Ac-cent-chu-ate the Positive

Winter 2003


I know that inclusion in our organization has numerous benefits, in fact Ray Colcord wrote eloquently in last month’s Score about some of his personal reasons for being a member. One of the advantages, although somewhat less tangible, is the opportunity to discuss personal experiences with composers or lyricists who have successfully navigated this unpredictable and at times capricious career. I thought that this might be a good time to share with you some of my personal ideology in this endeavor. Regard it as a “pep talk” or my own locker room chronicles if you will.

Following college I could have tackled law and joined my father’s firm, but there was never a question in my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in composition, and as a side note, I never thought about not succeeding in that quest either. Many of you have had similar opportunities, whether it is family businesses or the fact that you may be multi-talented and have other options. Whatever your circumstances, I firmly believe that those of you starting today must have the same motivation and clear path that I did. The competition is far too intense for anyone to be undecided about whether a career in music is his or her calling.

I remember struggling for recognition when I first arrived in Los Angeles. Some time later I also recall the difficulty I had in convincing producers that I had the range to compose in more than one genre. Even now, the challenge of sustaining a viable career is a constant balance of creativity, salesmanship and quite frankly, “kick-ass” determination.

Nobody can give you a syllabus for getting started in this business, or even continuing a career once you’ve procured your initial job; every individual’s experience is unique. However, one thing that I have constantly striven for during good times or bad is keeping a positive attitude. This may seem basic, it may sound naïve or even contrived, but I can assure you that if you have that state of mind, you’re halfway there.

I recall arriving at the scoring stage to conduct my music to one of the final episodes of Happy Days. It was at the beginning of my career and I followed a composer to the podium that was completing another Paramount show. He was someone who I had long admired, however he was obviously unenthused, cynical and terribly bored with what he was doing. I told myself that if my attitude ever deteriorated to that point, then it was time to move on.

Now some might query, why this optimistic outlook when we are faced with such weighty issues? The answer is not cryptic. All the roadblocks aside, we are simply the most fortunate of all crafts persons to be able to write music and lyrics. What other discipline can have such a marked impact on the emotions of another individual. When one hears the opening strains to Max Steiner’s epic score to Gone with the Wind, what other art form could match the shear level of majesty this music inspires? How could another profession create the feelings that are elicited by Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyric to How Do You Keep The Music Playing?

As the chairman of our mentor program, I had the opportunity to meet and listen to the music of many young composers. As president, I am fortunate to have the chance to get to know even more of you. I can say without hesitation that our community, consisting of the established composers and lyricists as well as the new and evolving talents is the finest I can ever remember. Your creativity and unique perspectives are remarkable. So what will ultimately determine whether one succeeds or fails? I submit that it is as much a matter of how you perceive and present yourself, as it is a matter of talent.

I know that with very few exceptions, a director, a studio music head or producer will come back time and time again to a person who makes his or her job not only manageable but also enjoyable. Of course you must have the creative spark to deliver, but coupled with a positive attitude, which in turn enables the employer to have a positive experience, you can attain any goal.

As far as my own career is concerned, I have never enjoyed it at any time more than I am enjoying it today, primarily because of the great musicians I work with. (Read my upcoming president’s message: 2004 the Year of the musician). I would suggest watching BT, who will hopefully be the guest of this organization again in the future. Not only is he one of the most creative talents working today; he is absolutely passionate about his music and loving it all the while. I believe that this feeling of contentment is consistent with success in our field in more cases than not.

Following last year’s State of the Art conference I was approached by a fellow colleague who visibly didn’t share my undaunted optimism. It was apparent that my Pollyannaish perspective on our business was amusing to him. Although I make no concessions about my outlook, I also would not try to portray a career devoid of rejection and low points. Without going into specifics, my career has been riddled with episodes of rejection from time to time. However, by keeping a positive attitude—after some serious days of depression—I have found a positive way to change my perspective and rationalize these momentary setbacks. You will undoubtedly find these lows in your own careers; it’s the nature of this business.

If I’m looking at reality in rose-colored glasses, so be it. Perception is truly everything and I continue to deal with rejection in a fashion that allows me to shape negative into positive. In my opening caption, Johnny Mercer goes on to write, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative. I would encourage you to as well and to focus on the wonderful opportunity you have been afforded, which is the gift to create, and the fulfillment that you receive from doing what you do, which is ultimately commanding the magic and the power of music.

Published in The Score quarterly newsletter [Vol. XVIII, Number Four, Winter 2003]