Chapter 3: November 2008: It’s Time For Some Background


(I love that I chose a tweet for this chapter that has a typo in it, but that’s part of Twitter’s charm. When you’re typing in the moment it can get messy.)

I was born on a farm in Kansas, an only child found in the crater of a meteorite.  At the age of 3, I realized I was different when I lifted a pickup truck off my father, who was stuck underneath it.

Wait, that’s not my origin story. That’s the guy with the cape.  Sorry.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I was actually born in downtown L.A., pantsless, and adopted when I was 9 months old.  People usually react with the “adoption” comment with “Cool” or “Wow.”  I’ve always just figured that it was the way things were supposed to work out in my universe.  My general assumption is that I was actually birthed by a family of crows who, after realizing I wasn’t going to fit in the nest, pushed me out on the grass below, where I was dragged by a dachshund to the steps of the adoption facility where my parents paid handsomely for the privilege of taking me home.

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and had a pretty uneventful childhood.  I realize this book might be more interesting if I was kidnapped by a group of farmers and ransomed for a rototiller, but alas, I was just a normal kid in a normal neighborhood.  Actually, that’s not exactly true.  I was a nerdy kid in a normal neighborhood.  But instead of spending what will end up being FAR too much time describing my life, I’m going to bullet point 20 things you probably don’t know about me.  Unless you’re @alliecine, then there’s a good chance you know most of these.

One summer I organized the Olympics in my neighborhood. I actually used cardboard, markers and string to create medals and certificates, and came up with the events.  I had about 10 kids participate.  Apparently they were bigger losers than I was.

One of the first musical recordings I ever owned was the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back. On vinyl.  When I’d go to school, I’d lie to my friends about who my favorite band was.  Mostly so I didn’t get my ass kicked.  I don’t think John Williams would have jumped in and gotten my back in a fight.  He was probably busy fending off the guys from AeroSmith beating him with their guitars.

I love to read. I used to ride my bike to the library and check out literally a dozen books at a time, and finish them all within the 2 weeks allotted.  I remember trying to balance them on my handlebars down the street.  How I didn’t end up face-down in the mud, books strewn all over the asphalt, I’ll never know.  In fact, I’ll bet if I’d known @brianspaeth back then, he would have thrown a basketball at my head.  And then, while I was lying wounded, he’d throw a copy of his book next to my crumpled body on the ground and say “Read this, nerd.”

I have never seen The Godfather. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just never been a priority.  If, like me, you haven’t seen the film, DO NOT tell people.  You will immediately illicit responses like “What?” or “How is that possible?!” and lots of eyebrow raising and mouth gaping will occur.  Just pretend you’ve seen it, and for God’s sake don’t talk about not seeing it in a book you’re writing about a year in your life.

I was not a fan of high school. I didn’t have a horrible high school experience.  I had friends.  I had a girlfriend.  I lost my virginity.  I just never got into being there and “embracing” the whole culture of my school.  This is why you will never see me at a reunion for my school.  I have no desire to relive those years.  I’d rather be in a room full of @cartermason clones, 99 of them, all of them ganging up to get me drunk so they could take pictures of me & their penis’ when I pass out.  I’m sorry; I meant “peni.”  I’d wake up with a headache and a tagged picture of me on Facebook, surrounded by 99 peni.

I loved to write words before I loved to compose music. I’ve written most of my life in some form or another.  In 9th grade English, Mr. Zant made us write in a journal for the first 15 minutes of class every day.  I wrote a 200 page story about my friends and I on the run from the law for a crime we didn’t commit, ala A-Team.  It’s called “The Fugitives,” and it sits in a red folder on my bookshelf, all in longhand.

I’m introverted around people I don’t know. My way around that is humor.  I remember the first time I heard Chandler on the show Friends say the line “I use humor as a defense mechanism,” I thought ‘Wow, that’s me.’  This makes me a good fit as a composer (the introverted part, not the funny part.  Most composers are humorless and boring.  @kevinrieplmusic is a good example of this), because you have to be introverted to sit in a room for 14 hours a day writing music by artificial light.  Unfortunately, it’s not the best personality to schmooze directors and producers at networking events or orgies (If I had a nickel for every “Director Orgy” I’ve had to go to in order to get hired, I’d have….well, I’d have negative 10 cents.  But I’m hopeful that I’ll start getting invites soon.  I hear @bekemeyer has them all the time).  Only recently has the “extroverted” part of my personality come out in spades, but that’s a topic for another chapter, specifically June 2009. Hey, come back here, don’t skip ahead!  I promise there’s good stuff between here and there.

I have an obsession with Bon Jovi. Not in a “poster on the ceiling” kind of way, in a “Richie and Jon are songwriting Gods” way.  I have everything they’ve ever put out, including some hard-to-find B-sides.  It’s really the only 80’s era band I still listen to and own anything by.  Make fun of them all you want, they know how to write an anthem.  Richie Sambora has had a huge influence on my guitar playing over the years.  Plus, they got all the girls.

I was married once, and I have two children that I raised after the divorce.  I don’t tweet about them often, mostly because it feels weird to broadcast their goings-on out to the world when they don’t have any control over what I say.  I’d be mortified if my parents had done that to me, or even blogged about the horror of raising me, so there’s no way I’m going to do that to my kids.  They can handle their own PR on the web.  They’re good kids, it’s a miracle I haven’t warped them by now.

I am never without music. Whether it’s in the car, at home or walking somewhere, I will always find a way to put music on.  I need music as a soundtrack to my life, and it’s more important to me than any other type of media.  Including books.  You heard me.  Put the torches down, books are nice, too.

I like boobs. (looks around) Sorry, wrong book.

I love television. I’ve been a TV aficionado since I was a small child.  I’ve never had the same love affair with films.  I watch movies, and there are some that I love unconditionally (“Requiem For A Dream”), but nothing moves me like a good, serialized show.  Television is the medium that brought me into film composing, and the place I’d most like to be.  There’s really not any more job security in it than there is in film, you can get canceled at any time.  But there’s an art to storytelling a 24 episode story that you don’t get in a film, and musically you have the opportunity to expand upon themes, and morph motifs so that they climax as the arc of the show does…. Sorry, I’m getting aroused.  Moving on.

My favorite show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No, it’s not because I like watching women in schoolgirl outfits.  There’s a certain stigma attached to a show with a title like that, but let me assure you, boys and girls, that it is so much more a show than you think it is.  Joss Whedon, showrunner and creator, took risks with characters and storylines that most shows don’t, and he crafted the show in a way that moved me like no other show before or after.  I cared about the characters like they were flesh and blood, and the score was amazing and cinematic.  In fact, the score for that show is my single, biggest influence in becoming a composer.  When I heard Chris Beck’s score for Buffy, I knew almost instantly that I’d found my career path.  That is why Joss Whedon and Christophe Beck are my favorite Director and Composer.

My favorite film is “Requiem For A Dream.” It’s an ugly film.  There’s no redemption.  But it’s a beautiful film, with a beautiful score, and the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen in my life.  You’d think that wasn’t a ringing endorsement to see the film, but it is.  Go buy it now.  Seriously.

This is only number 15?! My ADD is kicking in; I don’t know if I can make it to #20.

I’ve never broken a bone.  Except my first finger once when I was messing around in an office chair.  I was 25.  This is in contrast to the fact that I’m a klutz.  I’ve lost count of the number of wine glasses and plates I’ve broken over the years.  Let’s just say a family of 16 in a Third World country could have their own place setting with the amount of dinnerware I’ve knocked off the counter.  At one point in my life, someone I was in a relationship with told me I was being passive-aggressive and breaking stuff on purpose.  I contemplated this briefly, but then realized that no, it was my spaziness that was causing the stock at Pier One to rise.  Passive-aggressive was when I boiled her Siamese cat.  Just kidding.  It was a Persian.

I hate mushy food. There are very few things I won’t eat (insert joke here. Shut up, @cartermason. You’ve had your turn).  Bread-type things that get soggy are the worst.  Even pancakes; I need to devour them before the syrup makes them turn to mush.  I had Ethiopian food once; the food was amazing, but the spongy-bread that you use as a plate was enough to keep me from going back.  I don’t know where this weird food quirk comes from, although I’m curious as to why.

I’m listening to The All-American Rejects right now as I’m working on this portion of the book. I realize this has nothing to do with my past, but it will by the time you’re reading this.  I am very open when it comes to music.  I’ll give anything a shot once.  Even country.  If I’m drunk first.  The first instrument I picked up was the guitar during the 90’s, and hair metal was still going strong.  I love alt

rock as much as I love film score music as much as I love pop as much as I love hip-hop so I’m a cornucopia of musical taste.  If I’m drunk first.

I lost my virginity when I was 17. Hey, I warned you that this book was going to have sex in it.  It was to my first real girlfriend, in the back of a ‘69 Ford Mustang, which is not the optimal place to lose your virginity when you’re six foot three.  It was awkward, and about as romantic as @dailyactor, well, just about anytime.  But I am a firm believer that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  But not necessarily smarter.

I don’t usually smile in pictures. It’s not because I’ve got like two teeth, it’s more because I always feel fake and awkward smiling on command.  My therapist would say that it’s some kind of self-esteem issue, and I’d tell her that if that was true, I’d wear two pairs of pants around town instead of zero.  Then she’d tell me I was being ridiculous, and that if I wasn’t going to take therapy seriously I should just leave.  Then I’d apologize and tell her not to worry, I wouldn’t embarrass her by putting her in the book.

Where were we?

So, it was November.  The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, the leaves were turning colors, but I wouldn’t know because I’m an introverted composer trying to figure out what the hell this Twitter thing is.

I suppose I should explain what a composer is, since it’s my main job, other than “Hack Author.”  I was dubbed that title by @aaronkaiser.  We were at a networking event one day where I stood up and talked about how I was writing a book about Twitter.  Aaron said aloud, “That’s real?  I thought you were joking!”  True story.  Also, @aaronkaiser doesn’t like the word “Holiday” used in place of the word “Christmas.”  For the record, I don’t either.  But I like picking on Aaron, so guess who’s using the word “Holiday” all over his Twitter page right now? (points at self smugly)

How I Became A Composer & What I Do

A composer is someone who writes music.  I attempt to do that for films, television shows, and webseries.  I’m pretty damn good at it, actually.  I’ve always had a penchant for film scores.  When I was 16, I started playing guitar, and wanted to be the next Joe Satriani.  I realized quickly that I did not have Joe’s fingers, but that did not stop me from practicing my ass off.  I learned how to play guitar by ear, which is the opposite of learning by reading music.  I listened and fumbled around the fretboard until I found the right notes, and then memorized where to go and how to get there in order to play songs.  After a few years, you find that your fingers just “know” where to go.  It sounds odd, and it’s hard to explain in words.  I continued to learn this way until college when I took lessons in theory and composition, and learned how to read music.  It was there that I gained an appreciation for the other side of music, which is the “learned” method.  There’s no wrong way to learn an instrument; I don’t care what anyone tells you.  Just learn as much as you can, and as many methods and techniques as your brain will hold.  Mine is full.

Writing music for films is a different animal than, say, writing songs in a band.  You’re not really writing a self-contained piece of music, you’re writing something that’s “married” to some form of video.  It’s an interesting process, and every composer has a slightly different way of doing it.  My process for writing has always been to loop a section of video on the monitor and start writing over it.  Usually nothing works for the first few hours; sometimes I have to walk away and go do something else, and then when I come back something I originally hated will suddenly sound OK.  Then I start shaping the genesis of an idea into something larger, and start filling it out.  That’s my favorite part of the process, the details.  I’ll usually get ideas from the script; I’ll hear music in my head while I’m reading, but it’s that video process that gets things going.

Usually, I sit down with the director and/or producer(s) and talk about their vision for the film musically.  Sometimes they’re very specific, and sometimes they just hand over the keys and let me run with it.  I prefer having direction; it saves time when you start going back-and-forth, tweaking the music here and there to fit what everyone wants.

I’ll take my notes, which will also include “where” in the film they want music and don’t, and go back to my studio to write.  Then we meet again for a “show-and-tell,” where I play them what I’ve got and take more notes.  Then I go back and write, and the process continues that way until we’re “locked.”

Sometimes I get eight weeks to score something.  Sometimes it’s eight days.  It really depends on the film and how much time they have left at the end of post production when it gets in my hands.  I prefer less time than too much, which feeds into my procrastination.  Once in awhile, I’ll get the film and the director will say “No rush, take your time and let me know when you’re done.”  This drives me nuts, because I need deadlines to get things done in a timely fashion.  If I don’t get one, I’ll create one myself and schedule the show-and-tell myself so I can work backwards from the due date.

95% of what I write is on the keyboard, which is actually called a “MIDI Controller.”  I have some insanely expensive, top-of-the-line samples that get “triggered” with the controller; so that I can play instruments I don’t have access to, like 11 violinists at once.  Everything gets recorded just like a band would do; all the instruments are written separately and then mixed together.  The recording, mixing and orchestrating actually takes more time than the initial writing.

Orchestrating is where you take a melody and harmonize all the other instruments around it.  If you write the melody with a violin, then you accompany it with the viola, cello, double bass, woodwinds, brass, etc, so that they fill out the other notes in the key.  It’s my favorite part of the job, because you get to hear something that sounds “small” become “full” and “whole.”

Twitter in November

Because I joined Twitter at the end of October, November of 2008 was still part of the “feeling out” process.  I had started to accumulate friends.  How, you ask?  Twitter as a site is the definition of “user-generated content.”  Twitter users are a lot like snowflakes: No two of them are exactly alike in their approach to the site.  Everyone has a different “audience” on Twitter, and there are effective ways to find users so that you’re able to maximize your presence and time on the site.

How To Find Who You’re Looking For

When you look for users on Twitter, especially when you’re starting out on the site and need some followers (or in my case, real friends), your goal is to find people who would be interested in the same things you are, or what you’re selling.  If you’re a home builder, it’s not going to generate a lot of business by following “cat lovers.”  In fact, this search will bring up the irascible @ginayates, whose love for her cats is matched by her love of some astronaut named “Scott.”  Gina is well on her way to having 14 cats, which puts her in direct competition with @betenich, who would rescue road kill if @jfuzell would let her.

The basics of searching for users on Twitter comes down to keywords.  For instance, if you’re a composer for film and television looking to network on Twitter for business, following “mommy bloggers” is not going to be beneficial (unless you’re looking to date mommy bloggers, then by all means go ahead and search.  Some of them are pretty funny.  But don’t call them MILF’s.  They don’t like that, and they might band against you on Twitter and accuse you of being a pig.  I wouldn’t know, I’m just sayin’).

The keywords, as an example, that are going to provide me with the best network might be “Director, Producer, Webseries, Editor, Television, Film, Post Production & Entertainment Industry.”  If you find @brownambassador this way, you must have typed “Sleazy Director” by mistake.  Feel free to start over.  These will pull up Twitter profiles that have those words in their profile bio or in recent tweets themselves.  Then it’s as simple as “Following” them and striking up a conversation about what they’re working on and what their future needs are, and finding a way to fit yourself into their equation.

Where To Search

There are many sites set up to help you search for Twitter users, all of them slightly different in their own way. One of the most effective search sites is Twellow (http://twellow.com).  Twellow has been around for years, and was a popular search engine when Twitter’s own was down for revamping last year.  Twellow is great.  For example, typing in the word “Director” immediately yields over 32,000 results.  Typing in the word “Blowhard” will take you right to @jasonburns’ page.  @jasonburns is that guy at the party that everyone thinks is funny, and you’re secretly jealous of him because he’s funnier than you.  But that’s OK, because your way around that is to write a book that’s funny, so that people will think you’re funnier than he is.  Except that he’s on the radio, and heard all over the nation. Dammit.

SO, I embarked on a Twellow search for Directors and Producers that were tweeting.  And I found a slew of them.  I also started to tell people in the real world about Twitter.  This was a lot like talking about building a car when all you have is half an engine in the garage.  But I felt like I was starting to “get it,” and I was excited to tweet about scoring a feature film, “11:11,” that had been in the works for years.  I had signed on to compose the score before the script was even done, so I was not only invited to the casting session and the table read, but on the set itself to observe the process.  The point was to see if I could catch some inspiration and take it back with me, and I was going to tweet about the entire process.

I ended the month of November by following a couple hundred people.  A few of them followed me back, but most of them were waiting for me to strike up a conversation.  Apparently no one told them I was the best thing since wet milk and that they should just follow me instantly.

At the point when I joined Twitter in October, I was 4 years into a relationship with someone I’d met while still in school, and we lived together in LA.  I was happy and things were good.  At least I thought they were good.  We talked, we hung out, we shared dogs and furniture and a life.

Twitter came along at a point when I was in a lull with scoring.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have work, I had a huge film (11:11) looming over me, and I was reluctant to look for projects that were going to conflict with the scoring of that monstrosity, so I was lying low and taking care of other things on my never ending ToDo List.  My ToDo List is so large and prominent, in fact, that it gets capitalized like it’s a proper name.

I saw my advent into Twitter as a rebuilding of my marketing strategy, because it was a different approach than anything I’d tried in the past.  It was also a catalyst that I wasn’t aware of; I didn’t see then how it was going to affect my life later.  After all, it’s just a website, right?

No, it’s really not.

Like the book? Want to own a signed copy, or give one to a loved one as a gift? You can purchase it here!