This is a segment from a recent interview I did with an old University colleague, who is now a Musical Journalist in the North of England:
“Resurrection” is your latest track, and you say it’s your favourite composition to date. What do you think makes it special?
On this piece I worked really really hard to get into as much detail as I could. In the past, and particularly when I started out composing music; I would have big horns, over a low string “powerchord” riff, with stupidly loud percussion underneath it all. And that was pretty much how it used to go. But with “Resurrection” I feel like my music has matured a huge amount. Every chance I got, I would flip around the orchestration, or try and create some strange guitar pattern that you can’t hear but you know its there. Stuff like that. Musical gestures that are so slight that you cant actually hear them. However, take all of them out and the piece sounds completely different. All of the sounds heard in the first half of the piece, never actually go away, even during the most epic, loud parts. The main thing with this though is that I just love that second half. Those chord sequences are too tempting!
What gave you the inspiration to write this piece?
Every single piece of music that I have composed, has been triggered by seeing a piece of art. For me, they give the greatest source of inspiration. I came across Archangel, the piece of art associated with this piece, a few months ago and instantly fell in love with it. For me, when you’re looking at a picture that is so awe-inspiring, the music pretty much starts to write itself. Every picture can be a story. The music makes that story come alive. Or maybe it’s just me…
What do you want people to feel when listening to it?
Everyone will feel something different I guess. I always imagined a feeling of inspiration and tragedy. The thing that I love about it is that the idea of a Resurrection can encompass so much. Loss. Heartache. Elation. Heroic Return... I always wanted the first half of the piece to try and be sombre in nature, but even when the huge heroic themes start coming in later, I never let the music get away from that B Minor root, which ultimately gives the piece a sadder feel, despite the French Horns and Violins doing their best to pull it away. I think the ideal emotion that I would want people when listening, is to feel is exactly the same thing that I felt when I first listened to Hans Zimmer or Thomas Bergersen. Just sitting back and saying “F**k that bit sounds cool...”
You recently composed the music on some high profile TV Commercials for the British Government. How does your process and mindset differ when working for a client like that compared to working on your Solo pieces?
You basically become two different people. When I’m working on my own material, I’m the most dedicated and laziest person at the same time. I’ll work for 24 hours straight (literally) on a piece, only to then come back the next day and scrap everything because I’ve changed my mind on it. It can then sometimes take me weeks to finish it, because if I’m not feeling 100% about what I’m doing then I will just work on something else, but that’s fine because it’s my time. Whereas if you’re working for a client the timelines are usually so tight, that you can’t afford to be like that. It can be frustrating too. I will never finish a project of my own work unless I am 100% happy with it, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go with what the client or company wants, even though you prefer another route. They both have their good and bad points. But I will say that working all the way through a tough project with a client, and then seeing the finished product at the end is extremely rewarding.
What are your plans with this piece now that it’s finished?
Well the first thing I’m going to do is stop listening to it! I have a horrible habit of re-listening to my pieces after they’ve been mixed and mastered, and picking up on things that I’ve changed my mind on, or had better ideas about since, which is not a good thing to do! It’s been sent to a number of Epic Music Channels, so hopefully it should pick up some traction there, but my main goal is getting it distributed online. It’s the first piece that I’ve produced that I am confident about in not just a musical sense, but also in a production sense. Hopefully it should be released on iTunes and Spotify (plus a few others) over the next month or two, so fingers crossed! It will be released as a single first, but ultimately will be one of the tracks that makes up the album.
Ask anyone who's involved or interested in music, and most people would definitely agree that writing soundtracks and scores is an extremely desirable job on their vision board. Well, whilst it can be an extremely rewarding profession, it is not exempt from it's downsides. Here's my two cents on the things people never tell you about the true life of a Cinematic Composer.
1: GETTING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK CAN REALLY SUCK.
Says it all really. Directors will come to you with a piece of footage, or a PDF brief of what they want. You go away as a Composer, and slave away for hours on what you think is the best idea for that media, only to have it sent back to you saying that it's not right. Now, this is not them saying "You're rubbish, give up." It simply means that, it's not the kind of thing that they want for this particular project. Directors and Producers are extremely busy people, and the environment that they operate in is a very direct one, because it has to be.
However, for a Composer, or anyone who uses personal creativity in a professional environment, being told that what you have produced isn't right, at first can be quite a knock. It happens to everyone at some point, no matter how good you are.
My advice is to quickly send over a few demos as soon as you start getting information. Emphasise the fact that they are demos, so quality will be low, but it will give them a idea of what routes you are looking at initially. Typically, the conversation will then go something along these lines:
"1.0 is really nice, but maybe a little too sad for this scene. 2.0 is definitely along the right lines, maybe emphasise the pizzicato strings a little bit more, and flush out the melody. 3.0 is good, but not the kind of angle we want. 4.0 is unsuitable"
From that, you haven't wasted any time, and can be confident that the music you're now going to invest your efforts in, has been approved by the team. If you get told that your music isn't right, it is really important to not let it affect you. Think of it this way. Imagine that you are a Vehicle Hire Company, and you provide a Mercedes C63 Convertible to help someone move house. It's not right for them, and it's not what they want. It doesn't mean that a Mercedes is a bad car, and that they won't want one in the future; it just means that it's not what they're looking for at the moment.
2: START DOING YOGA, BECAUSE YOU'D BETTER BE FLEXIBLE!
Directors and Producers get a bad rep for this amongst the composing world. To be fair, it's not usually their fault. There are so many moving parts in Film Production, that a change at any level can have an effect on what you're doing as a Composer.
Brian Tyler has talked about this before, where he will spend ages working on a cue for a scene, only to have the whole scene altered at the last minute. It happens. Just be aware of it, and don't put yourself in a position where you are unable to recover from it.
3. YOU MAY BE REQUIRED TO GO AGAINST YOUR CREATIVE INSTINCT...
Not all the time, very rarely if you're lucky. But be aware, that at least once in your career, you will have to go against your own creative bearing as a Composer. In Lehman's terms, it essentially means that (sometimes) Filmmakers will actually ask you to produce something which in your opinion, sounds wrong, or completely unsuitable.
Although, it may not seem like a big deal, it's actually very difficult to deal with. Musicians are probably the worst people in the world for getting upset when things "don't sound right", or things "just don't work". I've been very lucky and only encountered it once in my career, but it's definitely something to think about. The best thing you can do is just try to rise above it, and acknowledge that ultimately you are working for the Filmmaker, who has the bigger picture. You may have the expertise and insight to offer alternatives, but ultimately the final decision lies with them.
4. PEOPLE WILL TRY AND RIP YOU OFF - KNOW YOUR WORTH.
Now this one is interesting, and in some respects it can be a bit of a tightrope to walk, particularly when trying to make a name for yourself as a new Composer. When you're starting out, accept the fact that you might have to work for a smaller paycheck, or in some cases, passion projects (i.e. where you don't get paid). You can justify this when you're new in the business, as very few Filmmakers will hire someone who hasn't worked on anything, thus vicious circle ensues etc etc.
However, once you've worked on a few projects, and been paid for them; don't be afraid to turn down people who are trying to short change you. Now obviously I can't tell you exactly how little is too little, or how much time is too much. It is 100% your own personal judgement. But it is something that is useful to be aware of. Hollywood is a business which is heavy on the pockets, meaning people will sometimes try and get a lot for not a lot, if you see what I mean. But, that does not mean that you have to cheapen yourself. For example, let's say that you have scored 2 x 1 minute commercials for one client, and been paid $2000 per commercial. If someone approaches you and asks you to score 1 x 6 minute commercial for $50, don't be afraid to tell them no. Your time is money at the end of the day, and if they can't afford you then that's their problem, not yours.
As I said, it can be tightrope as a new Composer, but try and be aware of it. You'd actually be surprised how much money some Filmmakers have at their disposal!
5: DON'T QUIT THE DAY JOB JUST YET...
This last point is definitely not exclusive for Film Composers, but entertainment jobs in general. Unless you are one of the big dogs who live in Malibu and work in Hollywood, getting a steady pay check month by month can be challenge. Earning a living in this business is usually done on a project-by-project basis, and with that comes inconsistency. One month you may earn $4000 from your work, the next month you might earn nothing. The month after that you might get onto a feature film which pays $20,000, but it's a 6 month project. And so on.
Think about the long game, and don't put yourself in a compromising position. If you are earning a good living wage in your current job, and you have enough time to balance your composing lifestyle alongside it then by all means do it. LinkedIn is full of people posting about saying when they told their boss to "F*ck Off" and moved to the Virgin Islands. But in reality, lots of Filmmakers and Composers alike still have some other form of income, whether it is part-time or full-time. At the same time though, be aware that you probably won't end up scoring a multi-million dollar movie, unless you have 6-12 months to completely commit to it. So think about your options. I know people who have taken sabbaticals to do larger projects, and others who have left their jobs. But my advice to you, is that composing is a hard business. Be wary of the temptation to leave steady employment, and properly weigh up your options before making any big decisions.
Nowadays, with the internet being as powerful as it is, there are loads of great online tools which can help you get established in the music industry. Now, the ones I'm going to talk about are more aimed at the Film/TV Composers out there, but there are some useful pointers for those pursuing a solo career as well; so definitely worth a read.
Social media, although still a relatively new phenomenon, is an extremely powerful tool. Over 1.8 BILLION PEOPLE have a Facebook account for example, and a market like that is simply too big to ignore. As a Musician, one of the first things you should be doing is setting up a professional Facebook page, and inviting all your friends to like and share it. My recommendation is creating one, and then adding some of your work to it before sharing it, as people are more likely to like and share that than simply an empty profile with your name at the top. Try to keep it strictly about music, and keep the social stuff like how much you drank last Friday to your personal Facebook account. Here is an example of my Official Facebook Page to give you an idea.
LinkedIn is also a great tool. For those that don't know, LinkedIn is best described as "Facebook for Professionals", so its a good idea to create a professional looking page and start building your network. LinkedIn is packed with Film Producers, Record Labels, Talent Scouts, you name it. Trying to build a network with these people and then posting regular musical updates onto your profile will go a long way. View my LinkedIn page for an example.
Last but definitely not least Twitter. Used by 320 Million people, it is still a hugely powerful tool. Having a decent Twitter account will definitely not to you any harm, and will probably end up being your fanbase's primary method of keeping up to date with what you are doing.
The most dated, yet still one of the most important things you need to have. All businesses, whether you're a Freelancer Composer, a tyre company, or a carpet manufacturer; need to have a website. Why? Because you just do. However, gone are the days when building a website required outsourcing thousands to a professional tech company, or messing around for days trying to figure out HTML code. In fact, building your own professional looking website has never been easier! All you need is a domain name, which you can purchase for literally $0.99, and a low-cost website builder. The list below has some good starting points, and are all great sites to use.
An absolute must for musicians. SoundCloud is a fantastically slick way of displaying your music portfolio, and can help you establish a large and most importantly, a targeted fan base. One of the other great things about SoundCloud, is the ability to embed your tracks into your website and other web pages, instantly giving your page an edge, but most importantly getting your music in front of more people. Check out my SoundCloud account here.
Again, YouTube has been around for a long time, but is by no means redundant. Over 5 BILLION videos are watched on YouTube EVERY DAY! And as a Musician, you are missing out on a massive scale if you simply ignore it. There's no need to spend thousands on a music video or professional videographers. There are videos on YouTube with millions of views, that just feature a music track underneath a static picture, and this can be done for free with a program like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. And again, its really good way of building a targeted fanbase through your subscribers.
Asset 5: (For Solo Artists)
Both Apple and Spotify now have some really good deals in place which enable new and unsigned Artists to get their music online. One of the most popular is the use of Aggregators. Aggregators are companies which are experts in delivering content to services like iTunes and Spotify. They can also provide you with Universal Product Codes (UPC) and International Standard Recording Codes (ISRC), and distribute your music across multiple channels. Apple or Spotify will then pay the aggregator for any sales, and the aggregator will pay you.
Apple Approved Aggregators
Spotify Approved Aggregators
Asset 6: (For Freelance Composers)
I mentioned this in my previous posts, however as a Freelancer Composer I found these incredibly useful when starting out. Whilst you're unlikely to land a job composing the music for the next Batman film from a Freelancing site, there are some fantastic projects on there which can help get you on the map, as well as getting some all-important cash rolling in. These sites have jobs paying $5 to simply mix a track on Logic, to projects I've seen where clients are paying composers $3000 to score a 30 minute film. Here are a few example sites below:
Not only do these sites match up potential clients with potential sellers, they also manage the whole project brilliantly. Payment is safe and quick, and everything is backed up by the site, meaning discrepancies with clients are extremely rare. Invoices and income certificates can also be produced and downloaded, if needed for tax reasons for example.
So there you are; 6 online tools that can help establish you in the online music industry. I will finish with saying that with all these assets, the key element from your perspective, is backlinking, in other words, 'link everything, to everything.' On your Facebook page for instance, you should ideally have links to your Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Website, SoundCloud account, and even your profiles on Freelance sites. Not only does this increase your exposure and drive more followers to your other pages, but it also boosts your online presence on Google. When Google crawls and trawls through websites and web pages, if something has loads of backlinks, then it will often rank it higher in its searches. This is absolutely key. Its not limited to Google either. You should always aim to cross or backlink everything. Every time I have completed a project on UpWork for example, I connect with all of the client team on LinkedIn, get them to endorse my skills, like my Facebook page etc. It all helps....
This is definitely up there with the questions I see being asked most online.
How To Be A Film Composer?
How To Be A Movie Composer?
How To Become A Composer For Film?
How Do I Become A Successful Film Composer?
(Right there, all taken from the top of Google's Related Searches)
The truth is, it's a hard question to answer.
Firstly, think about what you want your definition of "success" to be. For some, simply being appreciated and praised for a skill that they are good at is enough. For others, maybe success is getting their first commission for a piece of music, or having their music featured in a couple of short films. And some may not feel like they have achieved success until they have make over $1 million a year from composing music.
Being "successful" in music, is just like being successful in anything else; it depends on 5 main variables; Ability, Time, Effort, Finance, and Luck. Ultimately you do not need all of these things, but to give yourself the best possible chance at achieving your goals, they are definitely worth maximising.
The Music Industry is tough to break into. The Film Industry? Probably even harder. Combining the two and trying to break into it? Very tough indeed; but not impossible. In this article I'm going to discuss all of these variables, and go into detail about things you can do, in order to set yourself up for the best chance of success in the Film Music Industry.
It sounds obvious, but the first thing that you actually need to possess if you stand any chance of getting anywhere; is the ability to write music. Composing music, in my view at least, is a blend of both natural instinct (i.e. knowing what feels and sounds good), and hard work. Yes, Usain Bolt was probably born as quite a quick runner, but it was relentless practice and refinement of his skill that took him from simply being quick, to being the quickest man in history. Music is no different. Don't believe me? Listen to Hans Zimmer's earliest film scores, and then compare it to the score he did for 'Inception'. The amount that even the best film composers can improve in a few years is astounding, and you will be no different. If you want to be good at composing, then do more of it. And also, listen to more music. Ever heard the phrase that the best writers are always the ones who have read the most books? For me, listening to film scores taught me more about orchestration and expression than sitting in a University lecture hall ever did. If you are constantly making music, pushing yourself with different genres, and challenging your musical ability; you will get better. And the better you are; ultimately the better chance you stand.
Be Prepared To Wait...
Ok so I get it. Back when I was in my early 20s, seeing teenage musicians driving around London and L.A in their Ferraris and Range Rovers does make you think, "When is my big break happening?", and it can get quite frustrating. Especially if you are working Freelance full-time whilst getting paid next to nothing. But keep positive. In this game, perseverance is absolutely the key. Bear in mind that most Film Composers do not get proper recognition until their late 30s/40s. But one thing that is certain, is that the more you plug away, and more you keep trying, the greater your chances of success are. And whilst success is never guaranteed, quitting your dream prematurely due to impatience definitely guarantees failure.
Be a Professional, And Look After The Little Things...
This part is two-fold. Subject Effort i.e. your music, and External Effort i.e. everything else that goes with being Self-Employed. Firstly, Subject. Take pride in your music, and take every step possible to make your tracks as detailed, and well produced that they can be. When an aspiring painter paints a picture, they don't do it half heartedly. Listen to the best pieces of music in existence, and they have always had so much effort and detail poured into every aspect, even small parts which are easy to view as irrelevant. Also, don't rush the mixing process. An awesome piece can become a bad piece if its mastered awfully. Pay someone to do it for you, or learn how to do it yourself to a good standard from a YouTube tutorial. The second part, is everything else. Composing a world class piece is not worth anything sat on your iMac. You are the product, and you need to do everything you can to get you and your ability in front of potential clients. This can be done in a number of different ways, Freelance sites, YouTube, LinkedIn, plus owning your own professional looking website... to name a few. Promoting yourself to the max is just as important as creating good music.
Know What To Invest In.
One of the biggest myths in this industry, is that you have to own a $500,000 music studio and your own Symphony Orchestra in order to be a successful Film Composer. Ok yes, of course it helps. But in reality, technology has advanced to such a level now, you simply don't need it. I made my first commission in Film Music, using a MacBook Pro laptop, with a $50 keyboard. Expensive VST (Virtual Studio Technology) won't make you a good composer, just like owning an expensive Tennis Racquet won't make you Roger Federer. Knowing how to use instruments, through expression for example, is often enough to make computer based scores sound good enough. And usually, if a film company are that desperate for a real orchestra, then they will pay for one. In my opinion, spending thousands on studio equipment is a waste of money. Adding to this, when you're starting out, try and do as much of the process yourself. I mentioned above about paying people to mix your tracks. If you have a bit of cash its definitely worth spending a bit on; however if you're on a budget, then doing them yourself can save you loads of money; and plus its good experience. Your best bet; a good website, maybe a couple of decent VST packages and a decent laptop or Desktop computer, mixed in with a USB keyboard, is all you need to get started. Spend thousands on studio equipment when you have thousands to spend...
Right Place, Right Time.
This (unfortunately) is a fact of this industry we all have to deal with. Some people are just in the right place at the right time, others, the right place at the wrong time. You can meet someone on a train who is an aspiring film maker, form a partnership with them, and then they go on to become the next Tim Burton, and you are set for life as the next Danny Elfman. I've heard people say that luck is out of your control. I disagree. Whilst you can't control good fortune, you can always shorten your odds. In other words, if you do nothing, you are more likely to be unlucky. If you do your utmost to ensure that the 4 variables above are maximised, then you are more likely to be lucky.