When its OK to be losing

I realised recently, that I’m actually investing more time into ‘just trying‘ and by that I mean taking a risk in life and in this career trajectory. Its exact known route is a big a mystery to me, as anyone who knows me will tell you, but this is the key thing, isn’t it?  Trying, pitching and eventually, if we understand how we won those scars, the period in which we become a slightly better version of our former self. A composer 2.0 equipped for the next opportunity.

It’s tough to create an attitude based on being so thick skinned and relentless, but I truly believe it becomes second nature after a while. You pitch for so many gigs, you get so many rejection emails and calls, that you pass the gnarly patch of taking it all damn personally, and start to digest all the feedback and investigate the reason you came close but no cigar.

That thicker skin, that ability to learn is crucial for any creative. Being told no isn’t the big plague infested insult you perceive it to be. It’s a very powerful message and it’s up to you to take it in and move forward, to understand the failing and repair. I have had the conversation many times when your peers would discuss the merits of playing back your own work in a one man retrospective, a mixtape made just for yourself lol, and whether it has any value to do so. I’m a big advocate of doing this.I’m like most composers who want to identify what place they are trying to carve themselves out in the big ugly and brutal industry – some days I’m just convinced I’m the untapped game audio scoring king waiting to be discovered, the next day I’m thinking the day to day scuttle with placement and sync tv is my lot in life, and for those very special moments, we all bask in our own John Williams part of our mind. Admit it – you do this a little…….

But therein lies the point. You pitch for EVERYTHING, fear no genre or part of this global beast of a market place. Pitch for all your worth and shoot nice and high. At least higher than pitching for free film scores lol, pitch for things you have convinced yourself only the select few should be aiming for. And then what??? Well, wait and see. If you hit hard for 10 gigs and get 10 rejection notes, ask them why but in a constructive manner rather than “If you don’t tell me why you don’t love me, I’m going to burn your house down” kind of investigative probing.

This info arms you with something that is of great value. I’ve had so many rejections it tells me two things at the very least.

  1. I took part, I believed in myself and I had nothing at all to lose and all to gain.
  2. Every scrap of info I got in feedback allowed me to listen back to my work, and see what I did wrong.

So there you go. All ego encompassing retrospective playlists of works all by YOU, are by no means an evening with a narcissist – it’s an opportunity to see how you grew, how you digested that info and developed.

Ok, the reality is not everyone will tell you why you sucked, or partially sucked. Some producers, supervisors,agents,coffee boys, won’t get involved, you will just be told in the shortest sentence that is possible to type so they can move onto rejecting 10 other composers. But it doesn’t hurt to inquire. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When you do get a good chance to probe further or even get the elusive second crack at the title, LISTEN to what they told you. Some of this info is cryptic, and I mean really cryptic. The language in which most people speak in this industry (outside of any musicality or humour) is just so coded, we’re looking for another Rosetta stone made especially for understanding music supervisors. We’re still waiting lol!

I spend a few hours per week listening to older work, failed pitches and also all the pitches that you did win, digesting all the pieces of information from all this work and understanding why it isn’t important what your personal and critical taste is, you have to understand the commercial brand of taste and flavour. When you stop beating yourself up so hard, and wallowing in artistic self inflicted pity, you can step back and repair all your music and your bad habits. Don’t get me wrong here, I mean, seriously, who likes an email that tells them they sucked and why on any kind of regularity? But when you can translate that info into moving forward, those failed pitches will not only turn into shortlisted attempts, but positive wins and I stand by that 100%.

I also find this ‘journey’ you take whilst battling for work means you come to find a place you not only enjoy more, but you find areas of considerable strength. Not everyone will be the king of all things cinematic but will be much better than perhaps you or I at pitching for an album of flat out rock cues perfectly played, edited and sculpted for advertising. I’m no expert nor a spokesman for any composer, but I find it hard to imagine John Williams being the guy for epic dubstep! You, however, can be the guy who is winning those gigs.

So through a process of accumulating some battle damage, not taking it all so personally, moving on and trying again, you will become 10 times the composer in as short a time as 12 months. And in a remarkably evolved way. Then you can spend more time writing for genres and markets you excel in and let JW and co go back to being quite good at scoring really big films (and there is not one ounce of envy in that statement, I promise lol!). There is of course one obvious parallel to this entire blog, the guys who just won’t. And if it is you, then I’m not going to hurl abuse or become the almighty self righteous – it’s just up to you.

You only get something out of all this if you are prepared to really work hard and apply all the energy you do all in aspects of life into this. Imagine combining all the enthusiasm and positivity you carve up for all missions in your day/week, add them all up and then double it etc. It’s another tough thing to enter in to but it’s something that becomes a personal declaration that you will just devote so much time and energy into what it is you’re trying to achieve. But sitting back and being very angry at not getting anywhere, not being prepared to do any work, telling others how bummed you are, isn’t doing you or your poor friend any favours. Don’t get bitter, don’t project every emotion you can possibly have and bring everyone down around you 24/7. Just understand what it was you just spent time trying to achieve, and damn well try again. So the hell what if the next guy is telling you about this amazing big gig they landed??? Well that’s great, but after the congrats, what the hell does it have to do with you on a creative level?? Why are you now thinking this has any bearing on your ability? The kid next door to you came off his stabilisers on his BMX 3 months before you did, so what?? He didn’t turn out to be Matt Hoffman or Dave Mirra and it all has zero bearing on your path, and your growth.

No one out there pitches one idea and becomes a internationally adored composer with countless movies and extensive staff and catering in tow. Be relentless and remember, it’s ok to lose.

Written by: Russell Bell

  • Sebastian Walter Watzinger

    Thanks Russell. Caught me right in the act.
    Try, try, try, Win.

  • Panos

    Very great input. Love it.

  • VladimirKooznetsov

    It is amazing to read something like this from a person that you take as a model. But I reckon everyone has to go an uneasy path… and the road is long. Let’s hope there’s a lot of places we’ll visit on route to draw inspiration from. Let’s try…

  • Camille Dolin

    Wow. Just what I needed to hear. Thank you. :)

  • Roberto

    Even my DAW rejects me.. 2-3 times a day ;(

    But seriously, this’s a great post and practical issue. I think that it’s impossible to separate emotion from music and failures. But we should learn from mistakes and worry as little as possible.

    Cheers composers of the world

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