Rising Star Sean Hayden: “We can solve 90% of the issues we have today if we spent most of our focus on two things: equal opportunity for all and education”

I believe we can solve 90% or more of the humanities issues we have today if we spent most of our focus on two things: equal rights and opportunity for all, and education. I’d love to do or be a part of something that invests in modern education in the communities that need it most. As […]

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I believe we can solve 90% or more of the humanities issues we have today if we spent most of our focus on two things: equal rights and opportunity for all, and education. I’d love to do or be a part of something that invests in modern education in the communities that need it most.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Canadian composer and producer, Sean Hayden. Sean’s musical work can be found on many television shows, films, and adverts around the world. Budweiser, Nissan, Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss, Cisco, Gary & His Demons, the US National Guard, are just some of the names Sean has musically been involved with.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Sean! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me!

I mostly grew in up in a town called White Rock, which is in British Columbia, Canada about an hour and a half south of Vancouver. I had a very ‘normal’ and loving childhood. When I wasn’t banging on the drums in my family’s garage or wailing on the guitar in my bedroom, I was out mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, or just getting into plain old stereotypical teenage trouble. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about how I grew up, and in an odd way that’s sort of what makes it remarkable.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Since I was about seven years old, I’ve always known I wanted to do something in music. There wasn’t any particular moment that I can recall that got me inspired to pursue music, it was just something in me that I knew I wanted to do. I didn’t know which discipline of music I wanted to get into back then, just that I wanted it to be my life’s work.

What got me started in composing though was a very twilight, ‘the universe is watching out for me’ kind of moment. Before becoming a composer, I was mostly a full-time gigging musician but had found I wasn’t really happy doing that. I called a friend of mine who is a composer in LA and told him that I was feeling unfulfilled with the direction I was going in, and that I wasn’t sure what to do. He suggested I try composing, so naturally I asked what he felt was the best to way to get my foot in the door. He suggested that I find an established composer who needed help, to which I laughed and said, “Where am I going to find that?!” The next day, I went on Craigslist, and there was an ad that read something like ‘Busy Composer Needs Help’. It was a bit of an eerie and surreal moment. I emailed him right away and that’s how I got started working as a composer.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One moment that comes to mind is when I was working on a documentary short; I had just started and was perusing my back catalog of tracks to see if any songs I had written previously did anything interesting with the edit. It was just intended as an exercise to get the creative juices flowing and maybe springboard some ideas. I pulled up a tune of mine that I had done for a different gig that didn’t make the cut, and this song lined up exactly with the edit. It scored it perfectly, was emotionally on point and totally captured the story. It was like someone had edited it to that song and even highlighted its subtle details. This sometimes happens with thirty or even sixty second adverts, but never in my experience for a three plus minute long score. I couldn’t believe it. I sent to the client, told them this was actually a track I had written previously but thought it fit remarkably well and they agreed! They only asked for one small edit and the gig was done — the client was ecstatic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

More like, what mistakes haven’t I made! When it’s happening, mistakes are a pretty awful feeling, but after a little time has passed they’re usually a good lesson and a pretty funny memory.

I once got hired to write the music for a set of three different adverts for a telecom company in the USA. I was handed the brief where they outlined what they wanted. It looked and sounded fairly straightforward. It was a tight deadline so I got them the three tracks for three spots in a timely fashion and sent them off for review. I got back a note almost immediately that said, “These are great, but we don’t hear the theme we’d like interpreted”. It turns out, I had missed the most important instruction completely, which was to re-interpret a theme they already had from their previous campaign. I tried to rework the theme into the music I had created, but it was pretty much a total loss. Always make sure you understand the job in its entirety and read your notes at least twice! Kind of like, “measure twice, cut once”.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I’m not at liberty to share specifics about the project(s) I’m working on. What I can say though is that recently I’ve been writing a lot of music themed for outer space. One of the things I’ve been experimenting with is trying to make synthetic sounds more human and doing the reverse for organic sounds by making them sound more synthetic. For me, it’s been a real treat to do this as I consider myself something of a self-professed minor astrophysics and space sciences geek.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

We’re all influenced by television and film, and it not only has the ability to shape our culture but also to fuel social changes. It’s entirely possible that diversity in media could help motivate institutional changes in laws and policy regarding inequalities in race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Diversity can also help empower young people to see themselves represented in mainstream society and give them some confidence to pursue what they please.

From a creative perspective, this industry suffers from the lack of different voices available. Different backgrounds are going to produce different musical voices, and I want to hear those musical voices! I’m sure everyone else does too. We could be delaying or missing out on the musical movement right now and not even know it. Of course, it’s not just music as this applies just as much to directors, cinematographers, painters, actors, etc.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

We need to invest in diverse up-and-coming talent by giving them learning and networking opportunities in the media space, helping them build a portfolio, and making connections with the people and places that can use them and their work.

You have the classic chicken and egg problem — if you ask the industry, “Why aren’t you hiring more people of colour? Or female composers? Or LGBTQ?”, they say, “Because there aren’t any”. This isn’t really true, but unless you’re in artist and relation scouting, it historically has not been the industry’s job to go out and find new talent. Rather, once they find someone one that’s proven to do good work, they stick with him or her. In many ways it’s easier to ask an already proven composer to do something different, than to go out and find someone different. Studio executives need support from the top brass to go out and find these new artists. They’re out there! Lots of them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Be a purple cow. Seth Godin is a marketing guru who wrote a little book called “Purple Cow”. His basic premise is this; the key to success is to find a way to stand out. In other words, be a purple cow in a field of regular cows. In every piece of music I write, I try to put a little spin on it that makes it a little different. The more different the better, but I put at least something that makes it stand out against the millions of other cows out there. You can absolutely apply this to your business plans as well.

Having loads of music gear doesn’t really matter. It’s easy to get caught up seeing successful composers with their mega rigs and loads of instruments, software, and computers, but you really don’t need all of that. In fact, even though I admit I have a comfortable selection of ‘toys’, but more often than not I often restrict my usage based on what I’m writing. This not only forces me to be creative, but keeps me within the specific parameters I’ve set up to tell the best story.

Don’t be disappointed if doing the thing you’ve always wanted to do, is not what you expected. Personally, before getting into composing I thought I always wanted to be a full-time performing musician. When I got to the point where I was performing full-time, I found out I didn’t really like it as a career. Which brings me to me next tip…

Be flexible and keep an open mind. There are a lot of avenues to success you just have to be open to them and recognize that they’re probably not what you anticipated.

Don’t harbor your music like they’re your kids. If the director, agency, producer, or whoever it is doesn’t like what you’ve written, just chuck it out and save it for another day. We tend to be bad judges of our own creations anyways.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I believe burn out is most likely to happen when you’re not sufficiently balanced in your core needs; physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Get out of the studio and be active; go to the gym, kick a ball around, hike — whatever gets the blood flowing. Make it part of your routine. If you don’t already have a network of composers you can call, you should find some. It can be a lonely profession otherwise and it’s a great group to be social with that’ll also understand the ups and downs you’re going through.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe we can solve 90% or more of the humanities issues we have today if we spent most of our focus on two things: equal rights and opportunity for all, and education. I’d love to do or be a part of something that invests in modern education in the communities that need it most.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have so much help from so many amazing people that it’s hard to pick just one person!

I have to give a shout out to my high school music teacher who is retiring this year, Mr. Kevin Lee. The time, considerations, and contributions he’s made over the years to young minds is absolutely something to admire and behold. Along with Dave Proznick and Greg Farrugia, Mr. Lee created a sanctuary I could attend every day of my high school years to hone my musical skills. I don’t think there’s a way I could have made music my living if I didn’t have a place to channel it growing up. Having Mr. Lee there to share his musical knowledge and infectious positivity, day in and day out was absolutely huge. I can’t thank him enough. He also knew when to crack the whip when I was ‘getting out of hand’. (Laughs).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than reality.” Seneca is just an incredible trove of quotes like this. We all have that voice in our head, that negative chatter that creeps up from time to time. Composers are no exception to this; for example, we deal with a lot of fear when presenting our music for the first time, often dwelling on the absolute worst case of scenarios. But even if the worst happens (ie. they don’t like it), it’s really not that big of a deal. You just have to go back and try again. Before that moment though, your mind is pretty good at cooking up all kinds of preposterous scenarios.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many people I’d love to meet, but one that springs to mind is Derren Brown. I find his illusionist work to be profound, fascinating and incredibly artistic. His writing is brilliant as well! I highly recommend his philosophy book “Happy”. Tons of great perspectives and insights can be found in there.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on Instagram or Twitter at @seanhayden.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you again for having me!

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