When Owen Belton graduated from the music composition program at Simon Fraser University, he made a mixtape to submit his demo songs to prospective employers.
The year was 1994, the Internet was in its infancy and CDs had only recently hit the mainstream market.
Today, Belton's style of music is much the same as it's always been - somber blends of acoustic and electronic soundtracks - but his ability to share it has completely changed.
"If you're working with a choreographer in Europe, or even in town now, it's easy to progress faster because you can just upload whatever you're working on for them to check right away," he said.
Over the years, Belton has written music for dance and theatre productions, as well as a few short films, and when he's not working on projects for dances or stage plays, he plays guitar in a band called Lost Hombre.
He acknowledges his introduction to dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite soon after graduating from SFU was an important step in his career.
"She was definitely an amazing person to get connected with early," he said. "I think a lot of people have heard my music because of her."
After writing the music for her dance pieced called Shapes of a Passing, Belton found the momentum kept going, with more contracts for dance companies like the National Ballet of Canada, Ballet B.C., Ballet Frankfurt, Nederlands Dans Theatre and the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden.
Though every day looks a little bit different for him, Belton usually spends his workday at his studio, experimenting with different sounds.
He uses instruments as well as his computer to generate different tracks, and even uses "found sounds" from everyday life to create a unique score. Nothing is too strange to avoid consideration, according to his website.
When he's working on a play or dance show, Belton attends many rehearsals and production meetings to get a sense of what the score should sound like.
"With theatre, more than dance, it's a lot of going out to meet people and going to rehearsals," he said.
This fall, Belton is working on two dance shows and three plays, including the upcoming Eternal Hydra by Touchstone Theatre.
Being able to pursue a full-time career in music has been a dream come true for him, though he admits it's not always easy.
Belton said he gets at least half of his income from doing international projects.
There isn't much money in B.C. for the arts right now," he said. "If I get a project in Europe or the States it's usually a bit more money, so trying to make a living just with local companies would be pretty impossible."
However, the work he has secured here has been recognized by the local arts community.
In 2008, Belton wrote the score for the acclaimed Clark and I in Connecticut, produced by Theatre Replacement, and in 2009, he won the Dora Mavor Moore award for best dance score for a show called Emergence, which was choreographed by Pite and performed by the National Ballet of Canada.
His advice for new graduates of a music composition program?
"Just try and meet as many people as you can," he said. "Go out to as many shows in the area that you're interested in working (as you can). And if you can talk to people in the industry who are doing what you want to do, if you can try and approach them to get advice, that couldn't hurt either."
It hasn't hurt for Belton, who hopes to soon write more compositions for feature-length films, just as soon as he can find the time between all the stage work he's got these days.
Belton's latest work, Eternal Hydra by Touchstone Theatre, will be shown in Vancouver next month at Studio 16 at 1555 West 7th Ave., Tuesday to Sunday at 8 p.m. from Nov. 1 to 11. Tickets are available at 604-689-0926.