MF 123 : Alain Mayrand on How to Score Your Career with Perseverance and a USP
Alain Mayrand is a composer and orchestral conductor for film and the founder of Score Club. Today, Alain will share how perseverance + a USP (unique selling proposition) can move you forward in a big way.
Successes at a glance:
Film composer (credits include The Legend of Silkboy, No Letting Go):
See full filmography credits here
See full filmography credits here
Entrepreneur and founder of ScoreClub
Online courses on composition, orchestration and more
Setback failure or time when things fell apart:
Pursuing a career as a film composer isn’t easy. As Alain shares, there is no clear cut road map and many times, it requires tolerating something that no composer wants to hear: silence. Alain started out by putting himself out there, scouring internet billboards and seeking out independent and small film projects that he could cut his teeth on. Despite having the academic credentials and the desire, there was a lot of silence in the beginning. However, as Alain reveals, silence is not a sign that your work is being ignored or worse, that you’re not liked. It’s part of understanding the process of working on a film. A film is a large machine w/ many parts and each part, including the score, has a place and time in the production process. Not hearing back usually means that it’s not the right time in the production process for the filmmaker to be considering the score or soundtrack. Know that when you send out your email or pitch, it may not get looked at right away or even for a long time. Be prepared for silence and embrace it as part of the filmmaking process. There is a time and place for you to get that response and understanding that is critical to moving forward as a film composer.
The other reality is that there is a lot of rejection in this industry. Having been an actor, I can attest to this. Film composers spend many years studying their craft; putting together samples of their work and pitching to many film and TV projects. While Alain has built an incredible career scoring and conducting for some of today’s biggest films, there was a lot of rejection along the way. While there was no one specific “fall apart” moment, there is a question that he asked himself along the way that all artists face at one point or another: “am I going to succeed in this or am I going to be a cautionary tale.” Being a film composer is a highly rewarding career but not an easy one to break into. While many believe a career in the arts is about having “luck,” for Alain’s moving forward journey, it was about the hard work and perseverance in creating his own luck.
The “aha” moment that sparked a pivot:
Alain has had a passion for music and in particular, film scores, ever since he was a young boy. It, therefore, made sense for him to pursue it as a career. Alain studied composition in university, focusing on piano with a minor in jazz guitar. He followed this with a Masters in composition. At one point, Alain was at a crossroads: he could have pursued a comfortable career path in academia, having paid his dues in the classroom. Alain decided not to pursue this route and opted to be a concert composer. However, Alain’s real passion was working in film. Alain had grown up listening to soundtracks and scores, often recording them from the television so he could listen and study them. The problem was that he didn’t know that this could be a career track much less how to pursue it. The first “aha” moment came when he took two courses offered in school in film composition and from that moment, he knew that this is where his future was. Moreover, Alain wanted to pursue his career on his terms which meant, as he puts it, spending some time in the “woodshed” working on his craft as a composer. So Alain went on internet sites where filmmakers would post and share project needs. Alain also built up connections by talking to professors, mining both the academic halls and the freelance projects that were posted online. Alain got his first taste of scoring music while working on compositions for short and independent films.
By the time he finished his masters, Alain had completed four compositions that were “film moods,” spanning genres from romance to action. Alain also got a group of students together to put together a small ensemble and record film moods for chamber orchestras.
As noted above, Alain’s career didn’t come about thru random luck. While some composers stumble into great opportunities via great circumstances and others are great at networking and “schmoozing” at parties, neither describe Alain’s road to success. Instead, he had to come up with his own path to a career in the arts. While trying to break into film, Alain gained experience in concert music; honing his skills as a composer. Alain enjoyed the freedom of composing on his terms and having his music delight listeners. Despite this, he ultimately decided not to continue with it because while he loved the experience of concert composition, his passion kept calling him back to film. Alain loved the entire package of being part of the storytelling process, adding music to the visuals on screen. Having this big “aha” moment of clarity is when things started to shift.
A few years prior, Alain had done work on a short film called ‘Say Yes’ with Neil Every, who went on to become one of the writers of ‘The Legend of Silkboy.’ Having worked with Alain on ‘Say Yes’ and appreciated his work, Neil advocated for him to be the composer for this project. At this point, Alain had never worked on anything of this scale. On top of that, ‘The Legend of Silkboy’ was an animated feature and the only experience Alain had, had up until that point was working on an animated short while in school. However, as Alain shares, there was something special about this project. While Alain didn’t have much experience scoring animated projects, he grew up thinking he would become an animator and to this day, he maintains a passion for animated stories. Neil’s advocacy combined with the work that Alain had already produced convinced the director to hire him for ‘Silkboy.’
While this in itself is an amazing story, Alain also shares an important point about perseverance in this accomplishment. He not only had never handled a project of this magnitude before but he had his fair share of naysayers. There were people who were not in favor of Alain being the composer for this project. While our own doubts and insecurities can be hard enough to deal with when given a first big break, having external forces against you can sometimes be crippling. This is where we either back away or double down. Alain chose the later. He put together a document proving that he was up to the task, never letting anyone’s doubts derail his desire to do this project. Moreover, Alain got to know the director, having conversations with him about the vision of the film. As a result, the director got to know Alain’s work and as revealed in this interview, was convinced when he listened to one of Alain’s pieces which he said was exactly the type of score he was looking for. So you may be wondering what kept Alain moving forward and on course to his seeing his dream career become a reality?
This was Alain’s passion from childhood. While it took a long time to figure it out as a career, at the heart of it, he knew that this is what he wanted to do. This is extremely important, Moving Forward listeners. Anything worth pursuing, whether it’s a rewarding career or business has to be something you believe in because the higher you aim, the more you will face doubters and naysayers. So make sure you are moving forward with something that really lights you up.
Alain knew he could do this. Despite never having worked on a project this large before, he had paid his dues, both academically and in the real world; working on various projects that honed his skills. Further, he had proven himself to one of the writers who advocated on his behalf. If you know anything about film or TV, you will know that writers are extremely protective and particular about their projects. It was no small thing for Neil Every to put Alain’s name to the director when it came time to pitch a composer.
Having proved himself on ‘Silkboy‘ and by virtue of his work as a composer in residence, Alain saw the doors open and open wide. Alain’s differentiator (or his U.S.P.: unique selling proposition) is that he isn’t simply a “computer composer” but a composer that still loves to work with live orchestras. While ‘Silkboy‘ was a great feather in his cap, it was that combined with his work as a composer in residence that led to his next project, ‘Elysium.’ Alain knew the music editor, Rich Walters, and during post-production, got an opportunity to put his U.S.P. to work. The film’s composer hadn’t done a movie before and they needed an orchestrator to make the score come to life. Because Alain had positioned himself as an orchestrator (as well as a composer), Rich Walters naturally turned to him and Alain delivered, providing a live orchestra for ‘Elysium’s’ soundtrack.
And this, of course, has opened new opportunities. When you think about the pieces in Alain’s story: hard work, relationship building and that U.S.P., it’s reminiscent of the stories of some of the successful entrepreneurs we’ve had on Moving Forward. Alain is no different. When you think about it, Alain is not only a great composer and orchestrator, he is someone who has dominated a niche with skills and experiences that many young artists can benefit from. Moreover, Alain shares a great lesson that many of entrepreneurs, including myself, take years to learn. You don’t say yes to every project that comes your way. This is especially necessary for composers. Composition is taxing, both physically and mentally. Saying yes to every project isn’t practical or healthy. Often, projects are priced too low to be worth the time and emotional investment. Instead, Alain has struck a great balance by taking on fewer, more meaningful project that pay better and in between, leveraging his skills and U.S.P. into teaching others composition. Through ScoreClub, Alain has been able to pass on his skills and the nuances of his U.S.P. to help guide and shape the budding film composers of tomorrow. Moreover, Alain is able to use incredible technologies such as online courses, to create solutions that would have benefited him when he was coming into his own as a composer. As Alain shares, this is “sending the elevator back down” via a scalable, evergreen business that allows him to be choosy when it comes to film projects. This is what we call Moving Forward in a big way!
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Alain to move forward:
The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky: Alain studied many genres, including jazz and rock, but always felt he wanted to push the limits of each. It was Stravinsky’s piece that made him realize that this was possible and that the “environment was completely open.”
Favorite app/website/resource or productivity hack:
Google Keep to manage ideas:
Alain’s hack is to make it a two-step process: 1) put the idea on a notepad and then 2) organize those ideas into Google Keep at the end of the day.
This allows you to quickly jot down the ideas and then organize them later while having them sync across all devices.
How Alain recharges when facing a roadblock or challenge:
Reading books on mastering the creative process by pioneers like Edward De Bono. By focusing on building these muscles, Alain finds he doesn’t hit those roadblocks as often – a proactive rather than reactive approach!
Start Moving Forward with Audible and two free audio books:
Try out Audible and move forward with two free audio books through our partnership w/ Amazon.
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Advice to past self while going thru a difficult time:
Alain admits this is a tricky one for him but when it comes down to it, his advice to his past self is simply, “just be you.” The reason is that if you try to follow everyone else’s advice, you will force your way down a path that isn’t your own and will not work. For Alain, his career wasn’t about following other people’s advice or path. It was about creating his own luck by leveraging his gifts, skills, and U.S.P. which evolved from his passion for orchestral music, composition, and storytelling in film. This is the essence of moving forward as an artist: being true to your character and what moves you to create. Finally, Alain advises “be patient” and know that it will work out. Since being an artist and a film composer requires dealing with a lot of silence, this is sage advice that would have saved him a lot of guess work and alleviated some of that early insecurity.
Parting wisdom (in a few words):
“Aim for true excellence.”
Connect with Alain: