One of the pieces of advice I heard from a lot of important people while I was in college was that it wasn’t enough to just focus on learning your craft – you also needed to try to be an interesting person. Your perspective and experiences come out in your music and the sounds you create; it’s what sets you apart from everyone else. Of course, when I first heard this, my initial reaction was to go “Yeah ok I’ll go out and be interesting and whatever when my life isn’t on fire” and proceed to stay in my room forever and try to unbury myself from all the projects I had to do. Basically, I did the opposite of what they said, and didn’t realize why that was such a problem until after I had been abroad for a bit.
You know what eventually happens if you keep doing the same thing over and over again without changing anything? It gets stale. It’s not interesting anymore. That’s what happens when you keep pulling from the same pool of ideas all the time.
For me, this came out in a really weird way – I couldn't come up with any good ideas for music outside of projects anymore. I used to write for fun all the time when I was younger. Part of it was that I was that I just didn’t have the time. The bigger problem was that I had been stuck in my room all the time, and let me tell you, “Hey I’m here in my room again this weekend staring at Cubase send help” doesn't really make for inspiring material.
What got me out of that funk, though, was travel and photography. Whenever I go somewhere new, I like to take pictures of the area, particularly the architecture. To me, the way things are built says a lot about the people that live and work there. And let me tell you, from an outsider’s perspective, the way Tokyo is built is fascinating. You get on the train at one stop, and get off at a different planet afterwards. Each area had such personality to it and was so amazing that I just HAD to find a way to show other people. And wouldn’t you know it, looking at the pictures I had taken, I started having a ton of ideas for pieces again.
Being an interesting person benefits your career in other ways, too. Networking is, of course, an important part of the job. When I say “networking”, I don’t mean the thing where someone comes up and talks at you about how great they are, throws a business card at you and leaves without even asking for your name, I mean going out and actually having real conversations with people and making friends. And let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to keep a conversation going when you have things outside of music to talk with people about. There are tons of composers / sound designers at conferences, but how many composers / sound designers are there that also do (insert awesome thing you do)? It instantly gives you something people can remember and connect back to you when you follow-up with them.
I suppose what I’m really getting at is that we’re more than just our job. What we do for our job is a crucial part of our identity, and working hard at what we do is important. On the other hand, we’re also human, and I really do believe that there’s more to being human than only work. When they told us to be an interesting person, I think they were actually reminding us of that.