All of us experience defeat in our lives, and those of us working in music and sound experience it all too often. We can all recall the lost gig, the band that fell apart just as it started to break through, and our own mondo goof-up on an important mix. Maybe you were left feeling foolish or holding the bag. "In any event," you think, "I won't let that happen again."
Well, maybe it won't happen again, but the method of achieving that extra bit of protection often turns out to be raising a barrier that puts a safe distance between you and other people you work (or live) with. Even when the potential cost of not protecting oneself far outweighs the slight chill the barrier brings, it's still another brick in the wall.
By the time you've been roughed up a few times in business, you start to get tough and expend no small amount of energy guarding against potential vulnerabilities. Behind the scenes, the phantom menace creeps into your psyche as the folly of it all grows old and a cynical streak appears and widens with each bad experience, until pessimism and cynicism dominate your view. Once that happens, the thrill is gone, and you're headed for the exit. Your eye rolling and constant whining are unpleasant to be around and result in self-fulfilling prophecies of doom.
The situation sounds pretty desperate, but most of us struggle with this to a greater or lesser degree. Let's face it: the business of music and sound is brutal, and the rewards, while potentially great, are few and far between in comparison to the overwhelming difficulties and endless work required to turn a creative idea into a finished work or performance. Is there an alternative to this bleak scenario? If so, what trade-offs are entailed?
In the realm of human consciousness, there are no magic bullets or perfect solutions, but there can be hope. The most effective tactic I've found (not to suggest I have conquered burnout and bitterness) feels like a martial-arts technique. Essentially, I try to find a way to let negativity and anger pass through me and be carried away on the winds of time.
The first step is simply accepting the situation: something rotten happened, I'm frustrated and angry about it, and I'd like to have my revenge, get what I earned, or otherwise recover what I feel was taken from me. Refusing to let that be the case only causes me to internalize those feelings, which later re-emerge in a hundred destructive ways.
Once I've accepted events and my feelings about them, I am poised to change. If there is any rectification for some or all of the situation (revenge is not rectification), this is the time for me to identify it and do what I can. If nothing can be done, I can only move on.
The next-and, for me, the biggest-step is to find The Lesson. Every experience offers a lesson. Not all lessons are positive statements, but a lesson learned suggests a point to the whole exercise. This fixes nothing, but it does enable me to release a lot of "Why me?" feelings.
Finally, I try to put the lesson to use to help me see similar situations coming long before they happen and, when possible, simply sidestep them. When I can't get out of the way, then I may need to put up the barrier, but hopefully with an understanding full enough to let it be purposeful and temporary.
When these things work, I carry much less baggage in my career and life. When they don't, I feel like old Jacob Marley's ghost, adding another link to the chains I forge in life.
Larry the O provides music and audio services with his company, Toys in the Attic, and is a sound designer at LucasArts Entertainment.