WHY BEING A COMPOSER IS ONLY 25% ABOUT WRITING MUSIC

Being a TV/Film composer is a strange occupation to say the least. Whether you like it or not, when you 'become' a film and tv composer, you also become a businessperson. Your needs are simple - look after your business, and your business will look after you. Whether you like it or not, in the early stages of your career, you'll probably be forced to take care of several things. These are:

  • Business accounts and general finances.
  • Website maintenance and design and general management of domains.
  • Dealing with clients and keeping them happy. Probably taking them for drinks/dinner.
  • Sending and receiving invoices. Making sure you get paid is IMPORTANT!
  • Checking emails and replying to them within an hour. Not necessary but I always prefer to.
  • Networking. This is probably one of the major points out of them all.
  • Social media presence and image. 
  • Learning about general business strategies.

The list goes on, but these are a few points regarding what is expected of us all. You might have noticed that not one thing to do with actual creativity or music related activities is on that list. I've had a couple of people email me in the last few months asking for advice about how to get into the industry, my reply is always that the best thing is to network and be yourself. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how good you are because if you don't know anybody, it's unlikely that you'll get any work. Harsh, but ask anybody in the biz and I guarantee they'll say the same thing. 

Orchestrating for a feature film at Abbey Road Studio 3 in September 2017. Sat next to Producer and Score Mixer Rich Aitken. 

Obviously, once you become more successful, a lot of those bullet points can be passed onto other people, for example accountants or assistants/ PA's who can keep everything in check for you. I highly doubt the likes of John Powell or Thomas Newman deal with many, if any, of the bullet points above. Hans Zimmer on the other hand I can fully imagine wanting to know his quarterly figures. That's not an insult to any of those composers, just that they run their businesses in different ways. It's no secret that Remote Control is a big business venture with lots of in house composers/programmers etc. For this to work, you have to watch your numbers very carefully. Out of all of the Hollywood composers, Hans seems to really have this head screwed on in the business department. For example, the Masterclass series that Hans presents is a stroke of genius to appeal to more people (and to turnover a bit more cash on the side).

This is called the 'Music Business' - so treat your business like any other functioning business turning over money.

#4 NEW EBOOK RELEASE

Hey folks, sorry for not posting here for a while. I've been very busy and haven't updated my website as a result.

I've recently been working on an eBook called 'From DAW to Score'. It goes into detail about the process involved in film and tv music from getting feedback from directors and producers, to cleaning up your midi files in your DAW, ready to import into Sibelius for orchestration. 

This is information which hasn't been touched on anywhere on the internet, so my aim is to fill this hole of knowledge. I know that something like this would've been hugely useful to me 3-4 years ago, but instead I just learned on the job. My experiences are touched upon in the book, and I aim to educate anybody who wants to go into this industry, and doesn't have much of an idea of how it all works, and the process from start to finish on a job. It can also appeal to those in the industry already, but don't have much experience of working with a team of people (orchestrators/copyists) or recording sessions.

Here are some topics that feature in the book.

  • Understanding The Musical Process In Film & TV

  • How Much Should I Be Charging?

  • Problems That You May Encounter in Sessions (And How To Avoid Them)

  • Making Life Easier For The Composer (When You’re The Orchestrator)

  • The Importance Of A Cue Sheet

  • How Are Movies Delivered To The Composer?

  • Preparing Your Midi For Orchestration

  • Quantizing Your Midi Data

  • Importing The Midi Into Sibelius

With this eBook, it'll make it far easier to understand the way in which a project stays afloat, and the organisation which occurs on a job. Towards the end of the book, I go into detail about how to get your midi into a state whereby it is ready to be imported into Sibelius for orchestration. There are lots of screenshots to demonstrate this.

I aim to release it by the end of Feb 2017 and it'll be on the market for £4.99 along with a FREE professional & customised Sibelius template which saves any messing around when you begin the orchestration process. 

I'll keep you posted.

Thanks!

#3 AM I REALLY GOOD ENOUGH?

Ahh, the classic self doubt strikes again. For me, it strikes just before I start a job (usually as I'm talking it over and getting all of the details on the phone with the client). I always say yes even if I don't think I'm capable of doing the job. My friend and brilliant TV composer Sam Watts once told me 'say yes and worry about how you'll do it later'. This really resonated with me and I've taken it with me since. It makes perfect sense. After all, you'll probably never feel 100% ready to take on a job that is pushing you to your limits in terms of what you think you're capable of...

So, am I really good enough? We all ask ourselves this question on a day-to-day basis. At least I do... I was at the Yellow Technology event in London a few months ago and was speaking to a high-profile TV composer (who I won't name), and even he was saying that he felt like he was going to get 'found out' and that he felt like a 'bit of a fraud'. I was amazed to hear that even at the top level of TV music, there was evidently just as much self doubt and nervousness about getting the job done. Ultimately, I guess this feeling is never going to go away.

I'm not sure about other people but I do beat myself up pretty hard when I'm not doing as well as I think I should be, or when I've made mistakes. I've never really been happy with anything that I've done in my life, which I guess is quite sad, but I know it keeps me pushing to try and get to what I perceive as 'the next level'. 

My main point in all of this is for those people just starting out and trying to get their foot in the door (in what can only be described as a pretty unforgiving business) is that it's entirely possible. Anyone can do it, but in my opinion, it takes so much more than just being a good musician these days. There are a million and one good musicians these days, and most are well versed in using technology, which is also a pre-requisite for working in Film/TV music. I've thought from the outset that I need to be more than just a musician. I need to be half businessman, half musician. People will try and walk all over you, and it happened to me very much so a few years ago. I learnt from my errors, picked myself up and moved on. Be savvy on the business side, and the music side will come with it too as long as you're focussing fully on it and doing it everyday.

Sorry if this blog was a little more self indulgent than the previous ones. I hope it's been of use!

#2 DEALING WITH CLIENTS

Before I go any further, I'd just like to take this time to say anything posted here in this blog and any future blog is solely my opinion and comes from my own unique experiences. I'm not trying to sound like I know everything!

This topic is something that isn't to be taken lightly. In some cases, it's more important than writing amazing music. From my experience, I would say that being reliable, personable and likeable is a MAJOR part of getting repeat work in this crazy and unstable business. Clients can often be hard to deal with, though luckily I've always worked with mostly pleasant people so far, with a couple of minor exceptions. I know people who have had it a lot worse than I!

So, how do you deal with a client? Surely you just write music for them, and then your job is done? Not true. The aim is to keep them sweet. Be likeable, be reliable, bend over backwards, use your creative input, but abide by their commands. Often, you can try and plead your point if you feel very strongly about it, but always be delicate with these matters. It's our job as composers to be the diplomat and the therapist. Listen to them and try and understand what it is they are requesting from you. Often directors/creatives I have worked for have a very clear approach in mind and know exactly what they want, but what if you're working with somebody who has no idea what they want? This can become a problem, but it is as much about coaxing the information from them as it is using your gut instinct and initiative for what's needed on the job.

When I work with clients, I am often in touch with them every few days and multiple times throughout the day via email or by phone/FaceTime/Skype (but mostly email). It is imperative that the client feels like you're fully dedicated to their job (even if you aren't). It's important to juggle jobs but at the same time, make them feel like you're fully committed to their project. Generally, it is the music that the client is the most nervous/anxious about because it's probably the one area that they're not well versed in, and more likely than not, they cannot do it themselves, unlike cinematography/script writing/editing etc. It's our job to ease their minds and make them feel like they're fully in control at all times. For example, if you ordered a new sofa and wanted it to be black, and it arrived in blue, you'd be unhappy right? It's the same scenario as the client. We always have to understand that they're the ones paying our rent...

THE POWER OF NETWORKING

I first decided that I wanted to go into the music business about 6 years ago now but had no idea what I wanted to specialise in. Writing commercial music for film/tv had never really crossed my mind, and if anything, I thought I might play in a band and make a career that way. I then realised I definitely didn't have what it takes to slog it out on a tourbus for months at a time away from my own bed. I also realised I probably wasn't good enough at my chosen instrument (piano) to do that, so I decided against it. Around this time, I wondered how I would ever make connections, particularly as I get very nervous meeting new people, and still do to this day. 

I find that people tend to overthink what it means to 'network'. Often, it's just talking over a beer or coffee and forging friendships. I've never liked to network in big crowds, so I rarely go to official networking events - I've always found it easier to get someone on their own (or in a small group) and talk about stuff. The 'stuff' tends to be general and never work related. I always hope that the work speaks for itself. It's tough to talk about yourself, and I don't have the gift of the gab in that area. Hopefully, from the meeting you'll start to build some kind of friendship, though sometimes people just don't click and things don't work out. 

Once you have one connection, often the good old fashioned word-of-mouth can help you to meet other people. I've certainly met a lot of people through that method. One example was getting the assistant job to TV and Games composer Stephen Baysted. Without the help of Simon Whiteside (for whom I'm also an assistant), Nick Harvey & several other legendary people, I doubt I would've got the job! Never underestimate the power of recommendations. That's certainly one thing I've learnt.

Sorry if I've rambled. This is my first blog post, and this is the tip of the iceberg, so it'll get more interesting than this! Thanks for reading.