I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what PERSPECTIVE means to me and Richard Kraft‘s recent post encouraged me to share it here. This is a bit long and personal so please bear with me.
When I think of the word “perspective” I think “vantage point”. A place from which one can look back at the road travelled and illuminate its obstacles for those to come. The funny thing about perspective is that while you are in a unique position to illuminate the path based on past experiences, you are inevitably facing new challenges of your own. Often these challenges are ones you never anticipated or fully grasped when you were younger as you weren’t ready to see them. But just as you are shining the light for those just starting on their path, there is always someone further down the road to shine the light for you.
What strikes me the most about all of this is how much my own priorities and challenges have shifted and evolved over the last 22 years as a composer and 30 years of making music in one form or another. I have been given so much valuable advice along the way and found so many things out the hard way. For me there is a lot more to perspective than how to get gigs and technical stuff. What I’ve struggled with the most and had to find out mostly on my own is everything outside of being a composer.
I feel as if I have lived a lifetime of lifetimes. Each decade of my life a world unto itself that would carry me like a wave and come crashing down on the shore of the next.
My 20s were all about finding a way in. Getting those elusive first credits and maybe making enough money to quit my miserable day job. It was about gaining a foothold and building momentum, whatever it took. I would do anything that would allow me to be near music and especially film music.
I worked as an assistant, an orchestrator, a copyist, a temp music editor, and a music editor. I even worked in cartage which was the least glamorous of all but ultimately the best thing I ever did as it gave me the chance to watch all of my composer heroes at work and eventually introduced me to Joel Goldsmith who almost single handedly launched my career.
It was a decade of seemingly limitless optimism and creative energy. I was plenty naive and stubborn but that’s probably what got me through the proverbial barbed wire that keeps many people from pushing through. I almost never worked completely for free but I would have just to find another creative outlet. I pushed myself harder than I ever had and covered a lot of ground early on.
My 30s brought me quite literally to the edge of sanity. I had been driving with the pedal to the floor for over a decade and was finally confronted by the inconvenient reality that I am only human. I found out the hard way that while the endless nights toiling in the trenches might seem glamorous from the outside, they are ultimately unsustainable without some kind of balance.
In my early 30s a famous composer (20 years my senior) asked me if I drank wine to which I said no. He replied “you will”. That was not the first cautionary advice I was given by someone a little further down the road.
Another composer shared that after 10 years of non-stop writing on a TV series he decided to quit. Delivered the last cue and decided never to write music again. Each time I heard something like that, even if I didn’t understand or relate to it, I filed it away for later.
Sure enough, these stories would surface in my memory from time to time like road signs, steering me away from trouble. Or at least letting me know that I wasn’t the only one that had experienced something which would sometimes give me a good excuse to doubt myself.
I also found out the hard way that my value as a person is not defined by the quality of my work and that the quality of my creative work is subjective anyways. My perfectionism and unrelenting desire to knock everything out of the park every time had run its course.
Despite nearly self destructing in my personal life I had kept on trucking in my career. I had split myself in two and while one half smiled, delivered on time and knocked everything out of the park, the other burned to the ground and slowly began to rise from the ashes. There was a lot of therapy and while the elevator kept going down I eventually figured out how to get off of it.
My 40s (I am midway through) have been a decade of life changing experiences and with them exponential growth as a person. Losing both my father and my mentor to cancer way too young brought me to the end of the person I used to be in a blazing inferno. When the smoke cleared I was able to put myself back together again, piece by piece and finally begin to put the two halves back together again.
One of the hardest things about losing my father and my mentor was that it meant the lights that had shined the brightest on the path ahead had gone dark. Sure, I had been given plenty of advice and observed plenty of others along the way but the two people whose books I had been reading the closest had abruptly and without resolution reached their final page. Ever since I have mostly been winging it but I take comfort in knowing that the lights I have followed in the past didn’t have all the answers either.
Becoming a father has also brought life changing perspective. Suddenly so may of the things that seemed to matter more than anything don’t matter at all. It’s not something I could have truly understood before no matter how well it was explained to me and it was explained to me plenty. One of the most important things I’ve realized along the way is that as the wind blows, you will be carried to places you never thought you would care to be. So don’t try to hold on too hard.
As I have begun to find balance in life I have also reached a point in my career that I never thought would happen. Clients that I would once have been lucky to get the time of day from have begun to seek me out. And I’m not bragging. It took 20 years of killing myself and getting every door slammed in my face (both politely and not) to get here, wherever “here” is.
That’s another thing. I stopped caring where “here” is. I am working harder than ever to get to the next level but I am more okay with where I am than I’ve ever been. All I know is that from where I’m looking on the ladder, there is a long way down and a long way still to go. And as I’ve said before, I got off your ladder a long time ago and made my own.
This decade hasn’t been without it’s challenges. In fact, it often feels like it gets harder every year. Harder to write as fast, harder to keep up with the competition and constantly evolving technology. There is financial stability but with more money comes more taxes, more overhead and more stress. But if all of the challenges are a wave, building in size and momentum as it heads to shore, I have finally found enough balance to get on the board and enjoy the ride.
Side note: I never lost the drive and hunger I had in my 20s. I’ll still dive through any door that gives me a new opportunity to make music. Fortunately the opportunities and quality of the projects have only gotten better but my attitude and approach has never changed. I also never lost the unrelenting desire to knock everything out of the park. I just learned to forgive myself when I don’t.