No Stopping Any Time
One sunny day at Hollywood in 2013, I had some free time from my sound design internship in Los Angeles. Driving around the city was always exciting. Scouting out film locations from movies, like the pawn shop from Pulp Fiction or the mall used in the Back to the Future movies, or finding those LA staples people always seem to mention, like Coffee Bean or In-N-Out Burger.
While driving in Hollywood on that sunny day, I decided to see if I could drive up to the Hollywood sign. You now, that huge sign ALWAYS shown in movies and tourist pictures. I was too lazy to try hiking up, and I certainly had time to see just how far I could go to get to the sign. I often heard that if you're up there for longer than 10 minutes, a helicopter might be seen hovering over you, or you might immediately be prompted by police to get out of the area.
So I figured, what the heck, I'll see what it's like to try and drive up, snap a super quick picture, and get on with my way.
As I drove up a road that Google Maps told me to follow, the road became twistier and narrower. The houses that I drove by clearly became fancier and more upscale. I had a sense that I was in a private residential area, but I kept going forward on the road. Eventually, a gentle sign on the road suggested that a dead end was ahead. I decided to keep going to see how far the road goes. Soon, more dead end signs popped up. And more. And more. Soon, the signs turned into more aggressive ones, such as "Turn back immediately" or something along the lines of "You will be escorted by police for pursuing this area". What did I do? Curiosity was already taking the wheel and I kept going.
As the signs became more persistent, I eventually reached a sandy and circular platform. At this point, I was literally surrounded by signs that said "Turn back", "Police are watching", and "DEAD END".
I looked to my left, and there it was, that sign that I always saw in pictures. I immediately grabbed my phone, snapped my phone, and prepared to turn back. Just as I was about to, I noticed one tow away sign with an arrow coincidentally pointing to a convenient hiking path to the sign that simply read:
No stopping any time.
This quote from the picture that you see in the beginning of this blog post that has always stayed in my mind since that sunny day. The time when this happened, I was struggling to keep payments up at the place I was staying in LA, and it was hard to keep up with rent, rental car payments, learning how to roam the city, and learning what it took for a composer/sound designer to land a gig at a game studio. It was overwhelming.
But everyone who I knew worked hard and overcame challenges, everyone I knew moving to LA and everyone I knew establishing their own brands and studios in Boston, struggled with something. There was always a struggle they had to face. Even if they had to crawl, though, they kept moving. They never stopped.
All of these lessons, I never would have learned, however, if it hadn't been for setting foot into Boston. Attending Berklee College of Music and getting to know the game developer community in the area has taught me so much that I hope I never take for granted.
A New Journey
After living in Boston for 7 years, I am now moving to Los Angeles.
I found out about a new job opportunity that I worked hard to find, and I'm blessed that I found an opportunity to go to a city I was thinking about moving to for quite sometime.
At the same time, I'm very sad to leave Boston so quickly. This was the city that, in my career and education, I was truly raised in.
I learned what it means to make friends who have different beliefs than I do.
I learned how to develop a career in the games industry, and having both honesty and confidence in its challenges.
I learned about so many different music genres. Progressive metal mixed with jazz and electronica? Only Berklee could have shown me sub-genres like this :)
And I learned SO much from the friends, mentors, and people that I met here. Everything about Boston has been so important for me.
I learned what it means to have support and not be afraid of asking for support. Frankly, I still struggle this with part, but hey, Boston was by far a fantastic step on improving on this.
I wanted to sit and write about how my journey got me to where I am now. My LA chapter has only just begun, but Boston is an absolutely important part of my life, and I hope to not take the lessons I learned and the friends I made for granted.
I moved to Boston after being accepted to Berklee College of Music in the fall of 2010. Being raised in Houston, TX for many years, it was a pretty huge jump, geographically and culturally, for me to move to such a different place like Boston. I had to walk to so many places. I had to keep up with a hectic class schedule in a school where I knew absolutely no one.
I often hid the fact that i was terrified about this move and that I did not feel like I fit in with every one of my musician classmates who seemed to already be the next great Pat Matheny guitarist or Gavin Harrison drummer. Everyone in the city seemed so damn confident all the time, too. They knew where they were going in a busy crosswalk. They were able to navigate the city with public transportation with no problem. You can imagine how overwhelming this all was, though, coming from a Texas suburb where I relied on a school bus to get me to my high school. Life dramatically changed once I came here.
I went to Berklee from September 2010 to May 2015. In my senior year of high school, I got a flyer in the mail about Berklee, mentioning that video game scoring is a possible study to take at this school. This. Blew. My. Mind. I HAD to come here. I always heard good things about the school, I always heard about the alumni who came here, and I was amazed that there was a college that took film scoring and video game scoring seriously. I'm still amazed that I was accepted to the school and the Electronic Production & Design major.
So much has happened with me at this school and at this time of my life that it's impossible to summarize it in this tiny blog post. But I am happy that for 5 years, I took as much positive advantage of the school as possible.
I made friends with people who were SO different from me. Everyone is a musician at the school, of course, but this school means so much to me because I met people who acted different, believed in different ideologies and philosophies in life, and people who were not afraid to be brutally honest in musical critique. I've benefited greatly from the friends I made in Texas, of course! But I met totally different kinds of people here in Boston, and I am so grateful that I did. No way would I be as social as I am now. No way would I be as curious about other musical genres, other paths of music, and other beliefs in life if it weren't for Berklee.
I had a blast going to all of the clubs of the school, the Video Game Music Club absolutely being the top one. The Sound Design Network, Women's Film Initiative, and Film Scoring Network were also great clubs, not just for their education value, but to meet new people and friends and learn from them. These clubs are also what motivated me to participate in my first Global Game Jam in January 2012. (Hoopsnake!)
A moment in time I will never forget was seeing everyone come together during the city lockdown at the time of the Boston Marathon bombings. People came together. People gave each other support. People gave ME support.
The Berklee sign you see in the picture for this part of the blog is a series of signs we made when I was at Berklee CARES. The president of the club at the time had an idea of making signs that people can sign themselves in support of each other. 3 signs would read, "Berklee Loves Boston", which we hung on the metal fence on the intersection of Mass Ave and Boylston. This was a time where I learned what it meant to truly care about people. I'm someone who still finds it much easier to focus on myself than others, but I am thankful, no matter how dark this period was, that I could have seen the positive light from everyone genuinely caring for each other.
Ah, so much to talk about! So much has happened in just 5 years! I did gain my weight back, but I also lost a ton of pounds one summer. Maybe I'll get back on track to my slim days... I dunno. :)
One of THE best jobs I've ever had by far was working as an usher at the Berklee Performance Center. I had incredible managers who had such a cool balance of being super-disciplined but also super-caring about every one of us. I got to work shows and see musicians like Steven Wilson, Willie Nelson, Carole King, ah man, so many artists. This was a huge moments of learning about teamwork, learning about adjusting to plans suddenly changing on the fly, and learning how to cooperate with people who work differently than I do. I worked there since October 2011 and believe me, I still miss it. If you ever see a show there, give the ushers a high-five. They work damn hard every single show.
The last thing I was to talk about, of course, is the education I got in film and video game scoring. The most memorable moments of school and classes specifically were always from my video game scoring classes. These are the classes where I learned about the "steps" of becoming a video game composer/sound designer from our professor, Michael Sweet. If you don't know Michael, turn on your Xbox 360. You know that familiar logo sound that pops up when your 360 starts? You can thank Michael for that.
Our first day of his video game scoring class, he asked us calmly, "How many of you would like to be composers for games?" All of us (the class itself was about 12 people. Small but very social class), promptly raised our hands eagerly and proudly. We laughed when we looked around the room, seeing everyone become so prideful and happy in wanting to take on this journey.
He calmly retorted to our response, "Great. The harsh reality is, only 2 of you will continue to become composers."
I always reflect on this thought, if this was maybe too brutal for us to think about in our young college careers, a la J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, or if this was the push we needed. After that day, I did everything I could do to improve myself and to do every step of the book (if there are even really steps to "breaking into the industry" at all) .
Something I still struggle with is taking things literally. I often focus on myself so much that I can still lose focus on my health, the people around me and how they are doing, and anything else that doesn't have to do with me. I am fantastic at focusing on myself specifically. But sometimes it comes at a cost. I am thankful for how I progressed through Berklee, but I do wish with all the friends I made here, I wasn't afraid to come to them for feedback on my work. I find it so much easier to just hang out with people, relax, and give people support. But I am always afraid to ask for support. I am always afraid to ask for help. And hopefully in my journey, I can better at this.
But one good thing that came out of taking things literally is when Michael one day told us about networking events around Boston. According to him, networking events and game dev meetups are the best place to meet people, and he wished more composers went to them. After that, I went to almost every. Single. Boston meetup I could find. And this was where the other part of my life in Boston comes in: the amazing Boston game dev community.
Boston Game Dev
My first Boston Post Mortem was a presentation from Eitan of Firehose Games, given at the now-closed Cambrige location of T.T. the Bear's (I think it was that venue! Correct me if I'm wrong). It was packed! Full of developers and full of people just relaxing and talking to each other.
Believe me, I was very very, uh, crunchy when I first started going to these events. I literally thought you had to talk with your business card. I greeted my first person by holding my card in my hand and saying "Hi how's it going? Here's my card!". I'm still surprised how kind they were, but I could tell from their kind and friendly eyes that they had the slightest raise of an eyebrow at me. Hah! And I don't blame them.
It took me quite a while to really be brave at these events and just relax and talk to people. Quite a while. It took going to many of these events. Boston Post Mortem. Boston Playcrafting. Women in Games Boston. Boston Indies. And so so much more.
These events are special to me as well because of how relaxed and calm the community is. Everyone, of course, is a hustler. Everyone I talk to at these events are always doing something on the side. They constantly show their prototypes or their progress in their art/sound, ask questions to each other, and even just genuinely talk about other topics in life besides games and build awesome friendships and relationships with each other.
This was amazing. And I needed this. Because it taught me that the business card isn't what matters. It's the person. The people around you. It's knowing that there's someone else really trying hard in this bonkers industry. It's knowing that someone can have your back, and that no matter what skill level you are, you absolutely have the ability to give someone else support as well and pay it forward.
There are too, too, too many people to list here and name to tell how much I learned from everyone here. Too many. But you KNOW who you are. And I am so glad I met you. And I am so glad I know you, and that you talked to me when I was still learning how to be social and how to grow up.
Being a Boston Post Mortem member and being a tester at Harmonix have been some of the best moments of my career and my life. The work I've down being both of these has been amazing, and I could go on about how my skills were built from working in both of these groups, but it's the people that I need to emphasize on what I learned from the most.
Harmonix and the game dev community taught me the importance of teamwork. Real, honest teamwork. Even when you're so passionate about your own thoughts and choices that you realize you find it difficult to adjust to a colleague's different ideas on a project, and even when you want so badly to step up and prove yourself right and strong. Being with the Boston community has been incredible for me because I learned how to humble myself.
In grade school, I'm not going to lie, and well, this was a secret for a long time. I could not stand group projects. I just couldn't. It was way, WAY easier for me to do things completely by myself. It always felt like other people got in the way of my own work and my own thoughts. Ohhhh man, especially when we had to work together to study for a test or for a group presentation. Oh man. I couldn't. It was so hard for me to work with someone else.
There are times where group work was honestly a struggle for me. I had to force myself to be humble, to listen, to cooperate and work together.
I haven't perfected this part of myself. I still struggle with this. But I am learning still. And I learned a lot from the projects I've worked on and the teams I've been with for work and for volunteer work.
I've learned to appreciate challenge, to appreciate struggle, and to find light when I make mistakes. I'm definitely still prone to beat myself up mentally when i make a mistake. But I'm thankful for being with a community that can still be supportive and motivating.
Thank you, Beantown
Thank you for everything, Boston.
Thank God for the Internet, as evil and time-wasting it may be, as I can keep in touch with every one of my Boston and New England friends and mentors.
I'm sorry I left so quickly and suddenly. Which is why I had to write all of this down. This is all still such a small summary of what my Boston journey was like. But believe me that I cherish every single moment of the 7 years I have lived in Boston. And I am so thankful that I met every one of you at my school and the Boston communities. You don't know how much you've helped me grow and helped me as a person.
Please fly to my LA apartment and slap me if I ever complain that LA has too much sunny weather :)
I'll let the rest of these pictures say the rest of what I want to say.
Thank you. <3