Adding value to someone’s life or business is attractive.
Desperation is unseemly.
People work with people they know and people they like to be around. So, the challenge for any creative person is to switch the paradigm from “what do I need” to “what can I offer/give?”.
Sure. We have the tools to be able to constantly push messages and pitches out to the world. But, what value does it create? Will overwhelming people with what YOU need be of value to them? Will your barrage of sales pitches create the opportunity for meaningful relationships? Will incessant reminders of how “cool you really are” be perceived as adding value? Or, are you broadcasting how desperate you are?
Propagandists like to incite and overwhelm knowing full well that if a lie is repeated often enough that it will be believed by many to be the truth. But, is that an effective strategy for a creative professional?
Successful creative relationships are collaborations...
"excerpt #3 from "Walking With Giants"
On occasion, Ralph Burns would join Billy Byers and me as one of the arrangers on Ian Fraser’s shows. Ralph was a legendary arranger in musical variety, Broadway and film. After attending the New England Conservatory Ralph moved to New York and joined Woody Herman’s band as pianist and arranger. In 1949 Woody had a hit with a composition written by Ralph called “Early Autumn” featuring an unknown tenor saxophonist named Stan Getz. The success of this record launched Ralph’s career. For many years he was one of the busiest arrangers in New York doing records and commercials. In the 1960’s he began orchestrating Broadway shows. One of his most celebrated collaborations was with Bob Fosse. Ralph won Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and Drama Desk Awards. Needless to say, Ralph was a big deal.
Ralph’s next project was “Star 80” with Bob Fosse. Ralph was going to write and record in New York so I...
It’s easy to watch a film and pass judgement about how well the music works with the movie. It’s much more difficult when you don’t have existing music to guide your thoughts. It would make sense to ask your director what they were thinking of to get some idea of where to start but, if you expect them to explain what they want in any sort of musical detail you won’t be doing the job you were hired to do. I mean, if they have all the answers why do they need you in the first place?
I’ve found a more effective approach is to spend the time necessary to understand the movie first. Then, when you have a discussion with your director, you will be better equipped to interpret what they say into a language you both can understand. The added benefit, and a seemingly unintended consequence, is you will find it much easier to discuss the project. At the same time there is a good chance your director...
“I give without expectation and am grateful for the result”.
When I was young I was driven. I felt like I was running a race against the clock (with my career). I was so stubborn that I figured if I worked hard and long enough I could force my dreams to come true. I was so determined to reach my goal that I wasn’t aware of the negative aspects of my behavior.
In fact, instead of creating the life I had always dreamt of the opposite was true. Sure. I had some successes. In reality my myopic field of vision was more limiting than liberating. What was I missing?
It took me a long time to understand that my impatience was the result of my futile attempts to control my reality. Sometimes my impetuous nature worked for me. More times than not I would end up shooting myself in the foot in my pursuit of a mysterious, undefined goal.
The concept of “overnight success” makes for great press but is only a portion of the story. What...
(the following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir: "Walking With Giants")
The summer of 1977 was eventful. I had now been hanging out with Billy for close to four years and we were becoming closer as friends and musical partners. I had gone from being a naive young musician to becoming a competent musical director on the Mitzi Gaynor show in less than a year and would spend my time off the road picking up loose ends with Billy on his various musical variety television shows and nightclub acts. And, hanging out at the beach or observing his recording sessions.
One of the more unusual things I had to adapt to was writing with fountain pens on vellum. I didn’t really understand why that was the preferred method when I would see Billy working at home, but that’s the way he worked. Another curious aspect of working with Billy was that he never used a piano when writing. He would imagine the entire score in his head and then commit it to paper. I didn’t question it,...
It is easy to take for granted someone’s gentle smile. How it instantly brightens your day and lightens your load. That moment when your eyes connect and you peer into each other’s soul can be magical. Providing a simple act of kindness has as great an impact on the giver as it has on the recipient. A moment of authentic connection is the tie that binds us together. It is an example of our desire to belong.
When we are stressed or under threat (like Covid 19) we tend to rely on methods that we have used in the past to cope with our situation. One could say it’s a version of the fight/flight response. But what if that doesn’t work? What if it exacerbates our discomfort? What if we don't have adequate skills to respond? Human connection is more important now than ever.
Music and memory….
Our memory records our lives like our own virtual reality game. We remember not only the words or images, our brain documents...
The amygdala, which is a part of the limbic system, is a fascinating part of the brain. It is programmed to regulate our response to threat (fight/flight response), controls anger and aggression as well as fear and anxiety. The amygdala also participates as a part of our memory. To be specific, it records the emotions attached to our anger, aggression, fear and anxiety.
Why is this knowledge of crucial importance to the film composer?
If we can use a sound, a melodic phrase, or a rhythmic motif to trigger a memory of an emotion in an audience, we can manipulate the viewer’s emotional response. If we combine this with an image we can have extraordinary control over an audience’s emotional response.
Fascinating isn’t it?
In “Why is there music in film” I introduced the idea that music can manipulate a viewer’s emotions. But, how do we exercise this awesome power?
January 18, 2021
Whenever I try to edit my writing as I go I invariably end up chasing my tail. I can go round and round trying to find the perfect solution to whatever problem I’m working on. I’m mean, really! You’d think I’d know better after all these years. This is especially problematic when I’m doing something new, something that is totally outside my comfort zone. My confidence takes a beating and I begin to wonder if my ideas are any good? Or, if I can pull off yet another rabbit trick.
The words: frustration, self-doubt, insecurity, depression come to mind. If this has happened to you then know you aren’t alone. Believe me- this is a life-long struggle for every creative person I’ve ever known. We are all perfectionists to some extent so we won’t settle for second best. Perfectionism is a terrific motivator but, without a sense of balance and pragmatism perfectionism can quickly become your nemesis or outright...
January 15, 2021
When I look at my journey through life the path is anything but a straight line . If I were to draw a picture it would probably look like a sailboat tacking into the wind. Always a mountain to climb. Always more obstacles than smooth sailing. Always unforeseen challenges.
Sometimes I wonder how I’ve ended up moving through this unending, messy existence. That being said—when I’ve actually looked beneath the surface I’ve found that the skills I honed as a composer and arranger combined with the discipline of learning to play the piano well was the key.
Deep down we are all people on our own singular journey.
Sadly, when Americans are introduced to each other the default question is: “what do you do”. We are constantly defined by how we make a living. We are judged by the career path we have chosen. Professionals garner more prestige than service workers, teachers or laborers. This conditioned response is next to impossible to...
Every story is different. Every film is different. Every production is different. Every filmmaker has different tastes and preferences.
So how do you decide what type of music would be most appropriate?
I started getting opportunities to score films because I was a competent, if not precocious, musician and composer. That got me in the door. But, it didn’t adequately prepare me to be a film composer. The reality was my hubris propelled me forward but I was hopelessly unprepared. I would follow my emotional reactions to what I saw on screen but, if I misinterpreted the story I was lost. Making matters worse I had a difficult time communicating with filmmakers. They didn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them. After a particularly bad experience I realized that I had a big problem and, if I wanted to continue to write music for film I would have to change my approach.
I figured that if I learned a few buzz words to help me...
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