I watched Alexandre Desplat win his first Academy Award this evening. When they announced the winner, I thought to myself oh, Desplat won again and it wasn't until I looked up his Wikipedia page that I realized that it was his first award after seven nominations, which, to say the least, must have been a frustrating road to success.
I was googling around about Desplat's career, and I came across this page at the VSL site where you can view a fairly in-depth interview with him. Its full of all sorts of interesting information, but the part that stuck out to me was at the very beginning, where they ask Desplat-- who's filmography is incomprehensible in its enormity-- how he is able to do so much film scoring, and he simply answers that its the only thing he does. A typical workday apparently starts at 6:30am and ends at midnight. "I don't really have a life," Desplat says to describe his routine.
Of course, Desplat does have a life-- its just a life that's consumed with producing beautiful, well-crafted music, and nothing else. He's well on his way to becoming the film composer version of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Japanese sushi chef who has elevated his culinary art so high that there's no one left to compare him to. With that kind of perspective, it seems to me that it is the Desplats and Jiros of the world that actually have lives-- lives worth living, at least.
I see a lot of people who want to write music for a living, and I get a fair number of people asking me-- a composer that's really only done a small amount of work, all things considered-- what my advice is for young composers. I've been meaning to write a blog post about it so that I can reference it rather than repeating myself over and over in email, and I guess this post is as good as any. So here goes:
Write every day. Never stop writing. Never stop making music. Every day you aren't composing, you're becoming a worse composer than the day before. It isn't easy (and I'll be honest, I haven't figured out how to be as consistent as I tell others to be), but it is the only way you will master the complex skills that it takes to produce a genuinely effective piece of orchestral music.
Write every day.
People will tell you to go to school and learn your art, and they're right, but there are a million composition majors in the world, but there aren't a million professional composers. They'll tell you to listen and learn from the greats, and they're right, but there's a lot more people visiting IMSLP and buying classical records every day than there are successful composers working in the game industry or Hollywood.
Write. Every. Day.
People will tell you that you need great equipment, and that does help, but all the sample libraries, computing power, and audio gear in the world can't make a bad melody into a good one. They'll tell you that you have to find the work first, then you can start learning how to be a composer, but there's a lot fewer job openings than there are days in your life.
It seems scary-- like you're going to give up too many other things to meet your writing goals, but you won't. Like Desplat, you're not giving up your life, you're finding it. I can attest that there's nothing as satisfying as being good at what you do-- especially when "what you do" is to produce something beautiful, moving, and, if you're lucky, important. So make something beautiful today.
And then do it again tomorrow.