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Be Human

Many years ago, when I was a wee lad

A drummer named Billy Ward came to my hometown to teach a masterclass. Part of his stay involved teaching a drum lesson to a small group of people, and I was already a big fan of Billy, so this was a huge deal for me.

During the group lesson

It came to be my turn to play something for Billy and the group of drummers to get critiqued. I was so ready. In my back pocket, I had a mega complex, super difficult polyrhythm I had been practicing for months and months. It sounded wild. It sounded like perfectly controlled mathematic chaos. I was so sure it would wow everyone, especially Billy.

So, I step up to the shiny, piano black drum set in the center of the room, look at my fellow drummers staring right back at me, take a deep breath, and start to play.

And, if I may toot my own horn, I nailed it

The polyrhythm comes out flawlessly. I'm in the zone, and everything happens subconsciously. It was like that beat was flowing through me, and nothing was getting in its way.

After a little bit, I finish up, and look expectantly out to the crowd, expecting endless adulation and praise.

Instead, everyone is stone-faced and bored, including Billy.

Billy locked eyes with me intensely, genuinely curious and even a bit confused, and simply asked, "... why did you play that?"

I honestly didn't have a great answer. All I could think to say was "I thought it would be impressive."

At that point, Billy taught me a very important lesson

He said "we're a room full of humans. You need to play something that humans would actually enjoy. There's a time and a place for the fancy stuff, but if you're not appealing to people in any way at all, then what's the point?"

I was crestfallen, but the lesson stuck. And it made sense even more when the next student came up to the drums and played the simplest beat of the day. It was an easy-to-play beat, sure, but he played it really well - with tons of emotion. After he was done, everyone went wild, including Billy. He acted like a human, and that made the other humans in the room happy.

In our careers, we often forget that our "target market" are humans as well.

We start to overcomplicate things, wondering about how many hashtags we should have on Instagram, how many characters long our LinkedIn profiles should be, why we're suddenly not getting enough likes, freaking out about how long our demo reel should be... and in that overthinking, we forget to be human and we lose our appeal.

So much of my work with my students in my Game Industry Professional course is helping guide people back to the simple (but not easy) human things that need to get done to have an amazing career. It's so easy to forget about those simple things, and it helps to be reminded consistently.

Yes, there's a time and place for having a curated online presence, for having a good demo reel, for making our website perfect... but making all this stuff our top priority leads us to overthinking, overcomplicating, and worst of all, comparing ourselves to others. And then, before we know it, we fall behind.

So, come at this from the point of view of a real person. Put yourself in other people's shoes. What do you think they would like to see from an audio person? What are their actual struggles? What do they actually need? Figure that out, and everything gets easier.

When you start to think like that - like the wonderful human you already are - it makes all the difference.


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