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Topic: "I am a composer"

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  1. #1

    "I am a composer"

    Two days ago, I turned 41. Officially middle-aged. I look back on my life, and I see that I haven't been living to my true purpose. I am a composer. I am here to write music.

    I have a successful job in programming. I've always loved programming, but lately something has really been bothering me. Every ounce of energy I expend on my programming job is an ounce of energy I regret not making music. This thought, and the level of regret, has been steadily growing inside me over the last several months. I am now at a point where I know what I must do. I must find a way to take programming out of my life, and put music back in the position it should always have held.

    I was recently talking to a friend about this, and I found myself saying these words: "I am a good programmer, but I am a great composer. I put myself up against any living composer today." I surprised myself with my own words. But for the first time in my life, I believed it. I've always considered myself a good composer, but something has happened to my work over the past two years, and especially while working on the score to Invision Film's "Running Deep." I have developed my artistry into something I am very proud of. I have found my own voice, and it is unique and strong.

    I have been writing music for 30 years, and it's always been very important to me. Over that time, I have squeezed out just one to three short pieces each year. Sometimes more, sometimes less. For someone the local TV news was calling a "child prodigy" at 15, I sure haven't lived up to my potential.

    I believe that the first step for me is to identify myself as a composer. When asked what I do, I've always said, "I am a programmer." Now, even though I am still programming for the time being, the answer is "I am a composer." For me, saying these words is very empowering. It is giving me the courage to begin an intimidating mid-life course correction.

    I will be quitting my job as a programmer. I don't know how or when this will happen, but I am hoping I can do it by the time my next birthday is here. I will find a way to make music composition my vocation. I must find a way to make this happen, as I believe it is the only way I will ever feel I am in my correct place in this world.

    After all, I am a composer.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  2. #2
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Re: "I am a composer"

    Repeat after me,
    I am a composer. There's no place like GPO. I am a composer. There's no place like GPO.

    And Jamie, may I add ... you are one of the best!
    Styxx

  3. #3
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Re: "I am a composer"

    I will be quitting my job as a programmer. I don't know how or when this will happen, but I am hoping I can do it by the time my next birthday is here. I will find a way to make music composition my vocation. I must find a way to make this happen, as I believe it is the only way I will ever feel I am in my correct place in this world.
    Jamie, you have my strongest well wishes and prayers that you find your real life soon. I have a cup on my desk in my studio that reads, "Go For It. Life is not a dress rehearsal."
    Find that way and do it! Never look back and when the road gets tough, screw it and let it, you're tougher and one hell of a composer! Knock those doors down!
    Before you end up like I've ended up, do it!
    Styxx

  4. #4

    Re: "I am a composer"

    Good for you, Skysaw. That's exactly how I felt a while ago when I realized I had to stop saying that "I worked in Customer Service" when people asked what I did. It is so much more true and fulfilling to say "I'm a musician", because that's really what my talent and my life's work is and needs to be, no matter how successful I ever become at it.

    Here's a great Mark Twain quote that helped me come to grips with making the change to do what I really want and need to do in my life and let go of some of the fear involved with that - "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    www.EricHermanMusic.com
    - Cool Tunes for Kids -

  5. #5

    Re: "I am a composer"

    Jamie,

    I'm 47, and I change careers more often than a lot of people change their socks. Don't let all of society's "mid-life" nonsense, or any other limitations imposed by the meek among the masses impede your vision. You can change careers anytime, and as often as you like. There are no rules.

    I've spent various decades (10 to 15 years seems to be my boredom threshold) as a career musician, sales and marketing consultant, software developer, and my latest course correction, author / speaker / consultant. There's often a bit of excitement involved in the transitions, but I make them successfully each time, and I'm no better than you or anyone else. I just believe that I can do it (a critical consideration), and am not afraid to put in the elbow grease required (desire without action creates nothing).

    For what it's worth, I will tell you what I frequently tell others through writing, etc., and as a programmer you will understand even better. Don't get tunnel vision and get caught up in the "doing". All programmers want to do is code, and then they wonder why the software business runs over them like a truck. Management makes uninformed and senseless decisions that wreak havoc on your project. Somebody else gets the cool new computer and the sexy coding job. And on and on. All because programmers spend all their time with their heads up their compilers and ignore "the real world", which involves a lot of politics, people skills, self promotion and quick footwork.

    Music is no different. Compose. Do it a lot. But for every 15 minutes you put into your music, put 45 minutes into every other aspect of marketing yourself, building alliances, and running your business. Do this, and you'll have the edge over 95% of the other composers. Sales, marketing, people skills, politics, alliances, financial organization, scheduling, and more - all of these things will actually have a greater influence on your income than how good your music sounds. I mean, lots of people write great music.

    Blasphemy? Hey, I don't define the game. I just play it very well. What most people forget is that the operative word in the term "show business" is business, and businesses are run, each and every time, by people. Become a student of human nature and you'll be surprised how far it will take you.

    There's also a tactical advantage to living with honor (one of the keynote speeches I'm currently working on, in fact). If you want a working example, look at how Gary runs his business. He understands that business is business, self defense is occasionally necessary, but that building relationships and treating people well is an extremely effective long term strategy.

    All of which is my typically long winded way of telling you one simple thing. Go for it - you can do this!
    Christopher Duncan
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Author of
    Unite the Tribes and The Career Programmer
    www.PracticalUSA.com


  6. #6
    Senior Member BlueMax's Avatar
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    Re: "I am a composer"

    Good thing to tell myself too! Our day jobs are just that... music isn't as much about paying the bills as it is *creating something* for others!

    Thanks for the insight.... it's sure got me thinking too!
    "AAAAUUUUGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!" -- Charlie Brown

  7. #7

    Re: "I am a composer"

    Yeah, paying the bills with music, especially composition, is way easier said than done. If you want to compose real art music the options are limited nowadays. I could get my Doctorate and teach at the University level, which will give more time for composition and one has access to many performers and ensembles.

    The other option is to get published. That means writing a lot of solo, chamber, and symphonic band compositions. I like doing this type of stuff a lot, and for now it is the direction I am going. But soon I must find a way to get my Masters and Doctorate.

    ...notice I did NOT mention film or TV music as an option.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  8. #8
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Re: "I am a composer"

    I love reading Christopher's replies, sensible.
    Styxx

  9. #9

    Re: "I am a composer"

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueMax
    Good thing to tell myself too! Our day jobs are just that... music isn't as much about paying the bills as it is *creating something* for others!
    Actually, I would modify that slightly, to say that music can be about creating something, about paying the bills, and / or all of the above (sometimes the latter overrides the former).

    How you approach both the art and business of music will vary depending on what your priorities are. If you want to make music your day job, you'll periodically have to put business decisions before artistic ones. Working as a programmer is very similar in this regard, by the way. In both cases, you tend to the needs of your career during the day, and sometimes pursue additional art at night if you find there's more you have to say beyond the context of the business you're pursuing. Allowing yourself this secondary creative outlet lets you focus more during the day on "the business of being a composer", thus enuring more success (and paid bills) in that regard.
    Christopher Duncan
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Author of
    Unite the Tribes and The Career Programmer
    www.PracticalUSA.com


  10. #10

    Re: "I am a composer"

    Jamie,

    Just wanted to wish you all the best as you undertake this great new adventure.

    It sounds as though you've thought everything through and have already begun planning. I would encourage you to make very careful plans and to gain a certain amount of momentum as a composer before quitting your programming job. I believe you can be successful as a composer if you believe in yourself and truly are determined to do it. Also remember that composing professionally will have a downside as real as computer programming, only you can decide which you would rather live with.

    I hope my remarks are in no way discouraging but let me tell you why I feel you should be cautious. I'm only a few years younger than you and I've been a struggling composer/producer for about 11 years. I think I've struggled because although I love composing, I've lacked confidence in my abilities as a composer (I'm comparing myself to great composers and coming away depressed). The other reason is I haven't spent enough effort on the elements that Christopher said were so critical to being successful (namely marketing oneself).

    Anyway, I've often said to myself "why didn't I become a computer programmer", a few years ago I was seriously considering going back to school to learn programming. My focus has shifted from "I have to compose because I love it" to "how can I make enough money to pay for my kids' education". Perhaps for me, this is one of those mid-life realizations.

    Again, all the best, and if you must be a professional composer, please take Christopher's advice and make sure you're a successful one.


    Cheers,

    Brian

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