Chris Boardman Music Blog: February 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Top Ten Myths of about being a Film Composer #4- "I'm going to be rich!!!

What drives you?

Do you want to make a lot of money?
Do you want to be famous?
Do you crave attention?
What drives you to do what  you do?
Even though I have had my share of success I really don't think about any of that. I chose to be a musician because I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else! Some one once said of me: "You didn't choose music, music chose you". My motivation wasn't derived by anything in the material world. I was obsessed by the process of making music...that was where I wanted to be. Consequently I did everything I could to put myself in situations where I could satisfy that desire. I practiced, I studied incessantly, I listened to music constantly all the while thinking that if I was the best I could be...then that was all I could expect of myself (Thanks Mom!). I kept my standards high...focusing on making the rewards of my journey intrinsic and unaffected by the outside world.
There are no guarantees in life, or in art.
Call it ignorance or naivety...the beauty of being young is that your lack of experience is actually a benefit rather than a detriment. It's easier to take risks simply because you don't know any better!
At 18 I joined a quartet (2 were my high school counselors) that worked a lot doing weddings, parties etc. The third member was a jr. high school band leader. He was one of the most bitter, disillusioned people I had ever met. How did that happen? He didn't have the courage to fail. Rather than risk being rejected or failing he chose to take the "safe" way out. In the process he gave himself a lifetime sentence of self doubt. Poor guy. It just ate him up. At that moment I knew that I would rather fall flat on my face than not know if I was good enough to make a go at being a professional musician. I applied to Cal State Northridge and promptly left the small town I lived in. I figured: "Better to fail spectacularly than to never try".
In my early twenties I was terrified by the prospect of having to make a living in music in the big city. It was my first time away from home. I had no idea how to get a job. I was uncomfortable in social settings. I had no concept of business. I asked my mentor early on one day: "how do I get a job". I was desperately trying to figure it out. His response:

STAY HOME AND GET GOOD!- people will find out about you.

That made absolutely no sense to me at all. Gee thanks!
Even so, I had no reason to doubt him so I accepted his comment and went about my business. I decided to work as hard as I could to be the best I could be and let the chips fall where they may. Soon enough, people started to pay attention and opportunities arose...strictly because of my obsession with being the best I could be. In hindsight I understand the wisdom of his remark. all too well.
It would be easy for me to say that if you followed this advice you'll find success in the music business...that all your dreams will come true. Truth is: no one knows. There is too much that is out of your control.

Success all depends on your definition

Success can be defined in many ways. Looking back at my 43 years as a professional musician, and 53 years as a pianist I can honestly say I am rich beyond words. I have been fortunate enough to know and work with more creative geniuses than I can name. .
Will you be rich and famous? I have no idea. But,

I do know this. 

The first step towards success is to know who you are and why you want to do what you do. For anyone else to be able to understand you, you have to understand this in yourself at a very deep level. AND, be able to articulate it to others.
If you listen to your heart and stay true to what it is telling you it matters not whether you are filthy rich or a pauper. It matters not whether you have fame or live in obscurity. No matter how much money you have, you can't buy peace of mind or a happy heart.
Life happens from the inside out....not by looking outside for validation, self-worth or satisfaction.
So...whatever it is you are dreaming of, just go for it. There is no shame in failing...only in not trying!

Monday, February 24, 2014

5 steps to become a professional.

Such a simple yet powerful word: Trust.

See you at 1pm! What does that mean to you? 12:45? 12:59? 1:05? 1:15? whenever you get there?

I strive for punctuality in my life because being on time is an indicator of the amount of respect I have for the other person. If I am early then I am prepared and ready for anything that may come up. If I arrive with just minutes to spare I will waste time getting myself mentally prepared for the meeting. If I purposefully arrive late I am disrespecting the person I am meeting. In fact, being late always says: “my time is more important than yours- so I will arrive when I’m good and ready”. While perfection is not humanly possible punctuality is my goal.

It is impossible to gain someone’s trust without respect. Without respect trust is impossible. Without trust it is impossible to create and maintain a relationship. In a creative environment trusting your collaborator is essential. No magic can be made without trust. 
  1. Be prepared- No one has time to waste these days. Wasting time is just that- a waste. Take the time to be prepared for whatever you may encounter. In the last week I know of a person who had an incredible opportunity who didn’t get hired because of a lack of preparation-even though they had the skills to do the job.
  2. Be courteous- perhaps if you were a rock star selling multiplatinum you might be able to get away with being a jerk. Even then- it is not a guarantee. You are not that important.
  3. Listen- You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room nor is it appropriate to demand everyone’s attention. Quincy Jones famously said to the cast of All-Stars assembled for the We Are The World sessions: “Leave your ego at the door”.
  4. Be grateful. Projecting an image of entitlement makes your immaturity blaze like a bonfire in the eyes of a prospective employer or collaborator. Never forget that however “cool” you may be there will always be someone whose skills are better suited for the job who is available at a moment's notice.
  5. Be service oriented.- Unless we are independently wealthy we will always be working for someone else. A great employee is one who is constantly on the look out for ways to serve. Going beyond the call of duty makes you stick out as being someone to pay attention to, someone who is trustworthy.  Doing the minimum amount paints you as a slacker....thus someone who may waste my time and who is not trustworthy.
A simple yet powerful concept that can be easily overlooked, learning to be professional (even you you don't "like" someone) will serve you well and differentiate you from your competition.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Top Ten Myths about being a Film Composer - #5

I don't need to be concerned about the business of music-

You can call me "Schroeder". I spent my youth playing the piano incessantly. I started writing songs when I was about 9. Most every waking hour I had a radio blaring in my head. I couldn't stop it. So, I spent all my time pursuing that which I could not ignore...making music.
Because I had developed skills as a musician and was gifted with talent, opportunities presented themselves and I started working as a musician at 14. By the time I reached college I was a "working musician". Even so, my goal was not to make money. My interest was always to find a way to stay immersed in the process of making music. This desire to led me to find a way to leave college at the first opportunity. It wasn't long before I left school to go on the road. I didn't really care how much they paid me- I probably would have done it for free!

Setting myself up...for disaster.

Fast forward to years later. I had been working steadily for years...not because I had a great business acumen but actually in spite of it. I had an employable skill, was dependable and, for the most part, easy to work with. Things were great- until there was a problem with the business side of things. Because I had not paid attention to "the business of music"  I found myself totally unprepared to deal with problems related to business.
 The constant dilemma for the artistic person is to "balance"their need for expression with the pragmatism required to make a living. In a perfect world I would wake up every morning and joyfully make music all day. "Oh... what a wonderful world it would be."
Unfortunately the business or "your"  business has to be taken care of just like any other responsibility. If you have support staff:  business managers, agents, managers, copyists, programmers, tech support, musicians, accountants, they have to be managed. You must be in control of yourself to be able to manage your working relationships effectively.
A few things to consider:
  • Not everyone is a "friend".
  • Confide only in those you trust
  • Be clear and focused about the job you are asked to do- if you don't understand...ask questions.
  • If you are going to subcontract or look for help be "specific" about what you expect from them.
  • Use the golden rule with everyone you work with. This is terribly important. Your reputation precedes you. If you rip someone off, sooner or later it will come back to you. Conversely if you treat everyone with respect and integrity you will have more time to spend on music rather then wondering what people are saying about you or how to cover your tracks. This is now more important than ever due to the transparency of the internet.
To manage your team effectively you need to be comfortable with basic business principles such as:
  • reading contracts- fine print too!
  • understanding the "actual"  roles of all those involved (agents, managers, copyists, etc) and how they relate to one another
  • knowing how to budget your time and money.
  • understanding the "market value" of the services you provide.
You may be wondering about why business acumen is important? Today not only are we required to be expert musicians- we also have to create and manage a personal "brand". I'll go into branding in a future post.
The takeaway from today's blog should be: understand business to the extent that you can operate effectively with those you work with and take care of yourself in the process.
Don't kid yourself: this is difficult for everyone! 
But- it is not insurmountable.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Musings: "Being Cool - Creating Engaging Relationships"

Is being “cool” a subjective term? For some, being cool is as attractive as a flame to a moth. For others it is something to be avoided. Whatever your opinion we all think of it as a “mysterious quality” that some people have and others don’t.
Don’t believe it. For me being “cool” is a combination of three personality traits. And, regardless of your natural aptitudes your “coolness” can be nurtured and refined.
What makes somebody “cool”?
Having discipline, willpower and the ability to focus attention.
Like most people I instantly feel more comfortable when the person I'm talking to is in control of their emotions, unflappable and can focus their attention on me, rather than the multitude of distractions available. In this instance being able to focus your attention really means being able to listen attentively.
Why is attentive listening “cool”?
Focusing your attention while listening is when the magic happens. Focused attention opens the door to making real and lasting connections. It is only after such a connection is made that you can be truly compassionate and empathetic. As the world continues to change at such a dramatic pace our attraction to authentic relationships will become more and more important. Great value can be derived by simply by listening well. Without even realizing it your “cool” factor will increase.
Why is discipline “cool”?
We all face difficult situations. Those who maintain their self-control usually manage to navigate through rough waters while those who react emotionally will have a more difficult time. The phrase: “cool under fire” comes to mind. Don’t we all prefer to be around people who seem unflappable and exude a sense of personal strength?
Determination is defined as a “firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end”. Why is Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson or any other successful athlete or performer deemed “cool?” They have all used their willpower and determination to achieve their goals. We instinctively gravitate towards winners because at some level we want to share in and identify with their success.
And why is being “cool” so important?
We have reached a milestone as a culture. Almost without exception we have learned to spot a phony a mile away. We no longer will accept being sold a bill of goods.
Effectively using social media requires that you offer the reader something more than what you receive in return. What better than to offer them the chance to experience an authentic connection? Now that would really be “cool”!
Increasing your “cool” factor is not mysterious. It’s actually rather simple:
  • Listen with focused attention (enabling authentic connections)
  • Strive to be disciplined (staying on message)
  • Never give up (pursuing your goals)
How will that change lives?
You will undoubtedly affect the lives of those around you. And, you may realize one day that you are, in fact, pretty cool!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Top Ten Myths of about being a Film Composer #6- I'm an artist-I'll decide when to deliver my music"

"How Do I Deal With Deadline Pressure?"

Many moons ago when I first entered into the business I vividly remember being panic-stricken about coming up with ideas on demand. At the same time I knew that if I didn’t meet the deadline I might never get another opportunity. I lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety.  I had stress for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In hindsight I appears that the anxiousness was due in large part to the fact that I was completely undisciplined and unorganized about my time.  I had no idea how to even approach the problem let alone deal with the situation effectively.
My mentor, Billy Byers, always used to say: “if you sit there long enough it will get done”. He was referring to the fact that most of us would rather be doing ANYTHING but sitting at a desk in a quiet room alone--for 12-16 hours a day. (remember- I started in the business prior to the advent of the PC). Needless to say I endured many, many sleepless nights.
Live TV has to be the most demanding job I can imagine. I would get an assignment on Tuesday for a show that would record on the following Monday and be on the air on Tuesday night. You have to be on your game because there is no time to do any rewrites. There was no time.  And, if I didn’t deliver my reputation would read: doesn’t deliver on time meaning I was unreliable and no one would risk taking a chance on me. I couldn’t afford for that to happen.
What did I do?
I learned how to divide the number of score pages (or minutes if I was composing) into the days available to create a benchmark of how much I had to complete each day to stay on schedule. For example: I have 10 days to a session or deliver for a final mix. If I have 40 minutes of music to deliver that means I have to do 4 minutes a day to make my deadline. If it were an orchestration I would divide the number of days by the number of pages and then create an excel doc to keep track of all the details. I became a slave to my spreadsheet.  I made a video about this that you can see on youtube.

The 15-Minute Deadline.

Back in the day I would write through the night to have music ready for pick up first thing in the morning. I would keep a small TV on my desk to keep me company and help remind me of the passage of time. I didn’t want to get “the stares”.  Did you know that you can fall asleep with your eyes open?  Many times the end credit music would wake me up on the hour.
When I really got stuck I would arbitrarily mark up the sketch into increments I felt I could accomplish in 15 minutes. That way I could kick myself in the butt if the alarm went off and I wasn’t keeping up.
I only used that in extreme cases. Whenever I had to do an all-nighter it proved to be very effective.
The point is this: to keep your sanity, maintain your health and relationships I strongly suggest learning how to be disciplined about how you spend your time. You can thank me later. :)
Coming up next: “Oh Great! I have to deliver on time AND BE BRILLIANT?”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Monday Musings: "The illusion of reality"

I believe we are constantly inundated with opportunities. The problem is most of us are not honest enough with ourselves and too preoccupied to see them. 

For example: How often do we walk by someone or something totally preoccupied with our thoughts, our cellphone etc?  Do we recognize the late night diner as the inspiration for an iconic painting?  Are we not held captive by our self-created illusion of reality?

Breaking the bonds of the world you have crafted requires the courage to let go of your “perception of the world-- not the world as it actually is. And, if you change your point of view even as little as one degree you will find that your sense of reality will be altered. Your eyes will be able to see that which was there all along! 

When I was young I was ambitious to a fault...never with the intention of winning at all costs. Rather it was a personal journey and obsession to become the best musician I could possibly was all about “me”, “me”, “me” though I would never admit to it at the time. This was my safe that was familiar and comfortable. 

After a while I hit a brick wall. My life and career had stalled.  I didn’t have any idea why the methods that I had employed in the past were no longer working. I couldn't identify why I wasn't continuing to make progress towards my goals. As a last resort I turned my attention inward. 

It wasn’t long after the beginning of this painful process of self-examination I realized that it was time for me to shed the artificial self-image I had carefully crafted. This simple act of deceit had caused my paralysis. Armed with new insight I slowly began to move forward.

The inspiration behind “Nightthawks” is not known but for this painting to resonate with so many for so long is obviously due to the realness of the image. Edward Hopper succeeded in capturing a moment in time. I feel safe in saying he was focused on the moment of creation without concern for his cellphone.

To reach your highest potential as an artist: shed your illusions of reality, focus on the moment and be present. The opportunities that exist in plain sight will astonish you...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Top Ten Myths about being A Film Composer #7

I don't have to worry about technique

Let me ask you: Have you every tried to build anything? Have you ever tried to put something together without reading directions? Have you ever cheated on a test or tried to get some one to do homework for you?
Let's say you wanted to build a simple box out of wood. Sounds simple enough. But, if you look a little deeper there are many, many  things you need to do to successfully build a square box out of raw wood. First you need a design with dimensions. Then you will need to figure out how to purchase the wood and what kind wood you want. Then you will have to cut the wood to size. Assembly is next followed by the application of paint, varnish or sealer. Building a box from scratch out of wood requires expertise (or at least working knowledge) of many tasks. If you are a carpenter for hire there is another dynamic to consider: you are building this box to suit some one else's taste!

Odd analogy?

This is not as crazy as it may sound.
Consider this:
Direction (what type of score does the director want) = Design
Budgeting for production/ instrumentation = What type of wood do you want?
Writing cues that fit the film = cutting the wood to size
Recording your score = assembly
Mixing = applying the finishing touches

Dream on....

I meet a lot of songwriters and entry level composers. Invariably when they find out I'm a film composer their eyes drift off as they daydream about hearing their music in film, darkened rooms, tv etc. Internally I chuckle because they have no idea what is actually entailed. If they only knew.
There is very little glamour in being a film composer. It's just a lot of hard work.
Unfortunately the only way to survive in this business is to have a deep seated passion for it. I always say: "the only thing that will keep you company at 3am while working on deadline is your passion for what you are doing".

So much to little time.

The truth of the matter is that to be a good if not great composer requires a lifetime of learning and maturing. It never ends. Therein lies the attraction for me...every day is different. As a creative person this is why I can't wait to get out of bed in the morning.
Of course there are the obvious musical and technical disciplines to be aware of. Add learning about relationships, networking and people to the list. Networking skills will carry you as far if not further than any musical chops you may have.
The 80's were boom times. There was so much work that it became acceptable for less than competent  composers to be hired to score films. If you needed help there was enough money to hire a support staff.
Times have changed.
As fees continue to slide it is more important than ever to become the best you can be. From a purely selfish, pragmatic point of view: the more hats you can wear....the more money will stay in your pocket.
From an emotional point of view....there seems to be a direct relationship between knowledge and anxiety. The more you know the more comfortable you will be in every part of the process.
From a creative point of view....if you embrace learning as a lifetime endeavor you will never be bored. There will always something new to learn. I promise you: your life will never be boring!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Musings: How do I compose on demand?

When we start out it is very difficult to figure out how to begin work on a piece. If you are lucky there will be a burst of inspiration. Quite often that is followed by a blank stare. What do I do next? Where do I go? How will I ever finish? It is common and very easy to slip into a depression at this point to where you stop work and never finish.. We all go through this...everyone.
How does one combat this? The key is learning how to approach the process and to learn how you behave in the midst of this process. The better you understand yourself and your process, the better chance you have of being effective.
Once you decide on the original idea....commit to it. This is crucial. Defining your goals in real terms, language etc gives the structure needed to get to the end. I'm reminded of an Igor Stravinsky quote: "the more restrictions I place on myself the freer I become". At first glance this may seem counter-intuitive. In fact, it is just the opposite. Without definition it is impossible for your listener to understand what you are doing. If you look at a great painting, the intent of the artist will be clear. The mystery will come from your interpretation....what you think of the work. Great art provokes a response. Music is no different. Limiting the scope of what you are attempting will train your mind to focus. And, the creative mind will look for ways to take these few symbols or characters and make something new.
Now it is time to go to work. Sitting at the desk is mental exercise...not unlike going to the gym and working out. Instead of lifting weights you will be in a constant problem solving state.
As you work on a piece you will get distracted, stop and start, come back to it another day. You will find no limit to number of distractions you will potentially face. Take a minute and jot your goal down on a piece of paper or index card. Defining your goals, committing to an idea will give you an object to refer to as time passes...reminding you of where you are going.
I'm also a HUGE fan of the idea of getting to the end.  It is impossible to evaluate a work without having something complete to judge. One of the huge advantages of midi is that enables you to switch gears and become an audience instead of a participant. Listening to what you've done with a critical ear...judging your work not from your ego (aren't I cool?) but from an objective and analytical point of view (how does this help me achieve my goal?) is the key to growth.
Steps to take:
Commit to an idea
Limit your possibilities
Define your goals
Putting in the time
Judging your work objectively
Understanding your process and training yourself to think in these terms will move you forward as an artist...if you do the work. That much I can guarantee.
Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes.