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.