Simon’ latest post tells of how he has, in later life, turned to music as a full-time professional, and his experiences training as a media composer.
As well as giving a special insight into his own personal journey, the post will be an encouragement to all considering a career in music.
Music – my passion
Music has been my passion since I was awakened to the beauty of composing ‘out of thin air’. I’d had lessons for about 10 years but had pretty much just followed what was written on the page. But then in my mid-teens I began to pick out tunes I heard on the radio and then graduated to making up my own music.
It was always a goal in my mind to have a career in music, but I didn’t know how to connect earning money and performing or composing.
Therefore, I went along another creative line: sign writing. Marrying at an early age also meant I needed a regular wage, and when our children eventually arrived, there didn’t seem to be any way I could move over to music as a career.
Throughout my life, I dabbled in bands and side projects for the sheer fun of it, but once I started my own sign writing business, I had access to lots of clients who had venues, restaurants and bars. This allowed me to casually chat to them while I was doing their graphic design and sign work and eventually start to carve out a few paid gigs around my home town.
I continued to compose songs and instrumentals, as a means of release after stressful days at work, but would inevitably forget them and not record or write them down.
This all changed when I bought a digital home studio and began a new chapter of music creation in my life.
Suddenly all the tunes that were in my head could be put down and recorded, but then also built on with multi-layers of instruments, percussion and sometimes vocals. This was when my appetite for composing was really ignited.
Now I reconsidered my ideas of moving into a music career. With this in mind, I began an exit strategy from my business of 30 odd years.
Each night and weekends, I would continue to record and compose music and having joined the SoundCloud community, was gradually getting to know other contacts in the worldwide industry I felt I now had enough skills to move over to.
Upon signing the sale documents for my signwriting firm, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Audio course.
I’d done some research and been to open days of various colleges, and felt the SAE institute was my best choice for learning the art of audio engineering and production. I felt my composition and musical skills were of a reasonable standard, but my recording, sound theory, use of microphones and general understanding of both analogue and digital recording processes were very limited, to say the least.
My first day on campus was a bit daunting, as I had not set foot in a school environment for over forty years. As I looked around the very young students in the hallways and classes I occasionally spotted middle aged people, only to find out later that they were there with their son or daughter to drop them off!
The first two trimesters in my education have proved to be a brain busting experience. Each day I’ve learnt about things that, for a creative person like myself, veered more into the scientific and mathematical realm. This is not something I’m naturally gifted in.
But as we recorded in the studios, many of these scientific theories about sound waves and the construction of different microphones started to fall into place, and the pain in my head, from stuffing it with so much information, now seemed worth it. It felt like every second day I was adding a new arrow to my quiver, in terms of engineering and production skills.
Learning about frequencies and using them creatively with EQ and instrument balance within a piece of music has been vital to getting my mixes to sound much more crisp and professional. The use of effects like reverb, delay and compression has also expanded my palette of adding colour to the music that I am recording, not only for myself, but now other artists as well.
Gateway to a new career
Another huge bonus in being on a campus that has many creative industries is that I have been able to connect with film students who require soundtracks for their short movies and animations. This was definitely one of the benefits I hoped would come out of further education. The chance to collaborate, meet and work with other students and hopefully make relationships that could further my reputation in the industry.
I guess because of the difference in age, and my relentless pursuit of this goal, I am really standing out amongst the other students. Quite a few pupils do not have music ability and are just seeking a career as an engineer and producer not a performer and artist. So this has also helped me to stand out from the pack.
All of the lecturers are still involved in the recording industry. Some continue work in studios whereas others will rent them to record bands or solo artists and then finish the mixing, production and mastering in their home studios.
This has also proved to be a god-send, as I have picked up session work through these invaluable contacts.
Is this possible for me?
Some of you may be wondering if this is possible for you? In retrospect, I would have loved to have enrolled and learnt through night classes on the various subjects I am now learning full-time. In essence, it all boils down to how motivated and driven you are.
Moving into a full-time music career may not be possible right now, or ever in your life, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to expand your skills in your chosen profession.
Whether it be theory, brushing up on sight reading, home recording, composition and so many other skills now available in educational institutions across the world, the sky really is the limit.
I don’t believe in the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. And subscribing to this mentality will only hinder your growth in so many areas.
Having a visual creative outlet throughout my career as a signwriter and now moving over to music production and composing, I’ve been blessed to have never worked a day in my life. If I didn’t need money to survive, I would have done it for free, I enjoyed both careers that much!
Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:
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