Music & Entertainment

On Failure

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 12:33 min

Even seasoned composers like Danny face failure and have to pick themselves up again. By opening up about a temporary falling-out with Tim Burton, Danny shows how to overcome your ego and persevere in the face of failure.

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] - Here's a word that you're going to face, and you're not going to like this word. It's the nastiest word in the business-- failure. You are going to fail. You are going to fail at something small, or you're going to fail at something large. There's very few composers-- well, honest composers-- that I've talked with that haven't had failures. Things that they saw as incredible roadblocks were suddenly put in the way. Or failure that left them-- their ego depleted to the point where they had a hard time getting going again. That's part of the territory. You can be that amazing lucky one that has a life that is without failure. And to you, I wish you bon voyage and wonderful journeys. But to the other 90% of you who might be watching this, failure is going to be part of your existence. How do you deal with that? It's hard. On the small levels, there is the moment-to-moment failure of getting turned down for a job. Starts there. Let it go, let it go. And, like, refocus yourself and get back going. There's no other way to do it. Now, the next level. You're working as a composer. Things are going okay. But your scores are getting rejected. You have to find a way to be okay with it. You're going to be-- if you're like me, you get really bitter and maybe feel angry. But you've got to find something to do. I mean, for me, it was boxing. I got into boxing very young. And what the boxing does, like any form of martial arts, or anything physical you could find is, I work out a lot of fucking energy of how hard I'd love to hit that bastard who just gave me so much shit on the last score. And hit, and hit, and hit, and hit until I start to feel a little bit better. So there are ways to deal with rejection, and one great way is just any physical discipline. And if it's a physical discipline that involves some form of contact-- (CHUCKLES)-- better yet. But the point is, is there is another level. Where, it's just, there's no way to deal with rejection and resistance to things that you can't do anything more than you're doing. You just have to be patient and wait. And waiting is hard, but it's just killing you. But you just have to work through that. And then there's the big bomb. You actually do a whole score, or you're halfway through a score, and you're fired. Very few of us haven't had that happen. And this is where I'm talking about the rejection that lays you out. It just lays you out, and you have to take time and get up from it, because it's an absolute ego destroyer. And we all know that artists get consumed with their own frustration and their own anger and become self-destructive, and go down a spiral to just being screwed. We've all heard about it, we've read about it, and we've seen it. It's like somebody just gets into a negative vortex and they can't climb out of it. And you don't let that happen. And the way you don't let that happen is to somehow take the pain of what you're feeling. Whethe...

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 class is a true inspiration. As someone who loves composing film music but never really made the leap, you've inspired me to go for it.

I learned that trusting your gut is important, even if you have no idea how the score will be received. The doing aspect is the most important, don't worry about the reception until you start honing your craft and landing jobs. My goal is to score video games, and Danny Elfman is one of my favorite music artists/composers so I felt that this would be doubly appropriate and applicable.

This class was amazing. I personally can relate to some of the information.

Not long enough. Not enough focus on actual composing/working to picture.


Thiago S.

It's amazing to see such a huge composer opening up the darker, most human side of himself in such a candid way. I could relate to almost everything Danny said here, and this is a very empowering feeling: even with all his success, he goes through shitty moments, bad decisions, and overly emotional responses. We're all human, after all!

A fellow student

Thank you so much! Seeing how passionate you are about your job made me understand how you’ve achieved so much and given us so many great scores! I’ve always been and remain a huge fan!

A fellow student

I just got over a failure, not even musical in nature, just a failed friendship that I know can never come back. The friendship ended while I was in a hospital bed after a bad heart attack (are there good ones?). Mr. Elfman, maybe you didn't expect to help people in other aspects of their life besides their music path, but you just did. This was oddly cathartic, and helped so much, I wish I could thank you in person, but I will certainly settle for this forum. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Heather H.

This is a lesson I think we all need to learn and relearn from time to time.

Marcus M.

Definitely the best lesson; we all fail. Use those failures as lessons/teaching moments!

Manuel L.

Undeniably true! It’s amazing to get this huge collection of advice and life lessons.

Kevin L.

I really enjoyed hearing you share your struggles. It’s not easy to do and I can relate!!