Thursday, May 24, 2018

Craig Stuart Garfinkle, A Work in Progress (Interview from 2015)

Back in 2015 I gave this interview.  I loved the way Emer Nester captured this moment in my life.
I just found that the website where it was posted no longer exists.  Rather than lose the interview forever, I decided to copy it into my blog.

Interview and write-up: @EmerNestor
Photographs: @FMarshallPhoto
Emmy-nominated composer, and award-winning producer, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, has established his name in the highly competitive worlds of American TV, film and video games. His music has appeared in popular shows such as NBC'sThe OfficeFringeLostThe Sopranos, and America's Got Talent, to name but a few. Notable film trailer credits include J. Abrams' Star TrekSin City, the last three Harry Potter films, Vicky Christina BarcelonaOver the HedgeSpider-man IIIThe Chronicles of Narnia, and A Quantum of Solace. In addition to World of WarCraft, Garfinkle's music is featured in many X-Box/PS2 games. He composed the original music for Baldur's Gate, the Dark Alliance II, and his song, 'A Nuclear Blast' is the main menu theme for the game, Fallout, A Brotherhood of Steel.

Garfinkle was part of the composition team at Blizzard Entertainment for their World of WarCraft expansion (Warlords of Draenor). The score has recently received the 'Hollywood Music in Media Award' for Video Game Score. When not composing, directing, producing and editing, Garfinkle enjoys his role as Film Music Professor on the UCLA Certificate in Film Scoring.

We chat with Garfinkle at his home in Los Angeles, to discuss his classical roots, his work in film and TV, and his upcoming project with his conductor wife, Eímear Noone.

What were the musical sounds of your childhood?

The sounds of my childhood were wildly eclectic. My parents tell me that they always had classical music playing in the house when I was a baby, and I do remember having many moments of déjà vu later in life, when I knew I had heard a piece before but could not place where. I suspect some of these earliest exposures stuck in my subconscious.

I started playing guitar when I was around 7 years old, and by the time I was 14 I was a fanatic for Jazz. I played in many the rock band back then, and pretending to be Carlos Santana was the highlight of any performance. I also joined the New Trier High School big band. For the rest of my education, big band music became an obsession. I absolutely love the genre and the power of sitting in front of a massive brass section during an out chorus! My first attempts at writing for large ensembles came in the form of big band charts!

As an aside, I could only watch the first 15 minutes of Whiplash. The film hit way too close to home. Someday I'll check out the writer and see if we shared a few big band directors.

Most importantly, however, I have always felt a connection to orchestral music, and listened to it constantly as a child...but passively. Then I started playing bass in the high school orchestra at 15, and passive listening was no longer possible. Short of conducting, I found playing the bass in the orchestra to be the best location to really study how all the parts of the orchestra fit together. No orchestral piece ever sounded the same again for me.

Can you remember your first composition?

Yes! One day I discovered how a Bb chord alternating to C/Bb chord had this magical effect, and I started composing a tune. I think I was 7 or 8. I had no idea that I had 'discovered' the Lydian scale, I just knew that these chords sounded cool. I may have loved it a bit too much. I have a distinct memory of my mother yelling to me from across the house: "Do you have to keep playing that same chord over and over again?"

Where did you learn your craft?

At first I was self-taught. From my earliest memory, I would just bang away at the piano, trying to figure out how it worked. My parents, seeing that I had an affinity for music, insisted that I get formal training. I was all but 8.

I rebelled against my first piano teacher — I think I was just bored with the workbooks, and would rather just work out my own ideas. I still regret that I never leaned how to play piano properly as there are countless times that I wish I had that skill. I can play the instrument reasonably well enough to compose, but I get so frustrated when my fingers can't keep up with my brain.
Guitar, however, always stuck. I had a great guitar teacher in Dave Dorsett when I was in high school, and then as a college student I was fortunate to get to study with the legendary guitarist, Frank Gambale, for a year. Frank really helped my playing, but also introduced me to an entire theory of Jazz and harmony that influences my writing in every genre to this day.

I had great high school and college band and orchestra directors, and these are the ones that really set me up with the skills to succeed. I joked about the movie Whiplash before, but in high school, Roger Mills was just about that strict...but, unlike the movie, Roger's heart was always in making sure we reached our potential. He wasn't simply a sadist...I think.

I went to the Indiana University School of music and studied in the Jazz program for two years. The teachers at the time, David Baker and Dominic Spera, broke all sorts of rules to let me take the advanced jazz and jazz orchestration classes as a freshman. After two years, David basically kicked me out of the program saying: "I know you want to write for films — you can't do that here in Indiana, you have to go to Los Angeles."

David also told me that as a guitarist, there was this new school in Hollywood, the Guitar Institute, that had the best teachers in the world — Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, and Robben Ford (and a newly-hired Frank Gambale). Indiana University had no such teachers at the time, and David very graciously, and selflessly, told me to go.

After my year at the Guitar Institute, my parents insisted I finish my degree. UCLA was the next step, and I am a proud UCLA alumnus with degrees in composition and classical guitar. The best part of being at UCLA, as a composer wanting to work in media, was being able to take classes in the UCLA film and TV department. I ate up all of the screenwriting, directing, and film production courses that I could handle.

How did you become involved in writing scores for video games?

Dumb luck, good friends, hard work, and being in the right place at the right time. The only way to make sure you are in the right place at the right time, is to be everywhere, all the time. Frankly, I was a pest who would score every UCLA or USC thesis film that would have me. I produced and sent out countless demos (not spec demos, but my own music), at a time when producing demos cost thousands of dollars. I also made sure I was the kind of friend that one could depend upon. I found good people, and treated them as best I could.

Then...somehow...the planets aligned, and right out of college one of these friends, Lisa, introduced me to a director named Flint Dille. He needed some music written for a trailer to a proposed TV series, and Lisa convinced Flint to give me a shot at the task. The series never materialized, but Flint soon started working for TSR Inc., (the makers of the Dungeons and Dragons Games), directing what would eventually evolve into the role-playing games we know today. I scored over a dozen of these games for Flint and TSR over the next few years — each with an hour of music. It was a trial by fire. I loved every minute of it, and by the time we finished the projects, I almost knew what I was doing.

In what way does the process of composing for film and TV differ to that of games?

I love the art of writing music for films — in its purist tradition, as practiced by Jerry Goldsmith, David Raksin, and John Williams. When one is truly composing to picture, the music for a film is paced by the image. By definition, certain musical statements need to happen at a specific place in time relative to the movie. I love putting that temporal puzzle together. It's a thrilling process, but also restrictive.

Game music (unless you are writing for a cinematic, one of the expository movies) usually has no such restrictions. I find the music freer to evolve and develop at its own rate. I think that's one of the reasons why game music works better without the images. It follows its own cadence.

What thrills you the most about your chosen career?

Writing for the orchestra, and then collaborating with genius musicians to perform music I have written. It's like a drug to me...the gift the musicians bring to the music — I love it!
I also enjoy the thrill of collaboration with brilliant writers directors and producers. It challenges me to be my best self when I know everyone around me is so brilliant.

What's your perception of 'classical music', and how do you see your contribution to this expansive genre as a composer?

I am going to get a lot of flack from what I am about to say!

When I was in college, 'classical music' was trying desperately to break away from all the things I love about music — namely melody and harmony. Composers were supposed to break away from these and develop new ideas. I was taught atonality and tone rows. If I used a V-I cadence in a piece, I'd get a strange look from the teacher.

I did not feel at home in that academic world, and frankly, I blame this push against tradition by academia in part for driving audiences away from the concert hall in droves. No-one wanted to hear what the contemporary composers were writing...not even me. That's not to say I don't love contemporary music — even atonal music! I love writing in that style, and when done well, it's awesome!

My honest opinion, at the risk of being skewered for saying so, is that many of the 'contemporary' composers were using these 'contemporary' techniques to cover up for the fact that they were just writing bad music.

Honestly, I am a fan of all great music, no matter the genre. I love Stravinsky, Eminem, The Beatles, Debussy, AC DC and Bartók! I'll blast Copland at levels louder than Metallica. I wrote an orchestral tone poem based on AC DC's 'Back in Black'. To my ear, when the music moves me, takes me on a journey, gives me that perfect balance between novelty and familiarity, tension and release, anger and beauty — that's what makes music great. Genre doesn't matter.

I don't expect my music to be embraced by academia or fit into the traditional classical world, but I simply hope it touches people, and that the musicians enjoy performing it.

How would you describe your particular style of composing?

I love dancing on the outside of the box! Let me explain:

When I am composing, I am completely aware that my music reflects my knowledge of Jazz, my love of hard rock, my passion for Latin and odd rhythms, and my need for there to be soul in the beat. I can't help but be that way. I also love writing complex music that challenges the listener. That said, if it's my job to guide the listener through a musical journey, I am not doing my job well if I lose the audience at the first turn of phrase by being too complex. You don¹t want your audience to feel like they just walked into an advanced physics class and are expected to laugh at a joke about quarks.
So, if I want to bring my audience to the outer limits of harmony and complexity in music, I try to do it in a way where music evolves in a logical, familiar, yet continually novel path — starting from what might be more accessible and evolving to what is on the outside of the box.

A comparison would be this: In my ideal, my music is like a tremendously complex screwball comedy. Every action and turn of phrase makes sense to the audience based on what we know of the characters in the show, but by the climax of the movie, the situation is so outlandish and ridiculous your convulsing and crying with laughter.

Yes, my music follows the rules of Borat.

Do you find the art of writing lyrics difficult, and what is your process?

In my youth, I never considered myself a lyricist. As a jazz musician, I wasn't even aware that many of the songs we jammed to had lyrics. Then, just out of college, I started producing the music of Jack Segal. Jack was one of the great lyricists of the golden age of songwriting and his timeless standards include 'When Sunny Gets Blue', 'When Joanna Loved Me', 'Here's to the Losers', 'Scarlet Ribbons', and more. He's been covered by Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sinéad O'Connor, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole...everybody.

Jack held regular song writing workshops and I often attended — not as a student, but as a fellow educator addressing the production of the songs. Eventually, those countless hours of exposure to Jack Segal, his music and his teaching, they sunk into my subconscious. I internalized his rules for lyrics and his approach to songwriting.

Then in the mid 1990s, I was brought on to write some musical identities for Hasbro — little songs as themes for their products. The lyricist I usually worked with wasn't available so I attempted to write the lyrics myself. What surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed the process, and my clients at Hasbro were pleased. From then on, I added 'lyricist' to my list of skills.

My current favorite lyricist and songwriting partner is my wife, Eímear Noone. I still like writing lyrics myself, but Eimear has such a killer wit, such an expansive knowledge of literature and language. I just love the way she writes.

Who do you count among your influences?

I've already mentioned my great teachers and friends. Being married to Eímear also challenges me to be 'a better me' all the time, because she's just so damn smart and talented! (I know, that sounds way too saccharine to be true coming from a husband, but it is true.) My 15- year-old daughter, Madison, is such a brilliant force; she keeps me on top of what's current.

Music-wise: In addition to my teachers, my number one influence is Stravinsky...without question. 
This would be followed closely by Lenard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Bartók, and my mentor, David Raksin. The impressionist composers such as Ravel and Debussy would be next. Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Cole Porter would also be at the top of my list...and the Sherman Brothers! Their songs are transcendent! Of course, there are also the four lads from 12 I was already playing in a Beatles tribute band.

In my early 20s, my roommate was the brilliant Latin jazz pianist, Freddie Ravel. At the time, Freddie was the music director for Sergio Mendez, and he has since played that role for the likes of Earth Wind and Fire, Al Jarreau, and Carlos Santana. The first time I sat in with Freddie's band, I couldn't figure out where beat 1 was — the band's knowledge of rhythm was so far beyond anything I was like I had never played music before! Both he and the musicians introduced to me by Freddie changed my perception of rhythm completely.

Finally, I must acknowledge the film composers I love — from the classic scores of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Elmer Bernstein, to my contemporaries, Bruce Broughton, Thomas Newman, Alan Silvestri and Chris Young. These have all influenced me.

Your music has appeared in an array of popular TV shows, tell us a little about the selection process?

No two opportunities have ever happened the same way. Each time I have landed a good gig, it's been a long and drawn out process, fraught with the twists and turns of an Agatha Christie novel. In an environment where so many composers are chasing projects, I've kind of stepped off that grindstone. I'm fortunate that I have a host of clients that call me knowing I'll deliver.

Also, I don't pitch on spec anymore, although I am asked all the time. I could be writing 24 hours a day if I wrote on spec. If I am going to write on spec, it will be for my own projects — like one of the musicals I want to launch; or for my own CD. I won't write a spec demo for a car commercial (OK, now I've just killed any opportunity to write for another car commercial!).

I wish production companies would figure out that asking a bunch of composers to pitch on spec doesn't really get them the best result. Here are some truths about that spec demo trap that too many composers and production companies fall into:

It's not enough to send out a brief with a few mere lines of explanation, and then expect a composer to write a new piece of music based on that brief. Without an extensive back-and-forth interplay between creatives, it's next to impossible to really nail the best music possible for a project. The composer wastes their time, because the best that they can do is to take a haphazard guess at what is really needed — they are set up to fail. The production company gets a stack of half-baked compositions that, by definition, have to be created in between the composer's other paid work. Any composer worth hiring will be juggling so much paid work that they don't have the time to give the demo the attention it needs, and often have an assistant write the music down.

Finished masters take real time, not spec demo time.

My advice is to pick a composer based on their past work. Make a commitment to their creativity, and make the music a real collaboration. I can guarantee the result will be better.

The recent iDIG music festival was a resounding success in Dublin — why did you decide to host the event in Ireland, and what is it like to collaborate with your composer/conductor wife Eímear?

Why Dublin? We could have held the festival anywhere, but there was never any other choice. Ireland is like a second home to me now...that's what happens when you marry a green-blooded Irish woman.
We also knew that in Ireland we could find like-minded individuals whose main focus was not on making more money, but on bringing attention to Irish game developers and Irish talent. The event itself was better because at the heart of it all lay a selfless act. I don't think we would have had that in London or New York.

As for working with Eí is not all rainbows and skipping. She and I try to ascribe to a level of excellence, which is specifically designed to drive us crazy. It's unobtainable...but we try anyway. Add to that: Eímear's job is standing in front of an orchestra, telling everyone what to do, and making sure every note is in its proper place. She has the ears of a bat, and an artistic sensibility that always challenges one to excel. At the end of the day, the results of our collaborations are always better than that which I could have done on my own. She will say the same. We drive each other.

As a judge on the Emmy Awards panel, what criteria do you look for when assessing a particular composition?

Deep dark secret — being an Emmy judge is not about assessing the compositions, it's about being schooled in how brilliant my colleagues are. Yes, there is a lot of crap out there...but, then you hear scores that tear your heart out.

One of the great things about the Emmy process (as opposed to the Oscars) is that a panel of one’s peers judges the music. The process doesn't care about the show's popularity or level of success. Multiple panel members, rate, and hear every submitted piece, and through a numeric process, I don't quite understand, each piece gets a combined rating. If a piece is nominated or wins, I feel the music truly deserves it.

What are you most proud of?

OK...I've just been stumped! Everything I've ever done has been a work in progress — never finished, only abandoned. I really like the music I composed for Warlords of Draenor, and as an artistic expression, I love the crowd-sourced video Eímear and I created for her piece 'Malach'. I am proud of that, even though I see and hear every flaw in my work.

What are you working on at the moment?

My main focus is the Link to the Celts Kickstarter. We have a concert series that will launch in October in Orlando, in partnership with 'Video Games Live'. There is also the 2016 iDIG Music Festival, a stage show, and in the wings lies a costume drama TV series, a documentary, and a film that I want to direct.

Tell us about your involvement in the forthcoming project, Songs of Zelda: A Link to the Celts.

Eímear and I were not looking for, nor were we expecting to create, a new Zelda CD. Sometimes you just have no other choice. We had this idea that it would be great to have a traditional Irish Ensemble perform our favorite video game themes at the Dublin International Game Music Festival — what better way to put a uniquely Irish spin on the festival? We threw this idea out into the universe, but all our attempts to make it happen failed.

We were about to abandon the idea altogether...then, while we were waiting for Eímear to hold an interview with RTÉ, our friend and co-producer, Paddy Duffy, bumped into his friend, Odhrán O Casaide of the DIT Irish Traditional Music Ensemble. Paddy told him what we were thinking, and Odhrán said he would see what the ensemble thought.

Five weeks later, the DIT Ensemble was on the stage making pure magic — our emotions caught us completely off guard. By the end of the performance, RTÉ and I knew we just had to find a way to record the ensemble, so that we could share what we heard.

As of this interview, we still have $6,500 left to raise of the $30,000 Kickstarter budget. We are completely blown away by the support we have received to this point, and we do hope to make it! All we can promise is that those who get the signed and numbered finished CDs will have a little piece of music history to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Bit of Beauty....

Today, I just felt like posting all the videos I have created that simply feature beauty.  The world needs a bit of this.

Love, by Craig Stuart Garfinkle

Thoughtfulness, by Craig Stuart Garfinkle 

Malibu Music Box - Chill Out

Malibu Music Box - Chill Out 2

Jig Phadric, by Eimear Noone

Malibu Music Box

Flying by Eimear Noone

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Can Artists Ever Really be Happy?

This post is going to be either very personal, or very self indulgent, or uplifting, or very depressing.

I'll know which when I am done.

I have a memory of watching an interview with Paul Schrader, the brilliant screenwriter best known for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese.  He stated proudly, through a big happy smile, "I don't want to ever be so miserable or suicidal that I could write Taxi Driver again.  It's just not worth it!"  He had just been nominated for a Golden Globe for the screenplay.

I have another memory from one of my UCLA musicology classes where my outstanding music history professor, who got a thrill out of telling us which giant of music history was buggering which other giant of music history, tried to explain the misconception between sadness in the art and in the artist.  We were studying the adagio theme from Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, one of the saddest themes ever written.  My professor gleefully explained (his words, not mine):
"The blue hairs in the audience think that when Tchaikovsky was writing this piece, he was sitting at the piano, tears running down his cheeks as he agonized over every note.  They see him drying the tears from the page so they don't smear the ink. 
That's not what I know of Tchaikovsky.  I picture him sipping sherry, laughing hysterically, stating:  'This is really going to slay the old biddies!'"
Not to say Tchaikovsky escaped his own demons unscathed, he just seemed to have a handle on them.  In one letter he reportedly wrote:

"There are days, hours, weeks, aye, and months, in which everything looks black, when I am tormented by the thought that I am forsaken, that no one cares for me. …[still,] I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything!"
Two great artists.   Two diverse reactions to the artistic spirit.  Where do I fit in?  Where do you?

There is this cruel irony that those who are sensitive enough to be artists, that can tap those deepest darkest emotions in order to create, are also those least able to cope with that sensitivity.  So how do we make sure we are more like Tchaikovsky and less like Schrader?

Sanity Equals Managing Expectations - Especially for Sensitive Artists.

By the way, We are all artists, but that's another blog posting.

When I lectured, I would share with my students my own experiences as a young artist trying to find his way.  I explained how much I used to tortured myself over my art - only realizing later how stupid that was; how much I regretted doing so.   Sharing my experience was all in an effort to save my students from what I went through.  By way of explanation, here's one story:

As a sophomore at Indiana University, with the help of one of my teachers, I was able to secure 15 minutes with the orchestra - unheard of for an undergrad.

I had written a 7.5 minute movement from a symphony which I had been agonizing over for 6 months.  I was so thrilled!  I was finally getting the opportunity to hear the work performed and get a recording of it!

I went days without sleep to finish the score and hand copy the parts.  I was living on coffee, cigarettes, and youthful ignorance.

10 minutes before the session was to begin, I realized one of the flutists was missing.  I panicked - as there was a massive solo in the part.  I went running around the building, looking for a flutist in a rehearsal room.  I found one!  Disaster averted - or so I thought.

I exhaled.  I sat down and waited to hear my every sculpted note executed to perfection.


Do you know the scene at the end of the musical, The Music Man?  The moment when the kids all raise their instruments and it turns out Henry Hill hasn't taught them a thing about music - he's a fraud?  The kids can't play and the cacophony is deafening....  The session was almost that bad.

Young Craig was crestfallen.

From the age of 10, all he's wanted to do was write for orchestras.  He wanted to write music for films.  He wanted to be the next John Williams.  First chance he had with a real orchestra, he failed miserably.  His whole life was over....

Present day self wants to scream at young Craig (imagine an Irish Accent):
"You feckin' igit ya!  Do the math!  7.5 minutes of music!  15 minutes with a college orchestra!   
There's no way you were going to get anything but a really rough read through that you'll never want to hear again.  Don't be so disappointed - you still got a read through.   
Study that recording, ignoring the mistakes.   Learn what you can and move on.  Your career is not over (before it's even started)."
Young Craig wasn't so smart.  I hate to admit this, but young Craig was so upset and stressed out that he contracted shingles and had to leave school early that semester.

WTF!!!!!!!  All that emotional self destruction over a bad read through!?  Get over yourself!

Flash forward to my teaching days and our recording sessions.  For many of my students, even at the masters level, this might be the first time they experienced an orchestra playing their work.

I would always tell this tragic personal story of my first orchestral recording session, just before my students had their first session, joking, "Don't worry.  The first 100 recording sessions you produce are the hardest - but you'll get there."

Each student would get their fifteen minutes to record their (at most) two minute cue, and when the clock ran out, that was it.

And even with seasoned professionals in the ensemble, the safety net I would supply them with great engineers and proof reading, things still went wrong; A transposition error, a wrong note in a part, a note out of range - time get's eaten and the student doesn't get the recording they planned.

In my students, I saw so many "Young Craigs" chastising themselves for the mistakes they inevitably would make.  I would tell them,
"Make your mistakes now, when they don't matter.  Be glad that this happened here, in my class, and not with an entire room filled with studio executives, while working on a package deal where every minute you go into overtime comes out of your rent money.  Learn the lesson and move on."
By managing their expectations, I hoped my students wouldn't go down the emotional rabbit hole that swallowed me if, and when, the session doesn't go exactly as planned.

Of course, the recording session is just a metaphor for life...

A final note:

One of my passions is long distance open ocean sailboat racing - mostly ones with more than one hull.  At the top of the page there's a picture of the model I used to race.

You were probably wondering why that picture was there, at the top of a music blog with the heading, "Can Artists Ever Really be Happy?"  There are two reasons.

First, I love racing sailboats because it forces me to get out of my own head.   When I am racing, it's like playing chess where the board is constantly moving in three dimensions.  Mistakes can cost a lot in broken gear, broken bones, and even in extreme cases, lives.  I've been in some really hairy situations on the open ocean!

The second reason?  My old college sailing coach used to say:
"Races are won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes."  
I love this statement.  The assumption is that in life, mistakes are going to be made, and winning doesn't mean being perfect.  For someone who is programmed to agonize over every note, giving myself permission to make the occasional misstep actually frees the creativity.

Remember?  At the top of the page where I said by the time I finished this post I would know if it was uplifting or depressing?  Well, I guess that was a lie.

And somewhere in a parallel universe, Tchaikovsky is laughing.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Beckett

Four Must Have Books for the Aspiring Composer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Beating the Capital "C" Out of "c"omposer

Composition is usually a solitary art.  One sits in a room for hours with pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, spitting out ideas unfettered by creative interference.  This is what composers live for!

Film and Television, on the other hand, are highly collaborative arts.  As obvious as this should appear to someone who wants to earn their living from creating music for these, I can't count the number of times I have heard composers rally against the dying of the light with exclamations like, "But my music is perfect just the way it is!"   

Or they laugh because the ubiquitous neophyte director says something like, "The color of the music is too mauve, I want it more chartreuse."  

The composer retorts:  "What does the director know?  I've studied composition at {fill in name of haughty university}!"

Which is why when I was teaching, I created a lecture entitled, Beating the Capital "C' Out of "c" omposer.  A distillation follows:

The Art of Creative Compromise - Asking Questions

We agonize over our creativity, over every element to ensure that it's the best it can be - just to have someone say, "Ya know, it's close, but I just don't get it."  This can destroy one's soul.

Whenever my creativity is confronted by criticism, I have found that the best way to get to the solution of the problem is to ask questions, then, shut-up and listen.  A wise man once said, "He who asks the questions, is the one who leads."  Never is this more true then when discussing creative compromise.  

The challenge is to internalize your collaborator's answers and decode them  - especially when they don't speak your creative language.  This has to be done without letting emotions get involved.

The exercise might go like this:  Using my best efforts, I have created a piece that I know really works, but for whatever reason, is not hitting it for the director.

To get to a "yes," I'll often go back to the naked video and ask, "Tell me everything that you see in the scene - that you want to see in the scene."

Then I evaluate what I see, and compare that to what they want to see.

The difference between what they want, and what I see, is often the music.  From this I usually get a sense of what's missing in what I have already created and can adjust.

I'll also ask if there are elements that the director appreciates in what I have done.  Likewise, what they might not like.  Sometimes fixing the cue is as simple as changing a sound that reminds the director of something that, for them, carries negative baggage. 

Just be open!  Every situation has a different solution, but you won't find it without asking the right questions.

The Big Meeting - aka understanding "muscle" and the subjective nature of music.

I have a sense memory of sitting in a conference room, staring at 7-12 producers, the florescent lighting searing into my eyeballs.

I had just been played a scene from a sit-com that the producers wanted custom "post scored."

I attentively listened to all the completely diverse opinions.  No two people had the same idea.

Slowly, I started feeling like a caged animal with no way out.  On the inside I was like a hamster spinning on an ever rapidly accelerating wheel of death.  There was simply no creative way out of the maze without one of the producers being really disappointed.

On the outside, I was calm (I would like to think).  

After 45 minutes discussing a one and a half minute cue, I had finally heard all the opinions.  It was my turn to respond.  I don't know if what I said was right, but at least I didn't get fired that day.
"As we can all tell by the diversity of opinion, the music for this scene could go 100 different ways.  Everything I have heard can work and be funny.  All the ideas are good (that might have been a lie). 
But no matter what direction we take the music, I know from the start that no-one is going to get 100% of what they want." 
I then pointed to specific examples.  
"If I do what producer 3 wants, then I can guarantee producer 7 is going to hate it.  Likewise 2 and 9.  You've all heard each others opinions, so I hope nobody is surprised by what I might come back with."
I then remembered a quote from my old mentor, David Raksin:  "Always know who the muscle is and follow their lead."  David would have defined the muscle as the person who's really in charge.

So I probed the assembled - trying to be judicious:  
"I have heard everything you each have said, and I am going to try to incorporate as much of all your thoughts into the finished piece.  I also have my own ideas of what is right... 
But please tell, me, who is the final arbiter of the funny?"
All pointed to producer 5.
"Then as a start, I will walk down path 5 and see where it leads, understanding that the muse may even take me a different way.  Is everyone OK with that?"  
In the end, what was most important was making sure everyone's opinion was heard and reflected, even if not completely executed.  

Firing oneself.

Whenever a challenge is made to one of my "perfect compositions" (commas inverted), or for that matter to any of my creative endeavors, I try to use the challenge as an opportunity to make the creativity better.  In this way, the challenge isn't to the work itself, but to find the improvement in the work.

Sometimes, that's just not possible and the critics are just plane wrong - but that's the rare case.  Most of the time, my own blindness keeps me from seeing other options.  Most things can indeed be improved upon.  The problem most of us have is that we don't know how to address the creative note and make the work better?  We get stuck in our own heads that all change must be bad.

And then one day, it happened: I was the director in charge.  It was my film and I was the final decision maker on the music. 

I was overjoyed!  Finally, I wasn't going to have my music messed with!

The project was a comedy, and for this one scene, as the composer, I knew I wrote a great piece of music.  I agonized over every note, every cadence and pause.  Exhausted, knowing it was perfect, I went to bed, intent to review the entire film in the morning.

To my horror:  Watching the film the next day, I realized I had made a mistake.  The music itself was perfect for the scene - but the scene itself was funnier without any music.  

As the director, I made the call to drop the cue.  The composer was pissed as hell, but eventually he got over it.

The Well Timed Tantrum!

My wife, as many of you might know, is a brilliant composer and conductor.  In the latter, she transcends the art-form.

When she leads an orchestra, she is the calmest and most level headed artist I have ever known.  She navigates the three dimensional chessboard like a master.

That said, she always has this phrase, from her mentor, the great conductor Gerhard Markson, in the back of her mind. 
"It's always good to be collaborative and amenable.... But never underestimate the power of a well timed tantrum!"
For this, I refer you back to the picture at the top of the page.  Sometimes, you just got to blow a gasket to get taken seriously.

Happy writing everyone!

Four Must Have Books for the Aspiring Composer.