Archive for April, 2013

April 28, 2013

EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION

If you plan to make a living as a musician and/or composer, I’ve got some quick advice for you. Get used to criticism, but don’t let it deter you.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of opinions for or against my music. One of the greatest or funniest comments of all time: “I’ve always wondered who wrote that awful music!”

This statement was actually made by a realtor who was touring one of my homes in the Chicago area. She spotted my music studio and asked me what I did for a living. At the time, I was composing music for Gottlieb pinball games at Premier Technology in Bensenville, Illinois. I explained what I did for a living and thus, the infamous and ignorant comment, “I’ve always wondered who wrote that awful music!” Needless to say, that realtor did not get the listing to sell my house.

How many times have I been criticized or ridiculed? In the course of my career, way too many times to recall them all. I do remember being “booed” by a bunch of obnoxious drunks in a bar called The Gridiron in Crown Point, Indiana because I apologetically explained that I did not know how to play “Jingle Bell Rock” at a gig shortly before Christmas. This led to “My grandmother can play better than you!” and other choice comments that can not be published here, because they are too offensive. That was a long gig.

I remember people giving me advice about what kind of equipment to buy, what to wear onstage, etc. Oh, yeah, according to a past band leader and band manager, I shouldn’t have worn my wedding ring onstage because I was supposed to appear “available” to female fans. That same band leader and manager told me I’d never work again after I left that band. Oops, where are they now?

More recently, an old friend, upon hearing that I now compose music for casino games, said, “What a horrible job. You just make noises all day? How do they pay you? With tokens?” I told the person that I love my job at IGT and changed the subject.

I know that the vast majority of people in this world do not intentionally mean to cause harm when they talk. It could be that they have a strange sense of humor, are totally drunk, or they are simply incapable of filtering anything that comes out of their mouths. My way of dealing with this kind of criticism is to shake my head, roll my eyes and have a good laugh. I don’t take it personally.

All that said, there are also times when constructive criticism can be very positive. This is particularly true when working with a team, which I do all the time for games. Music is a very subjective thing and there are a lot of people who need to be pleased with the results. These include the producers, game designers, studio directors, sales force, buyers and ultimately, the players. So I always listen to what people are saying. Sometimes, that means taking the music in a totally different direction than I would have gone on my own. But more often than not, those voices have helped make a better game.

Unless you are creating music only for yourself and no one else will ever hear it, get used to criticism in one form or another. That’s just part of being creative and especially in music. The most outrageous comments will eventually make you laugh, even though they may not be pleasant at the time. The constructive comments will help to create more successful projects. Never let it get to you. Simply enjoy music as the universal language and celebrate your part in it.

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April 21, 2013

GIVING BACK

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mitch Gallagher since the late ‘90s, when he was the editor-in-chief at EQ Magazine and did a feature story on me. He is a very talented musician and music technology specialist, who has an extremely impressive resumé that includes touring, teaching, writing several books and winning a Grammy award in the Best New Music/New Classical category. Beyond all that, he’s a really nice guy and we do still keep in touch from time to time.

Mitch contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in being interviewed and talking about my career with his Business For Music class that he teaches at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. I loved the idea, so I set up a Skype account to do a virtual meeting with the class.

I had a great time talking to the students and answering their questions. My normal routine is very solitary, creating music and audio in my work and home studios. This opportunity let me connect with students and impart some of the knowledge that I’ve gained over the decades while I have been playing and composing music.

The music business doesn’t come with an owner’s manual and everyone has his or her own journey. There is a lot to learn and a lot of decisions that you must make along the way. So I hope that the students picked up some information that they will use as they enter the next stage of their careers.

Just like any volunteer will tell you, when you give back, you receive so much in return. If you ever get an opportunity, it is well worth your time and effort.

IPFW

April 7, 2013

INNOVATION WEEK

I recently participated in my first Innovation Week at IGT. It was an amazing experience that took me out of my everyday content creation mindset in my studio and put me in a room with 11 other people from different disciplines from all over the company. I went in with an open mind, figuring that shaking things up to come up with new ideas might be a great opportunity. I was right.

The majority of the company was encouraged to participate. We were broken up into teams of around 12 people each. There were 41 teams and since IGT has offices around the world, there was a very diverse representation of talent. Reno has the most employees and the machines are actually manufactured here, so we had 21 teams.

The first thing that could go wrong with this concept is the fact that you are sitting in a room with 11 other people, most of whom you don’t know. Although I’ve never served on a jury, I imagined that it would be pretty similar. Everyone has their own personalities, opinions, experiences, expertise and abilities to speak up in a group. Some people are shy, while others tend to take over the room. Our moderator made sure to balance out these differences, so most of the awkward imbalances between our personalities were mitigated, if not totally eliminated.

The mission statement of Innovation Week was intentionally vague. Basically, we were all asked to get together and brainstorm on how to deliver new and better experiences for our customers and players. This could be anything from how to track parts on the assembly line, new technology that streamlines the infrastructure, or creating a totally different player experience on the casino floor.

After a brief period of feeling a bit of discomfort, I found myself opening up and just blurting out new ideas. Sometimes they were just crazy, and others would spur others in the group to morph the idea into something bigger and better. I found that the more I contributed, the more others would contribute. The more they would contribute, the more I could come up with, as well. None of us judged the ideas we came up with during our brainstorming sessions. Once someone says, “it can’t be done,” you kill the creative vibe. I was amazed that collectively, we came up with over 100 new ideas.

Around mid-week, we started to narrow down our ideas so that we could put together our presentation. It was then that one of the engineers asked a question about a certain technology that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. It turned out that he asked the right question. The other engineers became very passionate about how it could be done and devised a solution that could be a game changer for the company.

So we decided to present two ideas. One was a concept for games in the future, which I had been thinking about for a long time. The other was the game changing technology concept. We then put together the presentations that started with a short “advertisement” video, which encapsulated the idea in a very short and simple way. Then a speaker would talk about it in more detail with the aid of a Power Point presentation.

As Bob Moog told me once, “You can build anything you want, but can you sell it?” So it made sense that the first rounds of presentations were made to the sales force and the studio directors. All of them have great insight into what the customer wants and how feasible an idea is to actually implement.

Twenty single ideas (not teams) were selected to go on to the next round of presentations. Our technology idea made the cut and we presented again. This time, the audience was all of the top-level executives at IGT. Included were our CEO, Patti Hart, Chief Creative Officer, Darrell Rodriguez, various VPs and members of the Board Of Directors.

This was a pretty animated bunch. For some reason, I thought that the room would have been dead serious and everyone would have scowls on their faces. But it was quite the contrary. They seemed very happy and excited about the ideas they had heard from some of the other teams that presented before us and that continued throughout our presentation.

We started our presentation with an estimate of how much money could be generated as the result of our idea. At that point, one of them remarked, “You’ve got our attention now!” Everyone in the room started laughing and we proceeded. We were told to apply for a patent immediately, so I guess they thought the idea was pretty good.

In the end, our idea ended up winning second place in the Concept category. While I can’t divulge details, Innovation Week resulted in literally thousands of ideas that can help to move the company forward.

If you ever get the opportunity to participate in an event like this, don’t even give it a second thought — just do it. Any awkwardness or slight discomfort you might go through is far outweighed by the feeling of accomplishment. Even if your own ideas aren’t selected or implemented, you’ve contributed to many greater ideas. All of these diverse ideas will help to shape the future.