hellllo! fun topic today. As a professional in the music industry, half of my job is writing emails.
Growing up my mom was a working engineer, and she helped me tremendously in developing my written etiquette. I realize not many people have this – if I was left to my own devices and had to learn writing from school…I don’t think I’d be very good at writing emails.
Here are some general golden rules on emails:
- – Your email should always be straightforward, concise, to-the-point (especially in the subject line)
- – The addressing line needs to be correct with the correct name (if –available)
- – Your response time to emails should be within 1-3 business days, and at max one week.
- – Anything later than that means suspect/very low priority
- – If you’re applying for a job, you should be responding within one day
- – Your sign-off signature should be appropriate
- – No direct links to music samples or reels, unless directly asked
- – Proofread for typos, spelling errors, clarity, you know the drill 😉
There’s a finesse to your written voice, and each situation is sometimes handled differently. I’ll cover a variety of email methods, as well as share actual emails I’ve written! This is all advice based on my own experience. and i’ve gotten a nice compliment or two about my writing!
the general email structure (color-coded for ease of use!)
[ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF THE POINT OF THE EMAIL]
[FURTHER EXPLANATION IF NEEDED]
[GENERAL THANKS, FOLLOW UP INFORMATION IF APPLICABLE]
the email where you ask for a job/internship
I’m not really sure why cold emailing is a controversial topic. Either they work, or they don’t, and I see no shame in sending them. My beef with cold emails is that often those who send them, seldom bother following up (more on this later).
Here’s a cold email I sent to a composer, who I ended up interning for:
My name is Nadia Wheaton, I am a third-year Film Scoring student at Berklee College of Music.
My mother contacted you a few years ago about me, per the suggestion of her colleague _______ who played Taiko with you in college. I’ve gone off to Berklee since then and have found myself immersed in great music.
I admire your work immensely and would love an opportunity to see how the working music industry is. If you are open to having an intern, I’ve attached my resume and cover letter for reference.
Thank you for taking the time back then to reply to my mother with encouraging words.
Best wishes and happy early holidays,
Couple notes…This email could have been a lot shorter, but it isn’t bad for an introductory email with some context. While generic, it’s intriguing because we had a mutual contact. I cover mutual contacts in a previous blog.
Phrasing: You’re offering work as an intern, which can either be free work, work for credit, or cheap labor. A nice, gentle way to ask for an internship: “If you’re open to having an intern…”. “Would you be open to having an intern?” Even a simple “Do you offer mentee programs?”.
A previous boss gave this advice, “I read these emails and one thing I skim for, is what can they offer me? Are they offering me anything? Nothing? Moving on.”
Thank yous: Make sure your thanks is honest and thoughtful. There can never be too many thank yous in an email.
BUT most important thing: I attached a resume off the bat. Easy, accessible, no one needs to respond and ask me for it. It’s already there. ATTACH YOUR RESUMES AS PDFs! (lol)
Here’s another email I sent last year, responding to an open call for applicants via Facebook group. This more specifically follows my above format:
I saw your post in the SAMPLE NAME group and wanted to introduce myself! I’ve been working in the film music industry for the past 3 years, and have found myself wanting to be more involved/embedded in a bigger in-house team. I have experience doing audio cleanup, and music editing specifically, so I’m familiar with ProTools and Izotope RX.
In the future I would see myself wanting to be in an associate audio producer role. I think this contract position would be a great opportunity to experience what it’s like as a general audio team member (vs on an outsource music team).
I’ve attached my resume. I’m currently located in Los Angeles.
Looking forward to hearing more, please let me know if you have any questions for me. Thank you for your time!
All the best,
I don’t believe praise, or specific longform facts about how said person’s music changed your life, is needed in initial emails. It can be nice to read, and sometimes enticing to respond to, but in my opinion it’s all fluffy crappy BS. Add it if you want, but I’d keep it to around 1 or 2 sentences (anything more seems…awkward).
Here’s how I see it: You know your shit. You know yourself best. They probably know about their discography better than you ever will. Don’t ramble about how much you love the person’s whole discography – it often doesn’t get read.
Reiterating the important thing: Attach your resume. This is just a thing you’re going to have to do whenever you introduce yourself for a job.
There is no shame in sending emails asking for job opportunities. It’s all about tact, but the fundamental idea of reaching out should not be embarrassing.
Here’s one more email I wrote to an agent after my internship ended, when I was starting to look for full-time work after Berklee:
I hope your new year is off to a great start! My name is Nadia Wheaton. I hope you remember me, we met a few times over the past year while I was an intern to ______. I am looking for a music/composer assistant job, similar to the work I did for ______.
I helped him with office administrative tasks, booking studio sessions, as well as managing his website and social media updates. I also have experience with video editing, and of course other music-related tasks—I’m good with Pro Tools, Logic, Sibelius, Finale, and DP.
My study at Berklee was in film scoring and video game music composition. If you have any clients that need help, full-time or part-time assistance, I would greatly appreciate a referral.
I’ve attached my resume below for your convenience. Thank you so much for your help.
This email didn’t get a response. While written nicely, it could’ve been much more straightforward. Here’s how I’d approach it now:
I hope you’ve been well! We met several times last year while I was interning for your client ______. I remember your great advice about networking at GDC, and have kept it with me since.
My internship with ____ ended last month. If you have any clients that need help, full-time or part-time assistance, I’ve attached my resume for reference. I specialize in music-related work, but I am also extremely proficient with general admin/social media assistance.
Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate you taking the time to. Please let me know if you have any questions for me.
All my best,
Realistically, this probably wouldn’t get a response if the person is way too busy. But it is a lot shorter, more concise, and overall more confident. And a ballsy move. But this is my thinking: why the fuck not? if they don’t respond, I am in the same exact spot I was in before had I never sent it.
Never waiver in your confidence, but the tone of your emails should always be clear, thoughtful, and appreciative.
Keep your biography to the hard facts: Location, What type of composer, Genres or Projects you’ve worked on.
the follow-up email
What constitutes a follow-up?
- – Any pending email chain that does not have a new response for about 10-14 business days (unless an action date is specified)
- – Generally, any response
- – An in-person meeting or favor
responding when you don’t know what to respond yet (but you should respond anyways to acknowledge receipt!) AKA the “I’ll get back to you”:
Thanks for writing! I’ll touch base soon.
Thanks for the info! Could I get back to you when I have a more clearer idea about details? Hopefully in a few weeks. I’ll ping you closer to the date.
Thanks so much,
follow-up after you’ve met someone at an event:
My name is Nadia Wheaton, it was great meeting you at the IASIG party at GDC. I’m a freelance composer’s assistant, my most recent video game project was ________.
If you’re free to grab a coffee in the coming weeks, I’d love to learn a little more about your career path and would appreciate any insight you may have. I am a big fan of your video game scoring work and went through college watching a lot of your library tutorials! I’m also based in Santa Monica, but I can meet wherever is most convenient for you.
Hope your GDC was great and looking forward to hearing back!
It’s super important that you follow-up with contacts in a timely matter. Make action items for yourself!
follow-up after you’ve met said person ^ above:
Thanks for meeting with me and sharing some of your insight last week. I particularly enjoyed ______ and _______. Hope to keep in touch!
follow-up after an interview:
This is an important one. All interviews…phone, in-person, Skype, etc. need follow-ups.
general follow-up for a dead thread
Just pinging regarding below. Please let me know if you have any questions!
Thanks so much!
the email asking for advice or feedback on your portfolio/reel
It’s better to know someone well, and eventually ask them for feedback, or have that person connect you with someone else who can.
- – You need to have specific questions catered and relevant to that person’s career
- – Aimless, general fluff or questions tend to be wastes of time for that person to answer
My name is ______. My friend Nadia Wheaton recommend I reach out to you.
I am currently in my 2nd year at USC, majoring in video game scoring. I am also originally from the PNW, I noticed we have quite a few mutuals! If you have the time, would you be open to answering a few questions regarding ________?
Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate you taking the time. Looking forward to hearing back.
All my best,
To CC or not to CC your friend? Just ask your friend if it’s ok to put them on CC. Totally up to you.
So what’s the point of this all?
Any rational person would not get mad over a well-written cold email. Any rational person would also not get mad over a poorly written cold email (I hope!).
hopefully some of you can use these tips to write future emails, and maybe even use these as templates if you want! I didn’t learn any of this in school so I figured it’d be helpful to have this up somewhere.
(will add more emails in the future)
thx for reading
I have been adjusting pretty well to Seattle life…I’ve been kind of a nomad up until I moved here (living out of suitcases…well, I’m still basically living out of one except it’s my hamper + a bunch of clothes everywhere)
Dylan has moved up here after landing a job at a company across the street…he is finally here and loving his job
We’re still in the process of decorating…
I learned how to marie kondo
I attempted to try to own an exotic plant
I found my last piece of pink gear needed for my collection
and now all we need is a kitty. but i don’t think that will come for a few years 🙁
CW: domestic violence, abuse, suicide
I’d like to think of myself as someone who is constantly changing. I try to improve. Up until my early 20s (lol I’m still in my early 20s), I was a pretty bitter person.
The initial reason why I got into music composition isn’t a happy one. I wasn’t entirely in it for the right reasons (‘right’ is subjective – but what fueled me was a very toxic purpose).
Around 2013, while in college I started dating a classmate of mine, Tomoki Miyoshi. We were in the same freshman/entering class at Berklee.
Tomoki was a very gifted and advanced composer for his age. He was on a full composition scholarship, he placed in much higher music courses than your average entering student, and by that point he had already written music for big games like Soulcaliber V.
My relationship with Tomoki only lasted about 8 months (from Jan 2013-September 2013), but it was highly volatile. He got violent. He was a master manipulator, and really quite good at controlling the narrative. But the crucial part, despite how he treated me and how he was behind closed doors: he was likable.
Tomoki had this very dramatic and incredibly exaggerated way of romanticizing himself and his music. He was confident, condescending (people forgave him for the latter because his music was good):
I moved in with Tomoki summer of 2013, and things deteriorated pretty quickly. I was 19. The relationship became a pretty good definition of insanity.
I’d get dragged into very long, emotionally charged arguments. usually with the resolution that my IQ was too low. The weirdest one– Tomoki was convinced that Charles Manson was innocent. To him, because I believed Manson was rightfully convicted/in jail, means that I was a victim of mass media propaganda and had no brain of my own.
There was never any winning. The arguments eventually got violent, but sporadically at first. The subject could be about whatever. He started with pinching, twisting my skin. Then eventually shoving me into furniture. Then kicking.
Then it got so bad that I started hiding in our closet.
Fast forward to September 2013, Tomoki confiscated my keys to the apartment in a final argument. He was squeezing my head in frustration, and multiple times I thought he might crack it open. In between sobbing, yelling, and beating me, he tried to kill himself by jumping out of our apartment’s 2nd-story window. Wide-eyed and scared for my (and his) life, I hid all of the knives in the apartment and I got the fuck out of there.
I remember it being eerily quiet. It was starting to snow outside. I was in the living room of my best friend’s apartment. I’ll never forget the lump in my throat, my shaky voice, on calling my parents and having to explain that my boyfriend had been beating me for several months and I needed help.
My mom couldn’t believe it. I had constantly raved about how intelligent and talented he was. They met him.
My mom flew over to Boston to help me. My friends took me to file for a restraining order, the police escorted me to move my things out of the apartment. The college assisted me throughout it all.
There were detectives, a case, detailed pictures of the bruises I had received throughout our relationship. After their own investigation, the college decided to permanently expel Tomoki.
My college experience til that point felt like a Lifetime movie. I had close friends, but the majority of the friends I had made (with Tomoki) were no longer my friends. Half of the people who knew the story/witnessed the strangeness of our intense breakup, didn’t believe me. It was humiliating.
I was debating dropping out of college and returning home. i didn’t want anything to do with Berklee and with music.
But my mom posed a question: “Don’t you think you could write music like Tomoki? He always said you were too stupid to write music. Don’t you want to prove yourself, and prove him wrong?”
From that point, I had a deep, visceral conviction that I needed to be good at whatever I was trying to do. I declared my film scoring major. I was driven by the vision that I was going to be on top, unreachable, and be able to protect myself from Tomoki or anyone like him. I wanted to have the upper hand.
I admit the reason why I picked this industry wasn’t healthy. But with time, I have grown and found a new appreciation for what I do.
I look back at this part of my life and I am ok to speak about it pretty candidly. I haven’t had any contact with Tomoki for almost 7 years. I think he is sick and probably is suffering on his own.
I’ve heard stories from multiple people that he’s also been in relationships with – it’s quite odd when they’ve shared screenshots of Message history with him…it’s almost always the same kind of arguments. So familiar: something about how Tomoki has reached Nirvana, he’s spiritual and enlightened, and the person he’s dating is too dumb to understand what true happiness is. It really is odd.
I’ve moved on emotionally, I’m doing well in my own right. I feel like I am finally ready to share my story. It’s a very intense one and only a few close friends know all the details.
Idolizing someone is dangerous. When this was all happening, my impression was that Tomoki’s actions were always glazed over because he was talented. I see this kind of enabling happen all the time as a creative.
Thanks for reading
hi friends, it’s been awhile!
this week i had some thoughts about interviewing. I’ve learned some tricks over the years but really most of it is one thing: research. all of this might be common sense but i was never taught how to research for a job so i wanted to blurb a little about it!
Scenario: you’re applying for game company Meowy Studios (lol)
- – You will be an associate sound designer/audio coordinator/producer/whatever you imagine
- – You realllly want this job
AHHHHH!! Now how do we start researching?
LinkedIn is your best friend. I’m a big fan of LinkedIn Premium – i know we’re artists and our discipline isn’t quite applicable (music or audio), but LinkedIn is quite honestly the grooves of the key to the job you want. LinkedIn Premium gives you X amount of searches. It’s worth it, especially for one month if you’re crunching (haha) on the job search. The base price is $30/month – think of it as a one time investment and you can always cancel it as soon as you don’t need it anymore.
What do you search on LinkedIn?
Search Meowy Studios
Navigate to the company page and view their list of employees.
What shows up first are your 1st and 2nd connections. Take note of any connections you see that work there; depending on the situation you might want to reach out to them for advice. Your 2nd connections are also helpful, maybe you might have run into them at a mutual event or seen them at a party. I’ll talk more about this later!
Search Meowy Studios [Job Position] (the job you’re interviewing for)
Here you see three things:
- – the current job listing that is open
- – anyone at the company who had/has that role
- – any previous employees that previously held that role
From ^ the above you can then gauge:
- – what the turnover of the position is
- – the trajectory of previous people who held that position (whether they were promoted to a more senior role, whether they left the industry, switched disciplines within the same org, etc)
- – the potential for yourself if you get this role
- – the experience of past candidates
Search a combo of these things Meowy Studios Audio, Meowy Studios Producer, Meowy Studios Sound Designer, Meowy Studios Sound, Meowy Studios Music, etc.
You can find out how many people are exactly on the team and who your Hiring Manager might be.
2. Straight up Google
Google the sh** out of the company. Look at press releases, follow their twitter, pay attention to any publicity that might have come out.
- – Were there any mass layoffs covered in the press?
- – What organizations or non-profits does Meowy Studios contribute to?
- – Wikipedia (yeah, wiki the history of the company)
- – Game information (new IP, past projects that have been cancelled, etc)
- – LORE OF THE GAME YOU’RE APPLYING TO WORK ON haha
This is a big, big eye into the company culture that you so badly want to ask the Hiring Manager about. What is it like to work there? Well, no one can tell you better than Glassdoor. Make sure to make an account so you can see anonymous comments and salary ranges.
4. The Vault
Look up talks in GDC Vault, not only is this generally applicable but it also gives you insight about the tools Meowy Studios uses. Are they on a proprietary engine? What Wwise version do they use? Are they Agile?
And if you don’t know any of these things…study buzz words.
5. So I know a few people who work at Meowy Studios…what do I do?
Time to take a closer look and see whether it’s worth reaching out. I look at it pretty simply…most companies have an internal referral system where if an employee refers a candidate that successfully gets hired, the employee gets a cash bonus. An internal referral essentially puts you at the top of the massive HR pile; and sometimes goes straight to the Hiring Manager!
You reach out to someone, mention that you’re applying to the job, and if they’re not comfortable putting your resume into the system…Well, they weren’t very interested in helping you out.
But it’s not a big deal! A No from them still puts you in the same exact spot as before. Some people really are into the idea of referrals, some people are not. Take note of the ones who would go that lil extra mile to help you out <3
Tl;DR you have got nothing to lose when you’re looking for a new job. Go ahead and be confident in asking for help. At least you asked!
6. Play the game
7. Here are also some more tips from #gameaudio!
Thanks for reading today!! next blog i’ll talk about the actual interview process :O (conversational tips, what questions to ask, etc)
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…