So I’m in a film scoring class here at BYU. It’s been an interesting class so far, and one of the mainstays of the class is that we have a guest lecturer nearly every week who speaks to us about various aspects of film scoring. Although I am taking the class, I’m discovering that I don’t think I want to go into the film scoring field, at least not now. However, this week’s guest was one Michael McLean, known more for songwriting than for straight film composition. So we’ve got ten students and Michael McLean in some room in the HBLL, and he talks to us for two hours about his experience with writing music, especially for the Church. Here are some of my thoughts on the experience.
That man has more passion for what he does than nearly anybody else I’ve ever met. His philosophy was not to write for money, or fame, but to write for people. Now, of course, Michael McLean’s name is nearly synonymous with cheesy Mormon poppy EFY stuff, but back in the 80’s when he started that genre didn’t even exist yet, let alone gain its cheesy status. He’s had difficulty convincing some people higher up in the church that the music he writes will be beneficial in bringing souls to Christ (especially a certain person who wrote a certain talk I’ve quoted before that crushed the hearts of many of his contemporaries), but with a lot of faith and determination it’s happened. People now look back at LDS videos like “What is Real” or “The Prodigal Son” and note the cock-eyed optimism and embarrassing 80’s fashion, but at the time it was on the edge! Out there! Waaaaay too worldy! But teens, members and not, embraced the messages taught and it ended up helping the church. However, one of his favorite experiences is when a pregnant single woman called him up and asked him to write a song she could give to her future child as she gave him up for adoption, to tell him that she still loved him. He honestly thought the song wouldn’t really go anywhere except for that one mother. Now, it ended up being a popular song of his, but he didn’t write it to make a big album, but he wrote it to make a difference in the life of one person.
And that’s what music really is about: changing people. For better or for worse. The week before our guest was a moderately successful composer who wrote music for slot machines for a living and was very cynical about the whole thing. “Get a day job!” “Put out crap so you can get a job!” Those were his mantras, and it’s easy to pick those up once a person has left the college arena and entered the real world. But you know what? The real world isn’t corporate America. The Real real world extends beyond this life, and it’s helping people in that respect that matters more than money, or fame, or anything else. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to go out there and write songs like Michael McLean does, but I am saying that it’s easy to lose perspective. Making it in the music business is impossible without compromising your values. But it’s embracing the impossible, as he put it, that allows one to overcome it.
I like writing music and songs that brighten people’s day. My style is often more comedic and ludicrous than straight inspirational, but the goal, in the end, is the same. I have a friend who told me that whenever she’s feeling down she listens to my Mr. Jones song (found on my Soundclick page) and it brightens her day. If that’s all I accomplish, it’s worth it (see D&C 18:15). Of course, I hope to do more than that (see D&C 18:16), but it’s that that I need to keep in mind.
This ended up being more disjointed than I had hoped, but I hope the message is clear.