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Diversification and Talking Vegetables

Here – take my card. It reads:

ROBERT STERLING: Songwriter/ Producer/ Arranger.

Or at least it did until recently.

I have long held that, with the exception of a small handful of exceptionally fortunate musicians, the only way to make a decent living in the music business is to diversify. The more “slashes” (music-related jobs) you can add to your business card, the better your chances of making a living.

Over the years, my “slashes” have included: drummer/ keyboardist/ combo leader/ music copyist (with actual ink pens and paper!)/ arranger/ jingle writer/ film music composer/ producer/ songwriter/ record producer/ librettist/ teacher/ author, and – hard as it may be to believe for those who know me – a couple of stints as a session choral singer and voice-over person.

These are the jobs I’ve done in order to stay gainfully self-unemployed as a working musician for  the past three decades. But in the last couple of months, I’ve added a new job to the list: one that is connected to the world of music and writing, but not strictly limited to that world –

Writing jokes and songs for talking vegetables.

I think I am closing in on being able to say, “I’ve done it all.”

I started writing scripts by necessity almost twenty years ago. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, but I wanted to write musical theater. SOMEBODY had to write the script. So, I did – at least until I managed to find writing partners (like Deborah Craig-Claar) who could do it better than me.

Then, a couple years ago, in my spare time, I wrote an original screenplay, just because I thought it would be fun. (My definition of “fun” may differ from yours.) After that, I wrote some spec scripts for a children’s video concept. The show and the scripts never saw the light of day, but the scripts were clever and crisp, even funny (imho).

About a year ago, I gave some samples of my scripts and children’s songs to a friend at Big Idea – the parent company for the famous “Veggie Tales” videos – the home of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. I told my friend that if they ever were to need outside writers, I’d appreciate being considered.

Well, lo and behold, I got considered.

So, long story short-ish, I spent every free moment I had in November and early December, in between scoring and producing a Hal Leonard Christmas choral project, writing a script for Veggie Tales.

I wrote, and then re-wrote, four full drafts of the script (each 60+ pages). To successfully navigate the maze of video production, a script requires the enthusiastic approval of lots of different people at every level (from CEO, to director, to production designer, to the marketing team). To put it mildly, the writer has to make a lot of people happy. (And thus, we once again prove the axiom: “Writing is rewriting.”)

After a month of writing/rewriting, the folks at Big Idea had a script they were pleased with (which was good – because I had to depart the process to begin another choral job). Mind you, I have no doubt that my script will be re-written  and tweaked continuously throughout the production process to come. That is simply the nature of the beast. What’s more, I have no idea how much of my original work will make it to the final edited video.

At the end of the script process, I was asked to submit songs for the show as well. (Now we’re getting back into my comfort zone.) I wrote four or five tunes for the show – each more clever than the last. (No ego problems here.) And while they were well-received at the pitch meeting, I have no idea whether any of the songs will make the final show. Such are the vagaries of writing “on demand.”

I’ve got to say, the entire process was educational. I learned a lot. And for the very most part, it was fun. (For the Insecure Writer, any creative process that requires the writer to submit his work for other’s approval will never be entirely fun.) For me, it was a positive experience, and I hope Big Idea thinks the same. I certainly hope I might be invited back to the party in the future.

But for now, I’ve got to go get new business cards printed:

ROBERT STERLING: Songwriter/Producer/Arranger – and – Screenwriter.

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