What’s a Midiot? & FAQ

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Welcome, What’s a Midiot? and other Frequently Asked Questions

Midiot Home

Welcome to MidiotMusic.com
I originally built this website in order to service my clients. Rather than wasting hundreds of CDRs and spending a fortune on messengers, with this website I can simply create a web page where a given client can preview the work as I create it. It has become an invaluable tool in my business.

But over time it has grown to be much more. It has become my little portal to the world where I can share my creativity, address my audience, answer questions and peddle my wares.

And how it has grown. All told, there are almost four hours of music scattered throughout the site. Most of this music is accompanied by a picture, information about its origin or a discussion of the techniques I used to create it. I hope you enjoy searching through all the links.

The site is best experienced with a DSL or cable modem and a browser configured to play MP3 and Quicktime files. I apologize in advance to those with a 28.8 modem and anything less than a version 4.0 browser.


Craig Stuart Garfinkle

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  1. I’m a college student making a few decisions on how to start a career as a composer…
  2. How can I begin working in the music industry? Do I need a specialized music degree?…
  3. How do you come up with your themes? What elements are you given to work from?
  4. What Equipment Do You Use? What do you recommend?
  5. Can I hit you up for some advice as to who to send a demo to …
  6. I am a songwriter and I want to produce my song. When is the production good enough?
    Last Updated: 1/29/04

Whenever I get e-mails or questions in my seminars asking for help dealing with one’s career in music, the first thought that always occurs to me is “Why ask me? I feel as though I’m the one who needs the help.”

All seriousness aside, I decided to compile some of these questions and answer them to the best of my ability. What follows are some of the guidelines which have worked for me. But as with all things in the arts, take from it what you will and make it your own.

  1. I’m a college student making a few decisions on how to start a career as a composer. Do you have any suggestions?
    This is the number one question I am ever asked.

Back when I was a teaching assistant at UCLA, instructing one of the jazz ensembles, I would answer questions like these by stating, “If you can be anything else other than a creative artist, and be happy doing it, then be it. The arts are a wonderful part of one’s life, but being an artist can be a miserable career choice.”

I would then go on to say, “Your love for the work has to be strong enough to lift you past all the obstacles that will be set before you. If you truly know the reality of what’s ahead and still are driven to give it a shot, than you may just have the drive to succeed. “

It’s been almost sixteen years since I was at UCLA. And looking back on what I used to say to those classes, my first thought is, “Get over yourself kid, you were only 24! What the hell did you know?”

What I take from these words now, through the benefit of hindsight, is that the most instrumental element in allowing me a career in film and TV music has been my love of the art. I do it because I thrive on it and that type of energy will always make one a success.

Therefore, the best suggestion I have is to look within yourself and make an assessment: If you can honestly say, “I love film music so much that I can spend the next ten years perfecting every aspect of my ability and I will not be dissuaded by disappointment or failure.” Then you will eventually achieve your goal.

But also know, this kind of drive will make you a tremendous success in any venture you strive for – most of which are a lot easier to succeed at.

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  1. How can I begin working in the music industry? Do I need a specialized music degree? Or something like audio engineering?
    I have two music degrees. No one has ever asked to see them. The parchment is sitting in a closet somewhere.

The “degree” is not the valuable commodity, but in the business of film/TV (and even video game) music, the education is priceless. It’s what you learn on the way to the degree and the people that you meet on that path that will help you to succeed. The business is hard enough, why not arm yourself with all the ammunition that’s available.

I soaked up everything I could from my education and I can’t count the number of times I have drawn upon it in tough situations. And this education never ends. To this day I attend all types seminars and read voraciously – not just about music and music technology but about everything.

The other main component to my continuing education is that I never allow myself to be completely comfortable with my composition skills or musical taste. I am always challenging myself to be novel in my approach to the art as well as to the music of other artists. I dismiss nothing and absorb everything!

As far as traditional education, at some point I would like to pursue a doctorate in conducting. Not for the degree, but to me, studying the great orchestral repertoire at that level is a life experience I don’t want to pass up.

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  1. How do you come up with your themes?
    What elements are you given to work from?
    I often draw this comparison: Writing a theme or creating a musical identity is much like walking into a dark room, blindfolded, with a dart in your hand, being spun around three times and then being told to hit a target hanging on one of the invisible walls. I am amazed every time it works out. So on this question, I’ll answer the last part first.

With each project, the elements I work from changes. Sometimes the entire film has been “temp tracked” with existing scores and I am told, “Get as close as you legally can get.” Other times I am given a script, a picture, a show bible, a vague idea or even just a “title” and I am told “We don’t know what we want, but we’ll know it when we hear it.” Every situation presents its own maze.

Certain things, however, don’t change. The more information I can get about the project, the more adjectives I can load up with about its emotional content, the better I understand the roll the music needs to fill, the easier it is to hit that invisible target.

For example, a client hired me to create the musical identities for seven “intellectual properties.” The goal, much like any theme, was to musically stamp each of these “properties” with music so definitive that once connected to the property, it couldn’t be separated from its source.

This situation was one of the best examples of how things can work. The client has been developing these “intellectual properties” for a number of years – defining their market, defining what they should present emotionally, defining the elements the properties need to reflect.

When I ask obscure questions like, “Does this deadly serious theme contain a slight wink, or are we really in mortal peril at all times?” I got clear and concise answers.

The client presented a handful of musical models, but the client also realized that part of creating a unique identity means defining your own musical model, not copying one that exists already. I was free to push the boundaries of the models to the breaking point – as long as the emotional content remains. This type of collaboration is priceless.

Now comes the hard question, “How do you come up with your themes?” Well, at the risk of being too metaphysical, this is how I do it:

After I’ve loaded up with all this information from the client, from the musical models, or whatever else I’ve been exposed to, I try to forget it all and clear my head. This is when I try to let my creativity and inspiration lead the way without my intellect getting in the way.

I try to visualize the hazy view of what the music should be and then, using all the tools at my disposal, I slowly highlight that image until it becomes clear to me – one phrase or one measure at a time. I only allow the intellect to get involved when I find myself needing to get from one musical idea to another or to help me expand on an existing theme. The rest I try to find through inspiration.

Most of the time its only after I’ve completed the process that I can then step back and figure out why I made the choices I did. The funny thing is, looking back, those choices always seem clear to me – as though the path had been visible all along and I just couldn’t see it while I was there.

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  1. What Equipment Do You Use? What do you recommend?
    I first answered this question about three years ago (6/01). I then updated it around 8/02, but when I read my previous answers today (1/04) I am awe struck by how fast things are moving and changing. Here’s the chronology:

Three years ago I was into hardware – racks of samplers and synths being played virtually by Digital Performer 2.72 and mixed through my Mackie 32/8. This was all done by a Mac 8100 with a G3 300 MHZ accelerator.

Last year main computer was a G4 Dual 450 running DP 3.02 and Protools LE 5.1 under OS 9.22.. I had my old 8100 running in “passive mode” filled with nubus sample cell cards. I had a total of only 64 MB of sample ram and I relied on external synth modules and signal processors to produce my music.

Today (1/04) it’s all about software and CPU speed. I have slowly been selling all my rack synths and outboard reverbs, or simply not repairing them when they die on there own.

Instead I have been replacing them with software and computers. I now have two G4s (Dual 450/Dual 1 Gig) and a 2.4 Gig P4. They all are filled with as much RAM as they can hold.

All mixing, processing and sound generation is happening inside the CPUs and I use ADAT lightpipe or S/PDIF to conect them all. My Mackie mixer is now used only as a router and for 5.1 monitoring.

The Dual 1 Gig G4 does the majority of the heavy sequencing while the 2.4 Gig P4 runs Cubase SX as a shell for VST instruments and plug-ins.

My Dual 450 G4 is used as an Altiverb machine – just as if it were a dedicated external reverb.

My main tools are:

The Vienna Symphonic Library

The ESX24 and everything Emagic

The Waves Plug-ins

Kontact and anything by Native Instruments

Reason 2.5

Hallion 2.0 and anything Steinberg

I have also begun a true love affair with the nuances of four different sequencer/audio applications and I try to let the musical style and production needs dictate which is primary. For me the key has become about flexibility and sonic excellence. These are:

Cubase SX 1.06

Logic 6.33

Digital Performer 4.12

ProTools 6.2.2 LE w/ AV Option

For signal processing I use the native MAS, DAE, VST, AU and Logic, plug ins but state without hesitation that if you are serious about making music on a Macintosh, you have got to have both the “Waves” and “Altiverb” plug- ins.

One last statement about technology:

The more composers begin to rely on the same tools to create their music, the same sample libraries or software, the more we have to challenge ourselves to find new and exciting ways to manipulate the medium to make sure the music we create is truly from our heads and not from the tools.

The tools should follow – not lead! With this in mind, I know it is no accident that the more I have relied on my computer to assist me in the creative process, the more I find myself using my guitar for inspiration or “singing” the sounds I want to hear.

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  1. Can I hit you up for some advice as to who to send a
    demo to in your neck of the woods? And any thoughts
    you might have on “getting into” the film scoring arena.
    This question got me thinking about the path I have taken – the one that has (so far) worked for me. It’s a lot deeper than one might imagine.

First, chances are, unless you are related to someone, no-one wants to listen to a demo from a neophyte film composer. This is especially true amongst “The Gatekeepers.” The music executives that I know are dancing so fast to keep up with their own “caseload” that they barely have the time to listen to the music they are getting paid to hear. There are simply not enough hours in the day.

Does this mean that a young composer shouldn’t pursue these people like a heat seeking missile? Absolutely not! But don’t expect anything of it!

Your career (again, speaking from my experience only) will not be built on the “Gatekeepers.” It will be built by your friends, family and the reputation you create for yourself by doing a good job. I always try to remember this fact: “The only people who will risk introducing you as the composer for a project are the ones that either are related to you, or, know your work so well that they are certain that if they offer their recommendation, they know you will do a great job.” Music is simply too “dangerous” for producers to handle any other way.

This kind of trust is not built in a day – it takes years – and the irony is that most everything that goes along with this aspect of being a successful composer is directly tied to being a good friend and an honest person. So at the risk of being entirely too big for my britches, I offer the following steps to “getting into” the film scoring arena.

  1. Know your stuff!!! Or be able to learn it quickly. Do the homework! Be a phenomenal musician and an omnivorous student of the media.
  2. Find good people and treat them like gold. Not only will this enrich your life, but magic might happen!
  3. Never be satisfied with what you’ve created, but don’t beat yourself up over it.
  4. Look to the composers you can admire, both for their music and how they conduct their lives, find the steps on the path they have taken, and try to follow them. The path will become your own.

When I mentioned #4 to a prominent film scoring agent, the silence on the other end of the phone was deafening! Sometimes, less is more.

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  1. I am a songwriter and I want to produce my song.
    When is the production “good enough?”
    My favorite “productionisms” is: “No music production is ever finished – only abandoned.”

Whenever I consider the quest for artistic perfection I always think of my dear friend Jack Segal. Jack is a songwriting legend who is as active today at 80+ as he was at 30+. His catalog includes the classics “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “Scarlet Ribbons” and “More Love.” He has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbara Streisand to Snead O’Connor.

Jack is the first one to tell you that in his entire career, during which he has written maybe a thousand songs, he only feels that at most, three are perfect. The rest are flawed.

Truth is, no production will never be “good enough,” even if it wins an Emmy. I may just be projecting now, but for me, part of being an artist trying to capture the illusion of perfection means living in a state of constant dis-satisfaction.

That’s not to say I haven’t created some great productions or written some wonderful music, but I always try to temper my expectations. Which leads back to the question, “When is it good enough?”

If you want the song to have a shot at being included in a film or TV show:

In this instance you really need to think of your production as a finished master. It should sound like it came off an album. In today’s market, it is the rare “big budget” show that will spend the time or money to flush out your demo into a full fledged cover by a major artist. Yes, I have heard that Dianne Warren can present a demo consisting of three kazoos and a percussionist playing spoons, but for the rest of us, a great song with a stunning production is a necessity.

If you want to present a song to an artist:

Spend some time learning about the artist and what they prefer. Some artists hear a killer demo singer and dismiss the song because they can’t hear themselves singing the song better . Others are inspired by a killer track that they would love to sing over. Others don’t want to hear more than just the melody and the chords. To confuse the matter further, others say they just want the chords and the melody but have no ability to hear beyond that anyway. As in all things, the more knowledge you have the better you can judge. But personally, I always go the extra step to produce the song to the best of my abilities in all cases.

If you want to present a song to a publisher:

Gone are the days where a songwriter could show up at a publisher’s office with a guitar and walk away with a contract. The nature of the business has changed. Most publishers are now in the business of shopping finished masters to film and television projects, finding ways to exploit their existing catalog to artists, or trying to get their established hits into the advertising world. It is unfortunately unfair to the songwriter but nowadays it’s the rare instance where a publisher will invest in a demo. They want masters that they can place – not demos that need to be expanded upon.

So when is it OK not to produce a song at the highest level:

For me, I only do quick mock ups for co-writers, collaborators or my family and friends. I’ll send my lyricist, for example, a quick piano version of a song idea to get the juices flowing. Or if I feel a director has the ability to hear past a non-orchestrated version of a theme, I might share a rough version – after I already have the job. I’ll even play a quick demo for my family if I really like a song. Everyone else gets masters!

My advice, therefore, to a songwriter just starting out is to try to honestly evaluate your catalog, pick the absolute best song that you have, and then try to capture the most professional version of that song you can comfortably afford – if for no other reason but to have a concrete example of your songwriting abilities at a given point in your life. Just don’t expect that you will hear the song on the radio next week. First and foremost, you need to be creating the song for yourself, because you need to hear it.

And if you are lucky, and you put in the effort to really sell the song, you might find a place for it in the market – but that can’t be the reason you make the demo.

One final note on this before I go off the deep end. In my own personal life as an artist I am trying to subscribe to this truth: “The world doesn’t need another mediocre song or a mediocre production. If I really want to make something for the world to hear and enjoy, I am going to do my best to make it something special and truly worth hearing. That means committing myself to except nothing but the best I have to offer.”

And so it goes…

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he word “Midiot” comes directly from my conflicted relationship with all things technical in music composition.

On the one hand, midi has allowed me to express myself in amazing ways.

On the other hand, a brilliant instrumentalist will always bring magic to a performance – breathing life into a composer’s creation. There’s nothing like the rush of hearing your music performed!

This conflict has always made me crazy and thus… a “Midiot.”

1. Your hands are permanently frozen in the shape of a midi plug.
2. You mow your overgrown lawn and find a DX7.
3. The mention of a Dual 1.25 G4 causes a Pavlovian reaction.
4. Your new Dual 1.25 G4 is sitting on top of your old 300 MHZ G3 as a stand

What’s your definition?
Send it to: [email protected] and we’ll post it!