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How important is age and talent?


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Here's a cool quote from Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life that seems relevant to this thread. He's talking about making stories, but it applies just as well to making music.

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

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Here's a cool quote from Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life that seems relevant to this thread. He's talking about making stories, but it applies just as well to making music.

That's a good quote. Tastes will inevitably change though.

As I've gotten better over the years with the music theory and actual writing aspect of music (I'll probably always be shit at production) I've realized that the more I learn and the better I get the more I hate some music I used to love.

Like, a lot of bands I used to love when I was first starting out; I can't stand a lot of their music when I listen to it now because I realize it was actually poorly composed. Just like how a lot of music genres I always thought I hated, like electronic music, I now love the shit out of them.

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FACT: Any talent can be learned at any age.

FACT: The biggest obstacle to reaching your goal is yourself. Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are correct. So just decide that I AM GOING TO BECOME A COMPOSER and forget about what all the battles along the way are.

MYTH: You should have a day job to fall back on. No you should not but you should not just quit and be poor either. You should think of some kind of job that you are interested in doing that is related to music. If your fallback job is unrelated to music, it will only be infinitely harder to become a musician. If you can get a music job there will be musicians around you to talk with, more opportunities involving music, and more possible collaborators. Your job should be a stepping stone, not a fall back option.

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FACT: Any talent can be learned at any age.

FACT: The biggest obstacle to reaching your goal is yourself. Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are correct. So just decide that I AM GOING TO BECOME A COMPOSER and forget about what all the battles along the way are.

Not always true.

I don't want to derail this into another cynical thread but I feel that the realities of making a living with music should never be denied.

There can and are often things aside from "yourself" that can stand in the way of the goal of making a living as a composer. Ranking in at number 1 would be simple business:

You can make a living (hopefully) at a 9-5 job because it is a regular schedule that pays you per hour and there are usually unions and shit that make sure you get paid. Unless you get fired, quit or something, that income will be there for you. This kind of deal only works for composers who work in-house and can't demand ridiculous amounts of money like the famous freelancers. All other freelancers have to fight for scraps.

Number 2 would be location. I'm from Canada. Let's say I wanted to be a film composer instead of a video game composer. Great, now I'm screwed because they don't make major films in Canada; they just do location shooting here sometimes. I would have to move to the USA if I stood any chance at all and good luck getting a work visa when all you want to do is make music. Actually, good luck getting a work visa to the USA regardless. Not to mention that major film work that pays the big bucks is slim to none and there are just a handful of composers in that field who have the market cornered.

3. Luck. Every gig I've done had luck play a substantial part in it regardless of my networking or anything else. Luck is always a factor.

At the end of the day, what does it really matter if you're making a living at music or not when in this day and age we can all tour, release albums and make music for indie games? Thought we were in this because we love music? Just as you said, try to get a day job that is relevant to music somehow.

Working at Wal Mart your whole life hoping that one day you'll make big bucks consistently in a field not exactly known for paying well on average is a far shittier life than having a day job that pays well and you enjoy doing and being the rockstar/composer/producer in your off time.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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As I've gotten better over the years with the music theory and actual writing aspect of music (I'll probably always be shit at production) I've realized that the more I learn and the better I get the more I hate some music I used to love.

Oh yes, I can agree on that 100%

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Most importantly, take advice FROM the people who succeeded.

Don't let the people who failed give you advice.

They have no clue what they're talking about.

I have gotten absolutely no where from the words of people who tried to make it but couldn't. The only useful words I've gotten to live by are from other people who I look up to.

If you surround yourself with successful people who have the resources/willingness to help you gain the right attitude and mindset, you will inevitably be able to succeed.

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The thing about being a soundtrack composer in this day and age is, how many indie composers actually do that as their sole source of income? Show me one and I'll show you a rare animal. Take someone like Zircon. He doesn't just do soundtracks, he has a soundware company, releases albums, does license/production music, teaches (I think), and probably a lot of other endeavors. He has diversified. Trying to become the next Nobuo is a fool's errand IMO. Either prepare to do a lot of different jobs like Zircon, or just be content with having a fun hobby.

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The thing about being a soundtrack composer in this day and age is, how many indie composers actually do that as their sole source of income? Show me one and I'll show you a rare animal. Take someone like Zircon. He doesn't just do soundtracks, he has a soundware company, releases albums, does license/production music, teaches (I think), and probably a lot of other endeavors. He has diversified. Trying to become the next Nobuo is a fool's errand IMO. Either prepare to do a lot of different jobs like Zircon, or just be content with having a fun hobby.

This is a pretty good point. The sole purpose of my pursuing degree (Computer Science & Music Engineering) is that I'm studying to incorporate multiple different fields/jobs into my later career, kinda like zircon. Sound design tools, discography, game composing, etc.

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Most importantly, take advice FROM the people who succeeded.

Don't let the people who failed give you advice.

They have no clue what they're talking about.

If you haven't noticed, it's typically the people who haven't succeeded that act like it's not that hard to make a living at this music thing as long as you play the game right.

I've honestly heard far more cautionary tales from people who've been successful than from those who haven't.

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Conversely, don't take ALL your advice from someone who succeeded. Artists with real success to their name usually have made every step a right one from the get-go, and that is attributed solely to good luck. A lot of successful artists really have no idea what real failure is like - they don't know what its like to spend thousands of dollars on an album that 6 people bought or go through a truly devastating music deal. Even if they don't mean to, they still live in bubbles and the best advice they hand out is "Just do what you love and don't charge less than $500 a minute for composition".

This is going to be the subject of a guide I start sometime this month that aims to provide a real look at music failure and alternative ways to possibly succeed. Never take ALL your advice from successes. You need to balance out your knowledge with advice from people like me who have failed in such spectacular ways I could almost design a Cirque De Soleil show out of it. :D

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A lot of successful artists really have no idea what real failure is like

Maybe it's just me, but this statement seems somewhat hostile. I'm sure a lot of successful artists actually do know what failure is like.

Aside from that, at what point is an artist considered to be successful? I'm also curious what qualifies as real failure.

I agree you should also seek advice from artists who have experienced failure, but the way you're wording it seems harsh.

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Originally Posted by Meteo Xavier viewpost.gif

A lot of successful artists really have no idea what real failure is like

Maybe it's just me, but this statement seems somewhat hostile. I'm sure a lot of successful artists actually do know what failure is like.

Yeah, I'm calling BS on that statement too. A lot of entrepreneur always seem to say that their first couple of businesses ended up failing before they managed to create something that works and is successful. I see no difference between them and artists except their career choice.

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If someone asks me how to MAKE it as a musician... I would probably tell them to Write music because you love to do it and b/c it gives you a sense of purpose and happiness to create. If it turns into something else then it is a great gift. But write to write, mainly. For the benefit it provides in the moment and for the memory of the experience. For many it gives their lives meaning and structure to do art. I probably belong to this camp myself.

The thing about being a soundtrack composer in this day and age is, how many indie composers actually do that as their sole source of income? Show me one and I'll show you a rare animal. Take someone like Zircon. He doesn't just do soundtracks, he has a soundware company, releases albums, does license/production music, teaches (I think), and probably a lot of other endeavors. He has diversified. Trying to become the next Nobuo is a fool's errand IMO. Either prepare to do a lot of different jobs like Zircon, or just be content with having a fun hobby.

THIS.

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Maybe it's just me, but this statement seems somewhat hostile. I'm sure a lot of successful artists actually do know what failure is like.

I think perhaps there is just a simple miscommunication here. There wasn't any hostility or specific examples intended, nor to create the idea of an overwhelming volume (that's why I used the word "a lot"), it's just a simple fact that a lot of artists are used to success and either don't know or remember what it was like when they were struggling, and they're also giving out advice that is mostly bland pleasantry instead of actual information or the reality of music making. I know these people exist, I've met over a dozen of them.

My point was simply not to just listen to one side of the spectrum. If you want a real picture of what doing music for a living is like, you need to listen to anyone and everyone, and then make the decision if you want to make that path and how to make it. You need both the optimists and the cynics, then you need everyone in between. Find people that sell hundreds of copies of their album, then thousands, then tens of thousands, etc. note what they say that resound within you, seek out examples, then from all that decide what is best for you and your interests.

I think my wording for that just should've been better. :P

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My point was simply not to just listen to one side of the spectrum. If you want a real picture of what doing music for a living is like, you need to listen to anyone and everyone, and then make the decision if you want to make that path and how to make it. You need both the optimists and the cynics, then you need everyone in between. Find people that sell hundreds of copies of their album, then thousands, then tens of thousands, etc. note what they say that resound within you, seek out examples, then from all that decide what is best for you and your interests.

I think my wording for that just should've been better. :P

Ok, got it. In that case, I agree. I've had bad wording plenty of times (occasionally in replies to your posts), no biggie.

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A lot of successful artists really have no idea what real failure is like - they don't know what its like to spend thousands of dollars on an album that 6 people bought or go through a truly devastating music deal.

if we are referring to the actually talented successful artists, I'm calling this statement total bs

those guys GO through failure and they learn from their mistakes and only get better

lots of the time they will fail miserably spending a buttload of money before they get big but one of the 6 people that see that record will be like "wow, maybe I should try and get a record deal with this guy" and then the rest is history. this actually is a rather common scenario.

Katy Perry's first record was an utter failure. it didn't even sell 100 copies. but people saw her talent and she kept going with it and eventually became one of the most successful pop artists of this decade. and I don't care what your opinion is, she really doesn't suck.

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I think we all pick up some things a little better and a little quicker than others but if there's one thing I learned when approaching a craft, it's that talent is sort of a lie. In most cases, a lot of what we consider talent is a result of a lot of long term experience and practice. Things seem easy for others because they put the hours into it and can get to decent and maybe above average results in shorter time.

I guess age is a bit of a factor in that the older we get, the more responsibilities we have, thus a little less time to a craft. But with that said, it's never too late to work hard at something.

If you want to be really good at something, stay humble, know your place, connect with others doing the same thing as you, and work your ass off. Things will eventually click.

TL;DR version > age and talent are factors but humility and hard work trump everything else

I personally think Global Trance hit the nail on the head in his first post. In addition to time and hard-work someone puts in to something, how efficiently you learn and practice can make a world of difference. Although, certainly as you grow older, it's harder and takes longer to learn and make skills stick... simply because you're body is breaking down. The myelin proteins that form on our nerves that we use for... well basically everything, are the key.

I think no matter how bad you think you are at something, you can still be one of the best at whatever it is. The most important thing you need is motivation and mentality of improvement. If you tell yourself you can't do something, then you can't, and vice-versa. The mind is a powerful thing.

If you're interested, I recommend a really informative book called "The Talent Code", by Daniel Coyle. He has a good deal of stuff on his website too: http://thetalentcode.com/

TL;DR: To briefly answer the thread topic, yes. Typically, your skills (myelin) grow faster the younger you are.

Edited by TheKrow
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Here's a cool quote from Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life that seems relevant to this thread. He's talking about making stories, but it applies just as well to making music.
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Thanks for posting that. It's just what I needed to hear at the moment, and I agree with it 100%. I've only been making music for just over 2 years now, and although I've come a decently long way in that short period of time, I pretty much always find myself feeling as though my music is lacking in some essential capacity, but it has been lacking less and less the more I listen critically, think critically, and respond to the insights I get from paying attention to what I hear in my music and in others' music.

So to offer my own take on the question at hand here, I had very, very little musical ability when I joined OCR and absolutely zero knowledge of production, nor did I have a natural ear for music or production. I spent a ton of time near the beginning improvising on piano (which I played for a few years as a kid, but I *never* did anything except play some sheet music and practice scales -- boring, uncreative "piano lessons" from some lady down the street). That helped me to develop a functional musical ear. Then, I watched a ton of tutorials, talked to a ton of producers who were and are still better than myself, applied what I learned, experimented on my own, and incessantly sought out the theory behind various mixing techniques and acoustics to understand at a fundamental level what I was doing when I turned X knob. That helped immensely, and I still feel and hear my production and musicality improving significantly from track to track, and I credit all of that to being aware all the time of what I'm hearing and considering ways to improve it. If I don't know how to improve what I'm hearing, I ask someone who knows better how to improve it. This mindset doesn't just go for my own music. I listen to Pandora in the car, and I "practice" my theory and production by listening critically to what I'm hearing, noting what I like and dislike, and putting it into practice when I finally get the time to sit down and write.

So I would say that I've cultivated 99% of my musical skills in the past 26 months or so. Am I a world-beater? Nope. But I'm definitely not a novice anymore, and I have a pretty solid grasp on what I'm doing most of the time when it comes to theory, composition, and production. No one in my family has any natural musical talent, and I don't believe I have much, either. Hard work, curiosity, not being too proud to ask for help, awareness, and acting on that awareness have been what I've found to be most helpful in overcoming my slow learning curve for music compared to more naturally gifted artists I know.

I absolutely believe in talent as that which defines one's rate of progression and, to a lesser degree, one's ceiling, but enough passion and curiosity and persistence can get anyone to be pretty proficient at just about anything they're physically/mentally capable of doing.

Edited by ectogemia
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