The Rise of the Rockstar Composer

the riseFilm music has come a long way. Traditionally film scores were a closed door affair. It was all done within the studio system. There were a handful of composers working for the studios. It was a well oiled machine. While film music was of the highest quality, it didn’t have the critical acclaim or seriousness that ‘concert’ music did. There were concert music composers and there were film music composers. Today film music has gained in stature as an art form of it’s own.

There are thousands of websites dedicated to film music. There are fan sites, review sites and numerous sites withupdates and info of all kinds. Fans now clamor for the latest releases and out of print scores. It’s even come to the point where they’re demanding material that the composer is reluctant to release. With the proliferation of the internet, there seems to be no shortage of interest in film music.

There are now film scores on tour. Notably there is the Star Wars concerts going on this month and the upcoming Lord of The Rings concert. These are no longer added pieces in pops concerts but concerts of their own.

There has been an explosion of film music across many genres. It’s no longer just the domain of the soundtrack as another source of income for a feature film. Film music is now part of rock concerts and DJ sets. It has reached a whole new level as far as acceptability and popularity. Along with this goes the popularity of the composers themselves.

It has come to the point where film music and the business of film scoring has come pretty close to the business of being a rockstar. It’s common in the industry to pay top dollar for a composer not just because of their ability to compose but also their status and popularity. Film companies know that with certain composers comes a certain level of buzz and celebrity with the film community. With the proliferation of sites noted above, there will most likely be a certain amount of buzz generated online. Just check to see how many sites that are devoted to Danny Elfman and you will see the point.

Because of the decline in CD’s and sales figures within the music industry, many musicians are now looking to the film industry as another potential source of income. Film composers now consist of not only classically trained musicians but pop, rock and jazz musicians as well. It is also common for electonica artists and songwriters to get into writing for film. There are now thousands of composers competing in a field that is already over saturated. Much like the rock and pop business, there a select few on top making top dollar with there are thousands vying for a place among them. And like the pop and rock genres, most of the money is being made by a select few while the income for the ‘working composer/musician’ has dropped considerably.

Another similar development in the film industry is the ‘hit’ film composer. You may recall the sensational hit ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that brought A.R. Rahman into the spotlight. Even though Rahman had numerous credits it was this runaway hit that brought him into a whole new level. Like the pop stars of the day, a hit film (and it’s score) may catapult a composer into a whole new level; regardless, it seems, of their past accomplishments.

While film music is now more popular than ever, there are many problems plaguing the industry. Composers now get paid less for more music. Most skilled workers within the film industry (writers, cinematographers, actors, etc.) have an association or union for representation of their behalf. Composers still have very little in the way of powerful organizations fighting for their say. What sets composers apart is the fact that there is no scale or industry standard. Ultimately, it’s within the power of the film company to set the budget for the composer to whatever they see fit. This rockstar mentality within the industry just serves to widen the chasm between pay scales.

The music written for a film is one of most important decisions a film producer can make. Yet many music budgets make up as little as 1% of the total budget. Deadlines and production times are also shrinking. Such an important element shouldn’t be delegated with such a tiny percentage of budget and time.