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Topic: Not getting paid for music...

  1. #1

    Not getting paid for music...

    I apologize if this is a little off-topic, but I need to get this out and I know that most of you will understand. I know we all have to start out somewhere and that somewhere usually isn't at the top. I was looking around today on the net and I found a message about some guy who was asking for a composer to compose original music for a short film... with no pay of course.

    I'm getting really tired of people not willing to pay anyone for original music. The thing that really gets me is that I score for movies and I've done the "low budget/ no pay" thing and it sucks!

    You know why? They start to give deadlines, then they push them up, and then expect the composer to drop everything and hurry up for them. They start to pressure and want edits and then want the composer to re-score things... for no pay. I know money isn't everything, but it helps and if I'm going to be pressured to give a product and use my time and energy to do so, I want something in return. Music is everything to me, I love music and I love to make music, but I can see giving ppl my music and basically getting a pat on the back getting old REALLY quick.

    I'm on a film music e-mail/ e-group thing and 90% of the people coming in asking for original film music aren't willing to pay for it. Do these people think that I spent my time, money, and sanity going to school just to write music to hand out free of charge? I'm still in school for composition and I'm not even half way done yet.

    To do my scores I recently bought:
    a Macintosh Dual 1.8 G5, 1 gig of RAM, and 160 gig HD= $3,000.
    I then bought a MOTU soundcard= $700.
    I use Emagic Logic Pro software= $900,
    GPO software= $250
    Korg Karma=$1,800
    Novation Supernova 2= $2,000
    and much more equipment that costed me a ton of cash and these people want me to do original compositions *FOR FREE*?!?!?!? Yeah, sure....

    I apologize about this, but it really gets to me when ppl do this. I had to vent.

    The Cap

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  2. #2

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    You don't have to apologize, and I agree with all what you said.
    In my case, I earn my money as music player (paid each month by an orchestra) and, like for you, music is all for me.
    So when I don't play, I write music for bands or differents orchestras. But I never write music for anyone (except good friends) if I'm not paid for this. I generaly ask to people who want me to write for free, if they also don't pay for their food, house, car...
    People generaly think that we do this only for our pleasure, justifiing the fact that we don't have to be paid.
    So each time I refuse the deal, if I'm not paid.
    I recognize that it's different for me because I earn money in my orchestra, it's easier for me to refuse...
    good luck

  3. #3

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    Capt Hook,

    You are part of your own problem.

    I agree with you that music is ALWAYS the last thing a director or a producer thinks of, and there's never any money left for it.

    But.... that has a reason...

    As long as there are people willing to do things for free or for very little money, how can one justify spending thousands of dollars for an original composition?
    So the only thing you can do, is to get REAL good at what you do, and make sure producers/directors get to listen to your music and realise that your music is so much better then the stuff they can get for free. However, NEVER work for free again... if that's the only way you can get a job... forget it. This not only goes for music, but for every creative job you can think of.

    I can remember one of the first animations I could do for a producer.... only problem... they only had a budget of about 2500 dollars but to cover the hours I had to put into this animation, I should have charged at least 5000.
    But I was just starting and I really wanted the job, so I agreed..... telling them this was a one time only deal and the next job would have to have a normal budget.......
    Well.... forget it.... the next job was even more complex.... and had a budget of... "yes we're really sorry, but that's all we can afford right now" 1500 dollars. I thanked them for the interest and told them to take iet elsewhere....

    A few weeks later they called me.... the guy who said he could do it fo 1000 dollars screwed up big time.... I could have the job for the price I thought was reasonable.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    Hey Cap! I am positive all of us have gone through this same sort of problem at one time of another in our careers. I once asked a professor this same question and he replied with a smirk, "Go turn on that radio." When I did he finished, "that's what most people think music is, magic!"
    I understand what you are saying and I tell you, you have to draw the line somewhere. Flat out tell them, this is my fee for the initial score any changes, requests, add on is extra.
    Here's is my most recent experience during my employment as Musical Director for a local town youth theatre group. The town committee inquired into why I had submitted so many hours for "just doing music." I invited them to my home studio to sit in on an evening of score study, preparations, blocking, transpositions, vocal preps and programming. After one hour of observations they actually stated (now get this) I wasn't being paid enough for the work I prepare for the show.
    Of course not all of us have the opportunity to invite our employers to our studios, but the point here is most employers haven't a concept of what it takes to score a program. And, if they do, and still do not offer compansation, then I would think again especially if it is a low budget production. If it is something that will turn out to benefit you in the future you may ask for some sort of compensation for materials or what you need to complete the project or bite the bullet and hope for the future.
    I recently did a midi for a local school play. I have a package of shows I've programmed in the past that includes a CD with snippets of my work, a professionally written contract, and sent it to them. What they needed was some of the instruments done on midi so their orchestra could follow along. After a brief meeting I was hired for my basic fee plus compensation for any changes. The show is playing now and everything is going well. I presented them with a professional product, contract and they bought it. Gone are the verbal negotiations for me. If I don't get compensated, I don't do!
    I'll say that in this forum there must be a ton of suggestions, insight and experiences to draw off of. Unfortunately, we musicians are mostly taken for granted. There is no magic to what we are or what we do. Just hard work and alot of personal expenses getting there.
    Just my $4000.00 worth.
    Good luck.

  5. #5

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    Like everybody else who responded I have to say that I feel symphathy for your viewpoint, but - and with a big BUT - I have to admit that I am one of the guilty people you are talking about. I am working on yet another score for a short film for free. I just make sure that I get some agreement for the payment of expenses.

    If I may give an excuse for my bad behaviour, I'd like to say that I am doing it basically to build up a CV at this stage. I have spend a lot of money on building a studio, 2 computers, software, hardware, guitars, etc and still have to upgrade my studio to surround sound later this year when the new Sonar4 is available. I have a plan that covers a bit longer term than just this bit of expense. I want to get paid, but I know that I will not get paid money for how good I am if no-one knows how good I am. Directors and producers need to get to know and recognise my name. I have to build my brand. To do this I need to advertise and build up a CV. In the process I get lots of experience. I also get to build up a network of friends in the right places. A good student producer or short film producer today may become a feature film producer of the future. I just hope he / she will remember who did that killer score for that short. Producers and directors have a network as well. When somebody needs a score they ask their budies for names. They go to film festivals and they are the people who sit at the end of movies reading the credits.

    Many years ago a had a rock / blues / country band. We started off exactly with this same strategy. We played any venue for free for about a year. Thereafter we started to make money. After about 3 or 4 years we were charging a reasonable fee and were booked most of the time. If this strategy worked that time I think it is worth giving it another try.

  6. #6

    Exclamation Re: Not getting paid for music...

    I think that working without a fee has to have several parallels: 1) the director/producer needs to be in the same position - i.e. (s)he is financing the camera, editing, etc. with his own home studio/budget out of pocket, 2) they must be making some effort to try and find someone that they wish to continue working with, so when they get a gig that pays, you're the first composer they go to, and 3) you have to enjoy working together.

    If it's a stricly "vendor" type deal where they've shelled out big bucks for everything from steadycams to union rates on actors - and THEN try to dig up a composer who will do a one-off gig for free - that's a deal-breaker for me. But if you can find filmmakers "on the same rung of the ladder" then you're in a perfect position to ascend with them. The key is in having a strong personal relationship with the filmmakers and sticking to your dates.
    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  7. #7

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    Although not a film composer, please permit me to rant a little about similar situations from both sides of the fence.

    When I was a student at Berklee in the mid 60s, we all just wanted to play. There were, and still are, several music schools in the Boston area. Club owners would prey on students for music for as little as $10 per night, while they often raked in the cash by the ton.

    After a year or so there, I was fortunate enough to play with one of our teacher‘s bands. The gigs we got were somewhat more respectable and the pay was also. Also I found that teaching was a little more rewarding and gave a struggling college student a slight sense of security.

    Many, many years went by, and now along with teaching music and playing, I own a small greenhouse business. Horticulture is like music, in that the job market is filled with people who love to grow things. So the prevailing wages for these folks can be quite low.

    There seems to be an unwritten law that if you love your job, or you achieve some satisfaction such as teaching societies children, or taking care of societies elderly, or growing beautiful plants and flowers that enrich our lives and better our environment, or create beautiful music that helps us reach within ourselves and gives us a brief glimpse at our souls, that because of the satisfaction of our jobs, we deserve only a bare living income if that.

    Yet in my greenhouse business, for instance the pressure for keeping our profits low in order to make sales is so great, that we have only made money in one of our last five years of business.

    Where do I get help? I go to our local horticulture college and beg students to work for from 7 to 10 dollars an hour. This doesn‘t seem like much money, but it is quite a bit more than our competition pays.

    The difficulty of finding reliable, conciensious, and reasonably hard working people is not an easy task.

    So, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. We recently lost our best greenhouse worker. She had been with us for four years. She went on to be a greenhouse manager in a large firm and is making 4 times the money that I could have ever afforded to pay her. Working with us, I hope, allowed her to develop her skills to the point where she will be successful.

    In some businesses, we make our money, in part by our reputation, and in part by the luck of whom we have had the chance to meet and know. The former is a good thing, the latter is unavoidable and is just the way life is.

    I don‘t think it is fare for anyone to ask someone to write a film score or for that matter do any kind of work for nothing. I have been asked many times in my life to play free for charity dinners and such. I have this criterion before doing so:

    Is this a cause that I enthusiastically support? Are the others involved donating there services for free, i.e. caterers, owners of the hall, restaurant, etc. advertisers for the event? Is there some other form of compensation, i.e. will I be mentioned in the advertising, will there be a picture along with the blurb about my extraordinary talents? There are many other subtle things that might influence me in one way or another; such as do I know well the integrity of the people involved.

    Perhaps in getting to know the situation well, I would be willing to lower my fees according to what I have found out about it. Very rarely, I might actually be persuaded to donate my time free of charge.

    So my advise for a young film composer would be to do your homework first, before just handing over your hard work for someone else to exploit. If it is you and a couple of friends (not just a friend of a friend of a friend) embarking on the film that will change the world, go for it. You may not have a more rewarding and fun experience in your life. And who knows, maybe you will change the world.

    However, if someone approaches you or you happen upon someone‘s name on the web, and they ask you do write a score for free or for very little money, find out as much about this producer as you can. How successful have they been in the past? Try to fine mutual acquaintances to verify their legitimacy. Search the Internet, trade papers, books and magazines, etc. to see what you can learn about them or their company. Try to find out who is working with them and talk to them about the way they are being treated, or more importantly try and find people who have worked with them in the past. Make sure that there is a contract and have someone who knows the business look over it before you sign.

    Your reputation will always be enhanced by working with good people, but it can be hurt by being exploited by crooks. Be careful, do your research, try and get as fare compensation as you can, then if you come to an agreement, stick to your part of the bargain no matter even if you think that you have been duped. Sit down and write the best damn score you can write. You will still have a great deal of satisfaction in the job you did and maybe next time you will be a little wiser, and certainly will have become better at your craft.


    P. S. Just saw Houston‘s post. He is dead on, and in far fewer words.

  8. #8

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    How much money can be made purely on the back-end of a low-budget film? PRO fees, or even requesting a percent of the net? I've seen deals where they say "if this film ever makes a profit your share will be X percent per minute of music". Back in the old studio days their accountants were real good at making sure the film never showed a "profit" on paper...

  9. #9

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    As a composer you get paid from 2 sources. The producer may pay you for the score, plus you get paid royalties. Whatever you do, draw up an agreement and include your terms for both. If you do it for free, try to put in a clause to say that the producer must submit cue sheets to the movie company that screens the film. If it get shown on TV you are in great luck.

    Actually, there is a third source of income. Also include the clause in the agreement that you retain publishing rights (or split it 50%) and that the producer may only use the score in sync with the film. Stipulate that they may NOT include the music on a soundtrack or compilation album without paying industry (BMI / ASCAP) royalties. Make sure that you are registered with such company for collecting those royalties.

    Whenever you do a job for free, make sure that the agreement says non-exclusive rights and you retain ownership. That way, should the film get noticed and somebody likes the score you can sell it to somebody else again, this time at better rates.

    Get a lawyer on your side if you have to. If you are doing this for free, you probably do not have the money for a lawyer. Surf the net and find out everything you can about contracts or get one of the many books on the subject.

  10. #10

    Re: Not getting paid for music...

    Well, it does suck, but the hard reality is that music has become cheap and that's that. The money will probably never be there in our lifetime. You have to do it because its fun, and if you can find a way to make a living together with filmmakers, game software makes, or others (who are also making money), then great.

    Music gear is expensive, no doubt. Perhaps too expensive. However, there is stuff you can get that is quite inexpensive and capable of quite a bit...or older used stuff. There are lots of options if you're on a shoestring budget.

    As a side analogy... I used to race off road motorcycles. My bike cost $10,000. A new set of tires cost $200 and lasted a few weeks. Oil, gas, broken parts...a constant stream of costs in the hundreds per month. A single race entry fee, $75, not to mention the $100 in gas I spent to actually drive my moto van to the race. Oh yea, then there was the cost and maintenence on the "moto van". Etc.. it went on and on. I spent thousands per year on that sport. Nobody ever paid me a single dime for it. I did it because I loved it and I simply had to budget a certain amount of my yearly salary to put on my garb, jump on my bike and rip through the woods with a bunch of other lunatic obsessed moto hobbiests. End of story.

    Not everyone racing motorcycles had a motovan or a tricked out $10,000 bike either...but they definitely all spent more money then they probably should be. Many of them were essentially construction workers and probably spent 20-30% of their income on riding dirt bikes. Why? Simply because they love it.

    Pretty much that's what its down to with music too isn't it? You gotta just love it.

    I was at a songwriting conference this weekend. Some great Nashville songwriters were there. Guys with gold and silver colored records hanging on their walls. They arrived in Hundai's. These guys don't make a lot of money. Hardly any in fact. They complain all day long about MP3-this and royalty that and how there is no more money for them in this business. Yet they can't wait to play you their latest song. They love it and will never stop, even if it costs them money to do it.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

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