When I first began composing, I thought it was something that you were either "touched by" or weren't.
Composers just have moments when they're mediums for God, right?
As I pursued composition seriously, I realized how integral the craftsmanship aspect of composition was. I'm not referring to the means of execution, but about being in the mindset of a craftsman as opposed to an artist.
Ultimately, Unlock makes art for a living. There is no denying how significant the artistic component to what we do is, but I'm regularly surprised by how much artistic value is generated by detaching yourself from the art, from the moment, and from the idea that you have to garner some sort of divine inspiration.
When you're a young composer and still figuring out the structure you're working within, any "good" idea needs to be captured before it's "gone." Once you have that initial idea, it's then a painstaking process to ensure you're not getting "off track" from that original idea.
Every decision is scrutinized, you second guess yourself at every turn and become paralyzed questioning your ability to compose and effectively express the idea you were "gifted" with.
There's a stereotype of creatives that are always working on something but never finishing anything - and it exists for a reason.
They're worried - about their ability, lack of self confidence, their idea, and (maybe most of all) the judgment that is given or interpreted by them when they share it with other people.
The solution? Stop thinking.
...and to a certain degree, stop caring so much.
That piece of music you're working on? It doesn't need to be your magnum opus. It doesn't need to define you.
Now of course it needs to fit the needs of the game/client/project, and it has to be done on-time. But the best way to do this is to just make the thing. Crazy, I know.
Once you're writing, don't question yourself and your ideas, and stop acting like this thing has to be a magnificent jewel bestowed from a higher power.
Get it? Jewel? Eh? Eh?
Instead, focus on making the thing. Fast. Don't think. Use the tools you're fluent in and just go.
Some of the best influences for creativity are limitations - one of the best is time. Another is limited options. Why? Because then you can't over think things.
One of the most successful "internet tracks" I've made was for a major movie trailer pitch. I got a call early on a Friday from a trailer house asking for an EDM/Pop Remix of a Earl St. Clair track.
"Sounds awesome! When's it due?"
"In 9 hours."
That was essentially no time at all to make this happen.
I didn't have time to ask whether what I was making was the best, most appropriate, or wondering what other people would think. I just had to get it done.
When I sent it out, I felt good. The track was alright to me, but I was more proud of completing it in 9 hours than for it's musical accomplishment.
The studio ended up changing their creative direction the next week, so I posted the track on soundcloud not thinking anything of it. But as weeks went by, thousands of plays and shares started happening. To date, it has the most plays on soundcloud out of any track I've posted.
Click the image above to check out the track
When you're going with your gut reaction and just creating, you allow yourself to go down wherever the path leads you. This can move you toward options that are more aligned with what "feels" best instead of what you "think" is best.
Plus, cranking out work quickly gives you more volume of practice instead of agonizing over every little detail.
This track was successful because I wasn't fretting over creating art, I was just creating.
I certainly do not mean that you shouldn't ever step back and think about what you're doing. That is a very necessary part of the creation process. But when you're in the creative flow, just going with it tends to lead to more successful results. And if the client thinks it's not right, you'll make another one.
Because when you're good, you're not worried about this musical Jewel which you created by agonizing over every decision. You're also not worried about losing this one, incredible idea that is perfection while all others are worthless by comparison.
It is something you made which started from an idea.
And you'll have another idea soon, because you're good at what you do.
Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches as adjunct faculty in the film and game programs at DePaul University in Chicago.