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Jacob Shea’s career advice

Mike Greene

Senior Member
Moderator
Before taking an internship with Hans, Jacob worked as an assistant here. (Before Realitone, back when I was composing full time.) It was a cut in pay to go work for Hans, and the truth is that most interns there do not realize fame and fortune (a lot of "weeding out" occurs), so there was definitely risk in the move. But for the reasons he talks about in the video, it was a no-brainer and proof of how serious he was about pursuing this as a career. Jacob's a great guy and I'm so happy that he's found such success.
 

AllanH

Senior Member
I really enjoyed this interview and the one he did with Spitfire around the time of planet earth. He is clearly a talented composer and seems genuinely kind and generous with his time.
 

FriFlo

Senior Member
I must say, I find it really sad, that the more time passes, composers keep telling you more and more, being a film music composer is not really about being a good composer ... it is more about opressing your ego an personality up to the point that you probably forget who you are and nurture you relationships with some pathetic people in the film business, who actually should rather seek a psychiatrist (my interpretation of what he said, to be honest!).
I guess, there have always been those people in important positions in the film business, who did not lack ego, but missed any kind of professional judgement. But I think, those numbers have grown quite a bit in our times. We have just grown used to the fact, that it is kind of normal to see people acquiring power and/or money without any kind of competence that makes it feel like they deserved it. Our times are more then ever filled with those folks, I am afraid.
 

AdamKmusic

Senior Member
I must say, I find it really sad, that the more time passes, composers keep telling you more and more, being a film music composer is not really about being a good composer ... it is more about opressing your ego an personality up to the point that you probably forget who you are and nurture you relationships with some pathetic people in the film business, who actually should rather seek a psychiatrist (my interpretation of what he said, to be honest!).
I guess, there have always been those people in important positions in the film business, who did not lack ego, but missed any kind of professional judgement. But I think, those numbers have grown quite a bit in our times. We have just grown used to the fact, that it is kind of normal to see people acquiring power and/or money without any kind of competence that makes it feel like they deserved it. Our times are more then ever filled with those folks, I am afraid.
I find a lot of people do say that but I think there becomes where someones ego might come back. Or maybe ego is the wrong word, people will respect your opinions/thoughts more. Whereas when you're starting you have to sort of please everyone so you can build up your contacts and get a name for yourself as someone who works well with other people etc
 

dannymc

Senior Member
I must say, I find it really sad, that the more time passes, composers keep telling you more and more, being a film music composer is not really about being a good composer ... it is more about opressing your ego an personality up to the point that you probably forget who you are and nurture you relationships with some pathetic people in the film business, who actually should rather seek a psychiatrist (my interpretation of what he said, to be honest!).
I guess, there have always been those people in important positions in the film business, who did not lack ego, but missed any kind of professional judgement. But I think, those numbers have grown quite a bit in our times. We have just grown used to the fact, that it is kind of normal to see people acquiring power and/or money without any kind of competence that makes it feel like they deserved it. Our times are more then ever filled with those folks, I am afraid.
but why do you find it sad? i think its a case of just realizing we are not at the top of the food chain when it comes to the movie business and mostly the composer is there to serve the vision of others. imo its a positive that film music is getting the recognition it is and seems to be at a high point in popularity at the moment. i think it would be alot worse if we ever got to a point were film composers were not considered at all in bringing a story to life and the creators instead opted to just use temp scores or library music or even eventually A.I.

if you want to be an artist we composers could also go the route of the likes of Max Richter and Olafur Arnalds. there's nothing stopping you if you cant swallow the realities of the film & tv business.

Danny
 
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FriFlo

Senior Member
I find a lot of people do say that but I think there becomes where someones ego might come back. Or maybe ego is the wrong word, people will respect your opinions/thoughts more. Whereas when you're starting you have to sort of please everyone so you can build up your contacts and get a name for yourself as someone who works well with other people etc
It is of course futile to discuss this without exactly knowing from an individual case where someone is taking back his/her ego and where he/she might demand being taken serious as a strong creative voice for the creation of a film. Of course there are cases, where a composer might be overwhelmed by his ego and therefore not be able to work within a film, which is a collaborative art form. There are two very distinguishable types of people working these positions (the same goes for directors and other important positions as well). There are those who do everything with a strong service aspect in mind. If you follow though with this philosophy, it is not wise to invest to much emotionally into anything, because that might destroy you.
The other extreme is a composer who thinks it is his job to do the music. The director may say what he thinks he needs, but ultimately it is the composers job to decide. There is a one example of one composer who entirely worked like that and I can mention his name, as he is already dead: It is Bernard Herrmann. You can clearly see he was like that from countless interviews and testimonials. He famously scored the shower scene for Psycho despite Hitchcock wanting this scene without music.
I am not saying any composer can or should be like Herrmann! But I do find, that todays composers really lack composers of that spirit.
 

FriFlo

Senior Member
but why do you find it sad? i think its a case of just realizing we are not at the top of the food chain when it comes to the movie business and mostly the composer is there to serve the vision of others.
Because I don't think that is true. If you merely try to enforce someones else's wishes or visions, you will never create art. That does not mean, if you do everything will be great. But from time to time, there will be truly great pictures. Some will be truly great although certain aspects (like the music) are not stellar - just acceptable. The chances of a movie becoming exceptional rise with its single parts being exceptional. A composer giving in to the idea of service fully, will never create exceptional music IMO.
 
OP
ka00

ka00

Senior Member
I must say, I find it really sad, that the more time passes, composers keep telling you more and more, being a film music composer is not really about being a good composer
Okay, my reply is possibly going to be very controversial as I've never worked professionally as a composer, so take this with a grain of salt, but what I took away from this video is that to work as a Hollywood film composer you need to:

1. Have no dependents or major financial obligations initially, and be willing to spend your 20s earning very little while you try to advance your career to the next phase.

2. While still young, get good at composing, but don't think you need to be Beethoven, because creating an amazing and ornate standalone piece of music is not quite what's called for.

3. Be outgoing and resourceful enough to connect with and convince a composer who is busy working in the industry that you'd be a good assistant.

4. (Now that you got the assistant gig) be a great assistant; solve problems for your composer, be pleasant and nice to be around, work long hours, write music for the composer as needed to show you can and can be reliable and work under deadlines.

5. While in the room, pay attention to how this composer operates, deals with people, handles pressure, handles crucial conversations, handles business deals, etc.

6. Hope the composer is too busy to do a particular project or two and which they aren't going to turn down but are going to get you to write and they will critique and approve and probably you will be a ghostwriter and they will be credited, but hey, you're making progress.

7. Now maybe you'll get an opportunity to be a credited co-writer with that composer and you're now building some verifiable IMDB credits and are essentially being vouched for and vetted by the big time composer, graduating to composing under your own name.

8. Finally, work directly with clients (directors, producers, studio, etc) and be a joy and pleasure to work with, interpret what they're asking of you, etc. Be charming, work to tight deadlines, etc.

9. Now that you are a name on a list of working composers always take the jobs that you're offered, or else they'll just go to someone else (who'll potentially be farming it out to their apprentices if they're to busy themselves), and if you can't handle the work load, well, it's time you got your own assistants to help you too. And the cycle continues.

I'm thinking if you don't follow these steps or have problems doing any of them (because it doesn't match your personality, your age, your financial needs, your geographical location, and any other life situation perhaps...), or if anything else is preventing you from doing these things, you should find another outlet for your music and another way to make money then aiming for A-list film projects.

I could be totally off, so the real pros (or their assistants) can chime in.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
I am not sure what else people expect?

I'd still rather spend my days writing music than doing a lot of other jobs.

The client service aspect is not really that different from any other high-paying service job in many respects -- law partners, senior bankers, accounting professionals, even IT guys have many of the same issues. Being able to actually do the job is certainly indispensable and certainly people respond to good work. But, as @ka00 writes above, if you're not "a joy and pleasure to work with" then they will find someone who is.

Producers routinely risk over $100 million -- and their careers -- when they make a movie or a game. Why would they work with someone who can't demonstrably execute and be fun to work with as well?

Artistically life as a composer varies a lot, as anyone can see. There is once in a blue moon something like "Arrival" but not all that often. A lot of filmed entertainment (tv and movies) aim for audiences that just want a little diversion from their struggles and, maybe if we're lucky, tell an engaging story with believable characters.

Sometimes they actually want a real theme, sometimes just a pulse.
 

givemenoughrope

Senior Member
Stuff like “Arrival” is on the artistic/creative side of scoring fence? I mean, all that stuff sounds just as cut up and pushed around by directors/producers to me. It just doesn’t sound so “Remote Control” or whatever. John is right. If you had $100M and your grandkids future wrapped up in a movie you would be crazy to take any risks that you don’t have to.
 

FriFlo

Senior Member
Okay, my reply is possibly going to be very controversial as I've never worked professionally as a composer, so take this with a grain of salt, but what I took away from this video is that to work as a Hollywood film composer you need to:

1. Have no dependents or major financial obligations initially, and be willing to spend your 20s earning very little while you try to advance your career to the next phase.

2. While still young, get good at composing, but don't think you need to be Beethoven, because creating an amazing and ornate standalone piece of music is not quite what's called for.

3. Be outgoing and resourceful enough to connect with and convince a composer who is busy working in the industry that you'd be a good assistant.

4. (Now that you got the assistant gig) be a great assistant; solve problems for your composer, be pleasant and nice to be around, work long hours, write music for the composer as needed to show you can and can be reliable and work under deadlines.

5. While in the room, pay attention to how this composer operates, deals with people, handles pressure, handles crucial conversations, handles business deals, etc.

6. Hope the composer is too busy to do a particular project or two and which they aren't going to turn down but are going to get you to write and they will critique and approve and probably you will be a ghostwriter and they will be credited, but hey, you're making progress.

7. Now maybe you'll get an opportunity to be a credited co-writer with that composer and you're now building some verifiable IMDB credits and are essentially being vouched for and vetted by the big time composer, graduating to composing under your own name.

8. Finally, work directly with clients (directors, producers, studio, etc) and be a joy and pleasure to work with, interpret what they're asking of you, etc. Be charming, work to tight deadlines, etc.

9. Now that you are a name on a list of working composers always take the jobs that you're offered, or else they'll just go to someone else (who'll potentially be farming it out to their apprentices if they're to busy themselves), and if you can't handle the work load, well, it's time you got your own assistants to help you too. And the cycle continues.

I'm thinking if you don't follow these steps or have problems doing any of them (because it doesn't match your personality, your age, your financial needs, your geographical location, and any other life situation perhaps...), or if anything else is preventing you from doing these things, you should find another outlet for your music and another way to make money then aiming for A-list film projects.

I could be totally off, so the real pros (or their assistants) can chime in.
There is no doubt, that this list describes very well how to get a chance of becoming successful these days. But it reads to me like a "how to become a perfect soldier".
Maybe it is just me, but to me this is to much focused on the service attitude, which is how most of the "business" today works. It leaves aside an honest artistic relationship between director and composer. I am aware that there were no "golden times" where this attitude ever was the norm. Yet, I find it quite uninspiring to strive for that kind of a relationship with another artist. There are of course two sides to this and you will probably fail, if you only allow for that kind of artistic relationships which are rare ... I would just hope for a more idealistic advice coming from successful composers asked in an interview. Call me naive ... :)
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Who says there is no collaboration, or that it's not artistic?

It's Always Been Like This

If they hire someone to paint a mural in a church, there are boundaries about what's going to be successful and allowable. Those are going to be determined in a conversation between the artist and the church officials. I mean, of course it is! But that doesn't mean that you're just a paint-by-numbers artist. There are oceans of possibilities; everyone from Donatello to Caravaggio to Leonardo found a way to create genius work while still hewing to the religiously acceptable.

I am not sure what kind of free reign anyone expects in life? On some jobs, I have latitude to express candid, surprising, and personal feelings in the music. On others, a lot less. So what? I like writing music more than, say, adding up numbers or talking about real estate. Some people can talk about house decorating all day -- I can't and wouldn't like it.

On the other hand, I like all kinds of sound, from the bombastic to the driving to delicate and unmeasured-sounding. I like pop songs, funny songs, serious songs; and I like Buxtehude and Arvo Part and Jerry Goldsmith. And some pretty out-there quarter tone and out-of-tune rock songs sung by people who sound crazy and other off-the-rails stuff.

It's Not That Bad

The great thing is that even the most cautious producers actually want something cool for their movie or game, so you have to dig around within the constraints and try to do something you think rocks.

Stuff like “Arrival” is on the artistic/creative side of scoring fence?
Sure it is.

I think that if you're spending $200 mm or whatever that movie cost, using a score like the one poor Mr. Johannsson wrote is daring. Many producers would instead have insisted on a retread of some other space / alien / superhero movie score.

Maybe you didn't like the music as it appeared in the movie (by contrast with what's on the CD)? I haven't compared so I don't know the difference really; saw the movie once and enjoyed it.
 
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Wally Garten

Active Member
There is no doubt, that this list describes very well how to get a chance of becoming successful these days. But it reads to me like a "how to become a perfect soldier".
I mean, that's not the only way. It might not even be the best way to become a truly A-list composer, any more than becoming a production assistant on other people's films is actually the best way to become an A-list director, online career advice for filmmakers notwithstanding. Becoming a production assistant is a good way to become an assistant director or production coordinator. The way to become an A-list director is to direct stuff -- short films, music videos, ads, indie low-budgets, etc. Hopefully it's stuff that people really like. Even in those gigs, though, you're often serving a master. The trick is to maintain your voice while giving people something they can use. (A great example is Spike Jonze, who started out directing music videos. No doubt he had to come up with ideas that would make the bands and the record labels happy -- but a Spike Jonze music video is still the furthest possible thing from bland corporate product. And his movies are among the most fearless and creative mainstream films there are.)

I'm not a film composer, but I'm guessing the way to become an A-list composer is, similarly, to write music people really like -- maybe while working as someone's assistant, but maybe by starting with ads or short films or indies, where you might have a chance of getting hired directly rather than working your way up through the ranks. Or maybe by being a musician or composer outside the film world.

And maybe that approach gains you a bit more independence? Jonny Greenwood appears to only take on film projects that he really believes in. But . . . the path to that . . . ? Spend 15 years in a band, and have that band be Radiohead. Where -- I feel almost certain -- he had to compromise a lot with those other dudes in the band in order to get songs written and recorded.

Being in Radiohead is hard, of course. So people are giving advice for a (relatively) achievable way to get to write music for a living. Like most jobs (including most artistic jobs), it involves taking other people's needs and preferences into account. There are perhaps "purer" ways to become a working composer... but not that many, and most of them still involve learning how to compromise and work with other people.
 

Josh Richman

Active Member
Arrivals score is brilliant, historically sampled bits, human, musical, other worldly and conceptually ties to the movie. This is all big league composing stuff. It’s caplital A art that stands on its own.
 

givemenoughrope

Senior Member
To each their own. Maybe in an age where everything looks and sounds like everything else something only slightly different stands out. But it just kind of sounds like someone took The Thin Red Line, slowed it down and muted half the tracks. I’ve seen and heard that before and I know I’m watching a movie. Last night I watched Zodiac for the 167th time and everything about it, especially the David Shire’s score, just draws me into the chaos and the fog of that story. Same with the opening of Mr Turner, Shadow of the Vampire, The Ninth Gate, The Thing, Vertigo, Machine Gun McCain, Profondo Rosso, Etc ie less and less these days.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Maybe as we get along in life we reappraise older things, or greet new material with a different ear / eye? There are some books or movies that I liked a lot when I first encountered them -- Stendahl's Le Rouge et le Noire is a good example -- that I don't really want to pick up again because I don't think I'd like them so much now.
 

givemenoughrope

Senior Member
Very true. Plenty of films, albums, books Ive flipped on over time. And hey, it’s really my loss for not getting sucked in and going along for the ride. I’d definitely give it another real chance (in a theater, not on a tv/laptop).
 
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