I read somewhere that “You aren’t a real composer until you’ve failed and failed big.”
Very recently I failed. I failed big time. And so I did what most people do when they fail... I went looking for reassurance that I wasn't the only one who had. And I went looking for it in the place where everyone looks things at 3am in the morning when they are worried about something. Google. What I googled was “Composer Replaced.” A couple of chat room links came up that were basically people comparing their knowledge on what film composers had been replaced by other film composers for iconic movies. But there was nothing I could find that told me how to deal with it. I felt I was on the verge of being replaced for a project that I had poured my heart and soul into and the work (whilst good work) was just not the work that those in control wanted to hear. As it turns out my feelings were 100% correct and I received an email about a week later thanking me for my hard work but that they needed to go in another direction.
That made me feel a bit sick.
My first instinct was to do my best to make sure that no one found out about it. The sheer embarrasment of having to tell colleagues, friends and family was terrifying. I felt like burrowing away and hibernating until everyone who knew me was dead or in a coma. Then I could continue my career in safety. Obviously this first instinct was insane. It was my prehistoric brain doing its best to protect me against something that it considered to be dangerous. If Prehistoric Darren came home from the hunt without a good chunk of mammoth for the wife, then the wife would potentially start looking lustfully at Prehistoric Pete in the cave down the road, who everyone knew always brought home the mammoth bacon. But as many of us have discovered our Prehistoric brains can often work against us in the modern world.
When 'Fight or Flight' kicks in, reason goes out the window. The difficulty with today's society is that the 'Fight or Flight' reflex kicks in at inappropriate moments that have nothing to do with survival. I recognise that this is what happened when I received the news of replacement and I also recognise that this would be the worst response to the situation concerned.
So I thought I would tell some people. I told my girlfriend, some of my close friends, my mum and then some colleagues I was working with. I immediately felt better. I'm not sure precisely why. Perhaps it was their kind reactions, perhaps it was just sharing it with them. Regardless of what the reason was, for me it is another part of the musical theatre industry (and generally in life) that is less talked about than it should be. But it should be talked about, and it should be celebrated just as much as success.
In a way, someone who tries to do something and fails should be admired more than the one who succeeds, after all they are the ones who will have to go through the pain and embarrassment of seeing their failure made public.
Failure is a vital part of success. In my experience, this is greatly apparent in the musical theatre industry. There is a saying that goes 'Musicals aren't written. They are rewritten." This is about as true a thing as I have heard about the craft. But it doesn't just apply to the craft of writing a musical. It applies to the process of becoming a musical theatre writer.
Our careers are not written. They are rewritten.
We make mistakes. We have a little success. We experience even bigger failure. And each will leave a mark on us. But this should not be seen as a bad thing. There are larger lessons to be learned from failure than there are from success. If there was any justice in the world you'd get a royalty on failure, as it's much harder to take and you experience it alot more.
From my own recent failure, I will take several important lessons away with me and believe me they are not ones I am going to forget in a hurry. I can almost see the positive outcomes coming from implementing new processes in the future to my own work.
So... go out and mess it up! And then tell people about it. I know I'd appreciate it!