You don’t become a professional trailer music composer without picking up a few tricks along the way.
One of the most valuable ones is obviously knowing how to ignore/defeat/control the inner critic.
We all have those little voices in our heads, usually saying mean things. The trouble always starts when you start to listen and believe.
In this episode I give you my tips and tricks on how to overcome those voices so that you can just focus on what matters, writing music that you love!
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast. Now in this episode I’m going to be talking to you about dealing with your inner critic and giving you, hopefully, a few helpful tips as to how you can do this, because as composers and any creative will tell you, the shadowy demon whispering untruths to you in your ear is a real problem that can derail a wonderful train of thought, or a wonderful idea. It can derail you completely to the point of almost paralysis when it comes to writing. I have been on that end of it where I’ve got to the point where actually I can’t really write music because all I’m thinking is negative things about what I’m doing. Beyond me getting to the woo-woo hippie stuff that I very much enjoy, I’ll deal with the sort of day-to-day stuff.
The first one—it’s almost like I wanna categorise these into minibeast names. This will be the mean bully this one, this is the one that destroys any seed of an idea. This is the one where you’re sat down to write some music and you play something and the first thing you hear is, ‘Well that was rubbish.’ Ah-ha, the mini beast is here! Now that’s your inner critic being it’s dastardly self. I’m not gonna give you a magic bullet here, just in case you’re hoping for me to give you a magic bullet. What I’m gonna be giving you is just tips to deal with this, because it’s a real problem. So my first tip is a really obvious one, and you’re going to be like, ‘Oh, what? Are you seriously saying this Rich?’ Is to ignore it. It’s kind of like when you’re at school and you’re having a problem with someone at school and you go home to your parents and you go, ‘Hey, I’m having a real problem, this boy at school is being mean.’ One of the first things, aside from, ‘Have you told the teachers?, is your parents will say, ‘Just ignore them.’ Despite it being really really obvious advice, it’s really important here because you’re just ignoring it. It’s just a thought. Now that’s the really important thing here. Say you’ve come up with your idea, right? And it’s a riff, because most of us will come up with a riff or a sonic stamp. The thing that says that’s rubbish, is just a thought. It’s not the truth, it’s not actually what you think, it’s just a thought. So you just—well I should actually say it’s not actually what you believe. It’s just a thought, so you just ignore it. You go, ‘Yeah, ok, I’m gonna carry on.’ Don’t delete what you’re doing, just carry on. Then you carry on and that voice will be like, ‘Ah, this is getting worse!’ You go, ‘Ok, I’m just gonna carry on.’ Then you carry on and you come up with another idea and that voice goes, ‘You know what? Why are you even bothering with this?’ And you go, ‘Ah, I don’t even know why I’m trying. I should just give up.’ Don’t do that. Ignore it. Ignore that little bully in your mind and just keep writing. If you get to the point where you’re almost not writing, just stop. I’m obviously not advocating stopping writing as a way to deal with the inner critic, what I’m advocating here is that if it gets to the point where you can barely hear your own ideas for this nasty voice in your head, then you’re probably not in the right place at that point in time to be creative.
Now there is an alternative to stopping, and that is to give it the finger. So we’ve tried ignoring it and you’ve kept writing. We’ve tried ignoring it, kept writing. Now this is a good one, I like this. Going back to the teenage years and the childhood years, as a teenager your parents were like, ‘Whatever you do don’t do this.’ As a teenager, if you were slightly rebellious—which I wasn’t really, I was very obedient—you’d kind of give your parents the finger. Not literally, because you’d get told off and that would be scary. You’d be like, ‘[noise] I’m not doing what you’re saying, I’m going to do something else’, or maybe even, ‘I’m gonna do exactly what you told me not to do.’ So what you’re gonna do is, you’re gonna kind of give that voice the f-you. Create something that is horrible. [Laughing] It’s like, ‘Ok, you want some horrible sounds do you, Mr Meanie? Take this! [noise]’, and then that’s it. Do another one. Just start producing weird weird stuff that you think sounds weird. The voice in your head sounds weird, you feel is weird. It’s just an exercise to exercise that demon, because what you’re doing is you’re kind of flushing the voice out with ideas, because that’s what the inner critic is. The inner critic is just a block to your natural flow of creativity. As an antidote to that, you just let your natural creativity flow. Your natural creativity doesn’t judge what you’re doing, your natural creativity just wants an outlet to produce, to let stuff out. So if you hear that inner critic, and you’ve tried ignoring it and carrying on what you’re doing and it’s just not happening. Then you go, ‘Ok, new session. I’m going to save that last piece and I’m gonna open up a new session that’s called Fork You Mr.’ And you’re going to make noise. You’re going to just let the ideas flow from one to the other. This is just an extension of ignoring, but rather than just ignoring, you’re taking an active stance against the inner critic. Now this process naturally develops and as you get better at this you don’t have to create sounds that you don’t like. You don’t have to create bad sounds, you don’t have to kind of force this outlet because actually by continuing writing you are forcing the outlet. What you will find over time is that once you start writing the inner critic disappears. This comes back to my earlier podcast about writing and not editing, because the inner critic is actually incredibly useful when you’re editing. If you treat this little inner critic, this first one, as—this first one just basically tells you all your ideas are rubbish by the way—as a little minibeast, you put that minibeast in a cage by practicing this active flow of sound. Then when you finished your writing session and you wanna sit down to edit, or change, or alter a cue, you get that little guy out. I mean the mean inner critic. Because actually, once tamed that inner critic is very useful because it then helps you decipher how to edit an existing idea.
Let’s summarise that section there: this is the critic that tells you your ideas are rubbish. The one that just—when you’re trying to come up with—you’ve had a brief from a publisher and they’re like, ‘Hey we’ve got this new trailer coming out for Avengers Infinity War Endgame Mark 5 and we need something huge and epic, that’s original and sound based, and actually not orchestral.’ You start writing and that inner critic goes, ‘No, this idea is not good enough for the Avengers Endgame Infinity…’ Whatever. You do that and then you end up just going in circles and circles and circles and not producing anything. So once you have tamed that inner critic, I don’t mean got rid of them, tamed them to the point where you can let ideas flow easily and quickly and then when it comes to then editing the idea you then use that critic because there we go, that’s what we’re doing, it’s like the critic then becomes a little teacher. Once you’ve tamed this little demon, it becomes a little teacher that comes along and goes, ‘Hmm, you know what? In this second section of your track, have you tried this? Because I don’t think this is working.’ It suddenly becomes a helpful voice because you don’t write and you don’t edit at the same time.
Right, onto the next one. Now this is like, the bigger of the beasts when it comes to the inner critic. This inner critic is the one that’s probably across the board, and isn’t just to do with your ideas. It’s probably more about yourself, and this is the one that says, ‘You’re just not good enough, are you? You’re just not capable.’ This is the real meanie, you know? This is the one that perhaps your parents are gonna move schools for you. This is the one that’s gonna absolutely demolish your self confidence and really take you down one too many pegs. Now this one, I won’t approach this subject lightly because it can be a serious issue for some of us. Some of us can have real confidence issues about the work we produce and even our abilities to produce anything. So take this with a pinch of salt, because obviously it might be to do with other things. Obviously this is no medical advice or psychological advice, this is my tip as one trailer composer to another, how to deal with the imposter syndrome that you’re not good enough. Let’s be honest with you, without sounding like—I love saying woo-woo, or crunchy, whatever you guys wanna say. Talking about things like metaphysics. Without talking about that and the law of attraction and things like that—Oh I will dive into that because I love talking about that stuff. I wanna just say this one thing to you, from one composer who has suffered and does occasionally still suffer from that, to another: you are good enough. It’s like, you just are! You may not have all the right parts of the puzzle in place right now, but that doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. You are good enough! Let’s just transpose this thought into another scene. You are a father or a mother, right? And you have children, and one of your children is learning to play the piano. This is how ridiculous that thought is. So you sit down as a composer and you sit down and that voice goes, ‘You’re not good enough, why bother?’ That voice is the same voice that you will see children have when they sit down for their very first piano lesson. Some of them, and I have heard 5 year olds say this to me, ‘I’m not good enough.’ It’s like, ‘Err, well of course. Hold on, you haven’t even touched the piano. Of course you’re not gonna be a concert pianist.’ But these things need to be progressed, you need to practice. You need to work at your craft, and here’s the key word: you need to persevere. When I started out in trailer music, I wasn’t good enough to get the trailers that I wanted to get. But it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough. My current work and my current awards tell me that now. I am good enough, and the same goes to you. You are. You are just on a path right now. If you’re saying to yourself you’re not good enough because you’re not winning anything, just keep practicing. Just keep going, because the people I’ve worked with who have persevered are the people that are still earning money from this stuff. The people who I’ve worked with who’ve let that thought win, that you are not good enough, why bother? They obviously have just given themself a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are no longer doing it. The same is countlessly true for all my friends who are in bands as well. ‘Oh, I’m not good enough, I’m not earning money, I’m not getting this, I’m not getting that…’ You know what? Sometimes it takes bloody ages. Sometimes it takes years. It took me years, because I was learning a craft and I was learning to enjoy again. Because school just knocks enjoyment out of you. School and the education system in most countries just ruins creativity. Essentially school, especially in this country in England, school is basically a system that’s based upon training kids to work in factories. All sat in desks facing the same way, working to a set time during the day, and solving specific problems. Not across the board creativity in problem solving but just learning things. Learning is like how to do this, learning how to do that. That is important, don’t get me wrong, but the school system and the education system fails a lot of people’s creative impulses. We’re all creative. You obviously are because you’re listening to this and—I’m not tooting my own horn here saying that yes, if you listen to this then I am the font of creativity. I’m saying you’re obviously interested in creativity. You are a person, you are creative, you can create, and that’s what you’re doing. You are good enough to create, you just need to practice your skills to create a certain level of sound. A certain level of writing. It just takes time. All those composers who can sight-read, which I’ve always been so jealous of, they put the hours in. I couldn’t be bothered with that! So yes, I’m not good enough to sight-read because I didn’t practice. [Laughing] It’s like taking that voice and hearing it for what it really is. Again, transposing it to that child playing the piano, it sounds so ridiculous when a little child says it to themselves or says it out loud. ‘I’m just not good enough.’ You poor little thing! Why are you saying that? You’ve just gotta practice. With practice you’ll be amazing. With passion you’ll be amazing. And with the proper positive thinking, you’ll be amazing.
You can, if you want, you know I’m a big fan of this stuff, get a vision board. I know probably a few of you are rolling your eyes now going, ‘Oh no, he’s not like this is he?’ Yes, I am like this! And this stuff works. You get a vision board, you start repeating positive thoughts to yourself, even if it’s just this: you just say, ‘I am good enough.’ Even if it’s just that. Sit down and the first thing you say to yourself when you’re sitting down to write music is, ‘I am good enough.’ Boom! You keep doing this, you keep planting the seeds—because thoughts are seeds, and the negative thoughts we all have now are seeds that were planted years ago when we were kids—you can start planting these positive thoughts, as seeds, and they will flourish. And that’s what you’re doing with your actions as well. Those small actions of you sitting down to write and practice are seeds that will then grow into a flourishing tree of a career. You are an acorn right now, and in some years you shall be a magnificent oak tree bearing fruit. That sounds rude. I didn’t mean it to be rude. I meant it to be magnificent and lovely.
So with that one, with that imposter syndrome, I can tell you this, right? I have reached the level of success I wanted to reach. And beyond! And that voice is still saying some things to me. And I’m just like, ‘Well this is ridiculous!’ It’s like I can step back from it, I can hear the voice, it doesn’t mean that I believe it. I can hear the voice saying, ‘You’re not good enough Rich.’ I can step back from that and be like, ‘Hold on, actually I’ve got lots of evidence against this. You can f-off.’ That’s the same for you, you just haven’t got the evidence yet. Or if you do have some evidence, you need to look at it and be grateful for it. I’m incredibly grateful for all the placement I get. I’m incredibly grateful for all the great composers that I get to work with, even talk to, and learn from. I’m incredibly grateful for so many of these aspects of my career. And it’s good to be grateful because it helps you remind yourselves of the wonderful things you’re doing. Another thing, I used to do this when I was practicing yoga, my wife and I at the end of the session you thank yourself for sitting down and taking the time. It’s a lovely thought. You’ve done your 20 minutes of composing that day, just be like, ‘Thank you, me! For taking the time to do this’. This is a wonderful saying: you’re doing something today that your future self can thank you for. Because that future self is the magnificent oak that’s making a living from writing music. So I’m incredibly grateful for the younger me, who despite feeling like an imposter, despite not feeling good enough, despite having that inner critic all the time, sat down and wrote. I just let the ideas out, and a lot of my ideas were not of good enough quality to be released, but they were ideas. You just need to let those ideas flow, and that is the biggest tip for getting rid of the inner critic. Disassociate that voice with the creation of an idea. Create your idea, let it out, let them out, let those ideas out, and then when you need that critical voice, use it like a teacher. Remember, with a teacher, you don’t take every word from a teacher as gospel. Myself included! You listen with discernment.
So if you sit back down to your manficient epic trailer cue, that you spent yesterday writing, and you go, ‘Ok, today i’m gonna edit this cue.’ If you sit down and you press play and that voice says, ‘Well this is rubbish!’ Stop, save, turn off. That voice is still not being nice. So what you can do is you can stop, save, and turn off, or you can take what is being said with discernment and be like, ‘No, that’s not rubbish. I’m gonna keep working at this. Or I’m gonna write another cue. Or I’m gonna do something else.’ There’re wonderful ideas that go around in all sorts of circles of creativity and productivity, and that is a simple change that can change the energy. If you get to that point where you’re still getting that inner voice and you’re still thinking, ‘Well Rich, I’ve listened to your podcast. I’ve tried all that stuff and I’m still hearing that voice.’ Then do something. Change. Change something. So what you could do is open a window. It might be the room that’s stale and giving you that bad voice. Stand up, go for a walk, do some meditating, go for a swim, have a sleep, do something different. Then come back to it. Whatever you do, don’t delete your ideas. Don’t delete them. I feel so sad thinking of all those wonderful ideas that have been flushed away into the bins of our computers because we’ve let that voice go. So many times as well, I’ve done this. This is one of the ways that I like to work with Vic at Elephant Music, my Mammouth is I sometimes just send him an idea. I’m like, I’ve played this idea, I do an idea and I go, ‘I don’t know what to do with this and I don’t think I like it, but I think there’s a part of me that thinks it has potential.’ I generally like to listen to the positive part of me, so I send it off and I go, ‘What do you think?’ More often than not he’s like, ‘Great! Huge! Let’s make this into a track!’ And then we do, and then it gets a placement. That’s what you can do too.
So I’ve covered two aspects of the inner critic here today. The first one which is just generally the idea poo-pooer, you know? He poo-poos all of your ideas. Or she poo-poos them, whatever. Then obviously there’s the imposter syndrome, which is the larger of the two beasts. There are other elements of being too critical on yourself, and one thing that can help is avoiding comparison. I practice this, because I tell you this now, even at this stage in my career, if I start to compare myself to other people—again, I don’t mean this in a really arrogant way—but even I still feel jealous. Even I still get to that point where I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m not as good as they are! Oh no, this is awful, I’m not—’ and then the imposter comes in again. So I avoid comparing, and that usually takes the form of not listening to other people’s work. Excect in a reference kind of way, because if I start just getting into the rabbit hole of going onto Facebook and looking at other people’s work and other people’s placements, it just makes me feel small. That generally happens across the board with social media, and that’s a problem with social media, you’re getting the rose tinted life of everybody. Other composers, myself included, we just post the good stuff, don’t we? We don’t post the pictures of us looking knackered and withdrawn, and the days when we’re like, ‘You know, I didn’t feel like writing today, so I’m not going to.’ We don’t post those pictures, do we? [Laughing] Like today, I don’t really feel like doing any writing. I feel like going for a walk with my daughter, who is asleep. Again, I’m not just ignoring her, well I guess I am but in a nice way I suppose, so she can sleep. Anyway, I digress again.
I love talking about this mindset stuff, because this is like the foundation of what we do as creative people, is everyday we overcome the inner critic and the way we overcome it is by creating. And not demolishing our ideas, not taking down those ideas, it’s kind of like—I love analogies too guys, analogies are amazing—it’s kind of like you are, as the creator, a bricklayer, and the inner critic is the demolition expert. If you don’t control that demolition expert, then the scene is gonna be this: you lay a brick, the demolition expert comes in and says, ‘That brick is not a building.’ Kicks it over. Ok, I’ll try another brick. Put a brick down. ‘That brick is not a tower.’ Kick it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Your ideas when you plant them, they’re just ideas, they’re not fully fledged pieces of music, they’re not a film score, they’re not a trailer cue, they’re not a placement. They’re an idea. That’s what they are, and you must remember that so when the inner critic says, ‘Well that idea’s rubbish.’ You say, ‘Um, screw you!’ Because that idea is just an idea, it’s a brick, it’s not a building, it’s not a tower, it’s not a bridge, it’s an idea. When it gets to the point where you’ve planted lots and lots of bricks and it becomes some resemblance of a building, that’s when you can be like, ‘Ok, demolition expert, can you take your demolition hat off and can you put your architect’s hat on please? Let’s work on shaping this.’ Then it becomes a lovely relationship. That comes back down to my advice that I always fall back on, which is write and don’t edit at the same time. Let the ideas flow, then another time do the editing. Sometimes it’s just nice to get your publisher to do the editing for you. I don’t mean literally sending them the Logic files and they do the chopping and slicing, but sending them an idea that you’ve got to a certain point and you can’t see it yet as a finished piece. My students do this, they send me a track and they say, ‘What do you think?’, and I have fresh ears so I go, ‘You know what? This is amazing!’ And then, ‘This bit needs to be changed, and this bit needs to be done.’ Then all of a sudden you are a creator more than you are a critic.
I do hope that you have found solace in my words here, in that I, and everybody, has those voices, and if they don’t, they’re lying. They do, it’s just they’re good at ignoring them, or at least they have silenced them so much that they’re barely audible. That is where you are going to be also, because you’re gonna practice creation. Non-judgemental creation. And you’re gonna practice positivity. Yeah, I’m going there guys! I’m going positivity, ok? It’s happened. Now take this stuff next time you write, and think about it. Be aware, if you hear that voice, be like, ‘Cool, the voice is there, now let me do my work.’ Because remember it’s helpful, it can be helpful anyway. But when you’re creating it’s not. So if the voice pops up when you’re creating be like, ‘Ok, see you tomorrow.’ It’s like a neighbour that pops over and you’re like, ‘Ugh, don’t pop over now. Hey dude, I’m working. Can I see you tomorrow?’ And they’re like, ‘Sure thing!’ Boop! I don’t know what the boop was then. Maybe they just booped your nose, in a weird kind of like adult-baby way.
I do hope you found this helpful and interesting. If any of you suffer from this, just put some comments in the—can you put comments in a podcast? I don’t think you can, can you? Well, anyway, if you’re a part of the Trailer Music School community, let’s have a chat about it. An open chat about it. If you’re not, come on over and join in. If you want to take some courses, great, if you don’t, join the banter. Those of you who are just listening to the podcast because you wanna hear about creativity and music, then great. I hope my advice has helped you, and you know what? I’m so, so grateful for those of you taking the time to listen to this, because otherwise I am just a man talking into a phone. [Laughing] Which, actually, is quite a nice creative outlet in itself. It’s kind of like a diary.
Anyway, please give the podcast a rating, please subscribe, give me a review, give me some feedback. If there’s anything you want me to cover, please let me know, because otherwise I will just let the ideas flow forth, unedited, well obviously edited. I will probably cut the coughs out. But unfortunately I can’t edit the mildly breathless sound out because that would be quite some editing job. Hopefully as I progress I’ll get slightly more fit and I won’t have to take so many breaths. Anyway, I’ve done it again haven’t I? Take care guys, all the best, hopefully see you in the Trailer Music School. See ya!