A reputation for competence is vital — and to get it, you need to take every opportunity going.
It’s a team sport.
Producing music for multimedia, that is. Working in a team is not only an awesome experience, but it can also provide a path to realising your ambitions.
The most successful composers are the ones with the most comprehensive skill sets. When they ask something of you, they know how it should be done and how long it will take. Conversely, the more complete your own skill set, the better your knowledge of the process from beginning to end, the less likely you are to unwittingly send bombs down the line that go off in someone else’s face. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but even then, an ‘incoming’ heads up is always appreciated. Having to explain why you need something presented in a specific way when you are under time pressure (and we are always under time pressure) is the quickest way to get put in the ‘too hard’ bucket. Working with inexperienced people who mistakenly think they know everything or arrogantly think they know best, never ends well. But it does end, when they don’t get hired for the next job. Why and wherefore questions asked after the score has been delivered will always be happily answered, usually in the pub over a celebratory pint or few.
A vital weapon in your arsenal is something else money can’t buy: experience. If you are captain of the team and have minions running around whose only job is to fulfill your every whim, why would you need to know their job? Well, for starters, if you are going to be an asshole then it’s probably a good idea to know all the ways they can exact their revenge.
Many established engineers have travelled the road from runner to assistant to engineer. Many composers have travelled the path from musician, orchestrator, conductor or composer’s assistant to composer. It can be a long process, and at any stage, you can come across a fork in the road. Some are expected, some come out of left field. All, without fail, will be opportunities. Part of the fun is how far your path can meander from the original route to your intended destination.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth. For one thing, how the hell are you supposed to know a gift horse when you see one? Opportunities will present themselves in ways you won’t have even imagined, and your only responsibility is to be in a position to take them and exploit them for all they are worth. And with experience comes real-world knowledge that will lead to you changing or adapting your initial ambitions as you discover how far reality can be from your expectations.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a derogatory expression meaning that those who are competent at lots of things often stand out at nothing. In this day and age, however, we all have to be competent in an ever-increasing number of disciplines: as musician, programmer, engineer, arranger, composer, accountant, secretary, web designer, multimedia content creator, and so on. So, here’s a new figure of speech for you: Jack of all trades, master of one. Working on a team, you can pretty much guarantee that the majority of people in the room where it happens both understand and could do your job to some extent, but you also know they consider you the best at that job — which is why you are there.
My stock answer to the question “What credit would you like?” is usually some flip answer such as ‘Director’ or ‘Composer’. After a particularly tricky project we pulled out of the fire, the reply came back “Let’s do Master of the Universe”. I’ll take that as a compliment, thanks. Job done. Next!
Chris Cozens has run Auricle on over 100 films including Lord Of The Rings, James Bond, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. With Sound On Sound contributor Nick Magnus he co-produced one of the first albums recorded in a bedroom to chart Top 10. He is currently developing an app to deliver the therapeutic benefits of music to cancer patients.