Do The Hustle!

Hustle: It’s a common subject when we composers talk amongst ourselves. How aggressive we all have to be these days. How a hyper-developed competitive drive is a composer’s greatest asset.

It’s worth a moment, I think, to poke around the edges and see if there are areas where we might do better to unclench a bit. Go with the flow. Let it come to us, rather than launching ourselves at it all gung-ho and crazy-eyed.

A lot of composers these days (particularly composers who are just getting started) sit at their computers, day in and day out, with their fingers on the trigger of the spam cannon. Blasting away, firing off demo packages to anyone and everyone who might have an active e-mail account. Filmmakers? Sure. They get demos… but so do music library companies, music supervisors, music editors, agents, managers, studio/network execs, and anyone else whose IMDb page seems to touch even marginally on the subject of organized sound waves.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s often little or no follow-through involved. It’s all about hitting the maximum number of targets once. Which, to these composers, constitutes hustle.

I receive plenty of these e-mails myself; usually it’s from well-intentioned folks who are dead set on getting a foot in a door (mine). The truth of the matter is this: If I don’t know you, I’m not going to hire you. And getting to know someone, in my opinion, takes a little time. If the only correspondence we’ve had is the one e-mail you sent with links to your website and your work—and if that e-mail ends with something like “please give me a call or an e-mail so that we can discuss how much money you’ll be paying me”—you’re pretty much hosed before you even got started.

It’s a turn-off. You’re making me feel like I’m just a sub-boss monster in the video game of your life. And you’re gonna blast me with your spam cannon and get onto the next level. I’m not that easy. Neither are most filmmakers. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, it’s trying to score on the first date.

I like meeting new people, especially music people, and even more especially music people who are on fire to get their careers going. But a little unclenching in this particular department works wonders. Building relationships takes time… at its best, it happens organically. And trying to force those relationships—looking at them too much like they’re something to be shooting your way through, rather than nurturing and enjoying—is, to my way of thinking, over-competitive.

Unclenching also applies to your gear. We’ve talked about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) around here before, and I freely admit to succumbing from time to time. What I sometimes find, though, is film music pros snapping up a whole new array of toys merely out of a desire to race in the Gear Derby. Again, it’s competing in the wrong event.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not important to stay up on the latest stuff; it definitely is. But it’s a means to an end. And there’s a pacing to the thing: it ought to be at a level commensurate with the gigs you’re actually getting (and if you simply must compare and compete, do so with those peers who are at your own level).

I’d love to have a brand spanking new SSL console and a cabinet full of four-figure vintage mics; who wouldn’t? But I don’t need any of that. It’s way out of profile with where I am in my career. And the fact that (insert A-lister here) just bought one, or five, or whatever, shouldn’t really bear on my decision. If I let it, I’m allowing my urge to compete over my head put the rest of my finances in jeopardy. And that’s dumb. I don’t need any more machinery to legitimize what I do.

My take on this: put the blinders on, run your own race, and unclench. When you need gear, get the best you can afford and no more. (It’s expensive enough just doing that much.)

Last thought for now: There are all sorts of aspects of this biz in which thinking of the struggle as a competition, as hustle, can be healthy. It spurs us on to do more than we might be inclined to do otherwise. It takes us out of the safe, familiar zone where no growth occurs. It gives us definitive, often-humbling feedback about how we’re progressing. It requires us to be our best selves.

But competing over who can go the longest without sleeping, or who has neglected their family and friends the longest, or even who can write the craziest number of minutes of music in a day? Somewhere in there is that oft-mentioned line between hard-ass and dumb-ass. Tread carefully. Run the right race. Don’t let your hardcore composer status become an end unto itself.