Sunday, 19 May 2013

The 15 things a theater composer should never do

Many books and blogs offers you long lists of dos and don'ts. As a songwriter for musical theater you may get confused about which lists makes sense and which ones can just be ignored. Each list is simply the personal opinion of whoever wrote the list. I used some of those list and changed it a bit to my own liking, reflecting my own experience and opinions.

1. Do not think that there is any one list of dos and don'ts that make the world go round. There is no such thing as THE magic formula. These lists are only opinions. Sometimes they are opinions of people with experience, so do not disregard them totally, but do not follow them religiously. You have to do what works best for you. Listen to all the advice you get, then follows what works best for you.

2. Don’t burn your bridges. Do not be rude or dishonest. You can never survive in the theater world without other people. The theater industry is just too small. You path will cross again with that person you have been rude to today. That person who brings your coffee today just might turn out to be the production manager on your next show. And yes, there are those who will treat you like snake poo today. Resist the urge to return the favor, knowing that one day the roles will change and that person will need you.

3. Do not get worried about debates about what come first, the music or the words, or what the ultimate chord progression is, or whether or not you should be allowed to edit a song as you go along, etc.. These are just ideas to get you started. They sometimes work for some people and sometimes they don't. Most often, those who preach these formulae don't even follow them all the time. Most song writers will do different things at different times. Try these ideas and do then what works best for you. Put all these ideas in your toolbox for use when they are needed. The most successful songwriters are those who know how to best use all the tools in their toolbox.

4. Do not imitate your idols. Be yourself. Learn from your idols, but if you want to be successful, you have to have your own style, your own approach. People will quickly notice if you try to pretend to be like anyone else. They already have a Stephen Sondheim and a Andrew Lloyd-Webber. They do not want another one. Take from these masters what makes them great and put your own spin on it.

5. Do not hate someone for the feedback they give you. Remember that everybody will not love everything. If you can not take criticism, you are in the wrong business. You would be better off sorting apples in Alaska. Most of the time when you pitch your work for criticism, that person is genuinely trying to help you. You do not have to agree with that opinion, nor do you have to follow every piece of advice, but gracefully accept the few nuggets of gold that comes your way. Be open to criticism. It will make you a better song writer.

6. Do not forget the basics. Good spelling, sound grammar, correct formatting, etc.. They are the foundations that makes the difference between the true professionals and the forever amateurs. Always remember, if a busy publisher has 20 submissions on her desk and very little time to go through them all, the first ones that will hit the dustbin are those that look like fish paste with spelling errors.

7. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Always be working on your next project or idea. Keep your creative side going while you are focusing on the business of selling your last work. Sometimes it helps to clear your mind when you get stuck on a project by focussing on something new.

8. Do not follow the latest and hottest trend in a hope to make a quick buck. A musical takes a lot of time to get from the basic idea to be the next hit on stage. By the time you have gone through the loops, the trend will likely have passed.

9. Do not get overly attached to your babies. We all have our babies. It might be a favorite character, a song, or a specific scene. A time may come when you just may have to loose that character. You may have to become ruthless for the sake of the story as a whole, by getting rid of a character or song that just does not work. Sometimes you may feel that your song is the next big hit on Broadway. If it does not enhance the story, you may have to get rid of it.

10. Don’t hate somebody else for being successful. If you are pitching a work for production against several other writers, remember that it is not a contest for prom queen. If you do not win, do not be spiteful about those who made it. Be happy for them and congratulate them. Next time, they just might support you to get the job. Even if you think that your show would have been so much better, keep your thoughts to yourself. By bitching and moaning about it, you will only come across as... well .... a moaning bitch.

11. Do not get lost in your cave. Go out and experience life every once in a while. Go to the theater and watch a musical. Go watch a show. Go watch as many shows as you possibly can. Get involved with the shows. Help out with the production on other shows. All the experience you can gather will come in very handy when you write your own show. If you hate watching musicals, well.... I have good news for you. Don't write them.

12. Don’t assume writing songs for musical theater is easy. Writing a song is hard work. Writing 25 song for a musical is not only 25 times harder. It is 100 times harder, as you have to make sure that all the songs work together. Do not think you can write a musicals with a collection of pretty songs thrown together. That will end up being a concert, not a musical. Well... not that there is anything wrong with making a concert to work!

13. Do not let the trolls get the better of you. Know that there are people out there who just troll for the sake of trolling. Learn to recognize them for what they are and ignore them. You will find them on blogs, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Sometimes you'll even find them posing as critics in legitimate newspaper columns. It’s not personal. Learn to recognize and ignore those that are just a waste of you energy.

14. Do not think you know it all. How many books do you have on your shelf about songwriting? Do you you have the idiot's guide for songwriters? You mean you do not need it? Well, I have news for you. If you did not even read the idiots guide, then even the idiots know more than you about songwriting. How many books have you read about the business side of the music industry? Do you realize that being a songwriter is like having your own business? Did you follow the advice in that book to register all your songs with the royalty collection agency? Did you draw up that songwriting contract before you started writing songs for your friend's musical? You might be loosing out on a lot of money. You do not have to read absolutely every book on the market, but the more you read, the more you will know.

15. Don't ever give up. Sometimes it may feel like you are going nowhere. Sometimes you may feel that you are just not good enough. Sulk for a short while, and then get over it and get back to working. Keep on writing. That is what you want to do. Nobody had a hit with his first song, well.... at least most. Keep going at it. Once you have 20 unpublished musical manuscripts on your shelf, you may want to go back through them and one of them just might be the next show to celebrate a 20 years run on Broadway.

Everybody has their own lists of dos and don'ts, and I would love to hear from you what you think, so please add your ideas and opinions in the comments below. Here is my list of things which you should not do of you want to wrote songs and music for musical theater.

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