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 it 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.