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January 22, 2021
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Asking for Help is Not Weakness

by Elliot Callighan on 12/16/20 11:05:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


When I was younger, I viewed someone progressing at growing up as needing help with fewer and fewer things.

I don't need your help, I can:

  • pour the cereal myself without spilling
  • remember to keep my commitments
  • jump higher, carry more farther
  • figure out the math problem
  • play the instrument
  • ace the test

Can you do more of those things? Wow, you've grown up "more" or "better" than other people.

With that way of thinking, it can be difficult to ask for help.

It means you're not as "good" as someone else who can do the thing, right?

Why can't you do that thing? You should be. If you were "good" you'd be able to do the thing. Other people can do it just fine. Do you seriously need help with that?


These are all the things we tell ourselves other people are thinking about our lack of ability. It can be utterly paralyzing, because it appears to include insecurities we have of ourselves as well as something that is completely out of our control - the opinion of others.

Many times this leads to us taking on more than we should or making commitments we can't fulfill.

Momentarily, it allows us to not admit to others and ourselves that we are not capable. That we are not "good enough" at whatever it might be.

I wish I was beyond this part of my personal growth, but I know this "ability/imposter syndrome" will always be present. What is in my control is being mindful and addressing it in a positive way.

Knowing what you can do, admitting your shortcomings and solving problems is what's important. You don't have to be able to do everything, but you do have to take responsibility and do what's best for the problem/client/relationship/anything!

Great, so, how does this relate to game audio?

One of the projects we've been working on is in an eastern anime style. It's been a wonderful experience to dive into that genre of music and dissect it's qualities, tendencies, sub-genres, composition and mix techniques.

Having a music education (and a really good ear) allows to you pick everything apart - and once you know the pieces and how they fit together, you can build your own version of that thing!

However, I ran into a moment where I didn't want to admit that I couldn't do something.

I can't write lyrical melodies for anime music. Well, not good ones.



The studio wanted a bunch of music for different areas of the world, boss battles, etc, but they also needed a main theme pop track that could be used for an opening cinematic.

We found the niche within Anime that they were looking for and wrote an instrumental that the client was thrilled by. Now all we needed was lyrics and a singer.

After scouring the internet and tapping our network, we found a singer with a voice that the client was drawn to. They didn't have much experience writing top lines, but had done a number of covers in anime.

Ah, no big deal. Even if they need some help writing the top line, I had just picked apart this genre and written a killer track - I'm sure I can do the same thing for the vocal line if need be.

A good Composer can do that - I thought to myself. should be able to do that.

As I worked with the singer, it became apparent that I wasn't really helping the process. My skill-set just does not include writing top-lines for anime.

For music with a singer, the "top-line" is where the life comes from, where the style is ultimately realized and where so much of the emotion is created. It's a feel of melody and rhythm that is just different than writing the instrumental portion of a song. It's why many times for large musical works you'll see credits for a Composer and a separate Lyricist.

After some time, I had to admit that my collaboration with the singer just wasn't right. We weren't creating the right feel for the genre, and there was no room for this "feel" to be wrong - it was the main theme of a new IP!

Ultimately, I had to put the needs of the track and client before my ego and have enough confidence in myself to admit that I was not the right person to write the top line and do something about it.



Admit your lack of ability? To someone else? And yourself? That's intimidating, especially when your sense of self-value is from everything you CAN do.

If you don't have the strength to ask for help, these situations can devolve as you keep making the same mistakes over and over while trying to protect your view of yourself.

In art and in business, a fragile ego has no place. If you can't admit your shortcomings, there's a lower limit in ways you can improve yourself, and a severe limit in what you can do for your clients.

Fortunately, our team has collectively been in the industry for over 35 years. We were able to tap our network again and hone in on experts in the industry and genre to figure out how to solve this problem. Ultimately, we connected with a top-liner who works almost exclusively in anime and eastern styles.

After finding the right person, the process was smooth as silk and the results are incredible. This may be the last time I attempt to write a topline, but it won't be the last time I write a main theme pop track.

It's not about you being able to do everything. It's about you knowing what you can do, having confidence in it, and knowing how your piece fits in with everyone else's in the puzzle.

Asking for help showed awareness and confidence in myself. It made a stronger and more successful main theme and game.


Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches as adjunct faculty in the film and game programs at DePaul University in Chicago.

Be sure to check out Unlock Audio and stay in touch. Want to reach out? [email protected]

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