Those Times When Inspiration Dries Up

So it turns out I’m pretty bad at regularly updating a blog. I’m sorry! I’ll try to be better, I promise!

Inspiration is a fickle beast. Every artist goes through dry spells. You’re trucking along, churning out great stuff, and then suddenly… nothing. It’s like you ran out of fuel.

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Like, ugh, come on.

I’ve been going through this myself, lately. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. And I know it’ll be over soon enough. But it’s still not fun. For me, it tends to happen when work is slow. I suppose this is better than not being able to think of anything when I have a deadline looming, but it still stinks. I could spend my time working on side projects, writing demos or library music, etc. But alas, my scumbag brain won’t allow it.

That’s okay, though! I know it’ll end eventually, and I’ll be making good music again soon. I think the most important thing is to keep making your art, even if you don’t feel like it. I’ve still been trying to compose every day, even though I feel like 90% of what I’ve been coming up with is hot garbage. However, with the remaining 10%, I’ve started putting together a fake video game music EP that’s been in the works for awhile. I do hope I get more inspired soon, though. Because at the rate I’m going, the EP probably won’t come out for another 10 years.

Inspiration also comes from making life interesting, so I’ve been doing a variety of non music-related things even though my recent lack of work and inspiration sometimes makes me want to sit on the couch all day like a sullen lump. Don’t be a sullen lump! Listen to the music you love! Watch good films! Play beautiful games! Get together with friends! Go for walks! Explore new places!

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Go for walks to find creativity AND cats.

Something super random in your life will eventually inspire you. And soon you’ll be making your art again and wondering why you had such a hard time with it before.

I think it helps that I have some very! exciting! things! coming up soon. It makes me want to keep going so that my musical chops are up to par when the very! exciting! things! start. So if you can’t find any work for right now, maybe try getting attached to a project happening in the future? OR invent a project yourself, I don’t know. I’m not your life coach.

What do you do to get through creative dry spells? Tell me in the comments below!

On Collaboration and Crowdsourcing

NOTE: any comments speculating on or mentioning the real identities of the company or people in this post will not be approved.

Prepositions are, without a doubt, the most boring words. Verbs, nouns and adjectives FTW all day, every day. But today is the preposition’s time to shine! Here are two definitions taken from merriam-webster.com, with some prepositions bolded and italicized for emphasis by yours truly.

Definition of crowdsourcing

  1. :  the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers

Definition of collaborate

  1. : to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

So basically, collaboration means you are working with someone towards a common goal, whereas with crowdsourcing, somebody is getting something from you to help achieve their goal. My bias is probably showing already, so I’ll just be blunt. I think collaboration is great. I also think crowdsourcing is not great.

Now being the artsy fartsy person that I am, I’m going to talk in terms of my experience with artistic collaboration vs artistic crowdsourcing. But these differences certainly exist in other fields as well.

Collaboration is something I do almost every day for my job. We’ll use film scoring as an example, but it also applies to my other music work. So, a director will tell her ideas for the music in the film. I’ll let her know what I think, and we’ll discuss back and forth until we have a framework for me to work with. Then I’ll send her a first draft of music, she’ll give me notes, we’ll discuss back and forth, the music will evolve, and at the end, we’ll have something neither of us could have made on our own. It’s a wonderfully rewarding process, and it’s a huge part of why I love what I do so much.

Now, I’m going to tell you about ArtFarts. ArtFarts is a fake name of a company I was involved with. I chose that name because every other name I came up with was already taken by an actual company, and I have the sense of humor of a 5-year-old.

ArtFarts calls themselves an online collaborative production company. At the helm is a famous actor/actress, who I will call C (C for celebrity, not based on actual initials). Being so famous, C attracts a lot of users to the site. It is quite popular. And the premise sounds great- users from all over the world working together to create films, music, art, writing, etc. via the internet. C then uses their fame and connections to help these productions get wide exposure and actually make a profit, and everyone who contributed gets paid. Cool. Rad. Fun times all around.

But here is an experience I had on ArtFarts that I think truly illustrates how things really work on the site. ArtFarts put out a call for scores for a short film. I scored the film, along with many others, and got some notes back. Cool. I did a second version of the score. I got an email saying that the ArtFarts staff loved my score and wanted to use it. I sent over some sheet music so they could put out a call for instrumentalists to play the parts. Didn’t hear anything back for a long time. Finally, they posted sheet music and a reference track on the site for instrumentalists to play along with. They had completely changed my score, without any input from me whatsoever. I would have been happy to do more revisions, but instead they just took my music and used it as a sort of base for what turned out to be a completely different sounding score.

Now technically this is okay, because when you upload anything to ArtFarts, you give every user on the site permission to remix your stuff in any way they want. But I really did not think the new version of the score was very good, and I was hurt that they decided to just do everything themselves instead of attempting to collaborate with me. Since I’d still be credited as the composer of the score, I let them know that I wasn’t a fan of some of the changes, and made suggestions. I was fed a line about how nothing on ArtFarts is ever really final, but of course the call for instrumentalists was already out. So that is the version that was used. And now I am credited as a composer on this piece that I genuinely dislike.

This is far from the only instance of this kind of thing happening. Several people have gotten their music changed to basically be unrecognizable. Poems, stories, and other writing have been changed to completely take away the original intended meaning. One particularly egregious example was when C decided to edit a beautiful piece of writing by a user about her experience of being a black woman. C is not a black woman. There are also many instances of ArtFarts putting out a call for users to do something, then C just using a famous friend instead, rather than giving the community any feedback.

ArtFarts always talks about how collaborative they are because so many users’ work gets used in a single production, but in reality, it’s just a few heavy hitters using small things from the community (a drawing of a character or prop here, a piece of music there) to achieve their own artistic visions. That’s not collaboration. It’s crowdsourcing, and it’s a gimmick.

I personally don’t like crowdsourcing as a concept, but some people are fine with being part of a crowd being sourced. And that is 100% their prerogative. I just wish these crowdsourcing companies would be upfront about what they are. ArtFarts is not the only crowdsourcing company I’ve seen trying to act like something else. It needs to stop.

I think some people get caught up in participating in these kinds of websites because they don’t think they could get work otherwise. Like, sure, they’re aware that it’s essentially crowdsourcing, but they assume they wouldn’t get payment or exposure for their work otherwise. If you have this view, you should maybe examine why you think that way. There are other opportunities out there. It’s 100% your decision, and I’m sure there are tons of ArtFarts users that will disagree with everything I’m saying here. But I think we can do better. True collaboration, where you’re communicating back and forth and creating something together that really expresses the artistic voices of everyone involved, is such a beautiful thing.

I’m no longer involved with ArtFarts, and the reasons are way more numerous and complex than what I’ve written here. It might actually get an entire separate post (which will probably be much longer than this one). I also want to say that while I’ve been harsh towards ArtFarts in this entry, I genuinely like C and everyone on the ArtFarts staff. They’re wonderful people, and although I disagree with their way of doing things, I don’t think they’re purposely trying to take advantage of the artists in the community. Rather, I think they have a different idea of what collaboration means than I do. And that’s fine, we’re allowed to have differing opinions. This is just me expressing mine.

The Blue And The Beyond

So, earlier today a video came out about my score for a short I did last summer, “The Blue And The Beyond”.

Making-of Series: Music from The Blue & the Beyond on Vimeo.

“The Blue And The Beyond” (henceforth BB) was such a joy to work on, and this is the first time I’ve done a “making of” film. Well, I didn’t really do it. Some other people from the BB team put it together. I just sent them a few clips.

It’s always nice hearing compliments about my work. I’m sure almost every artist has doubts about their work at times. So hearing someone say that they like my music, that I did a good job, is nice. It makes me feel like I’m actually contributing something worthwhile to society. Woohoo!

Anyways, as I mentioned above, I loved working on this film. It’s so imaginative and heartfelt, and it really gave me a chance to write some super emotional music. My favorite! Since a lot of different things happened in the film, I also got to use many different instruments, which is always great. Especially brass. I feel like I don’t usually get hired to write *~*EPIC*~* things (working to change that!), so I don’t get to break out the horns too often. It’s always super fun to do so!

I love working on animated things, because there is so much room for creativity. As long as someone can draw it, it can be in the film. There are also so many different animation styles. Every animated piece I’ve worked on has a completely unique look, and I love that.

Also, I feel like short films are under-appreciated in general. People seem to think they are a thing you do to practice before you graduate to features. And it’s definitely true, on some level, that a short film is easier to make than a feature film, because there’s less content to work with. But shorts are great because an entire story can be packed into such a tiny amount of time. And if something can move you emotionally without giving you a ton of time to get invested in the story, you know you have some very talented people working on it. I think BB is a great example of that!

Also, specifically on the composing end, short films are fun. They’re different than features. I love features because you write these themes, and you can have them come back in different ways later in the film. You’re essentially writing several different cues that all fit together in some way. With short films, you have to tell the story in just a few cues, or maybe even just one cue. It’s challenging in its own way, because you have less time to make an impact. Both are fun, basically!

I hope to never get pigeonholed into just doing one thing repeatedly. Ideally, I’d like to continue doing a mixture of features, shorts, games, and whatever else comes my way. I’m even starting to work on string arrangement on an album for a singer-songwriter! Composing for a living is already exciting in and of itself, but a variety of project types makes it even more so. So, if you ever notice that I seem to be doing only one sort of project, please yell at me. Something like “VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE, MEGAN!” will work.

If you’d like to know more about “The Blue And The Beyond,” you can click here to watch the trailer.

I Compose Because I Love It (And Hate Everything Else)


I have a confession to make. I am so, so bad at keeping a, for lack of a better term, “real” job. Here is a list of things I am bad at specifically, which probably contribute to my sucks-at-jobs-ness.

  • Functioning like a normal human being before 10AM
  • Being on time
  • Being motivated to leave my home when I’m the slightest bit sick/cold/sad/had a bad dream
  • Dealing with being micromanaged
  • Keeping my workspace tidy
  • Dealing with more than a few people for more than a few hours

So clearly I am a dream employee!

Actually, I’m probably exaggerating how bad I am. But I wasn’t great. I couldn’t deal with getting in trouble for meaningless, arbitrary rules. I hated feeling like a cog in some giant corporation’s machine. I hated having to pretend like I was working even though I got all my work done, because somebody higher up randomly decided I had to be there for a set number of hours. I guess I mostly hated feeling powerless and the lack of freedom.

I’ve had many shitty jobs, but this all culminated when I was working in a call center for an online music store. I was working as a sales coach. I had been having lots of panic attacks when I was first working there as a CSR, and I thought the promotion would help me since I wouldn’t be dealing with customers anymore. It did not. Office politics were ridiculous. I was barely making any money. And, worst of all, although my job was easy enough, I felt like I was contributing absolutely nothing to the world. I was teaching CSRs how to be better salesmen so the big corporation I worked for could make more money (and continue paying their employees next to nothing). All the time and energy I spent at this job took away from my composing.

So my anxiety got really bad. I couldn’t shake this feeling that this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, that I was wasting my life. I started missing a lot of work. I would go on Facebook and such in front of my boss, because all the work I had to do would be finished and I didn’t see the point in pretending to be working. I would openly complain about how petty the office politics were on the work IM, which I knew the boss could see. I didn’t care. I hated my job. I wanted to quit and go freelance, but I was terrified of not having a steady income.

Well, eventually I got fired. The official reason was a string of tardies (most of these were, honest to god, 2-3 minutes.) Most of the time when I was late, it was because of a panic attack, which I made the company fully aware of. But regardless, I was gone.

I wasn’t actually that scared when I was fired, though. I actually felt relieved, although my pride was hurt. I decided to become a freelance violin and piano teacher along with doing composing. I collected unemployment for about a month while I found students. Once I found them, I was making more than I did at my old job.

Teaching was great. I’d definitely do it again if things ever get rough with composing. It was also the perfect bridge between a “real” job and what I’m doing now, because I was my own boss, but I also had set lessons with a set price every week. My anxiety lessened. I was doing music related things every day. I was getting more composing work as well. I was pretty happy.

When I moved to Austin, my plan was to do the same thing, but I had a lot of trouble finding students. At the same time, I was suddenly getting a lot more composing work. So that is when I decided to become a full-time composer, and I haven’t looked back since. My anxiety has more or less disappeared, and I almost always really look forward to my work.

Freelancing is hard in a lot of ways. Your paychecks aren’t steady, self-employment taxes are high, and deadlines can be scary. But I wouldn’t go back to a “real” job for anything. Even the most difficult clients are better than a micromanaging corporate boss. I set my own hours and only have to work when there is actually work to be done. I am contributing to the world in a meaningful way, the way I want to do it. I get to meet the coolest people, creators of films and video games and so many types of visual media. The work itself is very hard, but  the final result, hearing my music helping a film or other kind of art to tell a wonderful story, is so worth it.

I used to think that the fact that I couldn’t handle having a traditional job meant that I was weak. That I couldn’t handle being an adult. In some ways, I guess that could be seen as true. And I recognize that I was very lucky with how things worked out. Many people have to work jobs they hate in order to survive. That’s just the way the world works.

But overall, I think my job anxiety was actually a blessing in disguise. I was so determined to become a composer that I couldn’t stand to do anything else. And now I’m making a living doing what I love most. Because ultimately, there wasn’t any other option.

I Let My Cat Dress Me For A Week. Here’s What Happened.

I have seen people do challenges where they let their boyfrienddadtoddler, etc. pick their outfits. Well, never one to be outdone, I decided to let this little lady dress me for a week.

Ramona enjoys cuddles, licking plastic, and attacking my feet when they are under a blanket. I wasn’t sure how she’d do with this challenge, because she only owns one article of clothing, a sweater, and hates wearing it. But she also loves stealing my hair ties, so clearly she has at least a little interest in style.

To pick my outfits, I held her up to my clothes in my closet and wore whatever she sniffed or batted at. For some things, like whether I should wear glasses or contacts, I would hold both of my hands in front of her face, one for each option, and see which one she gave a sniff or head boop. It was a very scientific process.

Also, I had to be fully clothed, duh. And I had to go in public at least once. No hiding in my apartment, no matter how dumb my outfit was! I posted all the outfits on instagram with the hashtag #1weekcatshionchallenge because I am terrible.

Day 1: Movie Date

The first day of the challenge, my boyfriend invited me to a Weird Wednesday screening of Hollywood Vice Squad at Alamo Drafthouse. This was perfect, because a super strange outfit would be appropriate to wear to a so-bad-it’s-good type movie.

“Dress me as wacky as you want, Ramona!” I said. “I’ll be sitting in a dark theater anyways.”

Instead, my cat decided to send me to drabsville USA. I like all these pieces separately, but I usually pair them with something colorful. The bright green flats might have been a nice touch if it wasn’t freezing and rainy outside. My feet and legs were so cold. Not a good start, Ramona!

Day 2: Coffee with the BFF

The next day, I met up with my friend Carrie for coffee. I wondered if Ramona would do any better with my outfit.


This one was okay. I don’t really wear those shoes unless I’m exercising or going to be walking a lot. And wearing Christmas colors anytime other than December makes me feel weird. But otherwise, this was fine. Thanks for the passable outfit, Ramona!

Day 3: Apartment Hunting

The plan for Friday was to go apartment hunting with my boyfriend. I really hoped  Ramona would dress me like a somewhat normal person so as to not scare the landlords.

What the heck, Ramona?! This outfit was so ridiculously cute! Did she actually have a sense of fashion all this time? I looked so grown up. Bonus: the sandals really showed off my very sexy bruised toenail.

Day 4: Hanging with the BF

I skipped Saturday, because I just sat around playing video games all day. On Sunday, my boyfriend Alex and I did normal couple things like going for a walk, going out to eat, trying to kidnap some stray cats, etc.

I was wrong about Ramona secretly having a sense of style. This outfit was so dumb. I felt self-conscious walking around in it, because it wasn’t crazy enough to look like I was dressed weird on purpose. It looked like I was trying to dress cute and just super failed. Ramona, why do you hate me?

I actually got catcalled while Alex and I were on our walk, but that probably would have happened no matter what I was wearing. Catcallers aren’t picky about which women they harass! Lolol!

Day 5: Research Study

Sometimes I do market research studies. I go in for an hour or two and answer questions companies have for consumers about products and then get a whole bunch of money. It’s rad.

This one was at Google. Their offices were v fancy.

This outfit made me feel like such a grown-up! It also made me realize I should wear those black pearls more often.

It was 90 degrees out, so I only had Ramona pick me out a sweater in case it was cold in the office. It wasn’t. I accidentally left it on a chair in the meeting room. I don’t like it enough to make the effort to go back and get it. So goodbye, sweater. I hope you enjoy your new home at Google.

Day 6: Lazy Day

I didn’t really go anywhere Tuesday, but I did sit outside for awhile. Some people saw me. So it counts, okay?!

Lol, Ramona. She was very insistent on this outfit. She stuck her claw into the shirt and then stuck her entire face into the skirt. You can see her in the window showing off her handiwork!

This outfit really screams “I love the Chicago Bears and I am also 5 years old!”

Day 7: Work and drinks

For the final day, I actually had some work to do! Such is the life of a freelancer: no work at all for awhile and then suddenly SO MUCH WORK. I’m not complaining, though. I work from home, so that didn’t involve me going out in public. Once I was done, I met up with some friends for drinks.

Pretty sure I’ve worn this exact outfit before, except with a more neutral colored tank underneath and different shoes. So at this point she was just being lazy and copying me.
Also, when I held up some bracelets for her to pick one or two out, she stuck her face in all of them. Usually I don’t like to pile on bracelets, but she was in charge!

What I learned:

Nothing. These challenges are pointless. Life is pointless. Soon we will all return to the void from which we came. LOL!

A List of the Film and Video Game Scores That Automatically Make Me Cry

I cry pretty easily at beautiful music. I cry even more easily at beautiful music that accompanies a beautiful game or film. If you ever want to see me cry, just play one of these scores for me! You jerk.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Dan Romer)

Last night, my boyfriend Alex and I finally sat down to watch my absolute favorite movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, since he had never seen it. As soon as the first cue started playing, I started tearing up. NOTHING SAD EVEN HAPPENED YET.

This score is so beautiful and huge part of why I love this movie so much. It really captures Hushpuppy’s childlike wonder, and it perfectly enhances the emotional impact of the film.

Child of Light (Coeur de Pirate)

Coeur de Pirate, you magical being, how did you create something so perfectly  heart wrenching?

Child of Light is a beautiful game, for sure. The artwork is astounding and I love the story. But the music really makes the game.

Finding Nemo (Thomas Newman)

Sure, Pixar films are technically children’s movies. But, as we all know from Up, no adult heart is safe from Pixar’s feelings-punchy wrath! And the composers always do such a good job of matching those emotions.

Finding Nemo is my favorite of the bunch as far as music goes. It feels so open somehow, like you’re actually there, floating in the ocean with the fish. This particular piece playings during the opening titles, right after (spoiler?) Nemo’s mom and all his unborn siblings die. Thanks, Disney!

Final Fantasy VII (Nobuo Uematsu)

Ah, FFVII. Such crappy instrument sounds, and yet the music still packs such an emotional punch.

Plus every time I hear anything from this soundtrack I am reminded of THE SAD THING.

Jurassic Park (John Williams)

John Williams, how are you so good at writing such memorable melodies? And making me cry?

Let me tell you a story about the Jurassic Park theme. I saw Jurassic World in theaters when it came out. The Jurassic Park theme played over the main titles and I automatically started crying. And that is the story of how Megan got very emotionally moved by a very bad movie.

While I was writing out this list, I noticed that none of these scores do anything particularly novel when it comes to harmonization or instrumentation. I’ve always believed that music doesn’t need to be complex or groundbreaking to have a major impact. If all those chords and instruments we’ve already heard so many thousands of time are arranged just right, they can really create something magical.

Are there any scores that put you on auto-cry mode? Tell me about them in the comments!

Lady Composer

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In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m going to write a feminist post. Between this and the last post, it’s clear I really like to keep this blog light and non-controversial. Megan Carnes’s blog: fun reading for the whole family! (By the way, I am 25 years old and am still not 100% sure of the proper way to do the possessive form of my own last name.)

A lot of smart, well-informed people have asked me the same question when talking to me about my career.

“How you feel about the fact that there are so few women film and game composers?”

My usual answer is something along the lines of, “I think it’s dumb!” Which is true. But maybe I should go a bit deeper into it.

First of all, people may be surprised to learn that this isn’t something I am *~*OUTRAGED*~* about. Vaguely annoyed is probably a better way to describe it. I get outraged about things like the abysmal percentage of rapes that actually end in an arrest, half of my country actively trying to take away my right to choose what to do with my own body, women in other countries not being allowed to vote, honor killings, etc. Compared to that kind of stuff, a low number of female composers doesn’t seem like that large of a problem.

That’s not to say it’s not an issue, though. The more equality this world can get, the better! And, I’d like to point out some obvious things. I’m white, straight, cisgender, and from a middle class family. These things shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately, they do. And I probably have more advantages in the world than I realize because of these things.

To give you an idea of numbers, of the 250 top grossing films released in 2014, 1% had women composers. So, it’s safe to say that there’s an imbalance there. Composers weren’t included in the report for 2015, for whatever reason. It’s honestly hard for me to wrap my head around WHY there are so few female composers. I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I will anyways: there is absolutely nothing about being a woman that would make someone less capable of being an awesome composer than a man.

Anyways, I don’t think Hollywood is overtly or purposely sexist. That would be an easier problem to solve, I think. But I think the problem is more complicated than that.

I never, ever considered not pursuing composing because of my gender. But I wonder if it’s different for other people. My maternal grandmother was a super badass lady who wore pants and drove a car while it was still considered pretty weird for women to do these things, and she was a single mother to 3 girls. I played with Hot Wheels and dug up worms as a kid. I was never discouraged from pursuing any activities or interests because of my gender. I think maybe a lot of girls aren’t so lucky.

I feel like these even days, girls are still pushed towards certain career paths (nurse, teacher, etc). That’s why there is such a strong movement to get more women in STEM. And it starts by getting  young girls interested in science and technology and other things that, until recently, were considered to be mostly boys things. Film and video game jobs definitely aren’t considered to be “womanly,” so I’m sure plenty of girls and women have felt pushed away for that reason.

Consider, also, that composers have several centuries of role models they can look up to. But these people are almost all men, whether you’re looking at classical composers or modern media composers. Honestly, this is something I didn’t even think about until college, and it still doesn’t bother me very much. I admire Beethoven, Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Thomas Newman and so many others without ever thinking about the fact that they’re a different gender than me. However, I do remember getting excited when I realized that Anne Dudley composed the music for American History X and then later when I discovered that Child of Light was scored by Coeur de Pirate. If I had no women to look up to at all, I can imagine that it would be very scary to try to break into the field. Fortunately, there are other women who have done it, so I won’t be the first. But I can understand how looking at the numbers would still be discouraging.

Being a film composer, or any kind of artist really, requires the ability to be very assertive and be able to sell yourself. In a culture that tends to teach women to be more accommodating and humble than men, it can be scary. I’ve always been annoyingly driven and competitive, and I still had trouble with being assertive when I first started out! I would never talk about cool things I worked on because I didn’t want to sound like I was bragging. I didn’t negotiate prices because I didn’t want to seem “bitchy.” Then one day I was like “fuck it” and decided to fully unleash Business Megan, as I call her. Business Megan takes no shit but also gets shit done. And you know what? My career has been going SO MUCH BETTER since I allowed Business Megan to take over. Nobody has judged me negatively for it, as far as I know. And if they do, they’re not worth my time.

I should also mention that I’ve never experienced overt sexism for being a lady composer. There have been a few times where less experienced men have gotten jobs over me, and I’ve had a small nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me that it very well could be due to unconscious sexism on their part. But it’s so hard to know for sure, since music is so subjective. There have also been cases (this happened a lot at SXSW last year) where older men would start condescendingly yammering at me about how if I want to be a composer, I should work on free projects and build a reel, assuming I hadn’t done those things already. But that could be because I’m young looking and they assumed I was a student, or maybe they were jerks who talked that way to everyone to make themselves look important. Who knows? I don’t have time for those people. The huge majority of industry people I’ve interacted with have been super awesome and helpful, so I think I’ll just stick with them.

Anyways, I don’t think this is something we should be marching on the streets protesting about. The best thing women can do to make the industry more equal is to keep trucking along and not be discouraged by numbers or stupid jerks. Be great at what you do and you will probably succeed. We’re lucky to live in an era where we have the ability to do basically whatever we want, even if things can sometimes be harder for us than for men. Just keep being awesome, don’t listen to jerks who try to bring you down, and prove the sexist dummies who think women are inferior wrong.

Don’t Do Something For Nothing

Let’s say your bathroom sink started acting wonky. It suddenly only put out freezing cold water. No hot water to be found anywhere. So you call up a plumber.

“Hey,” you say. “I need you to fix my sink. It has no hot water.”

“OK, I’ll email you an estimate of how much that will cost you,” replies the plumber.

“Oh, I can’t pay you! But I’ll be sure to tell anyone who asks that you’re a great plumber. And the experience would be great for you!”

Would you say that? Of course you wouldn’t, because you’re not an idiot or a jerk.

Now imagine you’re a filmmaker and you need to hire a composer to write an original score for your film.

“Hey,” you say. “I need you to fix my film. It has no music.”

“OK, I’ll email you an estimate of how much that will cost you,” replies the composer.

“Oh, I can’t pay you! But I’ll be sure to tell anyone who asks that you’re a great composer. And the experience would be great for you!”

See what I’m getting at?

“But Megan,” you might protest, “plumbers are necessary! Art isn’t!”

In that case, I suggest that you go live in an alternate universe with no films, no music, no video games, no visual art of any kind, no cool architecture, and potato sacks for clothing, and then tell me that art isn’t necessary.

“But Megan,” you say, “if someone truly loved art, they would do it just for the art! Anyone who refuses to work for free clearly doesn’t have good motives. They’re only after money.”

Ah, yes, because if someone wants to make money in this world, the obvious path to do so is to become an artist!

Let me explain why I, personally, won’t work for free. I love composing for film more than anything on this earth. I live it, I breathe it. I want to devote as much time and energy as I possibly can to being a film composer. Sadly, things like food, water, shelter, musical instruments, and cat maintenance aren’t free. And yes, I could go get a “real” job. But in my experience, having another job that I have to devote time and energy to chips away at the creative energy and motivation I need to create music. So, when you pay me to write music for you, you’re paying for me to be the best composer I possibly can. And believe me, if you could see where I live, you would know that I’m definitely not getting rich off of these payments. And that’s okay! I just want to be able to survive while doing what I love and providing the best music I can for the projects that filmmakers love.

“But Megan,” you say, “I have another job/I have a trust fund/I’m a hermit and I live in a cave. I don’t need money! I do it because I love it!”

Yes, but this is about more than just you. You may feel that your time and energy aren’t worth payment, but would you say that about other artists? Because when you work for free, you are essentially telling the world that art isn’t worth anything.

Consider, also, that many (although not all) people go to college to learn their craft. And if, like me, they’re in the US, they probably have some student loans. So they went into debt to learn how to create the best product possible for their future clients. The least anyone can do is help them out a little.

3314_1097218148065_300302_nA tiny Megan Carnes, blissfully unaware of the debt in her future.

Now, I am not completely unsympathetic to the other side. I am aware that many people aren’t swimming in cash. Especially when you take someone like a filmmaker working on their micro budget dream film. I have lowered my rates significantly to work on beautiful projects that I really believed in. I have let filmmakers who have given me past work use my pre-existing music for free.

And this is going to contradict what I have said already, but there are circumstances when I think it’s okay to not get paid for your work. They are as follows:

1) You’re just starting out.
I’m going to talk about this in terms of film composing, but it probably applies to basically every field. When you’re an artist, you’re basically selling a product (whether you like to think of it that way or not). And nobody is going to buy your product if they have no idea if the product will be any good. So, in my case, while I was in school, I scored some short films for free. School was the perfect time to do it, because while I was learning music theory and history, I was also teaching myself how to make these things work in the context of film. I minored in film and befriended many student filmmakers whose short films I scored. I also met some aspiring filmmakers online and wrote free music for them. Then, by the time I got out of school, I had a decent reel and filmography, and people started offering me money for my services.

School is the perfect time to get experience and make connections. But if you’re not in school, no worries! Take some time to find people who are willing to have their work done by a newb, practice your craft, and build up a reel or portfolio. I’d say set a time limit for how long this will take you, and after that point, start asking for payment. For me, it was about 2 years before I started getting paid, but I’d imagine you can do it in less.

2) There’s a trade involved.
So the person simply doesn’t have the money to pay you. But they have skills that could be helpful to you. Maybe, if you score this film, they’ll cut together a reel for you. They’ll design your wedding invitations. They’ll teach you some CSS so you can improve your website. They’ll, I dunno, give you a sweet haircut. You get the point. If they can do something you otherwise would have paid for, in exchange for you doing some work for them, I think that’s fair. I wouldn’t do it all the time, but I think this is fine for friends. You should still make sure you can use their thing on your portfolio/reel though. Actually, you should make sure you can use things you work on for your portfolio/reel as much as you possibly can.

Side note: I hate it when people act like experience and credit are payment enough for working for them. This may be news to some people, but I also get experience and credit on paid projects!

3) You really, really want to work on the project and they really, really can’t pay you.
This project is so amazing, so beautiful, that a dark depressive cloud would follow you around for months if you passed it up. And you’ve determined that there truly is no payment to be had. Well, artistic fulfillment can sometimes be payment enough. Just keep in mind everything I said above. And maybe explain to the client that this is a one-time deal because you truly love the project. You don’t want to be known as the free guy. And, of course, make sure it’s something you can use on your reel.

coin
I was going to put a beautifully shot money related stock photo here, but I’m broke and can’t justify spending the money right now. So here is a free image of an 1888 German coin from archive.org. See? It’s a trade-off.

This blog post is in no way directed towards anyone I have worked with, paid or not. Every filmmaker I’ve worked with is so amazing, and I’m grateful for the opportunities they offered me. And, truth be told, I haven’t been asked to write a custom score for free in a long time (possibly since I’m so open about thinking that working for free is BS).

This is, though, directed towards some people I’ve seen making comments throughout the internet about how anyone who refuses to work for free must not really care about art. On the contrary: we ask to be paid for our work because we value art so highly. You should think about doing the same.

Travel

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I decided something recently. It was kind of on a whim (as many of my major life decisions seem to be). When my lease is up at the beginning of May, I’m going to spend until the end of June traveling.

The only definite places so far are Los Angeles and Orlando. Orlando is going to be more fun/relaxing. I’m going to hang with some good friends and hopefully spend some time being a beach bum. Los Angeles will be more about meeting up with awesome/talented film industry people, although I will definitely also be squeezing in a little friend hanging/beach bumming! As for the rest of the time, I either want to go to New York or do a couple shorter trips, maybe to New Orleans and some cities within Texas. I’m not sure yet. But I am excited! I haven’t traveled (except to go back to Chicago, which I really don’t count as going on vacation, since, you know, I lived there for 24 years) in about a year, so it’s time!

I love traveling so much. If I could afford it, I’d do it all the time! The only reason I can really afford these trips are a combination of Southwest deals, awesome friends who are kind enough to let me stay with them, and the fact that I won’t be paying rent in May or June. I love Austin so much, but it’s going to be so nice to have a change of scenery! And from past experience, it’s freeing to just throw all your stuff in storage for awhile. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but temporarily having very few material possessions makes me feel kind of… weightless? It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s because I’m messy and always surrounded by clutter. Besides all that… I don’t understand people who don’t like traveling. I get that it’s kind of stressful, but why would you not want to see the world? Maybe I just get bored too easily.

Anyways, it’s going to be nice to spend more than just a long weekend in LA and Orlando! Los Angeles is so big. And each time I’ve been there it’s only been for a few days, and I’ve been confined to one or two neighborhoods. I’m hoping to explore more this time. And there are many filmmakers I’ve met online that I’d love to finally speak with in person. As for Orlando, every time I’ve been to there has been to go to DisneyWorld/Universal, so it’ll be nice to experience the less touristy side of things!

So yeah. Traveling is awesome and everyone should do it. I’m so happy that I’m able to do this. I’m sure there will be lots of pictures of my travels in the future! OR… a few. I’m kind of bad at remembering to take pictures on vacation. But I’ll try to do better this time.

I made a blog!

I have had blogs before. I had a few different ones in college. And I have a Xanga floating around somewhere from when I was 14, which is a scary thought. But I think this is the first time I’ve decided to start blogging as a real live adult type person!

There will be posts about film. Posts about music. Posts about film music. Posts about composing film music. Posts about being a freelancer. Posts about living in Austin. Other posts about life as a Megan Carnes. Posts about my cat, probably.

I have a posted a picture below to describe my current feelings about this blog. Enjoy!

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