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Arts & Entertainment

Insecurity and Instincts

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 12:28 min

Artists are filled with doubt. Danny talks about how to manage that doubt and move forward. He opens up about his vulnerabilities, how he overcomes them, and how he sharpened his instincts to make better career decisions.

Danny Elfman
Teaches Music for Film
Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman teaches you his eclectic creative process and his approach to elevating a story with sound.


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I never had a mentor, and the reason why I'm talking to you all now is to share my experiences so that you might find yourself in a similar situation and go, OK, he didn't have the answer, and he felt really insecure, so the fact that I feel insecure about this may not be the end of the world. I don't think any of the really good composers-- composers are arrogant fucks. There's no doubt about that. But the fact is, the arrogance is generally hiding great insecurity that we all carry. I don't think it's different between a composer and an actor that way. Sometimes the more bravado they have about themselves, it's covering a deep insecurity. I'm constantly insecure about what I'm doing. I never know if it's right. Of course I wish I had a mentor. Somebody that I can go to that I respected, and go, just tell me what you think of this and that they can give me some solid advice. But I just never had that in my life, so I had to learn to trust my instincts. And what I'm telling you right now is that it's OK to feel unsure of yourself. And it's OK to feel insecure, even during the process, even at the end of the process. You might have moments where you feel like I've triumphed. I've done this scene. This scene came out OK. And then find yourself one week later going, I've failed. I just-- I don't know where I am right now. I painted myself into a corner. I don't know how to get out of it. It's OK. You've got to watch your clock. You've got to keep yourself moving. But it's OK to not feel really confident in exactly what you're doing all the time. And I could tell you after 105, 100-and-something films, rarely that I approach it feeling really confident. And generally when I was really confident that way is because, it's was a sequel. And I'd already done the heavy lifting, and now I could approach it with a sense of, oh yeah, I got this. I know what I'm doing. And it's because it's a sequel, and all I really have to do is kind of reinvent some things and move around and play with what I've already done. But that, by far, is not the majority of the writing. It's filled with doubt. And I think all artists that are worth their anything are filled with doubt all the time. And the few that just don't have any doubt, I think they're destined become-- they could be very successful. They could be good workmen. They could be good craftsmen. But they're not gonna be the really great artists. Because I think doubt and art are kind of combined. They're just-- it's almost impossible to pull them apart doubt. Doubting yourself and then finding confidence and moving forward and then doubting what you've just done and then working through that, I think this is the life of a composer, and I think it's the life of an artist in general. And it's OK to feel that way. Having said all that, my doubt, do I ever express that to the director or a producer? No way. Never. Never. There is what you feel and what you ...

About the Instructor

From The Simpsons theme to the soundtracks of Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman’s compositions are original, memorable, and exuberantly weird. Now the Oingo Boingo founder and four-time Oscar nominee shares his unconventional (and uncensored) creative process. Step into Danny’s studio and learn his techniques for evoking emotion and elevating a story through music.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Very insightful. Would have loved some behind-the-scenes documentary footage of him actually working on a score or composing with an orchestra.

I learnt that there are many ways to approach any situation, There are millions of ways to make something your own. The one constant is you. Only you can play your music.

It helped me understand that it is okay to be making crude, rough records from memory, taking down ideas, seeing things from a bigger picture and not to dwell on the past and most importantly, to exude confidence and project confidence to the people who matter to your career. Thank you.

This was a great masterclass. Danny Elfman had lots to say that was solid advice for composers, but he also had some great stories, and some great advice about life in general that stemmed from those stories. Thank you!


Antonia T.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful lesson. I'm a musician and I always doubt, create, doubt, create, doubt. Thank you so much for your honesty, your music and your art, Mr. Elfman.

Zach D.

Doubt and art combined? YES. I just completed a Masters Degree program (Multimedia, concentration in Interaction Design) is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to the design process of ANY media. If you can't doubt, you become an absolute-minded thinker. And if you're an absolute-minded thinker, you are literally incapable to see the bigger picture. Knowing what it's like to doubt and how to work with it is an absolutely fundamental part of the iterative loop in the design process of *any* media - be it drawing, graphic design, music scoring, or even game design (all of which I had to do for my Masters.)

Max C.

Wise words! It's very important to receive such information to navigate trough it.

Suzanne W.

Thank you for sharing your real self, Danny. Insecurity has always been part of my performance and my creations. It is a relief to hear that someone so accomplished has any doubts about their art. I have learned to put on the good face, but far too many times I have walked away from chances because I couldn't get past my insecurity. This lesson is incredible, I have an inspiration to keep moving forward and get past my fears and doubts.

Craig R.

This is honestly one of the best masterclasses on here. Whole masterclass is Danny Elfman sitting in a chair dropping some serious game, teaching lessons that don't just apply to film music, but to freaking LIFE. 10/10.

Jon-Paul F.

Really great, nice to hear the emotional thought process working with others. Reassuring to know the struggle is real for everyone

Noel H.

I love this guy! You nailed it Danny! This course is so funny to listen to. I am laughing through the whole thing.

Jeff A.

To me, one of the most significant lessons to date. I often feel like the two angels on my shoulder should be called Ego and Doubt. Thank you for sharing this intimate side of things.

Joseph S.

I've never had a mentor when it comes to music and being a self educated musician and composer certainly has it's challenges. However, I do feel like Mr. Elfman has always been my musical Mentor even though we have never met in person. Which I wish will happen someday but until that time I just want to say... Thank You Mr. Elfman for all of the years of mentorship and especially for letting me know that it's okay to doubt myself and my abilities. It is what makes me human and it is what will make me grow as an composer.

Ryan W.

I have plenty of doubt... Heck, I even had doubt about posting this comment... I also project the same to people and say, "yeah, its gonna be amazing. I have a clip of my latest segment if you want to listen." They end up liking it, but I feel like I need to hear that sometimes to even go on. It shouldn't be that way, but I feel what keeps me going sometimes is people saying that they like the little bits I let them hear...