Knowing When to Stop, or Not
My 18-year-old self never thought that I would end up where I did. And even now, I have no idea where I’ll be in another 20 years. With a life in music, uncertainty is all part of the fun.
During an unsolicited phone call from my undergrad alma mater, the enthusiastic voice on the line asked me if I was still involved with the music industry. My affirmative answer triggered a sigh of relief from the caller—my guess was that he is a music student himself on some sort of work-trade scholarship—who informed me that this is the point at which most graduates confess to having some crappy McJob or a position totally unrelated to the music business. As you might have guessed, the call segued quickly from checking current contact information to asking for donations for the school’s scholarship programs. After hanging up, I began to question my level of involvement in music, and how different I thought my life would be when I entered school—I can’t believe what I’m about to type—twenty years ago.
When this 18-year-old entered a music composition program, he thought scoring films was the thing for him. Maybe it would bring with it a nice home in Santa Monica or Silver Lake, a driver to take me to the studio, nothing excessively fancy. Well, none of that happened. Unfortunately, while my music education expanded my horizons exponentially, I was somehow taught the notion that the really great music, the stuff that is eventually absorbed into the canon, certainly isn’t tethered to cinema. Film music is somehow lesser-than. Set on writing great music, I dropped my ambitions to underscore films. Instead of film directors, I collaborated with installation artists—the folks tinkering with “real” art (read: noncommercial).
As I followed whatever early opportunities a composer gets, I never envisioned a steady thing that one would actually call a career, per se. Composers in their twenties usually have the wherewithal to figure out that very few will rise to a level of success—success of the kind that would afford them that house and that driver—by writing music alone. We all know the realities of mortgages and putting food on the table prevents a complete fulfillment of our desires to create sounds and play around in the concert hall. And yet we don’t stop.
I’ve already entered the eclipsed territory where composers over 35 years of age go to hibernate for a few decades. The classical music machine is predominately interested in the youngins and the octogenarians, which affords us in the middle some time to hone our craft or experiment out of the spotlight, or maybe come to our senses and take the LSAT. At any rate, we can take some time to reflect and shed our now-antiquated points of view, and realize, for instance, how artful commercial music can really be. If anyone here in the dead zone has any suggestion on how to kill the time, please add your thoughts. Hey alumni association: maybe I’ll kick my next royalty check your way. (Trust me, don’t get too excited.)