I want to use this space to give a bit of an update on where my life and career are at, for anyone that happens across this for any reason.
It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that the games industry is a crowded place. The audio and music side of things is especially crowded. Survivorship bias tends to prevent folks from talking about this very much in my experience. A lot of blogs and books and courses and even events out there have a financial interest in convincing people that all it takes to “break in” is the right knowledge and the right efforts. But even with all the right knowledge, there’s a hell of lot of variables at play that affect one’s “success” in the games industry, and not all of them are within one’s control. Beyond that, the factors that are within one’s control can demand significant sacrifices.
I’ve slowly realized if I want to be traditionally “successful” in the games industry at this point in my life, I’d have to become someone that I didn’t want to be. I’d need to either move to a big city or regularly make the three-hour round-trip to a nearby one. I’d need to spend weekends away from my loved ones working on music and sound at game jams. I’d need to force my voice into conversations where I didn’t feel I belonged. I’d need to convince people that my music and skills were more desirable than those of my peers whom I deeply respect. Significantly less time would need to be spent doing things I loved, like waking up early, meditating, exercising, reading, or just hanging out with my wife and cat.
After struggling with the dichotomy of who I was and who I would need to be to become what I thought I wanted to be, I just decided that… I didn’t want to be that person. I wasn’t enjoying how I was spending my time. It started to become cliché to find myself in at a games event full of project-thirsty composers and projects that already had a composer attached to them. I’d be one of several musicians who wanted to convince you that they were the perfect candidate to write music for your game. Every time I found myself in one of these scenarios, my situation felt more futile. It never felt right. My self-worth was attached to my career growth, which refused to budge. It was totally reliant on other people, completely outside my control. Even writing music was beginning to feel less like the joyful privilege it began as and more like a chore, like another thing I needed to do to get to where I thought I wanted to be.
If this sounds pessimistic… well, yes, I was very pessimistic in the midst of all of this. I couldn’t see any other way around it. I realized I was at my happiest when I was satisfied with where I was rather than trying to become something else. I was never satisfied searching for success in the games industry.
So I stopped. And I’ve surprised even myself with how much happier I’ve been since then.
Where I’m At Now
For the past couple of years I’ve been making most of my living from teaching music theory (and a basic, general university, online intro to video game music class I developed at WWU), and although the first year had some growing pains, I’ve really come to love it. It’s fairly steady, my skills are improving, feedback improving, responsibilities increasing.
I’m meditating a lot. This has become a very significant part of my life on many levels. I try (with varying degrees of success) not to talk about it much because I get the feeling most people just find it obnoxious. So if you want to know more, I’d be more than happy to talk about it however much you’re comfortable with. And possibly more, depending on the day.
And of course I’m still writing music… and even enjoying it most of the time. I did about half a month’s worth of making a little piece of music every day in November. More than anything in recent memory, that reminded me of the joy of making music. I stopped once it started to feel like a chore. I released a new album about a month ago. I wrote music for a feature horror film over the summer; it will probably be playing at festivals in the next year or so. I’ve also been transcribing & arranging 60s and 70s pop songs for a cover band in Minnesota, which has been surprisingly fun and rewarding. I see no reason to think I’ll stop writing music at this point.
As For the Future
I’m also still co-organizing the semi-annual Audio Bash event, in which the Seattle and Vancouver game audio communities meet in Bellingham. I still help out with the Full Indie Summit in Vancouver every year. I’m still have a significant interest in games, game music, and game audio. I’ll still continue to develop my skills in that area at a comfortable pace. Perhaps this makes me unprofessional, a ~hobbyist~ at best.
I don’t care.
I did at one point. That’s a big part of why I spent several years constantly ridden with anxiety. If someone likes me and my music and wants to hire me to make music for their thing, awesome. I’m down. Once the project is there, I’ll be in mega-professional mode. I’m just done going out of my way to try to impress people.
I also know that, despite my lack of success as I once envisioned it, my current situation is still one of immense privilege. I’m still a white, middle-classed man living in one of the richest countries in the world, working in the arts. I still will try to do what I can to use this privilege to make the world better and amplify the voices of the disenfranchised.
Rather than ramble on any further, I’ll just end with this quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re here now; you’re only alive in this moment.