How I Became a Music Producer/Composer

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Hello, My name is Arwa Ismail, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a bit of an artist in my own way… and a proud female. I was born and raised in Jordan, in Irbid, where I lived most of my life with a family of five; a loving mom and dad, an older sister, and two brothers. Surrounded by the five musketeers (that’s how I saw them, J), I was blessed with a happy childhood, despite the difficult family finances and all the talk about wars in a conflict-stricken region.

My father has always been my inspirer, with a remarkable passion for music, a book worm, a genius, and an inventor. Each of my family members has a thing or two for Art. My sister was into writing and music. My elder brother was into calligraphy, played an instrument or two. He was actually good at anything he gets himself into. My 2nd brother, who is 10 years older, was reading and playing guitar, he was still my role model, and I must say I have inherited my love for games and music from him. 

I had a rich childhood full of playing outside and doing crafts, thanks to mom. I won’t forget how she used to give me all the tools needed for my crazy crafts; the famous Mud Cake, plastic flowers, and molding candles. I was a dreaming child with a crazy imagination. I used to spend most of my time in my room drawing or writing or to play music. I had a huge passion for cartoons, which inspired me artistically. I attended simple schools, and my grades were relatively low, as I was too busy playing and drawing.

I cannot forget the warmth I used to feel while watching my brother playing games on his PC. In the lucky days, I used to immerse myself and play for long hours. I remember those point and click and old pixilated games like space quest, monkey island, Aladdin, lion king.. etc. and later games like tomb raider, Prince of Persia, Resident evil, Syberia, Nascar, Need for speed, shadow of the coleuses and of course the classics; super Mario Sonic, Mega man, etc. I played all genres of games, that parallel novel universe and work of art where music stuck in my head, where adventures and stories shaped the dreams, and where colors and shapes fueled the imagination.

My generation is quite lucky as we lived the era of retro games, cassettes, and when the internet and mobile phones did not exist. ( man, I feel old, my nephews don’t recognize cassettes! ). In 2015, I joined the university to study graphic design. I did not know what it was about initially and what exactly it entailed, mainly due to lack of orientation at school. But I knew that it would get me a paying job, and it is related to art, something I like.

I was at the top of my class. I even got a full mark for my graduation project, something that never happened in the university’s history. I worked so hard and always gave more during that time, and always exceeded my own expectations. It was a golden time with the internet becoming more available, an ocean of knowledge and inspiration. Then, I started to diverse my knowledge and acquired new skills to realize later that there is nothing that I could not learn and there is no excuse to say I don’t know. Ever since I became an enthusiastic learner in many fields, I remember my father used to tell me to learn and read in all fields of knowledge because knowledge is strength, and there will come a day where merely getting the job done is not enough. The world will only look for the exceptional and creative. It seems he was right after all! I graduated from university, first of my class, with a rich portfolio. I moved to the capital afterward, looking for opportunities. At first, I choose to work at a small creative advertising office where I learned a lot about creative thinking, the market, and production. I was like a sponge; I always found something to learn in any task I did.

Then I started to feel that this is not enough, that the parallel universe kept calling for me. Until one day, I got a job as art lead at a new startup company, the first of its kind in Jordan (A gaming company ). I took the opportunity, and there, like any startup, I juggled between different tasks and learned from working with many people; developers, creative people, and designers. I learned game design, illustration, animation, video montage, soundtracks, and music. I also learned so much about game engines and how they work… basically, I learned how games are done from scratch. After 3 years, the company was bankrupt only after signing a publishing contract with one of the world’s biggest mobile games publishing companies back then (chillingo). It was an amazing journey where I learned a lot and, most importantly, met my other half, the love of my life, Ahmad.

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Jeff Bezos Career Advice video

In 2014 I joined another startup for 5 years or so. Back then, I felt I wasn’t doing what I loved the most. During those 5 years, a developer and a friend of mine that worked with me in the gaming company came up with an idea to develop a simple mobile game. We created a mobile game which later won an award for best Audio for games. Then another game 3 years later, we won an international award (big indie pitch first place winner). My knowledge in different fields helped me a lot during this time, and my passion and love for games and music have grown bigger.

During that time, I worked in a full-time job, on these games, music-making when I had the time, and freelancing to pay rent to help my family and travel, which I relatively started late. Traveling has inspired me a lot. 2 years ago, the company shut down, and I was jobless, gladly it was the best thing that happened to me! It was difficult to leave as I was financially dependent on that full-time job, so it became a comfort zone that I should have pushed myself out of earlier. Ahmad, My husband, has been big support during that transitional time in my career, and I managed my time between freelance and personal projects. This year, I managed to build my own website for game design and sound, and I will be releasing my first music album. Soon it becomes one of my biggest achievements. 

Putting on multiple hats can be stressful, and I always wondered if I should focus on one thing rather than spending my time juggling between stuff. Still, it proved beneficial during difficult times, as has been the case in 2020 where business slowed down severely. But I had options, and I made photography work, videography, montage, animation, graphic design, UI design for mobile and web, Game art, soundtracks, and music! It also helped me build my own business (www.arwaismail.com) for sound and visual design for video games and pursue my passion. It is a journey and a continuous struggle to balance what I am passionate about and my career. But I believe with social media these days. You can have or do both.

Holistic knowledge has helped me build a logical map in my brain to overcome obstacles and work around problems, not only in my career but also in relationships, health, and life in general. Holistic knowledge and diverse skills are a way of life that can pay off really well. But always remember happiness is our main goal, we live to be happy, and we work to be happy. For life is a game I play, and I aim to enjoy it.   

My advice would be the same one my father gave to me: teach yourself a lot of things, be a sponge, be confident but also humble, pursuit your passion, get out of the comfort zone take risks now and then. We are going through fast-paced changes in life, so it is important to equip ourselves with different skills to help us during these difficult and ever-changing times. Once you decide to focus on one thing or two, my advice starts early as possible, and it’s never too late for anyone who wants to pursue his / her/ their passion.

Can you provide some book recommendations?

Poor Dad Rich Dad Book – Robert Kaysaki

When I lost my last job, I started thinking that I should be able to create my own job with this knowledge I have. I bumped into this book that advocates the importance of financial literacy, financial independence, and building wealth through investing in assets, real estate investing, starting and owning businesses, as well as increasing one’s financial intelligence. Quit an inspiring book. It changes your perspective and the way you look at life and your career.

The Hero’s Journey And The Hero With A Thousands Faces   – Joseph Campbell

I got to this by a game I played on the PlayStation called a journey. This book inspired the game. The book basically and in short is a work of comparative mythology, a theory that deconstructs the hero’s journey found in the realm of myths into phases and levels, etc.., the theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. Filmmaker George Lucas acknowledged Campbell’s theory in mythology and its influence on Star Wars films. This game deeply touched me, and I found the book really intriguing, and it helped in narrating most of my artworks and music.

At the end, I would like to thank howigotjob.com for giving me the opportunity to share my experience and humbly inspire some of you out there.

Arwa Ismail is an Artist, music composer/producer

Also read My story from university graduate to freelance worker, music artist and CEO.

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