A Blog Primer
I'm not one of those daily bloggers, and I'm definitely not gonna put junk like, "I just had the most delicious chocolate thingy" or "Isn't this kitty cute?"
We both have much better things to do with the limited time we have on this planet.
Sometimes, I do feel the need to write an article or wax philosophical on a subject that interests me. You'll find these here.
. . .
To navigate, use the scrollbar or click on the quick links in the liner notes.
. . .
About This Website
I want to first thank everyone for their patience as I've been redesigning my website. It seems like it's been a rough road to travel in getting to this current version and I feel there's still much to do to make this site amazing.
The only consolation I have is when I go to certain famous film composer sites which have been "under construction" for years, I feel like:
a) I'm not alone.
b) I'm cooler than them for getting this done sooner.
c) Or perhaps maybe it's doesn't matter that a composer should have a fancy website.
But I honestly think it does matter.
It matters to me as an artist to have a cool website where people can hear my work, see what I'm up to, and check out what I might be currently ranting about. I think it's important to put this stuff out there and share it with you, my fans, friends and colleagues. I find one of the best features of the internet is the ability to easily communicate ideas and connect with people. So there you have it.
One of the biggest challenges for me (I've been developing my own websites for years) has been keeping up with all the immense changes in technology while maintaining my very busy career as a composer.
This iteration of the website has been one where I've incorporated some help from the folks at Flabell, whose Adobe Flash components I have found to be pretty stinkin' cool in their features and in their customization. I'm using their mp3 player on the music page.
Finally, I'd like to thank Johanna and all my friends who've checked out this website as it's been in development and given me great feedback on what works, what doesn't and how to make it better. I'm eternally grateful for this.
. . .
The following is a keynote I gave at a graduation ceremony for students at Pyramind at the end of last year. I thought it would be a good thing to share...
Today, I’d like to talk briefly about the future.
We all dream of futures filed with creativity, success, wealth, love, joy –
Many possibilities all revolving around what we desire in our hearts and what we’re passionate about.
The problem with the future is:
There is no certainty.
No guarantees that everything we desire will be there when we arrive.
What can we do about this?
What actions can we take to achieve our dreams?
In my observations, people live in one of three ways:
Those that live in the future say things like,
“Once I land that big job, everything will be OK.”
“Once I achieve X, then I’ll be happy.”
It took a year from the time I submitted a demo for Dirty Harry until I got hired. Waiting and wanting the job so badly drove me nuts! I was so desiring of this future (at the time) but couldn’t do anything about it – until it happened in its own time.
Those living in the past say,
“If only X would have happened, then everything would have been OK.”
“If I would have done X, then Y would have happened.”
If only I practiced piano more then sequencing would not equal pain!
Sadly, most people live in these two places.
But here’s a secret:
The past and the future aren’t real.
The past isn’t real because it’s already happened.
It was real when it happened
But it’s not real now.
The future isn’t real because it hasn’t happened yet.
It won’t become real until it happens.
Plus, which future will it be?
I believe everything occurs in a succession of moments.
Once they occur, they become part of the past.
Those moments that haven’t occurred yet are part of the future.
None of these events are ones we can control.
So, what can you control?
The choices and actions you make live in the present.
They live here in the moment.
When I’m composing and “in the zone,” I’m in the moment.
Relaxed, focused, present and open to let the composition evolve
into something cool and amazing.
Now is the most powerful spot to be in.
Now is where everything exists and it is the only place
Where you have complete control.
Once you choose,
Once you act,
This event moves into the past.
And there exists a new moment for you to make
Addition choices and actions.
Now is where everything exists.
It is a powerful spot.
It’s where I feel the most excitement.
The most joy.
What does “being in the moment” mean?
Being present. Being decisive. Acting powerfully
The last day of recording on Star Wars: The Old Republic was a magical day.
We were behind schedule, and our whole team collectively chose to “go guerrilla.”
This meant we needed to use guerrilla warfare tactics, which was a phrase I (and many of my colleagues) used back in the early days of my career when we had no budget and not enough recording time. This method of recording involved setting limits as to how much time would be spent on recording each cue. Three takes or 15 minutes for an action cue, two takes or 10 minutes for an ambient cue. Record the best performance possible with the restraints and move on.
On this magical day, the synergy of everyone – composers, recording crew, conductor and the musicians performed at the highest level of working together that I’ve ever experienced.
It was amazing! The performances were stellar. The teamwork was unparalleled. The efficiency of the day was perfect. It was a perfect succession of moments.
I’m not sure if experiencing a synergy like this might ever happen again. Let’s hope so.
So here we are. Here. Now.
Choosing to be what we are in this moment.
Hopefully, I’m being inspiring on this day where you all celebrate
The completion of your programs.
Whether I’m actually this or not depends on you and me.
By what we choose
And what we act upon.
So after celebrating this graduation from the program,
What are you going to do?
What choices and actions will you make?
I can’t wait to find out!
Some advice as you go out and conquer the universe:
1. The jobs and opportunities are out there, in the world.
Staying at home waiting for the phone call vs. putting yourself out there
Not what I’d consider productive or efficient.
It’s our nature (because the work we do is generally solitary) to stay in our little caves.
But the people who hire you aren’t in your cave, so get out there!
That’s where they are. Go get ‘em!
I go to GDC every year. Also community events, dinner with friends, send emails, make phone calls, update my website, facebook, etc.
2. Oportunities come from unexpected places and people. My first video game job came from a posting on a film music soundtrack newsgroup.
It came from Belgium.
That game was Outcast.
3. When your opportunity arrives:
Execute well (kick ass!)
Acknowledge the moment (we forget this one)
Acknowledge others (those that help get you there need love too)
When I finally got the green light for Dirty Harry:
I analyzed all the movie scores; Kicked ass on composing and working with the audio director; Smiled (a lot!) on the scoring stage (acknowledged the moment); And expressed my appreciation to everyone on the crew and in the orchestra (and got a better performance because of this)
4. There’s room for everybody
Repeat after me: I’m unique!
I believe in an abundant universe over one filled with scarcity
That abundant universe has room for everyone to have their little spot where they can fulfill their dreams.
5. Final words of advice:
Yeah, it’s on every shampoo bottle but it works!
Congratulations everyone! (That’s an acknowledgement)
Enjoy the moment.
. . .
Managing the Unmanageable
It's been awhile since I've had something to say. Usually, I like to chime in only when there's a subject that I'm really passionate about AND when I have a good idea of what I want to say about it.
I've been thinking about today's subject for awhile (months, that is) and for the longest time the only thoughts I had about it were that I was clear on the title (listed above). Not much substance there but a catchy heading eh?
So, I'm finally sitting down and hashing out my ideas when it occurs to me that my life has been borderline unmanageable for months! Call it a combination of work and life schedules colliding, taking on too much, whatever.
Point #1 - I've had a lot on my proverbial plate lately.
In December of 2009, I was full-time composing music for the new LucasArts/EA/Bioware MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. In the middle of a hectic composing schedule, I completed teaching a fall semester of Composing for Games at the USC Thornton School of Music, archived all my old scores (with lots of help from many of my students scanning my scores into pdf format THANK YOU!!!), packed up all my belongings in about a week (including my studio), moved from Los Angeles to Sonoma County in northern California, unpacked and re-setup my studio in a day and a half, and started composing and orchestrating again like a madman in order to meet our live orchestra recording schedule which was to begin a few weeks after I moved up. This does not include any personal life stuff that also needed to be done (like laundry and grocery shopping).
BTW I'd lived in L.A. for about 25 years since I graduated from college. Talk about changing the scenery!
Once I moved up north to join my fiance (who was already up here for a few months working at her new job), I completed my composing work on TOR (The Old Republic for short), composed a bunch more material for some music libraries, started a bay area based music prep service called SkyPrep, spent 6 months looking for a house to buy, attended GDC (Game Developer's Conference), closed escrow on our house, created an online version of my UCLA Extension Composing for Games course and taught it remotely from my new digs, worked my first official bay area music prep gig for Mark Griskey's Force Unleashed II recording sessions, and a bunch more stuff I don't even recall doing.
Sound like a lot? Wait there's more!
Point #2 - There are layers of manageability within layers!
Two days before The first day of recording some music for TOR, I get a call. "We need 9 cues orchestrated and parts copied in two days, and oh, can you compose an extra cue?"
My answer - "Sure, just email me the files when they're ready and we'll make it happen."
You might be thinking, "Has he lost his marbles?"
My answer - "Nope."
Life and work are full of examples of things that seem unmanageable. The key is to stay calm and cool. Know exactly what you can accomplish on your own and where you'll need help. Prioritize by order of importance and deadlines. Plan for success by bringing in your backup team early enough to make managing everything not completely insane. Be honest with yourself about what it'll cost you (more on this later) and finally, execute everything to the highest level possible under the circumstances.
SO let's go through the list using this example:
1. Calm and cool? - Check! Seriously, I was fine with all this. I have an amazingly talented crew and we kick ass so I was confident we'd get it done.
2. Me vs. helpers - I knew I could compose/orchestrate the new piece no problem and orchestrate 2 of the 9 cues myself. I brought in 3 other guys to handle the other 7 cues plus my brother Phil kicked butt on the parts for all 10 cues. All within 36 hours.
3. Plan for success - Whenever I do anything in a crunch and bring in other people, I always play to their strengths. One of my guys is great at battle cues so guess what I gave him to do? Yup. Battle cues! I look at the whole list and selectively root out what I can do quickly and efficiently in addition to what every person on my crew does well.
4. Be honest - What did it cost me? Well, I was a bit tired.
5. Execute - Check! Check! Check! This is about stepping up at the proper moment and knocking it out of the park. You don't think about it much you just get in the zone and do it.
It's really about making sure you have all the tools you need for success in a very competitive and challenging life. Any areas you feel are weak ones are those that need propping up with more knowledge, improved crew, and better management skills. These are things you can get from experience, research, and referrals.
Ever since asteroids smashed into the earth and destroyed a few dinosaurs (perhaps even earlier than this?), we've been managing the unmanageable. I'm not planning on extinction any time soon but I am continually pondering how to keep improving my craft, my abilities, my crew, and my life.
. . .
How To Get A Gig
I get emails on a frequent basis from young composers wanting to know the answers to questions about getting a job as a composer for media.
I talk about these issues with my students in my USC and UCLA courses on Composing for Games. I'm feeling like I'm overdue in talking about it in blogdom, so here goes...
Q. How do I break in to this industry?*
A. People have to know you exist.
* This question could apply to scoring for film, TV, commercials, or videogames.
The very nature of my work involves me sitting in a small room by myself and interacting with (take a guess)...myself. Years of practicing my craft, schooling, study have done nothing to further my career due to the simple reason that the people who hire me don't live at my house. They're out in THE WORLD and I believe they're desperately looking for someone like me to help them achieve their vision for their projects. And I'm just the guy they need! If I could only just finish installing this new software...
What all those years of isolation have done is allow me to be confident in what it is that I can provide for my clients. Being a fine composer, orchestrator, conductor, producer, mixer, and technology guru means that I can handle anything thrown at me.
But that's not enough.
Having great representation for the level I'm at in the industry
Having a talented team to handle any schedule
Having a strong family of support to assist me during my emotionally rough times
Having a vision of what I want in my life.
Putting my work out there, in THE WORLD, for people to hear.
Making a concerted effort to meet new people every day, while nurturing old friendships.
These are all things that contribute to building a career and a body of great work.
Q. How did you start out?
A. With a touch of bravado?
On my first video game, I saw a notice posted on the web of a Belgian game developer looking for a "Hollywood composer" to create an orchestral score for their new game. I sent them an email saying, "I'm the guy!" I don't know why I said it that way, other than to note that, at that time in my career, after orchestrating and copying parts for 10 years on other composers projects and scoring some TV and independent films, I knew in my heart that I was more than ready to move to another level. The good news is the developers believed in me. That first score was Outcast and I am forever grateful to the boys at Appeal for giving me the freedom to explore, experiment, and challenge myself to create an outstanding score for such a great game.
In retrospect, I think you start out by stepping into the arena. You show up.
Oh, you want specifics? OK, so how about the following...
•Do a student film
•Work as an assistant to a composer
•Marry a producer
•Work as a play tester in the QA department of your favorite game developer or publisher
The specifics DON'T MATTER. Everyone's path is unique and EVERYONE has a different story on how they got started. The point is to step OUT OF THE STUDIO and move into THE WORLD. That's where the action is.
Q. Is there any help that you could offer me? Any suggestions as a working professional?
A. Be prepared. Be organized. Be professional. Be consistent. Be on time.
I can't tell you how important it is to follow the five B's. It's about doing everything you can to be ready for those critical moments when you have to pull a rabbit out of your ass and save the day right when the clients are thinking all is lost. Like many competitive things in life you're either the hero or you're the goat (note the homage to Charles Shultz). If you are the flaky type, you're just not going to work as often as other folks.
Q. I hear it's about "who you know." Who are the people I should know?
A. Everybody and anybody.
Anyone who's been in composing for media for a while knows that the more you stick around, the smaller the world gets as far as who you know in an industry. Eventually, you'll know most of the key people. The trick is, you have to want to do this bad enough to stick it out for 10-20 years. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life but compose music so here I am! The like-minded people who have stuck it out here with me, we all know who we are. The community seems smaller mostly due to the passage of time.
So, no better time than any to get started. Meet everybody! Programmers, Game Designers, Marketing, Composers, Audio Directors, Producers, Executives. Everyone moves around from time to time so, if one person loves your work and, over the course of several years and an equal number of companies plays your music for their colleagues, you're universe is instantly expanded. Trust in the laws of the universe. Keep putting yourself out there and eventually you make a connection that lands you a job.
Q. Can you point me in the right direction?
A. The only proper direction IMO is where your heart tells you it's the right path, the right project, and the right people collaborate with.
If you're the kind of person who's heartless and back-stabbing, then this section isn't for you. Just skip it as you won't understand what I'm talking about anyways.
For those of you who "get it", life's too short to work for too many assholes. I LOVE what I do, and I get a huge charge out of working with people of a similar bent. We seem to find each other. And when we do, we do great work together and it shows, because the fans dig it, the critics cheer it, and we all embrace that little golden beam of sunlight that shines our way for the moment. Then it's gone, and we're off to doing whatever excites us next.
Q. Where should I start?
A. With the beginning.
The most powerful moment you will ever have is NOW.
Oops! It's gone! What did you do with that moment?
Did you do exactly what you had to do? Or were you waiting on the future? Or grumbling and moaning about the past?
NOW is the only time you have right in front of you so get to it!
. . .
Swine Buster (aka Swine Flu Relief)
No, we don't have the swine flu!
Johanna and I love to cook together. It's a soul-healing past-time and we work really well as partners in the kitchen (and in our life together) so it makes for a peaceful time. Tonight we made an amazing spring soup I thought I'd share with you. Especially as all I hear on the radio these days is about people freaking out, worrying about the swine flu outbreak and will it get them and their families. My advice is don't freak dudes! 30,000 people die every year from regular everyday flu so 15 people (although I empathize with the families of those victims) is not any more than a normal outbreak.
So how can one chill with all this crazy talk on the air waves?
Make this soup! It'll be fun, healthy, and damn tasty.
You can find most of these ingredients usually at your local farmers market.
Support locally grown and organic farmers! It'll taste and feel better.
Johanna and Lennie's Spring Soup:
1 large leek, cleaned, quartered and chopped fairly fine
1 large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2" squares
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 knob of ginger, grated
Saute the above ingredients in olive oil (several tablespoons worth) at medium to low heat until onions are translucent.
While that's slow cooking...
1 bunch of stinging nettles, chopped leaf-size (aka "nettles" - they sting a little when they're not cooked so use gloves)
1 bunch of watercress, chopped into 1" pieces (with stems)
1 bunch of mint, chopped leaf-size
Small handful of dill, chopped fine
Small handful of parsley, chopped fine
When onions are done, put in nettles and enough water to cover them. Keep at medium heat until steaming for 5 minutes.
Taste nettles to be sure the sting is completely gone (should only take a few minutes).
Add mint and stir into mixture for a minute or two.
Add parsley and dill, stirring into the soup for another minute or two.
Take soup off heat.
Add 1 1/2 cans of Mackerel packed in lightly salted olive oil (we use VitalChoice brand). You could possibly substitute sardines packed in olive oil (don't go for soybean oil it doesn't taste good) or anchovies instead, but we found the Mackerel just rocks. Break the mackerel into small chunks and spread them throughout the soup. Don't forget to include the lovely fish-infused olive oil from the can!
Add the juice of half a squeezed lemon.
No seasonings are needed with all the herbs and the salty oil from the mackerel. We find that covers it beautifully.
Serve and heal!
Maybe next entry I'll talk more about music!
P.S. If you want to add some great flavor to your earthquake preparedness kit, try TastyBite!
. . .
Post-Traumatic Gig Syndrome
Those of us that regularly work on large projects know they can be stressful and have learned over the years to manage that stress effectively in order to do the best work possible for our clients.
But what happens after the project is completed?
In my experience I've noticed that my immune system is functioning in high-performance mode, keeping me illness free until the very day after I've delivered my masters and then WHAM! I get a cold. I suspect that due to the level of adrenaline coursing through my veins and my sheer willpower to not have anything prevent me from completing my mission, I end up with an immune system crash once the gig's done and I get my first full night's sleep.
Have you experienced this yourself?
I believe I've found a solution that works quite well for me: I keep myself sleep-deprived for one week following the completion of a big project. I'll explain this in more detail...
Starting on the day after delivering my final masters, I'll sleep only five hours instead of my normal eight and continue to get up early for about a week, adding an hour of sleep each day until I'm back to normal at the end of the week. So Monday/Tuesday might be 5 hours, Wednesday/Thursday 6, Friday/Saturday 7 and Sunday I'm back to 8. I also keep my days very active and busy catching up on my correspondence, errands, and other business stuff for about 3-4 days. As it gets towards the end of the week I'll do more fun things like gaming and relaxing so by the time I get to the end of the week, my immune system has had a chance to re-acclimate. For whatever reason, this method has worked perfectly for the last 3-5 years and I haven't had a recurrence of the "getting sick after the gig" thing.
Granted, I also eat lots of organic, pesticide-free, locally grown fruits and vegetables as part of my regular diet whether I'm working or not. I go on walks with my fiancé. I go to sleep around the same time each night. I also take immune boosting supplements like Black Elderberry if I feel the onset of anything during these intense work periods. I believe these measures add to my ability to remain healthy but I also think that I listen carefully to my body and respond when it tells me I need something.
How do you manage your stress? I'm curious to know how others deal with this issue so feel free to post your thoughts and observations.
. . .
Stress and Time Management
Due to the nature of what we do for a living, all of us have a certain level of stress to manage as we get through our day. It's not life and death stress like firemen, police officers, or surgeons deal with, but it's still stress and it is real. How we manage it has everything to do with how effective we are in our work.
I just finished a recording session last week with the following parameters: very tight deadline, enormous complexity in the music, limited budget, and tremendous responsibilities that I was contractually bound to. I survived (otherwise I wouldn't be able to write this!), my client was totally happy with the product. I pushed the musicians way beyond what I thought I could do with them. Everything was delivered on time and on budget.
Oh! And I was totally stressed out non-stop for two weeks leading up to the session - to the point that I was feeling the "stress-buzz" in my chest everytime I had a spare moment to stop and think about it.
Granted, I managed to get everything completed professionally, do great work, and not need a coronary by-pass. But I have been thinking about it a lot lately and ask my self the following question...
What are we stressing over?
Shit happens. There's a reason this saying carries some weight. If you place events on a cosmic scale you realize the universe does not care how busy your day is. You're just a piece of matter on one planet near one star in one system in one galaxy in a universe full of galaxies. If you've read Marcus Aurelius (Roman Caesar/Philosopher), he says quite a bit on this subject and the role of the individual within this universe. For me I find there's power in his thinking. It is a freeing notion that if the universe does not care about me it equally does not care about anyone else and that puts all of us on an equal level. No one is more significant than the other guy/gal, although for purposes of ego we all like to think we are!
Enough philosophy. Back to the point. Events happen that disrupt the order of our personal universe. How does the same event devastate one person, while another overcomes and conquers it no matter how seemingly impossible it might be? What makes the difference?
Here's some food for thought from a book called Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
Certain events cause more psychological strain than others. The same stressful event might make one person utterly miserable, while another will bite the bullet and make the best of it. This difference in how a person responds is called "coping ability" or "coping style".
There are two ways people generally respond to stress - one positive and the other negative. Withdrawing into yourself, sleeping late, denying what is happening, turning on your loved ones, drinking more than usual are several examples of negative responses. Positive responses can include temporary suppression of anger and fear, analyzing the problem logically, and reassessing your priorities.
Few of us rely on one strategy exclusively. How many of us get drunk the first night, have a fight with our wives, then the next day or week later, we simmer down and start figuring out what to do next?
My hand is raised. How about you?
Three resources are available to us when coping with stressful events: external support(family, friends, colleagues), a person's psychological resources (intelligence, education, relevant personality factors), and finally the coping strategies that a person uses to confront the stress. This last one is most relevant in most cases.
Here are my methods for coping with highly stressful situations:
1. Don't forget to breath! No seriously, it's true. A little oxygen to the brain, a walk around the block, or a couple of sit-ups can do wonders.
2. Staying calm. See #1. You're the expert your clients hired. You know what you're doing. You've probably been here before in some fashion. Suppress your anger and fear response and start to think logically about what needs to get done.
3. Assess the situation. Make a list of what needs to get done and calculate how long you estimate it will take to complete these tasks. Do you need help? Who are your go-to guys that you call when you need backup?
4. Prioritize. Define what's most important to complete based on your delivery schedule and what your client needs. Factor in what you need too. Sometimes I'll do several easy cues in a row to feel like I'm psychologically getting more done and being ultra-efficient.
5. Take action. Start in on the highest priority first. Take regular breaks and assess your well being along the way. If you have to work for long stretches like two or more weeks straight under duress, you have to maintain your stamina, get enough sleep every night, and spend some time with your loved ones.
More from Flow:
Everyone has to confront events that contradict our goals. Each event is negative feedback that produces disorder in the mind, threatening the self and impairing its functioning.
Courage, resilience, perserverance and mature coping are essential.
If you're interested in reading more about what I've discussed above and the Flow experience, checkout the book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-sent-me-hi).
. . .
Large Project Thermodynamics
In the midst of any large project where you have many minutes of music to compose, there is always that one cue that kicks your ass. You know the one.
I can't say how many times this has happened to me in over twenty years of composing, mostly because I forget (probably due to the beauty of selective memory- where you block out traumatic events such as abuse, emotional upset, and where you left the car keys). What I do recall is I've always found a solution to whatever cues have given me grief over the years. Here are a few examples:
I'm just finished a big cue for a funeral scene and I wanted to do a requiem. That means counterpoint! This cue took me four days to get right when I needed to do it in two. This may not seem like a big deal at all but when you have to maintain a certain number of minutes per day to meet your schedule, you can't be taking extra time to do what one of my old teachers from Berklee called, "musical masturbation."
Here's the rub. I know, even if I spend more time doing one important cue, I'll make up the needed time and get everything done. How? Because of the "secret law of the logarithmic curve of schedules" which states that ALL gigs have a certain pace to them which starts out slow and ramps up to a frenzy at the very end. It is, as Mr. Smith from the Matrix would say, "inevitable."
Being a creative professional is knowing that some things take longer to gestate than others. I did this film once which had a scene that was edited twice as long as it should have been. How do I know this? Because in the work print I was using to score to, I could see the actor staring into space, followed by someone feeding him a line off-camera, then I'd see his performance, followed by a cut to the other actor staring into space waiting for his line, hearing that off-camera, followed by his performance and so on for three frikkin'minutes! The director's exact words were, "Can you help us out here?" And so I did.
I had 4 weeks to score 80 minutes of orchestral music on this project and after 3 weeks I hadn't found a solution to this scene. I watched and re-watched this scene at least 10 times every day and when I couldn't think of anything, I'd move on to scoring another cue or two from other scenes. In the last week I found my solution. Forget the bad editing; this scene was about the death of the Mayor's daughter! Once I knew that I wrote an adagio of the Mayor's daughter theme and slapped it up against picture and viola! I'm a genius! Or at least that's what the director said.
All projects, large and small, have a unique dynamic to them in the pacing of the schedule. They each have their own challenges which, as a professional composer, one needs to meet with a calm mind and plenty of pencils, erasers, and sketch pads. Remind yourself that you KNOW what you're doing. You ARE the music authority on this project. Then step up and hit it out of the park.
In the end, you have to trust in yourself, your craft, and your experience to know that that bastard cue will get done and it will be great!