“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport

I have only just finished reading Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and I’m already recommending it to people. I’m a big fan of Cal’s blog and have always been impressed with his productivity, work ethic, and both the quality and quantity of his output. I wish I had read his other books when I was still a student! Perhaps I would have actually done my homework instead of spending all day playing guitar and video games… (not that those ended up being complete wastes of time!)

Anyone who has ever struggled with “what do I do with my life” should give this book a read. Or anyone who is considering giving up on their current career and trying something completely new. He goes into great detail on why the idea of “I’m going to quit my 9-5 and go start a cupcake shop because I love baking” is extremely flawed thinking, and instead explains how to turn that 9-5 job into something you are excited to do every day.

In my case, I would especially recommend it to people who “think” they want to become a professional musician but haven’t really put in the decade + of serious study. Just because you like to listen to music or you used to play guitar in high school doesn’t mean you can just quit your day job and start scoring films!

The best line in the book is “You have to get good before you can expect good work.” So many young composers write to me asking for advice and almost all of them focus on how to get their career started. How do they get an assistant job, how do they get a feature film, how should they market themselves, and so on. Instead they should be asking “How can I write music so good that people will be approaching me to write for them?”

You obviously can’t live in a bubble; you have to put your work out there. But unless your music is speaking to people, it doesn’t matter how many business cards you print out or what font you choose for your website. What matters is how good you are at your craft.

Another great line comes from near the end of the book: “Working right trumps finding the right work.” This is especially useful to someone who may already have a career in music but isn’t getting the projects they wish they were. The ultimate lesson is that when you do whatever it is you’re tasked with extremely well, the right people will take notice. Better to spend your energy making that corporate video sound amazing than to seek an elusive dream project. Because that amazing sounding video is the thing that’s most likely to lead to your next great gig, not a chance encounter at a networking event.

Check out the book. It’s an easy and quick read, and you’ll either realize you’re on the wrong path or confirm for yourself that you are headed in the right direction. And if you’re in the latter camp, Cal’s insights and advice will help you shape your career path into something meaningful and fulfilling.

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Interview with Chris Oatley about Project Arbiter

Project Arbiter director Michael Chance and I were recently interviewed by my good friend Chris Oatley for his podcast. Chris is a former animator for Disney and now runs the incredibly inspiring Oatley Academy.

Michael talks about his background as a filmmaker, the development and making of Project Arbiter, and together we discuss how we conceptualized and produced the score. We also talk about how to develop as an artist and survive a career in Hollywood!

Check out the full interview and don’t forget to watch Project Arbiter if you haven’t already seen it!

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App Recommendation: Timeful

I recently discovered a very cool app called Timeful. It’s a hybrid to-do list/calendar that learns about your daily schedule and uses an algorithm to suggest times for different tasks.

Author Dan Ariely, who wrote Predictably Irrational, is one of the main people behind the app and is trying to put what he has learned about human psychology and motivation to practical use.

I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder, and this seems like a useful tool to help make that easier. So far it’s been fun to play with, I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves with use.

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Orchestral Fantasy Adventure Release by Reserve Music


Reserve Music has released an album of orchestral Fantasy Adventure music I recently composed.

The album is called “Priscilla” and can be found on their website for licensing.

Here are a few tracks from the release:

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This has been a productive year for my tutorial and article writing over at Tuts+. I wrote 11 new tuts on compositions, orchestration, film scoring and music theory. I’ll be taking a break from writing for the site for a while, but it’s been a fun year and I love receiving feedback from composers and musicians who are able to put my ideas to use!

Here are all the 2014 articles:

How To Write An Effective Knockoff… Legally
Being asked to copy another song is just an everyday part of the gig. Here are some tips for both tapping in to the original’s essence while still keeping the music inherently your own.

Film Score Harmony: Chords by Thirds
How to use non-diatonic chords for a cinematic harmonic vocabulary and create any mood you desire.

Enhance Your Music with a Subtlety Layer
Adding a layer of subtle elements can bring your music to a new level, just like the right garnish and spice can turn a main dish into a gourmet entree.

How to Write Theme & Variations
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to apply simple variation techniques to a simple ABA theme to create a wide range of moods and styles.

Arranging for Strings: Part 2
In this tutorial, we’ll cover how to turn a simple four part harmonization into a complex string arrangement.

How to Modulate to Remote Keys
In this tutorial, we are going to learn a few different techniques for modulating to distant keys. The two techniques we’ll discuss in the tut are using advanced harmonic techniques and using bridge keys. Warning: There’s some deep theory in this one. Not for the faint of heart!

An Introduction to Form in Instrumental Music
Musical form is the structure and logic of a piece of music. Under the heading of form you can consider balance, symmetry, proportion, pacing, and other topics related to the overall presentation of your piece.

How to Arrange 4-Part Harmony for Strings
In this tutorial we’re going to look at six different ways to adapt four-part harmony to a string orchestra. Four-part harmony is a traditional way of harmonizing a melody for four “voices” (either literal human voices, or instruments). Many introductory harmony courses teach four-part writing because it is a straightforward method for learning chord voicing, good part motion, and proper treatment of dissonances.

How and Why to Modulate to New Keys
In music, modulation is the process of changing from one key to another. If a piece of music starts out in the key of F major but then changes, either immediately or gradually, to they key of Bb major, we would say it modulates from F major to Bb major. A piece is considered to be in a “key” if the root of the key is the tonic, also called “home” or the “gravitational center”.

How to Give Life to Instrumental Parts
“If it’s not moving, it’s dead” is a line that applies as much to life as it does to music. Yet all too often composers write background or accompaniment parts that are lifeless and dull. They might have a beautiful melodic line, but then stick a big chord made up of whole notes behind it and call it a day. The result is music that is lifeless, boring, and feels like slogging through mud.

Contemporary Techniques for Ending Your Song
In How to Write Effective Introductions, we learned about the importance of giving your song a powerful beginning. We also examined various techniques for writing one. In this tutorial I’ll discuss one specific trend in contemporary songwriting for ending a song: ambiguity.

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Kid President – Declaration of Awesome

Kid President has his own TV show! The inspirational YouTube star now has his own show on Hub Network, and the premiere was on June 17th.

For a special segment of the show, director Ben Shelton (who I work with on The FlipSide) created an action trailer for “Kid President: Commander in Chaos”. I wrote original music for the trailer, which features MMA star Urijah Faber.

Congrats on the new show, Kid President!

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“Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs” Trailer

The trailer for upcoming feature film “Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs” is now online!

Outstanding work by Taylor Glenn who cut the trailer! The film is written and produced by Michael Hayes &Brian Lubocki, and directed by Academy Award winning creature FX wizard Tom Woodruff Jr.

In a world where demons live secretly among us, one demon develops compassion for humanity, throwing all out of balance. To set things right, he must kill an innocent human girl or risk the fate of all Demonkind.

Pair with the short film King of Miseries.

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Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future

dpaf2I recently completed scoring a short film from writer/director Albert Chan. Descendants of the Past, Ancestors of the Future is a dramatic short film about Andrew, the son of Chinese immigrants, who is about to become a father to a baby girl. The story explores the sacrifices immigrant families make and the powerful bond that ties all generations of a family together.


Albert and I previously collaborated on his highly successful film “The Commitment” and he starred in Interrogation, the very first feature film I ever scored!

The film stars Albert Chan and Golden Globe nominated actress Tina Chen. Still in the final stages of post-production, I will update when more information on festivals and release becomes available.

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Study the Masters, Listen to Your Contemporaries, & Write for Yourself

Almost 10 years out of Berklee, I still spend a fair amount of time studying music. I try to study a wide range of styles and eras, but disproportionately I find myself analyzing music from the Classical period, in particular Beethoven.

Of course no one has ever said my music “sounds” like Beethoven or Mozart. It doesn’t, and I wouldn’t want it to (unless that was the gig I was hired to do!). I don’t study Classical music for the particulars of style or to “sound” like one of those guys. I study it for the universal elements of proportion, balance, tension vs. release, harmonic continuation, melody, etc. etc.

My reasoning is that the underlying principles that worked for Beethoven must certainly work for anyone else. If I’m going to spend the little time I have available to deeply study music, it makes sense that I spend it with the best.

However I hardly ever passively listen to classical music. Occasionally I’ll listen to film scores but more often than not if I have music on in the background it’s current alternative, electronica and pop.

Partly this is because I enjoy it, but also because an essential need of my career is to stay current. By listening to contemporary music I am always aware of what kind of sounds are fresh vs. outdated, what chord progressions are in or out of vogue, and so on. I also am able to hold a conversation with a director who references their new favorite song and actually know what they are talking about!

When it comes time to compose, however, I put all of that aside and just write in my own voice. In the past I have made attempts to sound like some composer or another, but the result is always a pathetic attempt to imitate rather than a genuine expression.

With a well-maintained ear for what music sounds like in 2014 and an embedded sense for what has driven centuries worth of Western music, I can write authentically without worrying about who or what my music might sound like other than my own.

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Tuts+ Music & Audio Tutorials

I’ve been writing for Audiotuts for almost six years now! The site has recently undergone a redesign and is now called simply Tuts+ with our division being the Music & Audio section. The new url is

I write tutorials and articles on a variety of music related topics including music production, Logic, counterpoint, composition, arranging, orchestration and music theory.

So far this year I have had six tutorials published:

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