So you want to be a film composer and earn the mega bucks, do projects like Pirates of the Caribbean, or Underworld, etc? Who wouldn’t! However let’s start at the beginning and look realistically at a couple of ideas for entering this section of the music industry.
Let’s presume you actually have the general music theory, composition, arrangement skills and can apply them, whether with ‘real’ instruments or virtual (as if you don’t have that groundwork in place then really there is no point in proceeding further until you acquire some of them)
Let’s also presume you have a computer, a ‘DAW’ (or sequencer – you know Sonar, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Live, etc) and some synths and samples are great starting points, so we’ll assume that you have some of those already (again if you don’t even know what I am talking about then maybe get all that down again before proceeding).
Beyond that, you’re going to need a pinch of raw talent and some top-notch negotiation chops to deal with demanding directors.
But before you get into all that, let’s look at the opportunities that are out there for would-be composers.
Famous movie composers like John Williams know their music. Notation, orchestration etc etc and had to ‘score’ everything for a real-life orchestra – but you don’t necessarily have to follow the same path today (in some cases you do of course).
The opportunities for composers have exploded in recent years, as there’s no need to rely on traditional notation or even a conventional orchestral palette of sounds any more. Having said that, the amount of sampled orchestral instruments around today (and even interfaces for making them combine ‘properly’ together) presents huge possibilities for those without a classical background to become involved in scoring.
As varied as the makes of computers, sequencers and virtual instruments, pathways to enter this market are as varied as the number of people in it. For example,
- Christian Henson started in a covers band and after getting his first gigs as a background music writer for adult films, his credits now include some major soundtracks including for the movies Black Death and The Devil’s Double.
- Jesper Kyd – the soundsmith behind the Assassin’s Creed videogame series – began his composing career as a tracker musician in the Amiga demo scene.
- And the great Hans Zimmer started out as part of new wave pop group ‘The Buggles’ (heard of it? LOL, yes I had to look it up), not to mention writing the theme music for a couple of successful 1980s UK game shows.
It just goes to show that great composing success can come from a range of varied beginnings – though it should also demonstrate that the career path of the modern-day soundtrack composer can be long and hard.
A foot in the door
First another warning – the pathway to a career in film/soundtrack composing isn’t without its pitfalls, and you’ll need to be prepared for lots of time, knockbacks from clients, directors and collaborators.
However, the market for original music to accompany films, games and TV is bigger than ever before.
- The explosion in digital TV channels has meant that many more shows are being commissioned, and of course, they all need music.
- For videogames, indie developers are prolific and ambitious in the scope of their projects, which all need accompanying music to varying degrees, be it for a casual iPhone title or a more immersive desktop effort. (note here Big-name game titles – like Assassin’s Creed, Balck Ops etc – have budgets to rival some Hollywood films and you do have to probably write for real orchestras etc. For those looking to get their foot in the door, though, the indie gaming scene is where the action is.
- The movie industry is, as you’d expect, tremendously difficult to break into, but smaller student films and the advent of crowd-funded movies, and small film events like Tropfest, etc give emerging composers a chance to get going
- Advertising also relies on audio to send a message to the consumer (think radio, TV , internet, etc etc)
- Then there is the corporate market – product launch videos, training films, etc.
These and more opportunities are easy to research and find online (be creative in your word search criteria and you will be surprised what might come up).
Just remember you will be competing with many other like-minded individuals, so allow time and more time, be prepared for lots of no’s (but don’t take them personally) and lots of effort ….but if you collect a yes or two, can give yourself enough of an edge to be recognised and especially if a bit unique in what you do, you’ll find your place.
After that, it’s all about putting the word out, marketing yourself and developing your contact list. You might be surprised at how many people suddenly want to collaborate or know of someone who needs music as soon as you mention you’re a composer.
Hope some of that helps those of you wanting to ‘put a foot into this area’.
Good luck and let us know how you are going.
PS I have only mentioned the ‘original composer’ entry area here – an increasing level of TV, advertising and even films, tap into retail songs and production libraries for some if not all of their needs ….. a whole other way of getting ‘a foot in the door’
As well as over 600 musical pieces (retail and PM music and songs) in our library, PavMusic’s Sync Stable currently has 9 experienced composers (including yours truly) that we tap into for unique creations and sound scapes/design for client’s projects. Whether an orchestral arrangement behind a song, a theme for a corporation, event or a product launch, right through to full movie scoring – each has a unique skill that makes their inclusion in the group important to our business offering.