The Reality of Becoming a Film Composer

There has never been a worst time to become a film composer.

There has never been a better time to become a film composer.

How many times have you heard these coming from the different camps? It’s right up there with the reality of surviving in today’s music industry. It’s either all bad or all fluff. The only way to really gauge this is to look and see what the past has taught us, what’s happening now, and what some the possibilities for the future are.

Good Ol’ Days

It’s a bit of a fallacy to think that in years past, it was just enough for the composer to compose. All they had to do was work hard at their craft and the business side was taken care of by others. This has actually never been true. All of the composers who are now household names spent just as much time developing their career as they did compose. As a matter of fact, quite a few of them, despite their efforts and incredible work, never amassed much of a fortune (or, in some cases, fame) in their lifetime. By the time Mozart died he has amassed so much debt that he was pretty much penniless.  He made the most money after he died from the ‘Magic Flute’; an incredibly popular opera that made a fortune for the Mozart state.

“Jazz, the music of unemployment”.– Zappa

Dog Eat

Let’s face it, the music business has always been a dog-eat-dog world. This is just as relevant today as it ever was. The biggest difference is that there have been so many changes in the past 10 years. The industry has literally completely changed. The rules however, have stayed the same. It’s a matter of working at your craft and getting to the point where you create things that people really want. It doesn’t end there though. You have to let people know about you, get your music out there, and try to make some money in the process.

It’s not just about the creation, it’s also about the delivery. Creation without delivery is just a hobby.

Who Do You Know?

There have never been more people trying to make it in the music business than there are today. With the newest technology, we now have the capability to create music on our laptops. With the internet, it’s never been easier to reach people. Before it was a matter of trying to get the ‘important people’ to hear your work. These important people were mostly the gatekeepers. Every division of the entertainment field had their own gatekeepers. There was print media, television and of course the major labels. These people had the skills and money to get their message to millions of other people. These industries still have power but not the same amount that they once wielded.

“Only become a musician if there is absolutely no other way you can make a living.”—Kirke Mecham, on his life as a composer

You’re Who?

The truth is that you still need to get people’s attention. Once you get that attention, you need to have the skills to keep it. These days, it may be a major record label, or network television, or a music supervisor, or the buying public. If you’re working toward getting composing gigs, the networks and big film companies are still the places to go. As far as composing goes, the major film production companies are still the place where you’ll make the most money. There are however, tons of other avenues to explore. Given the smaller start ups costs (compared to 10-15 years ago), more and more smaller, independent film companies are sprouting up. More and more people are out there trying their hand at making films. While the financial gains from these may not be much (or in some cases nothing at all), there is the opportunity to get out there, make some contacts, and get some credits to your name. You never know where on lead or gig will lead. Once a film maker hears what you can do, they’re much more likely to hire you than somebody they’re never heard.  Some composers have built their entire careers on the success of one film.

Some Stats

Let’s look at some numbers to see what’s really going on. There are more feature films being made now than ever. Most of the films are not being made in the US. While some people prefer to work with others in their area, this isn’t always the case. Outsourcing has become quite popular in recent years. Mostly because thanks to the internet (and all of the online tools), it’s much easier to collaborate from great distances. It’s now completely possible to composer a soundtrack for film being made in another continent. Plus with all of the great tools used in modern composition, a single composer can create a piece that would have taken a team of professionals in years past.

The Bad

Of course will all of these great tools, it becomes easier for practically anyone to create music. There are many more musicians out there than ever before. There is also more music being created now than ever before. There are an estimated 8 million bands on MySpace alone! A track can be completed and released in a single day. Let’s face it, even without real numbers on the amount of people trying to get into the music industry today, we can all agree the number is staggering.

The Good

The good news is that when it comes down to making a career in music, it still comes down to working hard, promoting yourself and perfecting your craft. Why is this good news? Because these reasons alone will generally stave off 99% of all who try. It’s not an easy road to get anywhere in the music industry. And staying there is just as hard. If you’re one of those who works hard, sticks to your goals, works hard at developing your talent and works well with others, then you’re already well on your way to getting there. Where you’ll end up is never certain, but by developing this skill-set, you will go somewhere.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” — Hunter S. Thompson