As a talented guitar player growing up in Boston in the 1980s, Shawn Clement had published music by age 13 and toured with major bands by his late teens—living the dream by most kids’ standards. But he decided he preferred studio time over touring and performing, so in his early 20s, he packed up a Toyota Corolla Hatchback and moved to Los Angeles. Though already a seasoned musician, Clement was starting at square one in the new city and worked part-time in a mailroom at Sony Pictures. A lot of young entertainment industry hopefuls think their degree will necessarily land them a gig, Clement says, but as his own career trajectory illustrates, those menial positions aren’t to be dismissed.
“It was a gold mine; I got to meet so many people, and I used to crash premiere parties, because even in the mailroom you get access to a lot of stuff,” he says. “Somebody eventually gave me a shot.” First, he scored a trailer for No Way Back, a “really bad,” pre-fame Russell Crowe movie, followed by a gig scoring the cartoon Savage Dragon––and then he struck it rich, landing the late-‘90s teen cult classic series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Today, Clement has written over 25,000 pieces of music that range from orchestral works to video game music to a score for a documentary on Ray Bradbury (never completed after Bradbury’s death).
Hollywood has changed since the early ‘90s, so is it still possible today to rise to success without a degree, just by hustling? “It probably could still happen; you’ve just got to work the angles. I had a demo and would drop it on everyone’s table,” Clement says. “And it’s a social business. You’ve got to deal with people and you have to keep your ego in check. You never know where stuff’s going to come from. When I was working on movie sets, I was hanging with janitors. He could be the next producer. You don’t know. Friendships, relationships, being open to stuff––I think people get close-minded in this business.”