Riding The Freelance Rollercoaster

This week has been an intense one for sure. I started the week running a recording session at Capitol Studios. I was at one of my favorite studios doing one my favorite things to do. However the night before the session my anxiety was gradually ramping up. I thought through everything that could possibly go wrong. Our music preparation could have errors. I could make mistakes as I ran things from the booth. Maybe people wouldn’t listen to me. Maybe I would experience misogyny. I was on a high, but not in a good way. High stress, high anxiety, high irritability.

The session was awesome. It was intense, it was not without challenges, but in general it was brilliant. After the session I was flying high again, but this time with exhilaration, adrenalin and general appreciation for the cards life had dealt me. Everything Was Awesome. A couple of hours later the exhaustion hit along with the realization that I had so much work to do. There was a lot of music to write and no energy to do it. So I had a nap. That’s actually the remainder of my memory of Sunday. Napping and then presumably awaking from said nap and probably snacking. There was also a skype with my folks in there, which helped me process the day’s events.

Me, in my happy place, at Capitol Studios.

So that was Sunday. The came Monday. I was moving slowly (a state of being my bestie Jacques and I have now labeled “so snail”). I was on the low swing after my high the previous day and, not surprisingly, some personal things in my life were eating at me. I had to write my way through them (first in my journal and then in an email) just to get off the couch. I could feel that depression creeping in and the weight of the week’s work was feeling heavier. I had a concert work due on Sunday but before that I had a recording session on Thursday and the music was not written. Not one note.

By the end of the day I had written music for the recording session, to picture for a short doc. I felt good about it. But soon after sending it off for approval I received a prompt reply saying it didn’t work and we needed to take the score in a completely different direction. Back to square one. I needed to change gears on multiple levels – both on how to approach that particular project and also what to do about Thursday’s recording session.

Tuesday was a new day. I wrote something for the session to picture for a different project and by the end of the day I received approvals: we were a go for recording! My sprits lifted!! Now I just had to write the rest of it. Meanwhile I had a great day arranging on a different project. I received news that I had been brought to co-score a fantastic video game project. Good things were happening and I felt fantastic. Back up on the high.

Wednesday was the day before the session. Writing for live musicians is wonderful but, man, does music prep take a long time. Also I was organizing and producing this shared session so there was work associated with that aspect too. I was once again feeling the stress. I really wanted things to go well.

Thursday arrived and now I was fully stressed. Anxious about the session. Anxious about the music I had to record. Would I get it all tracked in time? Had I scheduled all the musicians to show at the appropriate hour? Could I accomplish anything else I had to do today because I really needed to. I was irritated. Stressed. Anxious. All the things.

Jumped in a lyft and headed to the session at the fantastic Greene Room. Everyone showed up on time, the players sounded amazing, the composers had had prepared wonderful music: it was just a great ride. We put all the social media posts up and in came the love. There’s nothing like seeing people positively react to an experience that you really enjoyed. I arrived home again on a lovely high but once it died off I was hit with exhaustion and faced with all the work that had to be achieved in the next 24 hours.

Shared session at the Greene Room recording music by composers Drum & Lace, Zoë Lustri, Becca Shack, Raashi Kulkarni, Arhynn Descy and me!

OK, that is enough play by play. You get the point: up, down, up, down. Sometimes I feel exhausted not by the work but by the emotional journey I go through in the space of a day…sometimes in the space of an hour. You can not get the approvals on something you wrote, and feel both disappointed and worried about coming up with a new idea. And then you can receive a phone call about a completely new project and suddenly you are up again. It is crazy. And it will drive you crazy, if you are not careful.

I experience my biggest dips when a project wraps. You have the high of being done, followed by a crushing low when you wake up and you are no longer working on that project. You miss it’s presence. That feeling, accentuated by exhaustion and the fear that a project like that will never come you’re way again, can send you sliding down into a low swing. Other times the end stages of a project can wear you down. The final deliverables seem to take forever. It is it’s own form of torture.

For me social media now also makes up a really interesting part of the rollercoaster. It is like sugar, right? When I post about a cool project and everyone jumps on, liking and loving it, sending their congrats, you feel so good. It’s a rush. Just like eating a delicious piece of chocolate or some concoction involving pastry and nutella. Ah, the SUGAR! Yass, I feel it!! But while I do believe the support of so many of those well-wishers is completely genuine, and would have also happened if you told them face to face, the deal we all hopefully realize is that social media is a facade that we control and doesn’t speak to any complete reality. It tells part of the story. The marketing is fantastic, yes. I am not saying quit social media. Not at all, I enjoy it. But even when you have a crazy amount of likes on a post about something you have accomplished, that will not help you when you are having a low day regarding your career journey. It will make you feel good for a second, it will help promote you to your audience, but it does little to benefit you in your time of rollercoaster-related need. It just makes those highs even higher, and therefore the lows ever more brutal.

What is the solution to this challenge? You cannot change the nature of this beast. This is the deal. It is full of ups and downs which are accompanied by timeline shifts and paired with financial concern. That is simply the reality of the creative world and really any freelance entrepreneurial existence.

I am sure you have heard about this concept: you cannot control the situation but you can control how you respond to the situation. With the ups and downs you need to find within yourself a place of balance. You need to anchor onto your center. You need to let the joy of the ups and the pain of the downs flow through you without locking you up or bringing you down. I read a fantastic book that has helped me immeasurably with this challenge: The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. Also reading about other creative’s challenges with the journey is so helpful. There’s the very personal artistic journey exposed in Day Book by artist Anne Truitt. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is also an excellent go to, as is Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech.

Some people they find center in their faith. Others have a practice that is not faith-based but has the same sort of functionality – traditions, rituals and a community of like-minded people. Beyond your faith, your practice or your community I believe it is helpful to have an understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. I came to the realization a number of years ago: this is what I want to do. Only This.

I have quit music a couple of times. I tried the day job – I was really good at it. Rose through the ranks quickly, did good work. But I was miserable. The only thing that makes me happy is doing this: writing music for media and supporting others who do the same. For me, doing this work and being an active part of this community feeds me in every way. So when things are crazy, when the lows are really low, I can come back to that knowledge that regardless of how hard things are in that moment, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

This is a hard life. If there is something else that could make you happy and it is easier and more stable I would recommend doing that thing. I have friends who have found work that is related to the freelance thing they were doing, but more steady. Work that is like a day job, but still exists within the world of media. They made decision to pull the switch and started actively seeking out the right position for them because they understood that being strictly freelance was not good for their mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The cost was too great. They needed a better option. To be able to not just survive the ride, but thrive, you need to really want a seat on this rollercoaster.

This is the other thing I know about myself: I freaking love this rollercoaster. Some days are brutal, no doubt, but I have already had the experience of receiving a life-changing call, and I am now addicted. That happened when composer Miriam Cutler called me in December of 2012 after I had been in LA for 7 days. We’ve been working together ever since and one of the latest projects I worked on with her, RBG, just got nominated for an Oscar this year. How cool is that?! Another call I received was to work on Wild Wild Country which last year won the Emmy for best documentary series. At the time of the call I was only supposed to do music prep on one cue. I ended up working on a number cues on the project with the composer Brocker Way and one of my arrangements ended up on the soundtrack . I am still working with the Way Brothers today.

Nine years ago a composer/sound designer Brendan Hogan asked me if I would be interested in a loose partnership. I would suggest him for sound design work on my projects and he would put me up for composing when his projects needed one. I said yes and this month we wrapped one of our latest projects together co-scoring the video game trailer for the stunning game “Beyond Blue”.  Now we will be co-scoring the actual game. Collaborating with Brendan and his company Impossible Acoustic brings me so much joy.

I’ve worked really hard and as a result been a team member on amazing projects. It just makes me hungry for more. But when I jumped on the rollercoaster there was no guarantee this would happen. All I had was the certainty that it was the only place that I wanted to be.

See you on the ride?


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