This week I want to examine the issue of accepting work. As we are freelance creatives we have work coming in at all different times. We are constantly having to adjust our calendar as new projects come in, projects that were locked in are then put on hold for an indeterminate time, and other projects suddenly have to be done in half the time. It’s a juggling act and it is hard to know when to say yes and when to say no.
Or is it?
There are many times where it doesn’t make sense to say yes. But you can say Yes, And….
The concept of “Yes, And..” comes from the world of improv. From wikipedia:
“Yes, and… is a rule-of-thumb in improvisational comedy that suggests that a participant should accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”). It is also used in business and other organizations as a principle that improves the effectiveness of the brainstorming process, fosters effective communication, and encourages the free sharing of ideas.”
A great movie where you see Yes, And in action is in the Mike Birbiglia film Don’t Think Twice about a comedy improv troupe. An excellent example of someone not knowing how to do Yes, And is Michael Scott trying to doing improv in this scene from an episode of The Office (and turning every situation into a shootout).
The way I have taken this concept into my working life is when work comes my way that either I cannot do, or do not want to do, I suggest someone else who I know is perfect for the job. This means a few wonderful things: 1. I never say no. 2. I can bring work to other creatives who need it. 3. The work gets done by someone who is the right fit. In order for me to be able to do this effectively, I have to know people! I have to be plugged into my community. I need to have relationships that are honest and trustworthy.
I have this habit of “collecting people”. I love meeting good people, finding out their skills and what they excel at, filing it away in my mind and pulling out that information when the opportunity arises. Let me tell you: there is nothing more wonderful than connecting two people together in a working partnership that is absolutely complimentary. It’s the best. But to be able to collect people you have to know people, and know them well. It is so important because you want to set others up for success, not failure.
In order to be willing to do this you have to have a Prosperity approach instead of a Scarcity approach. First let’s look at the negative: Scarcity.
When you practice a Scarcity mentality you are fearful that work will be taken away from you. You’re worried there is not enough to go around, or if you suggest someone else they will be better than you and therefore you will continue to lose work. So you hold on tight to everything that comes your way. You don’t let others in and you don’t refer work onto other people. This is a really lonely way to operate. It also results in either you saying yes to everything and you being overworked and lacking balance in your life, or saying no and that work source going elsewhere, and perhaps never coming back. This is depressing. Let’s move on to Prosperity!
The Prosperity approach is one of openness and generosity. It is faith that there is enough to go around, and helping others will benefit everyone (including yourself). “A Rising Tides Lifts All Boats.” You let work flow through you to other people. You say yes to what you want to do and you recommend qualified people for the work you can’t or don’t want to take on. You also bring people on to help you on a project instead of killing yourself doing it alone. Yes, this means the project pays you less. I know. But at some point you need to ask yourself, is the exhaustion of trying to do something alone worth keeping every penny or does it make sense for you to bring on a trusted person to help you, support you and elevate the work.
Yes, And is the reason that Joy Music House came about. Here in LA I was initially doing support work for composer Miriam Cutler (someone I still work with to this day, now score producing and orchestrating). Miriam and I often talked about how composers didn’t always need a team to help them but how great it would be if there was a pool of people to pull from when help was needed. I loved this idea and basically starting doing it, informally, as more support work came my way. As of last year the team had grown to a significant point but was always referred to as “Catherine and the team.” Every one who was working with me was, like me, a composer who in addition to their own scoring work enjoyed doing support work. They all deserved more visibility than just “and the team”. As a result the score production business Joy Music House was born. It put a title on something that had been happening for years. In case you are wondering: JMH covers work in all areas of the score production arena: assisting, music prep, orchestration, producing scoring sessions, arranging and additional music. Composers supporting composers.
JMH allows me to funnel work to other composers as things come in that fit their skill set. It also gives me a platform to continually discover others who are in a position to take on more work. But if I was scared of being eclipsed by other composers, or losing work, this would not have come about. What a massive loss that would have been for me, personally.
I cannot express how wonderful it is to work with a team. It isn’t like we are all in the same room every day. Often we don’t see each other for weeks! But knowing you have a group of people around you who you can count on and lean on is amazing. This is what makes music making FUN! And that is the experience we try to provide for JMH clients. One of community, support and (most importantly) high quality work. This is the experience you can create for yourself in your community when you start opening up to include others into your working world.
But it isn’t easy.
I may have told you this story before: Sundance had this one-day composers lab here in LA that was open to all composers, back in 2012 I think. It was a day of hearing multiple composers talking about their work process and experiences. One of those composers was the great Thomas Newman. He talked of collaboration. He would write themes and then have a trusted ensemble of musicians he had worked with for years come in and play his themes, improvise on them, help him develop them. As I was listening to him speak I became Really Anxious! The idea of bringing someone into any aspect of my creative process totally upset the control freak aspect of me…..that’s like…most of me. Ha! I was really surprised at my own reaction and in that moment decided to pursue a more collaborative approach to my creative process. I started writing music with other composers I trusted and respected. it upped my game, big time. Learning how to do this with other composers I respected made me a better creative, all round.
With all of this I hope you have noted that I have talked about working with people I really know, trust and respect. I understand their strengths and weaknesses. I do my best to ensure a good partnership. When you work with others, or when you send work to others, the reality is that the end product will reflect on you, whether it is positive or negative. Of course you can’t tell the future. You can’t know about every aspect of what is going to happen and inevitably sometimes things will not be successful. But it is so important that you do everything you can when either collaborating or sending work to others, to set everyone up for success.
One more point to make about Yes, And. In 2016 I was brought on to orchestrate a film scored by Scott Greer starring Joseph Fiennes called On Wings Of Eagles. Scott was recommended to me by another composer I am continuing to work with, Steven Argila. After we had done a little bit of the work on the film together and Scott had gotten to know me and my music he unequivocally stated: “You have to do additional music on this film. Having additional music credits will help you continue to build your career.” He was spot on, of course. But I was so blessed and blown away by how he was looking out for me in this way. It was a great opportunity and I was so grateful that he suggested it without me even having to ask. Throughout that project he did everything he could to give me visibility. I met the producers. I went to the dub. I learned so much through that experience but my biggest take away was his generosity towards me. I wanted to be like that.
The best way you can take care of composers coming up through the ranks is to support them in this way. And if you want to see changes in diversity and inclusivity, this is the best way you can do it. Give opportunities to people. Let them shine and acknowledge their wonderful shininess when it happens!
I hope you start looking for ways to incorporate Yes, And into your life. I hope this for you because I believe that even though it may not always be easy, it will enrich your creative life and your workflow. Be someone who not only does good work, but introduce people to others who also do good work. Be a connector and have faith that your openness and generosity will benefit everyone, including yourself.