A Composer, a Lyricist & a Day Job walk into a bar…
The Composer says to the Lyricist. “You’d be nothing without me, I write the beautiful tunes that make your words sing.”
The Lyricist says to the Composer: “You’d be nothing without me, I write the beautiful lyrics that make your tunes shine.”
The Day Job says to both of them: “You’d both be dead without me.” Then downs three tequila’s and heads off to work.
Just a little joke to break the ice, that's how all good relationships start right? I thought I might tell you a little about my current relationship...
Me and my Day Job have been seeing each other for about 16 years now…
So I guess we are now in what you would call a “long-term relationship”. Over time we’ve both changed. I mean, that’s normal right? You can’t expect to stay the same over sixteen years. When we first started going out, my Day Job was kind of all consuming…
We met online and it was my first time in a full-on relationship. I reckon it’s fairly safe to say (and I don’t think my first real Day Job would mind me saying it) that at first it was pretty overwhelming. I mean, I didn’t really know what I was doing and I had a lot to learn about visas and sending kids on holiday to America. It was pretty hard work, but it could also be fun. My Day Job introduced me to some great people who were also going out with a Day Job of their own and we would all hang out together. Sometimes we’d leave our Day Job’s at the office and go out drinking and bitch about them behind their backs. But overall it wasn’t so bad.
I was with my first Day Job for about a year, a Visa Officer at Camp America. But we both changed a little bit over that time and I think we must have started drifting apart. I also remember that that was the year I started seeing my Passion seriously… Don’t get me wrong, I was so grateful for the time that I had spent at my Day Job, for the things I had learned, the experiences shared, the people met, the rent paid. But when I’d go out at night with My Passion there was a little spark that I didn’t really feel at my desk…
That first relationship ended on fairly good terms. I’m not sure if my Day Job ever found out that I was cheating on it with my Passion but I like to think that we’re still friends today. And my Day Job was never really the jealous type anyway. So I moved on to another relationship, this time with a Libyan Oil Company. A bit of a sideways move, but I was looking for something a bit different I suppose. This Day Job came with a little more money, a good location and more new friends but it was only ever going to be a rebound Day Job. Having said that I learned a lot about myself during that relationship. I learned that a Day Job could get me a little bit more money and higher specialisation, and this particular Day Job was a little less emtionally demanding of me… I could go away on holiday without it and it wouldn’t really mind for example.
But the best thing about it meant that I could spend a little more time with My Passion…
I know, I know. I’m a fricking shit right?
Well, I’m sorry but I couldn’t help myself. By this time I was spending a few nights a week with my Passion. We would stay up late staring into each other’s eyes. It was beautiful. Sometimes we would even spend a whole weekend together. I suppose I was young back then and had more energy, but I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. I was putting a lot of work into both my Day Job and my Passion. But I don’t think I was ever really happy with that particular situation because I was actively looking for other Day Jobs online. Sometimes I’d be looking for other Day Jobs while I was supposed to be working at my current Day Job. Oh the betrayal.
Then I found it.
Something I thought was My Perfect Day Job. Working in administration at the Royal College of Music, surrounded by gorgeous music and brilliant musicians, fine colleagues, making a difference in the lives of students and professors so they could get on with pursuing their… hold on… MY PASSION!
This is when some bad things started happening. Me and My Passion started fighting. Sometimes I would be seething with rage and envy that my Passion was seeing all of these other people at the same time as it was seeing me. And what was worse, it was spending a hell of a lot more time with them. I was still seeing it regularly on the weekends and in the evenings but I could hear it making sweet sweet love to countless others in the practice rooms of The Royal College of Music throughout the day.
My Passion was not a quiet lover.
And so this wasn’t an entirely happy time for us. We shouted at each other a lot. And we fought about petty things. Even being with my Day Job, as fulfilling as it was, just reminded me even more that I wasn’t with my Passion. I became a little despondent with both my Day Job and my Passion. I don’t know if either of them really knew what was going on inside my head. To be honest, I don’t even know if I did.
But gradually, over time, I came to recognise that it wasn’t my Passion’s fault, it wasn’t my Day Job’s fault. It was my perspective on the whole situation that needed to shift. I was the common denominator and I realised that I had the power to do something about it…
So I started saving a lot of money. I worked hard at my relationship with my Day Job. I worked even harder at secretly restoring my relationship with my Passion. I put together a band made up of people from my Day Job, all of us collectively cheated on our Day Job’s at night when we went out a few times a week. It was an exciting time. My Day Job meanwhile, all the time, thought things were getting better and better. I was engaged at work, we were earning more money, I was even spending a little more time with My Day Job than I had done in the past, I genuinely seemed happier.
But my Day Job had no idea what was to come…
In 2012, I told My Day Job that I was leaving it.
My Day Job didn’t quite know what to say. But by that time it kind of knew that I had never really broken things off with My Passion. In fact, at that point my Day Job and my Passion had even met on a couple of occasions. They were very civil to each other.
So I left My Day Job. At last, I was alone with my Passion. I had dreamed of this moment. I had talked about it with My Passion late into the night. We were both so excited, we couldn’t quite believe that we could finally be together. This was the beginning of the rest of our lives together!
Except… the dream did not entirely match the reality.
It turns out that my Passion wasn’t great with money. We made a little cash, my Passion and I, and my Passion did it’s best to take the place of my Day Job but we were not brilliant at planning together. We really hadn’t thought this through… and now that I was spending so much time with it, it turns out that my Passion could also be quite volatile. Mean even. So it was just me and my Passion for a year, haemorrhaging cash, worrying about where the next pay cheque was coming from, wondering how we might be able to afford the next months rent, worrying about things we had never had to worry about before… for example being able to prove that you could pay the rent on a flat without regular payslips. I began to think about all the things that My Day Job had done for me. Things I had never appreciated whilst we were together. And you know what? My dream of living with My Passion turned into a little bit of a nightmare.
I became depressed and I began to miss my Day Job…
I missed the things that it provided me with. Structure to the day, a social network, people to talk to at the water cooler, people to have a drink at the pub with after a long day, a sense of contribution to society. And yes, fricking MONEY. But more than all that I realised that My Day Job provided me with a hold on sanity and a healthy perspective on my life.
After a year of this, it just so happened that I was having dinner with a friend who knew my old Day Job. He was joking about my idiocy in pursuing my Passion (this particular friend thought My Passion was both admirable and ridiculous at the same time) and mentioned that he had been talking to a colleague from another Day Job who had said they could really use a bit of help doing exactly what I used to do…
He mentioned it as a joke. But I grabbed him by the shirt and said ‘Hook me up bro!’ He was surprised, having thought that I was living the dream. At which point the truth about me and my Passion came pouring out. It wasn’t really working. It wasn’t that we didn’t love each other, it’s just that at this point in my life, I needed things that my Passion in it’s beautiful, youthful state simply could not provide. I needed my Day Job back…
But.. my Passion had learned a thing or two over the past year and was working hard to change. It was bringing in a little cash so I didn’t need a full time Day Job anymore. I needed something that could provide me with a little bit of security, a bit of sanity and enough money so that me and My Passion didn’t have to sleep on my friends floor anymore. But I needed my new Day Job to not be too demanding, to be more flexible, to let me go off with my Passion for weeks at a time (with enough notice) and to be encouraging of my dreams.
Not too much to ask right? But the important thing was, I had learned what I needed, I was smart enough to ask for it, and I was lucky enough to get it.
I started my new Day Job at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in 2013. I started spending about three days a week with my new Day Job. As my Passion grew up, it became a bit better with money, it became much better at planning. It used it’s time much more wisely because it had less of it to throw around.
Over the last few years my Passion has come to bear a strong resemblance to my Day Job. It is now bringing in more of the cash and it is able to rent a flat and pay bills all on its own. Whereas, once upon a time, my Passion really hated my Day Job, resenting the time that I spent with it, now my Passion appreciates how important my Day Job is to my life. The two have now become quite good friends. I’m sure they get together sometimes and bitch about me behind my back but I don’t mind.
At the moment, where I am in my life, I need both of them. My Passion alone was too wild, my Day Job alone was too suffocating. Now I think that they both appreciate each other a hell of a lot more than I once did.
For your reference I earn approximately 80% of my living now through royalties and writing commissions. I earn the remainder through my administrative work at Trinity Laban. But it’s not just about money. It’s about sanity, it’s about structure, it’s about planning and it’s about remembering that it’s fun and that you love it.
People who say you aren’t a real artist just because you have a day job, don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
I wish the ladder was as straight as that...
Whilst These Trees Are Made of Blood was playing at the Arcola Theatre I was asked by a few different young composers about my journey from a full-time admin job to my current situation as a composer & lyricist who earns the large majority of his living from songwriting for the theatre.
I started writing to them, trying to give them as robust an answer as I could. It turns out however, that the answer was not a simple beast. It was taking me pages and pages to explain the strange, wonderful, brutal journey my career has taken and as I wrote to them, I thought it would be best to combine my answers into a post which might be of interest to other young composers just starting out. I'll try to be as succinct as possible. I will fail at this. But everyone please note the effort.
Unlike other career paths, songwriting doesn't have a step by step promotional ladder to climb... it's really screwed up... or at least it was for me... check it out.
My Dad learnt the guitar in order to play songs to me and my brother as we grew up. We had two tapes that played on repeat in the car, 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' and 'Les Miserables'. My brother performed in musicals at school including 'West Side Story', 'My Fair Lady' and 'The King and I'. I was constantly envious. I bought my first and only album, Paul Simon's 'Anthology'. I bought Paul Simon's 'Graceland'. It remains my favourite album of all time. I began to play the guitar. I gave up several times. I taught myself to read music from a book. I eventually stuck with the guitar. I started listening to and playing Classical and Flamenco music. I plateaued at a decent level and never got any better. I played Nicely Nicely Johnson in 'Guys and Dolls' after begging both the director and musical director to let me do it. I wrote my first piece of music when I was about sixteen, for the guitar. I thought it was really good. I became obsessed with Metallica and learnt a number of their songs. I went to university to try and study music. I was admitted to the composition department based on a couple of my recordings. After three weeks I was failing and falling behind badly. I didn't understand any of the terminology and I didn't realise that there were other clefs of music. My theory was dead in the water and I couldn't catch up. So I dropped out and began studying Classical Studies. I started teaching myself piano. I wrote my first couple of songs. Then I quit and went to another university to study Archaeology. Then I quit and started studying classics again. Whilst studying I joined Dunedin Operatic Society, an amateur musical theatre society and ended up performing in a lot of shows and meeting lots of friends. That's when I started writing funny little songs about ridiculous university events. I studied opera. I wanted to be a singer. Then I didn't.
A YOUNG SONGWRITER
But it wasn't until after I left NZ (in order to pursue a wonderful NZ girl who I had met in a show) when I was about 25 that I started to pursue songwriting seriously and then it was as a singer-songwriter on the folk circuit in London. I wrote ALOT of songs, I did ALOT of gigs. I would say I performed upwards of 200 gigs across three years and I wrote about 100 songs. I performed them alone or with my band Columbus Giant. We got some radio play, we even got a regular gig playing in the foyer of the Royal National Theatre, we did some festivals but I ultimately I found it very dispiriting. Alot of the time you were playing in pubs where no one was listening and you weren't getting paid and I spent alot of the time just wondering what the point of it all was. I also discovered that other people were better at performing my songs than I was. All this time I was working full time as the International & Awards Officer at the Royal College of Music. At some point along this run my girlfriend joined an amateur theatre group. They were putting on a Christmas play and they wanted some music. My girlfriend suggested that I could write it and I thought why not. There was no money involved, it was just a couple of rehearsals and it was a chance to combine my love of theatre with my love of music.
THEATRE & MUSIC
It was a revelation. People sat in the theatre and actually listened to the songs, they were engaged with the story. It turned out that people enjoyed it and I was invited back along with the writer to do a christmas show of our own the next year. Again for no money, but what an experience. That one went well too, then I got involved with a group that was trying to make it's first professional piece for children. A friend of mine, recommended me to them. We all got on famously and we wrote a piece called Nightlight. You couldn't call it successful I suppose but people we didn't know came to see it and paid money to see it. It was full of invention and mistakes and we rehearsed nights while we all held down other jobs, it ran for three performances and none of us made any money but it was a step. Some press came to see it. They said it was a bit of a mess, but very inventive and we would be ones to watch in the future (we are now Paper Balloon Theatre and have made three professional shows).
Then another Christmas show with the amateur theatre was offered and we decided to go for an all out musical. We wrote the thing from scratch in three months and all of the grey hairs I now have arose from that period of stress, excitement, joy and terror. I had to score out the music. I had never written music out before. It took me forever, lunch breaks etc... but I got there in the end and it left me with some wicked Sibelius skills.
I had saved up some money from my job and didn't have anything to spend it on. I wondered if I could do this for a living, so whilst sat on my bicycle at a red light in Kensington I decided I would quit my job the next day. I did and I left three months later.
PLEASE NOTE: I would NOT recommend this cold turkey option.
1st PROFESSIONAL JOB
Someone offered me my first professional composing job just before I left. The job came from someone who had seen Nightlight and enjoyed my music. I was being offered £1000 to write some music for a show for young people. Thought all my bloody christmases had come at once didn't I? It was my first taste of being paid for something I love.
That was almost my only professional job that year... I haemhoraged cash, I made bad budgeting decisions, I ended up sleeping on couches of generous friends for months. I toured as a performer for a while and I applied for composing jobs in Artsjobs. I didn't get many, in fact I only got one. (Fortunately that one has led to steady professional work for the last four years and has led to some amazing industry contacts and a regular royalty income). In the meantime, other friends from my singer/songwriter days introduced me to their friends in the theatre, directors and writers all just starting out and looking for musical collaborators. I started working with them and they started getting professional gigs and then they would hire me to work on them (one of them was Amy Draper director of These Trees Are Made of Blood who saw me and my band perform at The National Theatre during my songwriting days and was a friend of one of my best mates).
After a couple of years of working and living in this way I was gradually building up connections and a portfolio. Then I started feeling like a massive fraud (Please note: I still feel like one). I had no qualifications, I had no training. I didn't know what I was doing and it was starting to worry me. I wanted to get better at what I was doing but I didn't know how. I couldn't afford to become a full-time student again and I really didn't fancy the idea of writing essays about music and theatre. I wanted to be learning it and doing it at the same time and I wanted to be able to make a living at it whilst I did that. So I started searching.
I looked for musical theatre writing competitions and training courses. I wanted to show the industry I could do this job, but I had no idea how to get the industry to hear my work... when I googled this, an organisation appeared in the browser. It's name (and you should write this down) was Mercury Musical Developments or MMD for short.
This, in it's distilled and essential form is an organisation that helps musical theatre writers. It offered competitions, advice, events and a community of people trying to do what I was doing and all at different levels and stages of the game. There was one particular competition that was taking applications: The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Award. I really had no idea what it was about but it seemed like it was worth a shot. Back then, it was not a requirement that your song be from a musical that you were writing. I wrote a song and submitted it to the competition. It was called 'The Only Prince Around' and took as its inspiration that all of the 'prince charming's from fairy tales were really just one prince charming constantly riding out and saving maidens. It was directly inspired by the Michael Bruce (check him out) song 'Portrait of a Princess' which a friend had sent me by email and that I loved!
I submitted the song and then forgot about the whole thing. In the meantime, I continued to google and I discovered the second organisation that I consider to be essential to my career progression thus far. Book, Music and Lyrics or BML for short. BML was different from MMD in that it was specifcally a training course specialising in musical theatre writing. I applied immediately and was very happy to be accepted to the course. It was extremely reasonably priced, centrally located and only two hours a week. I saw it as a chance to meet some other songwriters as well as to improve my craft. As well as adding structure to my otherwise rather unstructured life.
Just prior to the BML course beginning I found out that my song 'The Only Prince Around' had made it through to the final of the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Award. I didn't really know how big a deal this was until I arrived at the sold out award ceremony in London's West End and heard my very own song being sung by the incomparable Turlough Convery (now starring in Poldark who went on to win the performance competition). My song didn't win but it was enough to hear the applause afterwards to know that this was what I really wanted to do. It turns out that one of my tutors in BML (Tim Sutton) that year was the winner of the songwriting competition, so I couldn't feel too bad about it. (Since that time I have been fortunate enough to have been a finalist three times, winning runner up one year and also winning the MTI Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award for The Wicker Husband last year, all of which have been valuable experiences getting my work performed to a wider audience).
When I arrived at BML for the first session I had no idea what to expect. I would say there were roughly 16 of us. All nervous, most of whom did not know each other, but a couple who did. We had been set a task of writing a lyric to an existing tune and as each one went round the group I had a horrible sinking sensation. Everyone had stuck exactly to the notes as they were written and consequently the course leader (the incomparable Mark Warman) was able to play and sight sing everyone's work back to them. I however, had completely bastardised the tune, adding in extra notes where it suited me and thus it was completely impossible to sing for anyone but me. Sheepishly I did just that. Everyone laughed at the implied innuendo in my dirty little lyric, including Mark, who after laughing promptly added afterwards that my lyric was of course a 'complete abomination.' But he said it with such warmth and good humour an d in a way that would become a hallmark of my experience at BML.
I have been a part of BML for over three years now. I am still friends with many of the people I met in my first year, all of whom are talented songwriters, supportive classmates and have grown along with me in terms of craft and knowledge of the industry. And the great thing about BML is you never have to leave. Once you complete the second year you are invited to be part of the Advanced Composer/Lyricist Group, and you can remain a part of it forever. The BML community grows larger and stronger every year. In addition the MMD community and the BML community overlap in every increasing ways. Over the last few years I know of several members including myself who are getting their shows put on West End, Off West End and Off Broadway as well as national UK tours and regional runs and international productions.
Now, those early directors and companies who I hooked up with have gradually built their professional reputations leading to my songwriting work on several national tours. Several shows continue to tour over the years, leading to royalties and regular fees. A couple of great things that came out of my less than happy experience of being fired from Fantastic Mr Fox was that I got an agent who now deals with all my financials and I met some wonderful writers who are now my friends. Producers and Venues continue to see my work regularly on tour and as a result I have received more offers of work.
The result of all of this is that I now earn about 85% of my living purely from songwriting (not musical directing or teaching or workshop leading all of which are wonderful but too exhausting and divert my musical attention from the thing I really love). The other 15% comes from a fairly stress free administration job which offers regular and flexible work.
When I say my 'living' I am a 36 year old man without any children, a girlfriend who doesn't mind living like a bit of a pauper and approximately £2,000 of savings and a yearly income of approximately £20,000 per year. It's not much obviously but it's enough. My main expense is eating which I love to do and I live from hand to mouth. I worry about how I'm going to eat fairly regularly but I consider this a small price to pay and strangely enough the jobs always seem to come along...
I guess to conclude, this is what I would take away from it:
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
1. Early on in your career, maybe say yes to pretty much anything, you never know where it's going to lead or who you're going to meet.
2. Get in on the ground floor with talented folks. GO see lots of theatre. Talk about what you do. That's how people will find out about you.
3. Join a community (BML or MMD). This is really important. These people will pick you up when you are down, they will train you and love you.
4. No one will hire you right off the bat if you haven't done anything before. Make your own work and get people to come and see it.
5. Build a website, it's free and you never know who might see it.
6. Don't feel bad that you don't have a music degree. Use it to your advantage. Be different and bold.
7. When you get fired, just keep going.
8. Get a part-time job with flexibility if you possibly can, use your current connections to do it.
9. Enter competitions, but try not to be disappointed when you don't win, they'll lead to other things.
10. Learn your craft in amateur societies. You'll learn about all aspects of theatre-making, not just your own.
In writing this I realise I have left out huge portions of very important events including important people and important shows, but hopefully this will give you a little idea of the strange, twisted and bizarre path that a career as a Composer & Lyricist can take you on.
A ladder to the moon? More like a weird labyrinthine staircase to the moon... I can almost smell the cheese...
So, this morning I woke up at about 6.30am thinking about the job I was fired from nearly six months ago. This is not an uncommon occurence. For those of you who have been following this blog, this was the post that I wrote shortly after the firing...
Looking at it, I was surprised how calm and reasonable my thoughts were. I suppose I had been in the middle of reading several self-help books at the time and somehow the positivity and reassurance that such books are renowned for was becoming part of my everyday vernacular (not a bad thing I suppose).
But I still woke up this morning feeling a little bit like a discarded morning poo. Sure it was a relief at the time, but it was also a pretty shitty experience and one that has had a lasting impact on me emotionally (whether or not it has had a lasting impact on my career remains to be seen). How have I felt about it? I've felt angry, livid, relieved, mildly upset, inadequate, worthless and terribly, terribly sad. Sometimes I've felt all these things at exactly the same time which makes for a rather upset stomach and for a rather confused mind.
Sometimes I have wallowed, like a pig in the mud of my own despair. Other times I have risen grandly above it all like a phoenix rising from the ashes of defeat, trumpeting a clarion call of acceptance and transcendence.
It's six months on and I haven't figured it out. It'll be six years before I do.
THINGS I NOW KNOW...
1. It still hurts. It probably always will. But it hurts less now than it did then.
2.Life goes on.
3. I'm still working, doing what I love.
4. It wasn't all my fault but I had a part to play in it.
GOOD THINGS HAVE COME OUT OF IT...
1. One of the demos I wrote for that show have attracted the attention of big producers who I have met as a result which may lead to future work.
2. Some of the musical themes were instrumental in discovering the heart of another song that I was having trouble writing for another project (that's The Wicker Husband for those of you who know about it).
3. I've learnt to ask more questions, to dig deeper into what people really want (or think they want!).
4. I've learnt to find out who is pulling the strings before getting involved in a project.
5. I got an agent. The ultimate blessing, who can take alot of these questions on themselves and who are there to promote my interests.
6. I met some lovely people who I consider to be good friends as a result.
BAD THINGS HAVE COME OUT OF IT....
I question my own ability to do my job far more often than I used to. There was always a voice in the back of my head at the start of every new show that used to say:
"Maybe you can't do this. Maybe this time you won't be able to come up with any good songs or music. But hey, you always have before, so try not to worry so much!"
Now this voice has been replaced by a louder voice which says:
"Maybe you can't do this. Maybe this time you won't be able to come up with any good songs or music. But hey, you always have before... oh wait. No you haven't. There was that one time, remember? REMEMBER??!"
I have to remind myself that actually the work was good, it just wasn't what they wanted.
BUT OUT OF THOSE BAD THINGS OTHER GOOD THINGS HAVE ALSO COME OUT...
For a while it affected my other collaborations.
I became obsessed with the idea that I needed to have feedback in person in order to avoid misunderstandings etc... problems arising from this obsession resulted in a meeting with two of my dearest collaborators (Rhys Jennings and Charlie Westenra) in which I discovered how deep my insecurities had wormed themselves into my psyche.
Essentially, our meeting turned into a tiny therapy session for me about how this particular experience had begun to colour all of my collaborations and that I shouldn't let it. Just because communication didn't work in that situation for whatever reason, it didn't mean that I was doing something wrong in my others (as a matter of fact ALL of my other collobrations have been incredibly successful so I must have been doing something right.)
It then turned into a conversation about how we each prefer to communicate in our daily lives.
It seems simple, but I would say that this is probably essential for all collaborations. How can you collaborate successfully with someone if you don't know how they like to communicate? Text? Email? In person? At what time? How quickly can you expect a response?
Everyone has different answers to these questions and you need to know the answers. For example, Charlie loves to chat through things on the phone. I can't stand the phone. What was happening was Charlie was calling and I wasn't answering and that leads to frustration.
Now I know that this is important to Charlie, I make more of an effort on the phone (sometimes I even phone her!). And she makes more of an effort to communicate by text and email. Interestingly I don't mind the phone as much as I used to... simply because the person on the other end of it knows that it isn't really my bag... simple understanding has led to a much happier collaboration.
It was a conversation that also made me think about my weaknesses as a collaborator...
MY NEMESIS: JASPER MOUNTBATTEN III
It turns out, that like most of us, I have a very fragile ego. My girlfriend calls him "Jasper Mountbatten III." He is very demanding and ill prepared to accept criticism. He is a wilful child, prone to tantrums and childish rages. His worth is tied directly to external validation and praise. He gets extreme gratification when he is praised, and he becomes extremely hostile when his work is dismissed.
The good thing that I have discovered about Jasper Mountbatten III is that he isn't very bright. Jasper can be tricked, led into the woods, led into a stick and box trap very easily and quickly. He's like a chimp, all instinct and no intelligence.
This means that I can control him and over the last few months, as a result of the beating that Jasper has received, I have had the opportunity to practice keeping him under control alot more. I'm much better at it now. I recognise when Jasper is in control or is reaching for the controls and I can stop him before he does any damage.
SO HOW DO I FEEL NOW?
I'd like to say, I feel great. But I don't. I still feel upset, relieved, angry and terribly, terribly sad at the thought of what happened... but I've begun to wonder, actually... is it me who is feeling these things?
...or is it Jasper Mountbatten III?
And anyway, Jasper needs to get in his box.
I've got a score to write.
The world is changing... Jem and the Holograms are a distant memory.
The amount of people able to share their work with the wider population of the world has never been greater. You don't have to be picked up by a major record label in order to distribute your music anymore. Anyone with a simple home recording set up can produce hig quality recordings at a fraction of the cost that it used to, and even better with downloadable music and streaming sites the need to invest in physical copies of your music is quickly becoming obsolete. I imagine that in five years time no one will be playing CD's or DVD's and either digital or vinyl (which still remains unique and awesome in it's sound quality) will remain. Many computers are now sold without DVD or CD drives with most people relying on streaming sites such as Spotify or Apple Music for their listening candy. Simply by paying a low monthly premium you are able to listen to your choice of millions of songs.
So if this is what is happening in the world of the music listener, then what is happening in the world of the music creator?
Ever since the digital revolution, the music industry has been struggling to get a hold on what direction we are headed in and how a sustainable income can be made for artists in a world where music is available for practically nothing.
The world is changing and we can't sit here and complain about it, and we can't withhold our music from the world.... We must change with it.
The question is, how do we change? And how can that change sustain a career in songwriting. In order to become better at writing songs we need to dedicate time to it, in order to dedicate time to it we need to earn enough from the proceeds of writing to pay for rent, for things to eat, gas, electric, council tax and heaven forbid an occassional night out... the problem is a purely mathematical one...
The sums just don't add up any more.
So what are the ways to support the creation of our music in the digital age? The answer is... I'm not sure. For artists working at my level it's a constantly changing tectonic plate where money seems to be slipping through cracks that open up at our feet at a moments notice...
So I thought I would use this blog to explore some of the options that are available... the good news is that it's not all bad news!
STREAMING MUSIC SITES
Streaming services are going from strength to strength with more and more people hooking into this low cost way of keeping up with their favourite bands. This is how the majority of the world now consumes its entertainment, from movie streaming services like Netflix and Youtube to music streaming sites such as Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. Unfortunately, for the independent artist the streaming sites present a new challenge in creating a sustainable career...
The ultimate streaming service, fans pay a low monthly premium for all the music they can handle. This is a one-stop shop for most fans and listeners, and it'll likely be the go to place when someone is told about your music. If you aren't on it, the average punter (unless they are particularly dedicated to finding you) will probably just give up the search and stream some Rihanna. So you have to be on it to be heard at all, unfortunately for the artist the amount we receive is between $0.006 and $0.0084 per listen. Which means that a fan would have to listen to your songs 2000 times in order for you to accumulate the cost of buying one album ($12.00). Sadly, there's no point in trying to tell your friends to cancel their Spotify account, it's just not practicable and looking at the evidence it's not going to go away anytime soon.
The article below is an interesting read for anyone looking at learning a bit more about this...
2016 posted a thundering decline in the digital download of both albums and songs which is not good news for the artists themselves. As an example in March this year I sold 9 copies of one of my albums and made approximately £38 from that. In the same month, songs from the same album were streamed 5384 times and I received £5.81. The takeover of the streaming market has been devastating the income of many artists... Have you noticed that alot of the big bands from the 70's and 80's are suddenly touring again? This is not a coincidence. Their incomes are being decimated by streaming services and touring is one of the only ways they can make a respectable income. There are less options available to those artists who don't have a massive historical fanbase.
The Apple application revolutionised the music industry when it first arrived on the scene, now it is being hit by the streaming obsession sweeping the world. The worst thing about itunes is that it will not allow you to post your music on it's site without also allowing your music to be available for streaming on Apple Music. Itunes is still a go-to for many listeners but it seems like it won't be around for too long, and that it is quickly losing its place in the market to the cheaper streaming services.
This article will give you a basic overview of what's going on...
An excellent service which allows users to listen to a song once for free and then offers them the chance to buy the song/album at a price set by the artist, the majority of proceeds go directly to the artist. This is a great initiative and one that I am grateful for. Unfortunately, whilst a good portion of songwriters know about it, the general public don't. This means that your music is going to be listened to by other impecunious writers, few of whom are earning enough themselves to be able to support the careers of other hungry writers. In order to make any income from this you have to tell your fans about it directly and encourage them to use its services as opposed to the streaming sites that are far more convenient for most people... this also assumes that you know who your fans are and have a way of contacting them which many smaller recording artists do not. Still it's worth putting your back catalogue up there just in case since it doesn't cost you anything to set it up.
This is a really interesting article that talks about the difference between BANDCAMP and SPOTIFY and the pros and cons of each...
A long time ago, Kings and Queens, nobles and the gentry used to patronise artists. This wasn't the condescending term that we understand it to be today, patronage was seen as a way of supporting the career of a promising artist whilst at the same time boosting your own cultural kudos. The gentry would pay for struggling artists to paint their portraits and write them songs... at some point this stopped being the norm.
However, given the new digital world order that is coming about as a result of the increased global connection of the internet, patronage is making a comeback in a big way. This is great news for artists who are struggling to survive as a result of the decimation of their album and song income.
Patronage seems to be happening in two big ways at the moment...
Crowdfunding is now happening in the creative industries all over the world and artists are learning to utilise it to their advantage. It takes a lot of work, a lot of pride swallowing and alot of emailing, social media posting and follow-up-thank-yous but the rewards are often worth it. Not only is it a way to fund a specific project that you've been dying to create, it is also an excellent way of creating an invested fanbase in the final creation itself. All of those people who invested in your project have proven their interest and you now have a legitimate reason to contact them about your future work. In order to get over the idea that it appears to be little more than begging to the internet for money, all you need to do is look at it from your supporters perspective... they are pleased to be a part of the creation of something new in the world and they are happy to contribute financially to your work. If they weren't they wouldn't have done it in the first place, so quit worrying and get crowdfunding. There are various platforms that you can use including:
Go Fund Me
When choosing which site to use I'd recommend looking at a few of them and figuring out which terms and conditions are best for you. Some allow flexible funding goals which mean you don't have to hit your target in order to get all the money that has been pledged, others are more strict. Each have their advantages.
I've been involved in two successful crowdfunding campaigns this year for two theatrical projects and one thing I would definitely recommend is being part of a team. Splittling the responsibility of the work means a lot less pressure and a larger network of people to contact, the larger the network the better your chance of success. Personally, I've used Indiegogo twice and have no regrets...
Below is an article comparing some of the crowdfunding sites...
This is a relatively new site and one that I am hoping will really help to change the creative industries for the better. This is patronage in the truest sense of the word. Rather than funding a particular project, Patreon encourages its patrons to invest in you as a creative artist. There are not necessarily any rewards for your patronage (although the artist can make these available if they wish) beyond the simple fact that you are helping an artist make a living from their creative contribution to the world. This is usually done in a monthly debit on your account from as little as $1.00 per month all the way up to $1000.00 per month. This is a way to get your fans to help you out and provide real financial support to your career, I hope that sites like this will help more artists in our creative industries move towards a sustainable career.
Here is my page if you are interested in checking out how the system works...
I hope that this has been useful to some of you and if you have any other ways of sustaining a career in songwriting please do suggest them in the comments below! All suggestions welcome!!
How much should a composer/lyricist get paid?
I thought I would write about this because when I was offered my first professional job as a composer/lyricist, I looked for information on the internet as to what sort of rate I should charge. Unfortunately, the search engines returned entries that were less than useful, only citing writing agreements in percentages of royalties in far flung New York. For a composer/lyricist just starting out, these percentages seemed so far removed from my reality that actually they were less than useless.
I’m sure you were hoping (as I was) that this blog would tell you exactly what to charge for your services, how much royalty to demand in percentage, but the truth of the theatrical industry is far more complicated than a set fee. I will give you some examples of some fees that I have received in my career later in this blog which I hope you will find useful.
If you do not have an agent then it is likely you will be negotiating your own contracts. It is an unfortunate truth that until your work starts coming to wider notice agents will not be interested in representing you. As soon as you can get one... do. The aim of this blog is to give you some tools to be able to negotiate a contract that is FAIR to both yourself and the party that you are working for.
I put it in bold and capitalised FAIR because it really is the most important word in this article. An ideal of fairness should be at the heart of all your negotiations, because if people don’t think they are being fairly treated then they will be less inclined to do their best work.
So... you’ve just received your first contract through the post and you’ve either thought:
1. Wow! How generous. They really are paying too much, maybe I should say I don’t need so much?
2. What a pile of bullshit! Do they think I can live on peanuts?
If the former, then never ask for less. The person paying you clearly thinks your work is to be highly valued. If you go back and say that you aren’t worth that much, you are effectively saying, ‘My work isn’t that great.’ Which :
a) Probably isn’t true. They wouldn’t have hired you otherwise.
b) Makes you’re prospective employer worry that they’ve picked the wrong person.
If the latter, take a deep breath, count to ten and then consider what is FAIR. To help you consider the fairness of the proposal you should definitely ask yourself (and potentially your employer) the following questions:
1. What is the workload and if I take this job on the amount offered, will I be able to pay my rent etc. and live to a reasonable standard throughout the working period?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the fee from this particular job should cover all these expenses, but you should have other means by which you can subsidise it, which won’t be affected by this extra work. If the answer to this question is a resounding NO, then you should approach the producer and tell them. It may be that they can find some more money for you. If they are unable to be flexible then you should think seriously about whether you should take the job.
2. What is the current status of the company/producer you will be working for?
This is a really important question to consider. A young, exciting company just starting out will not be able to pay you as much as an established producing house. But there can be huge advantages to getting in on the ground floor of a talented company. Think of companies like Kneehigh, Complicite and Les Enfants Terribles now substantial theatrical powerhouses putting on big budget productions. All started from a small fringe troupe. And in most cases the composer that was with them in the early days is still with them now. I have followed this particular route myself with a few companies that are just now (after years of battling away, touring and making work) beginning to get regular funding. I am fortunate to receive a considerable amount of work through these companies and their connections. In the case of one, I worked for free as part of a collective ensemble, but we quickly moved on to being able to pay ourselves. In the case of others I worked for a fee that I considered to be less than I would have liked to charge but was able to live on the wage (see Question One) and considered the advantages of working with talented newcomers to outweigh the economic difficulties. In both cases this decision has repaid itself countless times over as these companies have grown and continue to hire me to work for them. So consider it carefully. In particular consider the quality of the work a young company is producing, if it excites you as a creative, go for it. If it does not, perhaps let it slide. A larger producing house will be able to offer more in terms of payment, but perhaps less in terms of future opportunity. It may be that they work with you again if you do a great job for them, but remember the pool of composers/lyricists they can offer to is much larger and there are some big name writers out there that they could potentially pull in. So consistency of future work is not something they may be able to offer. What they can offer (in addition to the economics) is the ability to get your work out in front of a huge audience. The larger regional theatres can pack in up to 1000 people per performances. That’s 1000 people hearing your work every night for (perhaps) a lengthy tour. If the work is good then this could be really big for you and could lead to other producing houses seeing/liking your work and offering you jobs as a result. So consider that, consider whether the trade off is fair. My advice with larger producing houses however is that if the amount you are being offered is just not workable for you, it will not do you any harm to come back to them and ask for what you believe is a reasonable amount for your time. Remember it’s not about being greedy, it’s about being FAIR.
3. What are the other creatives being paid?
You will need to find out this from the producer, some will be unwilling to tell you, but some will let you know. Once you know this, consider the amount of work you will be doing in comparison to them (essentially in hours put in) then see if you think that is FAIR. If you don’t think it is, go back to the producers with your reasons (often they won’t necessarily understand the amount of work that goes into your material, it’s up to you to explain to them how it works. You will be doing yourself and composers everywhere a great service!). In fact this is where it will pay to meet some other creatives and talk to them about what they actually do (lighting designers, sound designers, producers, choreographers, directors, musical directors etc). Because unless you have at least some idea about what amount of work the others are going to be doing you won't be able to figure out what is fair for you.
4. Should I work for a profit-share fringe production?
Whilst I have nothing against the profit-share model (it can be a useful way of getting your work seen) the realities of profit-share can be deceptive. The only companies who should be doing profit-share are at the beginning of their life and really, for them to survive, any money that they earn from their show should be poured back into the company so they can continue making better quality work. It is my view that if you work for a profit-share production you should be offered an ongoing and irrevocable stake in the work of the company. The first company I worked with (Paper Balloon Theatre) created our first show on the understanding that any money earned would go towards our next production and as soon as we did a production that allowed us to pay ourselves then we would. Paper Balloon is still working as a company today and I still write all the music and lyrics for our work. It’s also worth considering, if you are the instigator (as many writers are) of a profit-share production, am I being FAIR to those who are giving their time to present my work. Am I keeping them informed of the realities of how much they will be getting? Should I offer them a stake in the company? All important things to consider? It is important to note that of all of my actor friends who have taken part in profit share productions, some have gotten agents off the back of them, some have been seen by casting directors but not one of them has seen a penny of the profit. Usually there is none. But those actors weighed up the advantages and considered it FAIR and that is up to them.
5. Should I work for a flat fee or royalty?
Most of the work that I have done has been a mixture of flat fee alone or flat fee plus royalties. As you get on in your career, ideally you should work for both. I believe you should be paid a fee for your work. Sometimes this will be an advance against royalties (in commercial theatre) sometimes it will be yours to keep on top of royalties. I have been paid fees ranging from £200 through to £3000 and everywhere in between for a single job. More established composers get paid much more but I am still making a name for myself and the companies I am working with are taking a chance on an unknown composer and are helping my work get out there, therefore I consider it FAIR to me to be paid less. Some people will disagree with me on this and say that I if I’m doing the same quality work then I should be paid the same. They are allowed to disagree, after all it is not them who needs to consider whether it is fair. I’ll give some examples of splits I have done which I have considered fair:
a) Early career: £250 flat fee plus 3% perpetual royalty on net profit.
I considered this FAIR because the show was by a talented young fellow with a fringe following and two young producers were involved. It was a one man show, easily tourable with small set and one tech guy. It was topical and booked for an Edinburgh Fringe run and a tour afterwards. I considered this fair because it actually was likely to make a profit (and it did) it would have an ongoing life (it has since been seen Off Broadway, in Europe and all over the UK), my work would get alot of attention and press (it has) and it was a young talented group of people with whom I hope to work in the future. And most importantly I was creatively excited by the work. Please note the word PROFIT here, this is an important word, if you can always gor for NET BOX OFFICE. As PROFIT can end up being very little!
b) Later career: £3000 flat fee plus 1% royalty in net box office.
I considered this fair because it was a fairly big show going on a big tour, the royalty was on box office so I would get an earning regardless of profit. The flat fee was reasonable for the amount of work concerned. I would get the chance to work with brilliant creatives at the top of their game so it would be a brilliant learning curve. My work would get seen by a huge range of people and it would get national press coverage. For someone at this stage in my career I considered that to be a FAIR exchange.
6. Should I charge an hourly rate?
This is completely up to you. Usually a producing house will pay you what they can. Problems can occur if this doesn’t match up to your hourly rate. If you add to that fact the idea that as a composer/lyricist we are essentially always working (your subconscious will undoubtedly be working on a lyrical problem whenever you are on “holiday”). What has been useful to me is to consider what a minimum daily amount I think is fair. For everyone this will be different according to their expenses. For these purposes I will disclose what my current minimum daily rate is, remembering that this will alter with experience and what you consider to be FAIR. At the moment when I am considering a job I look at it in terms of the number of days it will take me to complete it (essentially to be at the studio actually writing and working). And if the job works out at less than £120 a day (10am - 6pm) with one hour lunch and two fifteen minute breaks. Then I would probably ask for more. Remember that I am fairly new to the game, having had a number of regional tours, won some competitions and written music/lyrics for approximately 30 shows (not full scale musicals). This rate allows me to cover my expenses and to live in a manner which is acceptable to me and is therefore FAIR. Any producers out there, beware that as my experience increases my fee will increase!
So... I hope that was at least a little bit useful for some of those just starting out. Of course I would always welcome a lot more discussion on this and also advice, be sure that I will post more as I continue along my merry way and inevitably learn that everything I've just written is wrong.