Is this a copout?

Am I doing what I set out to do? I said I was quitting my job so that I could be a full-time composer. I said I would complete a piece a day. I’m not.

I’m a few months in now, and here’s how I’d assess my new life: It’s not the 24/7 composing fest that I’d hoped for — but it’s still fantastic.

Why? Because I love everything I’m doing, and most of it is, in fact, music-related. I’m crazy about teaching, more so than I ever expected. The other day as left campus, I thought, “I just got paid to teach people how to connect joysticks to their computers and make ridiculous noises come out. That’s awesome.” Meanwhile, my freelance writing/editing projects rock: both
support renewable energy and sustainability efforts, and both involve working with strong, smart women.

If you’ve been following along since July, you might be wondering about that other freelancing gig — the online one. I dropped it. I didn’t need to finish reading The 4-Hour Workweek to know that it wasn’t paying off compared to my other engagements, so it’s gone.

Does that mean I’m failing? You could say that.

Now, what about the point of all this — composing? It still doesn’t pay the bills (it would be miraculous if it did, this quickly). And I still wish I had more time. Some days I have two hours, some days four, some days eight or more. I use it as efficiently as I can.

I’ve gotten my first few placements on TV — an American reality show and a UK travel show. I’ve got pieces in the exclusive catalog of a major daytime talk show, and I’ve signed several pieces with another new library. The relationships I have right now guarantee nothing; they mainly improve my odds from, say, one in a million to one in a few hundred. Once a piece of music gets picked up by a good library, my job is to forget about it and go make an even better one.

I’ve also continued to think about how to differentiate my work in a saturated market. Like it or not, anyone with GarageBand can put out passable production music. So mine has to excel, but that’s not news. There’s more to it: I want all of my pieces to have character, and soul, and vibe, and grit. No question, I will always push myself to work more quickly because that’s a great way to sharpen existing skills and internalize new ones. But speed can never come at the expense of feel and character.

So am I meeting my original goal of a piece per day? In isolated spurts, yes, but not overall. I could. I could force it, finish one a day no matter what. I could pull all-nighters, teach on no sleep and never hang out with Karen. I could deny myself even a one-day weekend. But I don’t.

Does that mean I’m failing? You could say that.

Or you could say that I had to try this to find out how it would actually work, and I’m learning and tweaking as I go — for example, by dropping unnecessary work.

Or you could ask me if I’m happier than before. Because ultimately, even if I were composing 24/7, wasn’t the whole point to improve my quality of life by spending more time on the things I love? Absolutely, and I don’t think that’s a copout. I think it’s the bigger picture.

So ask me. Am I happier? Yeah. By a long shot.

Could I be even happier? Sure. And that’s why there’s tomorrow.

About CK Barlow

I'm a composer and music-technology instructor. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to give full-time music-making a shot, so I left my corporate job (I've always had one). That's part of what inspired Composing Kitchen, the blog I publish with my incredible spouse, Karen Milling. View all posts by CK Barlow

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