i’ve had a fair share of jobs in this industry, and i’ve been fired a few times.
whenever I was fired or laid off I left crying and regretting every mistake I ever made. It always felt like a series of events, coming to a head with me finally being told I “wasn’t a culture fit”.
Not a culture fit #1
- I was let go through a vaguely-worded email, where it kind of alluded to me needing another job? it wasn’t clear, however it was clear enough that I wasn’t going to be hired by them again.
Not a culture fit #2
- This one was a time-consuming, long drawn out process. I was working to exhaustion, i was emotionally burnt. I ended up being fired but only after months of crying, feeling bullied, jaded experiences that made me feel like this industry wasn’t worth it
Not a culture fit #3
- At some point in the day they were in living room, talking on the phone to their business manager, and I could hear them clearly say that they wanted to let me go but they didn’t want to do it themselves. Something along the lines of “yeah, sure I could do things that other managers do but if i I did that then I’ll never have time to do actual music”. i had just planned their birthday party and they talked to me like a close friend.
- The next day I was let go through a phone call from said boss’s business manager; I came home after work, got a call from the usual Unknown Number the business manager calls from, was given a two-week severance and then was assured that my now ex-boss would call me at some point to keep it amicable and bid me goodbye. I’m sure you can guess that that never happened.
Why was I being let go like this? How could this have happened? I immediately assumed that my employer(s) did their best to help me correct my mistakes. Maybe firing me was the only solution, maybe “not being a culture fit” is something I need to look internally to address… I felt the world of my ex-bosses, and had faith that if they let me go it’s because they really, really couldn’t make it work.
This is the part where I get into the cyclical self-blame game.
While I could easily come up with an arbitrary list of arbitrary reasons that might be/could be why I got fired those few times (which believe me I’ve done a lot)…Down to the wire the real reason could be as simple as they didn’t like me.
I have driven myself to dark places, I’ve thrown myself into pretty depressive episodes because of the few times I was let go without a full explanation. Countless questions. Countless frustration. But once I started accepting that, hey, maybe they just didn’t like me, the narrative changed completely.
Having been in so many bad situations, and now also being in GREAT situations, I understand what it means to have growth-encouraging transparency. I never got formal performance reviews at small companies (most of the time they didn’t even have an HR department). There was no formal warning process or personal development plan. I was in the dark, teetering between actually making mistakes and feeling like my bosses were building resentment towards me. I now know the difference between struggling, and struggling in an environment that was set up for you to fail.
But beyond being fired and the reasons why, what’s more important is acknowledging when it’s time to quit. The minute you start feeling like your job is at stake, the minute you can pull up a list of mistakes that you think might’ve pissed off your boss but your boss is too passive-aggressive to say anything, the second you feel like your coworker is out to get your job – are you feeling crazy or paranoid for feeling these things? It’s beyond that. it’s beyond rational thinking at this point. You are approaching the crucial moment where you need to start recognizing that your work environment is toxic.
My ex-bosses may or may not like me, they may even hate me. They might think I’m the dumbest in the world and it’s a miracle how I’m employed even now.
And that’s complete okay. It’s okay (in fact, it’s normal) to not be liked sometimes. People will come in and out of your life — some will love you, some will hate you, some won’t even care enough to have an opinion. Sure, try your best and take accountability where you can. But most importantly, find people who understand you and encourage the best in you; especially when you are learning, growing, and making mistakes.
The culture fit is a two-way street. You have the power and owe it to yourself to recognize when a company doesn’t fit with YOU.
tysm for reading today
Almost a year ago I applied for the biggest opportunity of my life. It was at a game studio, they were seeking a music supervisor to oversee their whole music workflow.
the job description specified someone with at least 8+ years of game audio music experience, which I didn’t have.
when I was thinking about applying to this job, i had a lot of peers discourage me. A few of them said I was obviously under-qualified, I wasn’t ready nor had enough experience for this role, that I shouldn’t even apply because on paper I wasn’t even going to pass the resume screening.
Fear is truly a powerful force. I was starting to doubt myself even before putting my application in—this happens to so many of us that it’s really quite wild and unfair. Some of us won’t even bother applying because fear of rejection (and everyone else’s fear that you’ll be rejected too??).
why was I listening to these people? Were they secretly the hiring manager? being under-qualified is such a funny concept. Being told you’re under-qualified by people who have no power or influence on the situation is also funny.
so the general consensus was that i didn’t have the years of experience necessary to perform this role. what I did have was the tenacity to apply anyways regardless of my lack of qualifications, and I am also extremely passionate about games and game music.
but it really took a whole lot more than just tenacity.
A very, very nice friend, who also worked at said company, wrote up a personal email introduction to the hiring manager. This is what set everything else into motion, and what got me beyond the email flood of resumes that the recruiter was dealing with.
about 1 month later, the recruiter emailed me to schedule a phone interview with the hiring manager.
and AHHHH the phone screening led to an in-person interview.
i was being flown out to interview with the audio team for a whole day. I had only 3 weeks to prepare my material, and I had never interviewed for a company of this size nor of this caliber. I had to make a 1-hour presentation about my expertise and what I was skilled in. Sure, I can talk about that easily for 5 minutes, but 1 hour…
because so many of my colleagues and friends already didn’t believe I should have applied, I only wanted to ask a few people for help this time:
- – two of my friends, who run a successful game company, met with me weekly and drilled game dev interview questions
- – my friend in biz dev helped me think about the type of salary or personality I want to accomplish
- – my game audio dev friend gave me topics to research, tech to look into, and drilled certain questions that he knew an Audio Director would ask
- – my best friend drilled the presentation with me
- – my roommate helped me practice
- – the initial friend who helped me out with the email intro was also extremely encouraging and constructive about his feedback
- – my mom, bless my mother honestly, helped me brainstorm and ran though the topics I should cover. she really helped me tie everything together
It was a whole operation. I received so much more and beyond the kind of “You can’t do it” advice I got initially. And I wouldn’t have gotten this far if I had listened to the naysayers. In the end, the ones who came through were my close friends and family.
I flew over, did the interview the next morning, and felt like I nailed it. I met a team full of driven, industry top talent, and an AD that I knew I could believe in. It was an exhilarating experience because I had dreamt of working on an in-house audio team for awhile. They seemed excited about me, the whole thing seemed great. I was ready to get this job and move across the country
The next week, I was hit with this from the recruiter:
Rejection in the worst, sort of three-sentence kind of way. No further feedback. I’ve been rejected before, sure but never on a scale like this. I had dragged friends and family to be involved in my dreams only to have it shut down in an instant.
i had built up a lot of this in my head. A lot of my visions about myself were revolved around this job, where I would be if I got this job, how my life would join this upper echelon if I was a music supervisor on one of my favorite AAA franchises. it would’ve been my key to my future.
the recruiter left me in the dust, so I wrote the hiring manager directly and asked him for feedback. i received an extremely kind and well-thought out response. A whole essay about what was great about me and some constructive ideas about what I could focus on. ultimately I needed experience designing music systems at a game studio. Several other people from that team reached out to me and assured me that I really impressed them, it just wasn’t what they needed at the time.
i think i cried for about 2 weeks. I felt stuck, stuck working in an industry where my heart wasn’t at, stuck at the same pace I was at before.
How do you recover from it?
you don’t. i haven’t. what drives me and motivates me is knowing that although I didn’t have the perfect experience or qualifications per the job posting, I (Nadia) was a desirable candidate to them. I was hirable. Mentally, I was qualified. I overcame my shortcomings and had gotten to the top 3. If I could get this far for something like this, I could get anywhere.
And it’s true because I have gotten several job offers since. Going through this heartbreaking process has built my confidence in ways that I never thought possible. I can ease my way through an interview. I can connect with people organically, honestly, and technically.
in many ways I’m grateful I was rejected. Apart from the feedback, I learned more about my real friends and their amazing support (I always knew! But it’s amazing when it’s emphasized!)
Shoutout to having amazing friends and family, that can help you accomplish anything. I didn’t get this job, but I know I’ll get the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. A girl can dream!
thx for reading today 🙂
Not many people know besides some friends, but I dropped out of high school at 16. I struggled with keeping up in classes, and it led to the decision that I might fare better in a more mature environment (community college? lol). I got my GED, and then I spent 1.5 yrs at a local community college. I ended up transferring my cc credits to Berklee College of Music. I dropped out of Berklee about 6 credits from completing my degree.
The reason why I dropped out of college: I flunked a pretty detrimental class and in result that staggered my remaining credits. What was supposed to be an extra summer in Boston, became TWO extra part-time years in Boston. That’s about an extra $20,000+ in intuition and living costs, and I could only take 2 credits per semester due to the sequential course material.
There was no way I could afford it. After talking with several of my teachers and also my department chair, there was nothing they could do to consolidate my credits and help me get out of Boston sooner.
So I made the quick decision to just screw it all and drop out. I had opportunity in LA, I had a career waiting for me. At that point I felt pretty slighted, and pretty unhelped.
If you were to ask me today whether a program like Berklee was worth it, i would say no. It’s a similar answer to whether being an assistant is worth it. If you’re not comfortable having your music judged based on arbitrary grading criteria, music school is not for you.
My Berklee experience fluctuated between really loving my classes (usually video game music classes), and really hating my whole purpose there. I didn’t know what i was doing, i didn’t like what i was doing, I felt like most of my classes were trivial and i rarely connected with any of my teachers.
honestly, I was a pretty horrible student. bad grades. half-assed assignments. What got me in trouble most of the time was that I didn’t think of rules as set in stone, i thought of rules as guidelines. I was knee-deep in loans, going to a school I hated. When I think back, the whole thing was bad idea.
How has this affected me? Not having a degree hasn’t deprived me of getting jobs, especially in the kind of industry that’s in Los Angeles (people with three degrees are….yes, also working for $40k/yr). But if I want to work at larger companies somewhere, or maybe switch careers, being degree-less makes the process a lot harder.
After much discussion with my parents, and mostly due to my mom’s insistence, I decided to re-enroll in Berklee this year. I had to switch my major to something else that would allow me to take my remaining classes remotely. I’m no longer a Bachelor of Music in Film Scoring candidate, but I’m a Bachelor of Music in Professional Music candidate.
Half of the course work I’ve already done in my real life (writing a business plan, making a resume, applying for job listings, making business cards, looking for contacts etc). This stuff is so easy!
It’s almost like I got to the real world, and realized there were much better things to hate than teachers and homework (like being overworked, the gender income gap, lack of diversity, not having enough money to eat, etc).
Did all I need was a bit of real-life experience to enjoy and do well in college?
I learned so much in real life, through hard work and tears, and it sucked…School did not prepare me for that. Actually, I didn’t learn much in school. I learned most of my stuff on my own….
ok yeah don’t go to school for music. Instead register for lynda.com
lately i’ve been thinking about how much of a financial struggle it is to be a composer’s assistant in Los Angeles. it seems that there really isn’t a way to work for a composer while also being financially stable (or sufficient, or proactive, or planning for the future) …is it worth it?
my experience: i’ve seen my bank accounts negative, i’ve been plagued with overdraft fees, massive credit debt, and then on top of that i needed to bring my best version of myself to work every day. I had to choose between spending money on gas (or ubers) to go to a networking event, or having lunch for the whole week (believe me i for sure chose food). some of my other friends in the industry have similar themes of financial stress.
I came from a great school, a famous school really, with a top-tier industry curriculum but i was still perpetually on the cusp of being broke despite having consistent work.
so while it is a truly humbling experience to be an assistant, it comes with a lot of grief.
it’s necessary to ask yourself constantly whether doing this kind of work is what you want. And you really have to consider the full ROI. not just the creative fulfillment or the “opportunity”.
We need to see the bigger picture (haha) and consider what’s going to happen as an entry-level composer’s assistant in this industry:
- -no financial stability
- -no benefits
- -essentially almost living paycheck to paycheck
- -it will affect you and your loved ones fiscally and/or emotionally
- -you may sacrifice friendships and relationships because of your work schedule
- -risk of homelessness (no seriously)
it’s really difficult to consider. and I know for every person there’s nuance and circumstances may be different.
after dealing with the LA industry for a few years, I saw friends stick it out as assistants in insufferable situations. i was disheartened hearing their stories of underpay, overwork, and difficult personalities to deal with (some actual horror stories that circulate around- we know what they are).
I was starting to truly feel helpless. It felt like some of our idols were just there to exploit new talent.
how could the people I look up to really only pay their assistants $12/hr with no OT? How could someone really only make $2k/month on a 1099, especially with the skill set required?
so much gear and expertise is needed to even be CONSIDERED for an assistant position:
- -you need a car
- -you need a place to live
- -you need a laptop + smartphone
- -you need extensive knowledge of thousands of dollars worth of software which you may/may not have access to as a new college graduate
and what are the benefits that assistantships give you?:
- -priceless experience, advice and insight
- -connections with other people in the industry
- -work experience
- -actual film/tv show credits (optional)
- -writing opportunities (optional)
- -more miles on your car (probable)
you’ll have a lot of people in this industry, experienced and inexperienced, tell you that you should take what you can get regardless of the compensation.
I take that advice with a grain of salt. the only people we should really take advice from are the ones who put money where their mouthes are.
- -the ones who would loan you money if you’re about to lose your apartment
- -the ones who would venmo you a few dollars so you can avoid your overdraft fee
- -the ones who would let you crash on their couch when you have nowhere to sleep
- -the ones who would come over and cook you food because you only have 10 cents in your bank account.
^ those people actually have STAKES and consequence in your life. and you’ll be risking a lot of this as I mentioned above.
everyone else – including me writing this post – their advice should almost be inconsequential to you. the boss who pays you minimum wage, part-time and on-call, via 1099, is not invested in your life. he’s invested in his own career (and also getting those cues in on time lol)
Your boss isn’t going to fulfill your wildest dreams-he’s not going to make you a film scoring super star. and, as your boss, he’s also not completely concerned about how you’re surviving.
so to put the words slightly shorter, it’s not worth it to be an assistant if what you’re hoping is for your boss to be just as invested in your career (or well-being) as you are.
I wish i had someone tell me this when i first moved to LA.
thx for reading today!
By the time I declared my Film Scoring major at Berklee (2013ish?) I really had no idea what I was doing- I think the most composition I did was write a few weird tracks in my music tech class, maybe some jingles I wrote in Logic 9 for community college….and at some point (in 2011 or 2012) my mom signed a contract with PMW Live to produce + write a song and music video for me. yes this is the same PMW live that made Rebecca Black’s Friday song
Throughout the whole ordeal my mom was pretty adamant that since I was a “budding musician” I needed to produce or at least write a part of the song myself. Luckily that song nor the video ever came close to being finished. you can hear the song’s WIP version right here but expect some serious RnB and Mulan vibes meets garageband:
anyways when i was actually in school, i had no idea what I was doing re: rigs or samples or writing music, really. i looked up some forums, looked up specs, and my first step into this world was buying a bulk EastWest ‘composers bundle’ which i got for 60% due to a black friday + student discount deal. i was even convinced that i needed that really excessive OnStage studio desk in order to ‘write music efficiently with the space I needed’ hahaha
I was trying my best to fit the “serious composer” narrative. i was a teacher’s pet, i jumped at every opportunity to answer a question in my film scoring class, i acted like i was ‘writing music day and night’ (lol), I really took my 19-year-old self pretty seriously.
eventually over time, i started catching something that was in-between senioritis and also I-Was-Resentful-That-I-Wasn’t-More-Successful-At-21-For-Some-Reason. It was a painful time. But then those two things started to blend together, and I think morphed into something that was more along the lines of not taking myself so seriously anymore. so i dropped out of college, ha! i moved to LA, and i started working on projects and gaining actual tangible skills. and even in my recent years, after i’ve seen big studios like Eastwood, Skywalker, Ocean Way, Remote Control, i still had a modest rig in Los Angeles
i’ve now moved back temporarily to the Bay Area, and I’m living in my small room that I grew up in, and five days a week I work for one of the best companies in the world doing and making audio come to life. my rig is actually even tinier
and i guess the moral of the story is that i really took myself way too seriously for a majority of my early career. I made a big deal about being something just to be it. i made sure all of the variables were controlled. but if I’ve learned anything at all as an adult, it’s that there’s a fine difference between being career orientedand being ridiculous. and if people at the best company in the world are as humble and kind as they are?
then…w h y are a lot of us in the industry struggling to be nice?
anyways thanks for reading and now that i listen back the PMW Live song wasn’t completely horrible. i think at the time i was terrified of being made a fool if I let that song surface….ohh……i took myself too seriously…