I feel I can safely assume that many of you reading this have dreams. Some of these dreams can take years, or even decades, before they finally come to fruition. Some dreams have not been so fortunate.
Variations on Endless Handbag started from a dream dating back to 2014 -- or, depending on how we look at it, perhaps earlier.
"I can do it too!"
On many occasions I have spoken with composer friends who spoke of their longing to be like a certain composer they admire. Here, let's use an example: Austin Wintory, the man himself, who wrote the deeply moving and timeless soundtrack of the game Journey.
I have come across people who have said in words along the lines of, "I wish I could compose like him."
My response to them, and to anyone thinking similarly? "No. Stop that right now. You are Austin Wintory (or, INSERT ESTABLISHED COMPOSER NAME HERE). You have the capability to do that, and even surpass him. Now more than ever, you must believe in what you can do, and show it to the world."
I encourage many friends in this way, because a big part of getting ourselves out there is first having the confidence in ourselves and in our work, the confidence that comes from within. The actions and words of others can erode that confidence, especially when we are stung by them -- for instance, a rejection or a snarky review. But that should not diminish the fact that we have so much to give. It shouldn't diminish the fact that our voices, artistic or otherwise, deserve to be heard. Yes, let me make it clear that if you are aspiring to compose as well as your favourite artist, believe first and foremost that you are capable. And never let go of that belief, because it will see you through difficult times, and propel you to greater heights if and when opportunities arise.
Heck, if there is anyone out there sitting there longing to compose like I do, let me say it right now: you have the potential and the capability to do that and even surpass me. And so you should. Let's keep striving for that excellence, that ability to blow listeners' minds in new ways each time. I don't like putting musicians on a pedestal, and by the same vein, I don't want to be put on a pedestal myself. That's not what artistic endeavours are about. They're about expression, putting into craft what is difficult to put into words. They're about dreaming up the impossible and turning it into words, pictures, music, or dance, for example. This should be within the reach of anyone, not just the few who get to be glorified.
The dream that came true
When I was in my late teens, I had a dream of writing a musical -- or, failing which, songs that would sound like they belong in musicals.
I wanted to put my feelings to music, but I also wanted my stories to be told through lyrics and dialogue. I also used to watch plenty of 90s- and 00s-era Disney animations growing up; my favourites were The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan. The lyrical pieces and leitmotifs in many of these films have doubtless influenced me. There are plenty of other influences, but these were the earliest.
I struggled. It took me a long while before I was confident that my lyric-writing would not sound unwieldy. When I began writing music of my own, I didn't have access to a digital audio workstation (DAW) so I could not make quality-sounding music on a computer. I only had a piano and a phone that could record in poor quality .AMR. Later on, I made the shift to Audacity and a cheap PC microphone. A friend gifted me FL Studio some time later, but even then, I didn't know the first thing about mixing, or about how to record well. There were constant complaints from friends who were listening in regarding how it was well composed, but so poorly produced.
Things would change in 2019. I received plenty of mixing and recording guidance from a number of friends up until that point, but one of them sat me down in front of my DAW and patiently taught me the basics.
In my previous post I'd spoken about emotional authenticity. When something clicked in my head back in 2019, I finally began to understand how a good combination of composition, balanced production, and heartfelt lyrics, could lend themselves to that emotional authenticity. I felt that these musical-quality songs were starting to finally be within my reach.
In 2014, after I first heard the original Endless Handbag by FDA / LHM, I had ideas to turn it into something that could be heard in a musical -- an extension, perhaps, of my teenage dream.
On 26 June, when Variations was finally released, I received a comment from a composer friend, Rob Glenister, that finally assured me that I had reached my goal at last. I felt elated. My response to him was apropos, and it's the final thing that I'll be talking about in this post:
Making dreams come true
It would be a lie for me to say that it's entirely down to hard work. Hard work, for the most part, helps us to sharpen our skills, and keeps us going through tough times.
Hard work doesn't account for opportunities presented to us at any stage of our lives, especially earlier in life. Some of us may be presented with the chance to pick up the skills we've always dreamed of having, later in life, but even that is no guarantee of success.
Hard work doesn't account for the fact that the poor and marginalised people are still fighting so hard to tell their own stories, but are being ignored -- and their stories are being co-opted by other groups of people who think they can tell these stories better, but often fail miserably.
While I have put time and effort into my art, I cannot deny the privileges of having been taught the piano early in life, of being able to take up the drums, of having the equipment that permits me to produce and record, and of having the space to record a full drum kit. All these were factors that contributed to the success of Variations. These are things that I am painfully aware that many do not have.
Off the top of my head, I can think of a few ways to help make more dreams come true:
Allow the arts to be taught in schools. Some of you may be aware of this, but there are numerous reports in the UK about funding to arts programmes in schools being slashed, causing these programmes to close. It breaks my heart. Young minds exposed to the arts may choose to pursue the arts, which is a valid career path that should be encouraged -- as the arts have the potential to spark the imaginations of many and rouse people to emotion and change.
Bursaries, equipment giveaways, or internships at creative enterprises for poor / marginalised people who are interested in the arts, regardless of age. That last bit is important. I have seen so many arts bursaries with an age cap of 21 -- and this is bound to exclude people who have not had the chance to pursue their artistic dreams early on, due to circumstances beyond their control, including, but not limited to, systemic discrimination. Everyone deserves a chance to achieve their dreams, and we shouldn't be making it harder for whole groups of people by telling them "Oh, you're over 21, that ship has sailed!" Such rhetoric breaks my heart. Conversely, it heartens me to see people on social media giving away old, or even new, equipment to people who cannot otherwise afford it, or pointing out free software giveaways or massive discounts, because it helps at least a few more dreams come true.
Connecting and networking with people, and encouraging them to do the same. As much as we hate to admit it, creatives often get renown from being in touch with other creatives. Many creative friends of mine have obtained work, recording spaces, equipment, or other benefits, due to recommendations by the connections they have made. The core of networking is friendship, and friendship entails encouraging our friends as best as we can, and... well, being their friends. The benefits are the sideshow; the community and friendships are the things that should last. No creative ever truly succeeds on their own, and ultimately, no one is an island. As my friend and award-winning video game composer Chel Wong puts it,
I remember someone saying that there's enough work out there for all of us to succeed, we can all make it together. There's no reason to undercut others, the only thing you'd be doing is cutting yourself off from your community. Hype and help out your homies; we can all (succeed).
I want our creative dreams to come true. It is not enough for me to simply rest after I have achieved a dream of mine. I'm painfully aware that there are so many songs that we'll never be able to hear because many people have never had the chance to embark on their own creative journeys owing to circumstances beyond their control. I feel like I could write a whole separate post about the importance of levelling the playing field at some point. Right now, however, I feel like I can only touch and go on the various things that made Variations on Endless Handbag even possible.