Tag Archives: @taximusic

A Love Note for Valentine’s Day

I’ve mentioned before that when I quit my job last July, Karen and I vowed that we would not let our reduced income stop us from traveling. So we keep an eye out for great airfares and when we see one of interest, we jump on it. This weekend we hit Denver for $39 each way and got a room at a pretty fun hotel (The Curtis). We figured it was an early Valentine’s Day for us since in Karen’s line of work (she’s massage therapist at a nice spa), she’ll come home on the 14th too exhausted to do much of anything.

A couple of days before this Denver trip, I took on a project that required a fairly bleak perspective: a “beautiful but melancholy song, female vocalist, about lost love, feeling lost, etc.” It was due Friday morning, but we were flying out Thursday morning. I sure didn’t want to be the jerk spouse who works the whole time we’re away together. So Tuesday I hammered out lyrics and recorded the vocals, then Wednesday between freelancing and teaching I handled the acoustic guitar parts — the things I couldn’t do on a plane or in a hotel room.

At some point that evening I asked Karen to listen to it. She’s always honest with me about what works and what doesn’t. As she listened, her expression became concerned and eventually almost tearful. She finally took off the headphones and said, “Is this about me?”

I said, “My gosh, no! It has nothing to do with you; it’s just what I had to write for this project!”

See, every relationship song I’ve written since being with Karen has been about her, except this one. And they’ve all been deliriously happy, except this one. How she could think for a moment — when she’s the source of everything beautiful…

Mixing in the Hotel at Night

Mixing in the Hotel at Night. Yes, that's a martini glass.

We left the next morning for Denver. I finished mixing the song in the hotel room Thursday night while she slept. And then I crawled into bed and held her and thought about how lucky I am. Pretty incredibly lucky.

Listen to “All Right”

More from our Denver trip:


Embracing the Newbie

One thing I wondered about — not really worried about, just wondered — was whether my self-esteem would take a hit when I left my corporate job. Like it or not, we Westerners tie a lot to our occupations, whether it’s the prestige of high-dollar professions or the insta-halo that comes with social-good and faith-related jobs. When you leave the job, you leave the identity and associated cachet behind too.

Compounding that, when you change careers, you’re jumping into a new role in which you might have less experience or training than your peers and competitors. Especially if you were well-established in your former profession, it can be downright humbling to be the newbie again.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.

— Shunryu Suzuki

I experienced it pretty strongly this week when attending a welcome-back faculty meeting at the university where I teach a few classes in the music department. It’s easy to feel a little inferior there because I’m part-time, not even remotely tenure-track, master’s rather than doctorate, yada yada. That feeling is nothing new. And it’s possible that now, having forfeited my white-collar identity, I have less spare self-worth lying around with which to combat it.

Similarly, I have plenty of peers in the production-music business who are better instrumentalists or who have more training as audio engineers. Compared to some of them, I might never catch up.

Granted, I’m not really a newbie. I started my first band more than 30 years ago (yikes…) and haven’t stopped playing or writing since. I do have that master’s degree. I’ve got TV placements under my belt. But there are times, especially when a piece of music gets rejected, that I feel a little underdoggish.

So how do I deal? Certainly there’s the Presbyterian approach (per my upbringing): Work work work, harder harder harder. I do. I work my butt off, no question.

And there are plenty of books out there that say to play to your strengths rather than spending time chasing your deficiencies. Of course they’re talking business strategy, but it also relates to the topic at hand: it’s definitely toughest to keep your chin up when you’re playing someone else’s game. I especially like The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Daniel Pink and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin.

But as I write this, something else occurs to me: Embrace the Newbie. You know, as in Beginner’s Mind. Not just lack of knowledge, but also lack of cynicism. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, to get yourself past a bout of dejection. But if you can get there, you’ll see the other side of the Underdog coin: Eagerness, energy, openness. Now that is powerful stuff.

So flip that coin!  And while you’re thinking along those lines, check out the song, called “Got My Own,” that I wrote and recorded Wednesday afternoon/night — right after that faculty meeting ;-) — and mixed Thursday morning for a noon deadline. Because, well, why not?

Cheers!


Go for it – because you never know.

In the last week, I’ve had two relatively different situations come up that ultimately pointed to the same truth. Somewhat of a long post but I hope you’ll bear with me.

Last week, I was brought into a local ad project – no, not a cheesy car dealership commercial! It’s a beautifully shot, high production-value piece. The production house and I met on 12/14 with our client, the head of a well-respected agency, and talked through his needs. I came away with a variety of ideas and suggestions.

For custom composing jobs, I follow Tom Kelley’s advice in The Art of Innovation: “Prototype early and often.” Why is that great advice? Two big reasons: It helps you home in from multiple angles on what the client likes, and it protects you as the artist from getting too attached to a single idea.

So I promised three to five drafts by the next Monday, 12/19. The first was relatively safe but absolutely usable. #2 just plain didn’t work; I canned it. #3 and #4 had a little more swagger, which the production house wanted, and I liked them OK. For #5, though, I went with a less mainstream style that I personally like, even though I didn’t think it stood a chance with the client. I allowed myself to do what I thought sounded cool, regardless of likely marketability.

We sent them to the client and waited. I thought he might go for #1 or #3 but I secretly hoped for #5; the owners of the production shop thought he’d go for #3 or #4 – but no way #5. The answer came back: #5! As soon as the commercial is out, I’ll post a collage of all four drafts and the final product.

No rest for the weary, though. Later on Monday, the music agency I use (TAXI) posted an opportunity that I’ll excerpt here, w/bold for the key stuff:

Y111220SS

NY Ad Agency URGENTLY needs TWO, Fun (but not silly), CONTEMPORARY, Indie Artist/Band-Leaning, Mid-to-Uptempo, Singer/Songwriter or Quirky Band SONGS for 2 DIFFERENT TV spots for a coffee brand’s upcoming commercials. … They need a song that relates to what you FEEL or LOVE about coffee, but your lyric should NOT MENTION the word “COFFEE” IN IT! … Instead, give them lyrics about “getting your day off to a good start,” or “I love the way you make me feel” type of stuff … for the FIRST TV spot. … Submit SONGS about “home” related subjects for the SECOND TV spot. “Home is where the heart is,” “Home is where I’d rather be,” “being home makes me feel good” in so many words. … If you’ve got the PERFECT song for these pitches, they COULD pay as much as $100,000 for EACH placement! …  Submissions must be received no later than TOMORROW, TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20th at 3pm, (PDT). TAXI #Y111220SS

 

So, yeah, they posted that on Monday, and it was due the next day at 4pm my time. Yikes. Part of me – a big part of me – said, Don’t bother.

For starters, these ad agency listings are pretty high-bar affairs that leave plenty of crushed egos in their wakes. So… I’m just talking about fear of rejection, right? I thought, What if I do something that I know is good and has value elsewhere, regardless of the outcome for this listing? OK – Mental Block #1 vanquished.

Then there was the time limitation.  As little as a year ago, I couldn’t have conceived of pulling anything off in that time frame. But I’d been working on speeding up, largely by not being so self-critical in the initial stages. As composer John Lewis Parker has said, “Ninety percent of composing is having the courage to continue, and being open to ideas.” And who knows, I thought — maybe I’ll start something really worthwhile, even if I miss the deadline. Sweet! Unnecessary Obstacle #2 kicked to the curb.

Finally, I don’t have a traditionally “pretty” voice. I just don’t. But I’ve been wanting to pursue some of these singer/songwriter opportunities – a genre where imperfections can be a good thing, plus I have a solid background there. I’d gotten a good start the week before by writing and producing a piece in one day for a similarly challenging listing. I quit the day job for exactly this kind of opportunity. Am I going to let it pass without even trying?

I decided to find a way. I realized I could take an existing instrumental that suited the listing and write lyrics for it. I set to work that night on the lyrics.  Confession: I find sweet/happy/”crazy about you” lyrics easy; I just think about Karen. Seriously. If everybody had the kind of love and support I have from her, wars wouldn’t start.

The next morning I edited the lyrics a little and then hit the studio. I had five vocal parts recorded, edited and mixed by 2:40. Eighty minutes to spare.

So… the listing requested two different themes; should I try the other? Why not? I took another existing track and wrote lyrics for it. In this case, I got really lucky: Karen and I happened to write lyrics for this song for an informal performance earlier this month, and some of them even worked for this job! I quickly wrote two suitable new verses. I got the thing done and turned in by the deadline. The execution isn’t perfect, but it’s sweet and evocative, which is important.

You can hear both tracks here.

The next morning while at my freelance gig, I got two emails from TAXI that started with words I will never tire of reading: “Congratulations, CK! Your song(s) has been forwarded… .” The songs made it through the very tough initial screening and are now with the NY ad agency. In reality, this just means I’m in the running. I’ve gone from one in a million to maybe one in 20, or 50 so or. But it means a helluva lot more than that to me.

What if I hadn’t tried draft #5 for the local ad? We’d be kicking around something that didn’t really excite the client. What if I’d stopped at “Don’t bother” with the coffee ad? I would’ve just reinforced my old presumption that those sorts of opportunities are impossible, not worth bothering, etc. Instead I set a new, far more positive precedent for myself.

In both cases I told the perfectly reasonable voice in my head to bug off. Glad I did!


The Rally, and the Tally

For the last few years, I’ve spent the first weekend of November attending a music-industry event called the TAXI Road Rally. If you’ve read this blog since it started this summer, you’ve heard of TAXI; it’s the independent A&R company I use. As part of my membership, I get two tickets to the Road Rally, TAXI’s annual convention.

It’s… well, not to sound all fanboy about it, but it’s pretty incredible. Keynote speakers for the last few years have been hot tickets like Jeffrey Steele and Kara DioGuardi, and legends like Charles Fox and Lamont Dozier. Panelists include folks like Kevin Kiner (composer for CSI: Miami, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the brand-new Hell on Wheels), seven-time Grammy-winning producer Rob Chiarelli, and on and on. It’s three jam-packed days of classes and panels on everything from current vocal processing techniques to how to use social media for your band, to how to get past writer’s block. This year, Kiner actually scored a scene from an upcoming CSI: Miami episode as a panel session. Pretty informative (and funny – Kiner’s a riot).

The Rally Hotel's lobby, after hours – spontaneous jams of all shapes, sizes, genres, ages and hair colors. I'm at far right, soaking up the love (and a little bourbon).

I suppose it’s just like anybody else’s convention: you come away exhausted and – depending on what you accomplished, or didn’t, in the last 12 months – some mixture of all fired up and inspired, and downright despondent that you aren’t progressing quickly enough. You get a million great ideas, but you also overhear a guy at the bar talking about having had 273 placements of his music so far just on one cable network. If you haven’t, that can sting no matter how far you’ve come toward your own goals.

I’ll interject here that the Rally consistently provides an undocumented, unscheduled perk: a huge dose of love and support from fellow TAXI members, who befriend and help one another online throughout the year and then have a massive hug and lemme-buy-you-a-drink-fest once we’re together in person. Without fail, newcomers each year are stunned by the support and encouragement they get from people who are, in some cases, the competition. I adore my TAXI friends. They make a famously solitary occupation feel practically communal.

But anyway, back to the hard stuff – if you’ve been following along here at Composing Kitchen, you can probably guess how I felt coming off the conference: I’m not doing enough, and I’m not doing it quickly enough.

That’s how it feels. But… really? Let’s take stock for a minute. Just since leaving my job in July, I’ve had three pieces of music used on TV and one in a Breaking Bad webisode. I’ve signed music with three more libraries and have been asked by an indie label for a genre-specific CD. I’ve produced about 50 unique pieces of music. Some of those are short show-theme bits, but most are song-length, and most have homes already (that is, they’ve been picked up by music libraries). One is sitting, as I type, with an ad agency, because I tackled the type of high-bar, quick-turn opportunity that used to scare me to death. I’ve started scoring a local documentary and am in discussions regarding a feature film for early 2012. This is when I’m not busy teaching two university courses, freelance writing and editing, serving on the board of the New Mexico Post-Production Alliance, and being a decent partner to my sweetie.

I started this adventure in mid-July. I knew that the risks probably had nothing to do with actually going broke and starving, but instead with taking on too much non-music work to cover the bills and winding up still short on composing time. That’s exactly what happened, and I have to make peace with that and honor my commitments.

So it’s not perfect, yet. It’s not 273 placements. But if I’m completely honest with myself – and I try really hard to be – I can say it’s working.


August was a whirlwind!

After my first two weeks as a free woman, I posted a tally of sorts to take stock of what I’d accomplished. I thought I’d follow up with a new post covering how August went. There’s nothing like publishing what you’ve gotten done to keep yourself honest and focused.

I didn’t quite hit my goal — one new piece of music per working day — due to some unavoidable disruptions and obligations, but I came respectably close. I’ve also suffered a bit of insomnia. Sometimes that makes creative work easier, but sometimes harder. Generally, I’m hanging in there.

In terms of my spirits, I experienced a remarkable upswing the week I started teaching fall classes at the University of New Mexico. I’ve taught one class per semester since ’08 and just started a second, brand-new class (this was additional motivation for leaving the day job). In short, I enjoy my students and what I’m teaching, and — at the risk of sounding über-practical — I also got a very real bump from the simple knowledge that the second class would happen despite meager enrollment, because it takes a little pressure off the financial side of this whole adventure. And besides, it’s a cool class (Introduction to Max for Musicians)!

So, in a tidy list, here’s what my calendar and email Outbox indicate that I got done — geez, I might have to start keeping a journal:

  • composed/produced nine 15-second “intro themes” for a TV show (no guarantees, just opportunities)
  • signed a contract with a new music library — yay! — and provided two existing pieces from my catalog, wrote another and will be writing more
  • devoted a few days to some needed software installs in the computer-music lab I manage for UNM
  • lost a half-day to getting the house partially re-roofed. Schedule? What schedule?
  • replaced our washer and dryer. Um, yeah; so much for austerity measures. The dryer bit it on our anniversary.
  • wrote new pieces for a handful of TAXI listings. If you’re an active musician or even if you have an older catalog that’s well-recorded, you owe it to yourself to at least look over TAXI’s business and offerings. Check out their excellent forum, which is open to non-members, at forums.taxi.com.
  • met again with a small-business owner about some editing work
  • moved a little further toward being able to work as a contractor for my former employer; the temp agency is still working on my background check. I’m apparently Crazypants McMystery Girl or something, they’re taking so long to vet me.
  • did some enjoyable editing work for an exceptional, local green business — the one I met with in July. Lined up more of the same just this morning. Feel fantastic about this opportunity.
  • did a bunch more editing assignments with that online editing service I mentioned in the first tally; I’m getting the hang of it in terms of choosing assignments that suit my skills and schedule. Good stuff.
  • started the new semester at UNM. I’m blown away, to be honest, by how much I enjoy teaching. Great students + cool topics = tough to beat.

Did I Learn Anything?

Hmm. Well, frugality is fine, but you have to take care of your home and your family so that they can keep taking care of you. I came to the conclusion that after working hard for 25 years at jobs that weren’t always satisfying for the sake of (some) financial security, it is OK for us to buy — for example — a good-quality new washer and dryer rather than used. Maybe not the models we would have bought if I hadn’t just quit my job, but good ones. I mean, really: what was the point of all those years of work if I’m going to lapse right back into my old poverty mentality? Sure, if the money weren’t there, we wouldn’t; but it is, so we did. And we will be fine.

So there you have it — a full six weeks in. The anxiety about this life change comes and goes, but for the most part, I feel like I’m getting into a groove with my new life.

I like it.


The First Two Weeks: A Tally

Since my last day at the corporate gig on July 15, here’s the tally of what I’ve gotten done, working Sunday through Thursday and a little on Saturdays.

  • drafted 2 light orchestral pieces and sent them to a collaborator, who will complete them and submit them for consideration for a reality-TV show (as I write this, it’s Thursday, July 28th, and I might crank out a third later today or possibly Saturday – yeah, that’s cheating! – to cap the week)

    A picture of my new office.

    My new office, complete with love notes and funny pictures thanks to Karen.

  • composed/produced 5 of what I’d call “upbeat light pop/rock” instrumentals and sent them to the requesting music library
  • drafted 1 theme for a local documentary film; the director likes it
  • created 32 alternate versions of approved pieces (9 pieces x 4 alts each). Alternate versions of a piece are basically useful variations on it, for example, without the melody instrument, just the rhythm section, and so on. They’re time-consuming but necessary.
  • completed lesson plans for 3 class meetings of the new course I’ll be teaching in the Fall
  • edited or proofed 13,301 words through an online editing service, for earnings of… wait for it… $163.29
  • received payment for a very quick-turn theater sound design – $150 – and discussed future engagements with the playwright/director
  • began researching how best to sell the soundtrack of the indie feature film Warrior Woman
  • wrote and posted a few blog bits (I like to call them bloggins), including this one at smaCK! (my music tech blog)
  • met with an SEO expert who also happens to be a musician, about helping her organize and structure a book
  • met with an attorney regarding whether to form an LLC for my publishing company, Smudge Creative Publishing
  • met with the fabulous owner of a very cool green business about her need for a good editor; she promised a contract in a few weeks
  • pestered the contracting officer at my former job about getting things in place so that I can contract with them occasionally; haven’t heard back after two pesterings in two weeks.

Clearly there’s not a lot of money being made at the moment. But there is a lot of potential, a lot of little pieces of me getting out into the universe. The production-music thing is a numbers game. The more music – let’s qualify that as “good music” – I have out there, the better my chances that something of mine will be used and create some income, and possibly some momentum.

Also, this doesn’t quite satisfy my target of a completed piece per workday, but it comes darned close, and the alternative activities were just as important. Building genuinely excellent, positive relationships will be key.

What Have I Learned So Far?

Well, for starters, the freelance editing gig takes a bunch of time (for me, right now) for not very much money. I also have to time it very carefully; for example, I can’t take a 7,000-word job in the morning if I definitely need to start composing by lunchtime. Not right now, anyway. Maybe I’ll build speed, but for now, as a new contractor with them, I’m very focused on ensuring top quality at the expense of time and therefore $/hr. And that’s OK. They’re a good company, and I believe in their value to their clients as well as to their editors. It’s just a matter of learning the ropes and building confidence and speed. Oh, and memorizing a few new style guides.

Second, and more positive, is that in all of these ventures I learn something every day. I learned specific music-production skills on Tuesday that I applied again on Wednesday; I learned about some new editor resources; I learned some small-business law (I’ll forget that, most likely…LOL); and I was definitely inspired by the people with whom I met.

I had some pretty severe anxiety on Day 2, but I got through it by doing the main thing I know how to do: work my butt off. I expect these little attacks to crop up occasionally; any healthy, smart person would be a little scared right now.

It’s cool (she says on the outside…).


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