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Man I Suck....

Musical Theatre
Man I Suck Music Composition

I wanted to share a story and a little advice in regards to the inevitable challenges of writing quality music and what sometimes (most of the time) happens to composers and songwriters during the composition stage. Its what I call the "Man I Suck" syndrome.

The MISS evolution goes something like this, you start with an idea, the idea blossoms and starts to develop and you start to feel good about what you are writing. That's when MISS hits. You go from feeling really good about yourself to realizing you suck and what you are writing is worse than worthless and you need to star over.

This happened to me recently. I am in the middle of writing a score for an aspiring broadway musical. A new genre for me. I have written tons of music in the style of "musicals" for jingles, commercials, TV, and even film. But they were one off pieces of music. Not a whole musical score for the musical. I can tell you from my perspective... this is a complex genre to write for due to numerous challenges that have an influence on the composition i.e. will people be moving around and dancing when singing, are the actors doing something very physical when singing i.e. fighting, is the melody something the actors can sing night after night without blowing out their voice, what are the lead actors doing juxtaposed to the ensemble and the story, etc. etc. This might be a future blog post, but in full disclosure I am not a seasoned composer for theatrical musicals. Thus my problem and MISS.

I started working on a new musical piece for this musical. Its a big piece for the lead actress and is supposed to show power, passion and whole bunch of other powerful emotions while also showcasing her voice/range. I started out as I usually do and started with an melodic idea and chord progression. Now in parallel, at this time, I had been watching Only Murders in the Building with Steve Martin and Martin Short. Great series! If you haven't seen it you should definitely check it out on Hulu. Anyway, this 2023 season is centered around a Broadway musical. One of the songs in the musical is a patter song - "Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It" BRILLIANTLY written by my pal Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. That damn song was stuck in my head for ever! Now, that really has nothing to do with my song. Radically different styles, orchestration, story, tone, vibe, etc. But what it did have something to do with it was how well Marc and Scott wrote the song. Composition, lyrics, melody, treatment, production, Steve Martin's delivery, etc.

I had listened to the song numerous times because it was so good and catchy. As at sat at my writers desk working on MY song, it dawned on me that I suck and this piece of music I am writing sucks. Really bummed me out. I even said to my wife, I suck! I will never be a Marc Shaiman, Alan Menken, Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc. The more I thought about that damn pickwick song stuck in my head, the more I realized how bad my song was and how I have no business writing music for a musical.

But then I remembered what John Williams once said. "The world doesn't need another John Williams (or Marc Shaiman). The world needs you and that only you bring that special magic so focus on being the best you". Or something like that. He also said...and I think of this often..."We should not refer to ourselves as film or TV composers or any other type of composer. We are simply composers. Simple as that. And as composers, we should and strive to compose music regardless of the medium."

So with that refreshed in my mind, I struggled to get to the first chorus. It still sucked to me but I pushed through and got to the second chorus and then decided nope, I wont start over. I will take this to the end and see where it goes. Who knows... this may be decent. At least decent enough to continue. So, over the next couple of days I finished the song and created a highly produced and orchestrated music demo to share with the Director. Still not sure if I or this composition still sucked. But at least it wasn't as bad as I originally thought. I was still pretty insecure about it.

Can you guess what the Director said after hearing it? Yeah...he thought it was the best song yet for the show and was blown away by the music. Perfectly captured the scene. I was frankly shocked and I told him my dilemma and I was that close to trashing it. He was glad I didn't and so am I! I now listen to this piece of music and think, well its still no Marc Shaiman or Alan Menken, but its pretty good and the Director loves it which at the end of the day, is what matters.

So what is the moral of the story? We all go through this. All of us. Do you know how many songs or compositions almost didn't make it? Some of the greatest songs and compositions ever almost didn't make it to completion and success. But the band, songwriter, composer, etc. ultimately didn't give up. Sometimes your only one note or one chord away from a whole new musical world for your idea. I encourage you that when MISS rears it demoralizing head, push on. Don't give up. It may just end up being the best song or composition you ever wrote! NEVER GIVE UP!




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