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Topic: composing professionally

  1. #1

    composing professionally

    Hello all,

    Not sure if this is the right area for this but here goes...

    I am strongly considering doing commercial composing (which would hopefully turn into a career over time) but I guess I have a dilemma. Music has always been a "for fun" thing to do and an escape but now the prospect of putting constraints and timelines, etc (not to mention composing for someone else, not just me) could take the enjoyment out of it...how do you still keep both sides of that equation and remain inspired without tainting the original reason you got into music? Art vs commercialism..


  2. #2

    Re: composing professionally

    I am in the same boat as yourself, but am also a student. I have been writing music commercially for about 1 1/2 years now and I always wrote music for fun, expression, and artistic exploration. But now I write for school, academically, and commercially. My best advice to you is to always keep time for your own music. I enjoy academic writing, and commerical writing , but nothing beats writing for my own enjoyment, and hopefully you can palce yourself in an enviroment where the music you write is music of enjoyment.


  3. #3

    Re: composing professionally

    I have to honestly say that once you start to doing a lot of composition for work, and especially once you work 10-12 hours a day on a project, the last thing you want to do is turn that damn computer on and write more music.

    The good thing is that you begin to find other outlets of creativity, like doing graphics, or video, or woodwork...

    If you are interested in keeping music your fun time, I suggest that you do that and look for another way of making money (which will undoubtedly be a lot easier and rewarding).

    Being a pro composer is a pretty difficult line of work, mostly because you end up composing less than half of the time. Most of your time is spent networking, making calls to potential customers, surfing the web for job opportunities, doing research, going to social events to meet more potential directors, and you deal with a very fierce competition that is almost always willing to do the work cheaper and faster than you.

    I am afraid that the pro composer job has been overly romanticised by the "big guns" of the business. For every Williams, or Zimmer or even Eidelman there are hundreds if not thousands of other composers who simple don't come even close to enjoying the rewards of that type of success.

    But I digress. So for me the answer is that it is quite difficult to compose for "fun" once you've been composing professionally for some time. That is not to say that I don't have fun composing....of course I do and love every minute of it. But as far as composing for the fun of it, I do it less and less (maybe because I compose more and more for work?)
    Music Composition for Feature Films, Television and Interactive Entertainment

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    South Ken, London

    Re: composing professionally

    Midphase has made some excellent points. I'd concur that composing for commercial projects and doing nothing but that isn't necessarily every composer's path. I know some very good composers who make a nice living from composing full-time. But many gifted and well-known composers I've known or worked with usually earn their keep by other methods as well, such as performing and lecturing or teaching. I've got to say that I could never just sit and earn a living just from composing all day because I would hate not interacting and playing on a daily basis with other musicians. I like to balance it, earning from a number of areas (plus, when the royalties start to roll in, you often find you don't have to dedicate yourself to commercial composing as much as before).

    Also, its quite complicated in that sometimes your best stuff might not necessarily be "fun" to compose. It might mean some hair-pulling wall-punching pain to produce what you want to say. Mind you, this applies either in music for commercial productions or for purely artistic works (but, in my experience, more to the latter).

    Think what you want to obtain from composing and the area you want to obtain it in. Its lovely seeing your name up on a big screen, as I've experienced from time to time at film festivals and all, but its just as, if not more, rewarding writing a piano quintet (or whatever) and playing it together with a group of friends one evening. There's a rather shallow view popped up that to succeed as a composer you have to have scored the music to some brainless tv series or hack film about basketball or whatever - good music goes a lot lot deeper.

    That said, you could just say f*** it and think of the money if you "succeed"

  5. #5

    Re: composing professionally

    Hmmmm - some very valid points have been raised I that I need to give some due consideration to. I probably should have seen it coming since I run my own web/graphic design firm and I hate working on my own stuff now, especially after doing the same thing all day long, let alone sit in front of the computer to do music (some days).

    I certainly like the idea of doing the music and then perhaps selling it after the fact rather than composing in real time so to speak - might be the best trade off for me in the long run if I can make that work.

    Thanks again everyone!


  6. #6

    Re: composing professionally

    Play bass in a rock band on weekends
    Works for me!


  7. #7

    Re: composing professionally

    This is a great thread and the points midphase and Ernstinen have made are spot on. They reinforce something I have been considering myself lately: writing for music's sake or writing to picture. I do both, but recently have become less and less inclined to want to write to picture.

    In the writing to picture scenario, you usually have some producer or director trying to get your music to sound like something he is familiar with, or wanted to use in the first place (but couldn't afford the licensing), you have to fight for space with FX editors (or sound designers as they like to be called these days it seems) and you have to constantly follow the action, so that a lot of times just when you want the music to go one way, the action demands it goes another.

    What really makes it hard, is the fact you are usually the last guy in the production chain, so any time over-runs the crew, actors and editors have, usually comes out of your time.

    Having said that, watching a scene that your music has put over the top is hugely rewarding.

    I work mostly in television, but lately have taken time off to pursue other musical interests. My hobby is playing in bands (all kinds) and photography but un-like midphase, I really enjoy writing music just for me in my spare time (modern classical, and weird electronica).

    I'm glad i do because just like Ernstinen, I sell a lot to libraries, and it is so incredibly painless, I find myself refusing other work (like Corporate jobs, which i have done tons of) to concentrate more on that side. I blend all styles together and go where the music takes me. It has proven lucrative (not as much as i used to make doing nothing but writing to picture mind, but still), but more importantly, it is absolutely stress free.

    One last point: in my experience, directors, and producers actually prefer music that was written for it's own sake (and not as video accompaniment) and if you can get your music into their ears BEFORE the start a project, they usually envision that stuff playing to the scenes they are working on. A lot of animators I know want to animate stuff to their favorite music, so the best way for me to get work with them, was to give them some music I had written for it's own sake (or fun). Sure enough, after some started their own company they wanted to use some tracks I had done.
    The good part is, nowadays, so many people have the tools to edit music to fit their production so writing music for music's sake, can still become music to picture.

    Whatever....if you got the itch, I'd advise you to scratch it.

  8. #8

    Re: composing professionally

    I absolutely love composing. the first time I got paid to write a piece of music I felt differently. All of the sudden there was pressure. And this was with an excellent client who made very few changes. I can't imagine working on a piece all day and having someone tell me "This is terrible"

    Years ago I turned my 3D animation passion into my career. At first it was "Wow, i can't believe I'm getting paid to do this!" Over the past 10 years it's now more like "Oh well, it's better than digging a ditch"

    I imagine that anyone who takes something as subjective as composition, art, etc and turns it into a career may learn that in the end "it's all work". Some good days, some bad.

    Midphase makes some excellent points. Even at the top, I'm sure it's not all "Spit out an award winning score in the morning, limos, hookers and wine in the afternoon, and then rolling naked in a wad of royalty checks in the evening!"

    But we can dream!


  9. #9
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: composing professionally

    Very real and sane points.

    Sometimes I don't even want to listen to music any more!!

    I have gotten so locked into writing music "for" things that I often don't even remember what my actual true voice sounds like. When that happens, it's bad, and I have to recognize when I'm burning out.

    For me, the balance comes in gigging. When I make sure to perform at least a few times a month, and try to take on a tour or performance series yearly or so, it keeps me grounded in my own musicianship. In turn, the collaboration and improvisational elements in group playing spark new connections for me that pay off when I'm back in the studio.

    Like any kind of writing, you need to get on a routine, and crank out a certain amount of work every day. Even if it is for nothing...write something. It's like going to the gym. If you let yourself get out of practice, it's harder to just turn it on when the going gets tough.

    Also, making an effort to collaborate with other artists--even if it is just bringing one or two players in to toss ideas around--can make all the difference in the world.

    Fictionmusic makes a great point about getting your sound into someone's ear in the early stages. This is really the key to writing what you want instead of what you're told. If you can latch onto up and coming producers who believe in you, and the attitude becomes that they are in a sense promoting you as an artist along with their own product, you are home free. And if you constantly cultivate that thread of jobs, you slowly tilt your client base to one which sees you as the "expert" rather than the "vendor."

    The problem with this approach is that it's a slower go. But eventually, it produces a more pleasant and supportive client base. At least, it has worked that way for me, and seems to work for other people I know. It is easy when starting out (and believe me, I know this from experience) to undervalue what we bring to the table. In turn, otherpeople undervalue it.

    You must be able to collaborate, and to happily continue to give 100% when artistic decisions don't coincide with your preferences. Take it as a challenge to yourself to reveal the best possible artistic truth, and build a reputation as a person who can make anything work. Word gets around.

    People who hire you for music jobs on big projects (the ones you need to survive) are looking for one main thing. They want to get a product from you, painlessly, on-budget, that meets their needs. That's the bar, and there are lots of people who can clear that bar. Exceeding expectations will always be remembered and talked about. Getting awards is huge on every level. Generating press is HUGE HUGE HUGE. Do not think a feature story on you as a composer is a small thing. You should be writing press releases every time you scratch your butt. Understanding how to work the media in your favor is one of the greatest secrets of success. From these, you get clinics and speaking engagements, as well as bringing value to all your clients. THEY use your press to impress their funders, and on and on.

    The biggest piece of advice I would give anyone entering this business is to learn to take NOTHING personally, and to set the value of your work very high. If you don't do it, no one will. People will work you as cheap as you're willing to be worked. And if they want you badly enough (and remember, you are cultivating this by the kinds of jobs you take), they'll pay you what you ask.

    And finally, it's the music BUSINESS. Not the MUSIC business. If you can accept that (and embrace it), you will have fun. If not, it's pretty demoralizing to get smacked over the head with it down the line. I definitely took the latter route before making peace with it. I suggest facing it early on.

  10. #10

    Re: composing professionally

    One of the most pragmatical discussions seen on this board. Many thanks to all who have contributed. Food for thought - and then some

    Rob Elliott Music

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