Ten Tips for Building a Career as a Music Composer for Film, TV and Theatre

There is no magic bullet to getting a foothold into this industry… not unless you consider hard work, lots of rejection, or a healthy bent toward self-determination a “magic bullet”.

Is there an easy way in? The answer, as with most things in life, is “no”. Most things that are worth doing don’t come easy. However, there are many tried and true methods as well as some proven principles that I can safely say I’ve built a career on.

While there would never been enough room to list them all, here are ten things that I’ve learned about getting that elusive foothold and gaining some real traction as a composer for theatre, film and television. read more

Are Decisions Based On Emotion Bad For Business?

Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk by Marcin Wichary

Or

What Would Mr Spock Do?

I’m going to come right out and say it.

I think emotions are key to business. They are a precious tool that should never, ever be ignored. They are the central line of dialogue between your higher brain functions and your subconscious, the route to your creative well.

And you can be creative in business. In fact, you must.

The important caveat in all of this: first you must disconnect from those feelings. Be the observer. Your emotions must not rule your behaviour, but instead inform that behaviour, balanced by the facts. read more

Women, Money, Success and The Bechdel Test

Four UK 20 Pound notes with the Queen's Head

The year is flying by. April is speeding to a close as I finish up the bulk of the music on a very cool project for the V&A Museum down in London. More about this challenging experience in later posts nearer the time the exhibition will open…

I’m starting work on a new feature film in May. Again, more about that when it’s underway.

The theme of women in society is quite heavily featured in both of these projects. With the recently highly successful Everyday Sexism campaign, the reality of what it means to be female in today’s society is very much the flavour of the day. I don’t think I’ve written much (or anything at all) about this here. I think, on the whole, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with men and women for whom equality is second nature, whether in the face of sexism, racism, homophobia… it very rarely has become an issue. But then this interesting article turned up in my feed and I did a double take – I wondered if some form of insidious, culturally-accepted sexism had affected me without realising it…

Why Women Don’t Ask For More Money

“…When women advocate for themselves, they have to navigate more than a higher salary: They’re managing their reputation, too. Women worry that pushing for more money will damage their image. Research shows they’re right to be concerned: Both male and female managers are less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview.” read more

How to Network, for Newbies

A woman works on a laptop in the corner of a pristine white office foyer

Nobody likes networking. It is a fact. I have yet to meet a single person who says, “You know what, I just LOVE working the room! All these people I don’t know, so many faces, so little time, let’s DO THIS.”

More likely it’s, “I hate these events… they don’t work… I’ve never gotten a single job from networking… can we leave now…” (that last one is usually me).

As a newbie/new entrant/recent graduate you’ve no credits, no evidence and no confidence. A nervous bag of sweat. It’s tough, no lie. All you can rely on is the talk. And attempting to ignore the looks of the person you’re attempting to schmooze… over your shoulder – at the rest of the room, working out where their next target is.

So I propose an alternative – a manifesto for Un-Networking.*

1. I will not expect to make a single long term relationship (non-attachment – classic Buddhist strategy)

2. I will ask questions and listen (no need to ‘sell’ oneself – really lets you off the hook)

3. If asked what I do, my answer will be short and sweet and rehearsed… and then I’ll ask another question

4. I will not, under any circumstances, look over the shoulder at the other attendees when the person I’m with is talking (common decency)

5. I will not berate myself for talking only to people I know (solidifying current working relationships is never a bad strategy)

6. I will have business cards ready-to-hand (so there’s none of this delving around into the bottomless pit that is your handbag/laptop bag/briefcase/Mary Poppin’s bag)

7. I will have some form of online presence that potential business partners/clients/customers will be able to get more detailed information from in their own time (again, saves the sales-pitchery. no-one likes the sales-pitchery. yawnsville).

8. I will be excited about my work and what I want to do (when asked about it). I will not be self-deprecating (modesty is good, putting oneself down is needy).

9. I will try to connect other people that I think would be valuable to each other (get known as helpful. so people will approach you voluntarily in future. without the desperate self-sell).

10. I will be exceedingly nice to the barstaff (they want to be there less than you do).

There are plenty more guidelines I think, but these are a good start. In summary, don’t be so hard on yourself. Follow this format and you might actually enjoy yourself.

*Bugger. A quick google shows that I’ve been pipped to the post. Ah well. It’s still a good idea. 😉

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Jetlag, Blogging and Self-censorship

a woman holds her finger to her lips

I have jetlag and it doesn’t seem to be lifting. I’m up at 5am as I have been for the last few days after returning from Singapore with the magnificent Slung Low (more on that later). I’m tired at 7.30pm and out like a light before 9pm.

I read somewhere that it takes a day per timezone crossed to re-synchronise with the new clock. That means I’ll be all sorted by next Monday…

Recently, a pretty popular post about Marketing I wrote yonks ago for SCORECastOnline got reposted, so I had a little gander and it occurred to me that one of the suggestions that had actually worked for me in the past (pretty significantly) was ‘Content Marketing’ ( = blogging) and that I hadn’t written for this here ol’ site in a fair while.

Same for traffic drivers – Twitter (v useful at one time), Facebook (its usefulness is dubious) and G+ (I have no idea whatsoever to do with this). All these things that I would engage in regularly, now I’m just bypassing.

The main reason is time. I’m busy (yay!) with lots of fun work and it’s more engaging than social media or blogging. Aces.

Another reason was definitely a perceived low return on investment. Social media is a time vampire unless your willpower is ox-like. One more reason is that crafting a decent blog post takes up the same creative energy as composing music. I’ve taken hours and hours to write a 500 word article in the past. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good post, but really it felt like the time and energy would have been better spent writing a pretty ditty.

Also I’m suddenly experiencing massive self-censorship! The notion that the post or tweet or whatever has got to be useful and timeless and not all about me, it’s got to be about you the audience, and a very specific audience at that. Every idea I have is censored almost immediately. Same for Twitter and Facebook, including the business fan (ugh) page I have there. The criteria for posting is too high. Nothing gets through. (Is this a good thing though?)

So for the month of December I will lower my standards 😉 and just write here about what I’m doing, what I found interesting, where the latest creative rabbit hole took me, see if that works and then if it’s a pile of poo I can alway delete it in January. Not a post a day, but more like more than one a week. I’m still as busy as ever after all.

But if the jetlag sticks, and I’m up at 5am everyday, it sounds doable.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

The Basics of Music, Copyright and Licensing (Oh, My)

The Music Store

Music copyright law. Not the most exciting of topics. Or the most straightforward.

But here’s how it works when we work together…

When you commission me, I’ll write a piece of music, specifically to your brief. It’ll fit to picture or to a specific duration.

You’ll pay a fee and that fee will include the work I do on the piece (composition, arrangement, production, recording, mixing, etc), and also the license(s) we both agree on in order for you to use the music.

The license(s) may be the right to synchronise to picture (put it in a film) or use in a play or put on a website, or anything else you need it for.

The license(s) may be exclusive or non-exclusive. If it’s exclusive, then only you have that right to, say, synchronise to picture. I can’t assign a license to that right to anyone else, including myself. If it’s non-exclusive, then I can assign anyone I choose that specific right again and again.

The benefits of exclusivity are obvious – that music is associated only with your product or project. It can become your musical identity. That music can become associated only with you in the minds of your audience or customers. It’s a fantastic shorthand – think, for example, of the Intel music ident, or the music accompanying ET flying across the moon.

The benefits of non-exclusivity are straightforward – it costs less. 😉

The license may have a specific duration – say, a day, a year, 10 years, or it may be (more often than not) ‘in perpetuity’ – for the lifetime of copyright (my lifetime plus 70 years).

The license may have a specific ‘territory’. The UK, the US, Asia… or world-wide. Contracts often specify ‘throughout the universe’. I love this phrase, but really it’s just to cover all bases, you know, just in case in 70 years this project gets broadcast on Mars Colony (am trying to maintain a cool exterior… but how awesome would that be?!).

The benefits of having an ‘in perpetuity, worldwide’ are easy to see. You can sell your product, be it a film, a theatre show, a web film or any other imaginable project to anyone, anywhere, and it can be shown for any length of time. It makes life simpler for you.

If I’m going to work on your project and the budget is tight, then this is the first place I’ll look to make savings for you.

Music copyright law is complex. I think I’ve got my head around it and then I’ll get asked a question I’ve no idea about and have to go research it. If you want more detailed information, here are some rather excellent resources in which to delve further:

– Bemuso (especially this page Music Royalties and Copyright)

– Copyright Basics (US-centric, but covers all the different copyrights – pdf)

Please note this post is from my UK perspective but the general principles still stand in most countries.

 

When Doing It For The Money Just Doesn’t Cut It Any More

music recording studio

Man flying with Jet Pack

This is a very small announcement (well, HUGE to me but really shouldn’t impact on most readers!).

I’ve taken a step back from the string trio.

Not a decision taken lightly, it was part of an inevitable trend of moving in the direction of doing what I love rather than doing it for the money.

Alongside the constant of music composition and  sound design, in the last ten years I’ve had quite a few jobs.

I’ve:

  • taught violin in schools and privately in two separate counties;
  • worked as a production assistant for a local film production company;
  • recorded sound on set and boom op-ed;
  • designed websites;
  • played violin in various orchestras in the region;
  • and traveled the length and breadth of the North of the UK, playing in a string trio.

There’s a pattern – each one was relevant to some form of media or music production. I learned so much from every single one and have to say I’m a better businessperson and musician for having done them. I enjoyed them all at one point.

However, as the composition took over, they stopped being fun, one by one. And I made the tough decision to let them each go, gradually.

The major niggle is still, and probably will be for a while yet, the cut in money – I do always recommend that when starting out, composers accept their day jobs as necessary to funding their prediliction for writing music. My rational side would rather build up other forms of income significantly before cutting a sizeable form of revenue, such as playing for the trio.

But my gut is rarely wrong about these things. At the start of this year, 2010, I officially stopped teaching violin privately. Just the gain in free time alone to write more and rest more has been worth it. At the end of this year, I officially take a step back from the trio. And it feels wonderful. And a tiny bit, well, petrifying: all the safety nets are gone – the weight’s been lifted from my shoulders but the ground is falling away too…

I liken the feeling to standing on a cliff. You’re wary of the edge, but the view’s wonderful, some sort of beautiful sunrise. You know all you have to do take the leap… and your funky sci-fi jetpack will take care of the rest.

Image: Jurvetson