELVES from classical concert composers into film composers – without mentorship and guidance. A few tried and failed. One year she submitted brilliant hard-core orchestral music – obviously a sweeping talent. The next year she submitted a dumbed-down “media music” noodling along with no purpose — just because she thought this is what “film music should sound like.” And because she had no mentor or circle of advisers to hold her hand on this journey of reinvention. To help her “translate” her obvious composing talent into a COMPOSING FOR THE MEDIA skill sets. And so, she disappeared from the “media” scene.
Any career journey in the arts needs an ARMY OF SUPPORTERS – champions, career strategists, mentors, advocates, “grandfathers” (in corporate sense), peers, support circles. It needs HELPERS with SKILL GROWTH !!!! (Then – much later – publicist, agent, manager. Like, 10 years later after you begin your artist journey.)
Shall we continue to go down this rabbit hole?
Naturally, for women composers who choose to become PARENTS, career development becomes the hardest battle, and stagnation / putting things on hold is usually the more typical pattern. I hid my pregnancy and birth from all my clients. I intuitively felt that if I wanted to continue and stay alive as a professional, I had to hide becoming a parent. There were no happy announcements, cards and Fb posts. It was a secret! The year when my chid was born I started getting consistent work from the composer whom I credit with opening the biggest, career-changing doors in my life. Bless you always, SJ!
Career growth also takes TREMENDOUS FINANCIAL INVESTMENT for all. Constantly attending seminars, career events, travel to conferences ….. for women parents, this career development expense also comes along with a steep price tag of hiring a nanny (ON TOP of paying for the conference itself, travel, hotel, meals, etc). Every time a professional mother needs to travel, she needs to pay a few hundred bucks to a trusty caregiver to take care of her kids while she is away. A 3-day conference in San Fran costs me ~$500 in nanny costs just for the afterschool hours to care for my child.
LET’S STEP INTO ACTION NOW. ENOUGH WORDS.
In addition to all these good questions these articles are asking, THE CORE QUESTION that needs to be asked is :
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES FOR ARTISTIC GROWTH ARE YOU OFFERING TO WOMEN COMPOSERS?
— Are you mentoring a woman composer?
— Are you employing a woman composer as your assistant?
— Are you helping a woman composer after a serious setback (for instance, being fired off of a studio job due to NO fault of her own, but broader effed-up politics with the movie)?
— Are you including women composers in your “geeking out” sessions / demo critiquing / listening circles / learning gatherings? Guys do this together ALL THE TIME.
— Are you helping a woman recover after she made a damaging career mistake (of any kind — from lack of political savvy, to lack of vision, to whatever shit that went down and caused a failure of some sort) Yes, I have been at least twice in this spot of wondering “will I ever work in this town again….?” Yes.
— Are you teaching a woman on how to efficiently use the latest soft synth libraries, Damage drums, and tools, so her mockups sound just AS awesome and AS polished as Hans Zimmer’s demos? Or Brian Tyler’s demos? Yup.
Only after each one of us answers YES to these questions and many more, then we would be in a position to continually ask the question, “why are so few women composers.”
Frankly, I am sick and tired of talking & reading about it. DO SOMETHING, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
The question needs to become one of action: WHAT AM I DOING TO HELP WOMEN COMPOSERS FURTHER THEIR CAREER JOURNEYS?
Summary of the TRAJECTORIES.
I have heard a lot of sophomorish music by young men composers. I’ve heard much sophomorish music by young women composers too.
For guy composers, mostly the pattern is one OF GROWTH, gaining better skills with each year, and a steady geometrical vector of skill growth. Because the traditional Master-Apprentice system is set up to HELP THEM GROW and SUPPORT THEM ON THEIR JOURNEY of artistic + compositional growth.
For women composers I SOMETIMES (seldom) see a CONSISTENT path of artist growth and more often I see a path of DISTRACTIONS (e.g., (1) job to pay bills, (2) family, (3) children, (4) career reinvention, (5) caring for sick parents).
I see a pattern of LACK OF FOCUS – multi-tasking (assistant – copyist – composer on the side) and generally not a steady, geometrical curve of Career Growth as a COMPOSER / Skill Growth, but instead – meandering, serpentine, one-step-up-two-steps-sideways-or-down path. Think about that!
I would argue that this is both systemic and individual responsibility. And to change this pattern will take both SYSTEMIC CHANGE as well as the normal pep talk about “hard work, willpower, perseverance, focus, strategic thinking, making the best with the gigs that come your way” and everything else that goes into building a career as an artist for both men and women, in all arts.
Male composers who mature to become masters into their 10th or 15th year of their professional careers compose great, consistently solid, professional, inspired music.
For women composers who mature to become masters into their 10th, or 15th or 20th year …well, they are the 1.8% in concert music or 1% in feature film scoring that we bemoan. The remaining women “who started the marathon” (to use RK’s metaphor) stagnate and fall by the wayside mostly because they lack opportunities for professional growth, guidance and direction.
NOT BECAUSE THEY LACK TALENT, AMBITION or SOLID MUSICALITY.
Yes, our career is THE HARDEST to figure out. And to build! Yes, our career is not for the faint of heart. And Yes, our career — by the virtue of being a very arcane career set up as a Master-Apprentice dynamic — is set up to help and enable the guy composers, simply because this is how it’s been done for thousand of years. Being a “professional woman” is a novelty. It started about a 100 years ago. Being a CRAFTSMAN and ARTISAN goes back 6000 years.
There. I’ve shared my opinion on the question of WHY.
So, can we stop asking this dumb question of why there are so few women media composers, but instead start asking:
— Can you hire a woman on your job today — and — even more importantly — help her perform at her best?
— Can you mentor a woman today and teach her solutions how to deliver at her best on a job?
— Can you give strategic career advice to a woman today?
— Can you give a master class to a woman, or an honest assessment of her music and skill level today?
— Can you introduce a woman composer to some of your friends who would resonate with her art, temperament and personality?
— Can you challenge your young woman composer friend to compose her first masterpiece by the age of 28? I did! I challenge all my assistants, both men and women, to deliberately set out and compose a masterpiece by age 28. A bold musical statement of self-determination as an artist. If you are older than 28, you’ve missed Penka’s deadline All – men and women composers under 28 – consider yourself challenged to compose your masterpiece! I challenged myself — very deliberately, and on my own — to write my 1st masterpiece by that age – 28, and I did – my String Quartet #1.
Write your own questions here on what can we all do, as individuals and as a community to help women grow on their journey as composers and CULTIVATE their careers.