Music & Entertainment

Insecurity and Instincts

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 12:29 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.
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[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 ...

Music out of chaos

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.

Danny's reflections on dealing with directors, and producing what they want and how to find it, were most useful to me.

Yes I would love to make music scores to my genre of movie and the story im working on more true to life romantic, inspirational story

This was too good. Gonna start it over immediately. Thanks Danny.

Danny's insight is inspiring yet practical. I felt as if I had a personal mentorship with him from watching the videos. Well worth the price of admission.


simon B.

Important lesson on what you feel and what you project to somebody important is to keep those separate! To the outward side put up a facade of I know what I'm doing and I am super fucking confident next to arrogant about how great I am I got this. (Inside feel like a mess, a failure, worried if really going to pull it off and perhaps feel like a phony) That's ok and a natural part in the process so just hang in there, do the work and ride out the storm. I needed to hear this.

Robert W.

I agree with the BMI/ASCAP lower third... so much for quality control. I have great admiration for Danny Elfman and got to work alongside him on several projects many years ago. I do appreciate his insight regarding the business and career aspects, I do however hope he dives into examples of the writing itself and how he makes the decisions he does melodically... that is what really drove me to this course and so far there hasn't been much in that department.

Frigyes R.

BMI and ASCAP are NOT publishing companies! (Big mistake by the production!) They are PRO's (Performing Rights Organizations.)

Pato C.

Dear Masterclass, we are all adults here. It is not OK to bleep anything, it's the equivalent of bleeping a Film. Please do not censor, we're not inside Cinema Paradiso. Best.

Pato C.

Thank you! Thank you, Danny! Exactly what I needed to hear right now. After re writing my script a couple of times, having it revised and doctored by two professional script doctors who gave me the OK; and then re write it again. Still I feel insecure and doubtful of my piece. Thank you for telling me that a man of your career stature also sometimes feel as small and insecure as I do, it means a lot.

Alan N.

What does he say at 3:43? Weird since other words aren’t censored. Aren’t we all here as adults to learn?

Marcus M.

I like how he mentions you cannot be in a creative field without insecurities or doubts. I also believe everyone has at least a small amount of insecurity/doubt when working creatively...


It’s good to hear (from someone at the top of his game) that self doubt is a normal part of the creative process. Great lesson.

Robert B.

To hear Danny Elfman someone who has done over 100 films expressing that he is almost constantly in doubt makes me feel better and that's its ok when I also am doubting a composition or myself.

Umi Y.

I have learnt how important the INSTINCT is by my experience in various projects so far. Truly glad to see the film score master has the same experience.