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What does the future hold for composers?

We've seen a lot of changes lately, primarily brought about by technology, as you're all aware. This, as you are also aware, has changed the perceived value of music in some peoples eyes - shrinking budgets, tighter deadlines, pressure to give up rights on backend.

At the same time, we see more opportunity for people to get involved, deepening the 'talent pool', and we now have the ability to work remotely, outside of the major centers. There are more opportunities to produce work, get your work out there, and be heard. But there is more competition, a weakening of the value of music by desperate or malinformed composers. Also, more channels, more opportunities to get film/tv programming also means less advertising dollars to go around...

What does the 'new' composer look like? Nowadays, we are expected to be midi- and synth-programmers, music engineers, orchestrators, etc., delivering finished products entirely within the digital domain, so things have changed a lot already. Given the state of the music business, will there need to be an unprecendented revolution of the paradigm, a need for adaptation? Will we see ourselves having to bring in income from many different types of sources, and be completely diversified? Is being just a composer for film, film/tv, tv, enough anymore/for much longer?

We seem to be on a precipice between massive upheaval, and incredible, wide-open opportunity. What do you think?

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I think we as composers need to enforce a certain ethic that makes our music of a higher echelon firstly, as it is our ability to do so that will supercede all the scheisters out there pretending to know music or wannabe's. Its like the whole vibe of LA (talk the talk walk the walk even if you are totally clueless) is now spreading thanks to all the things you mentioned. Since it is impossible to nip it at the bud it is just up to us to use all the experience, craft, training and ability to make sure our music stands as a beacon of truth, and to not succumb to the easy road just to pocket a buck. With vigilance of integrity will our art and craft remain art and craft and not slop that is so easy to find today, even award winning (am thinking of the utter trash from 3 6 mafia that won the oscar last year lol). Truth, Justice and Waterphones for all! :)
I absolutely agree Chris. I recently had some aspiring "composers" drop by to shadow because they were astonished as to how I could create such dynamic, organic music with samplers, etc that they just couldn't seem to create in their studios. They were fairly dissapointed however, when I explained that I arranged, articulated, orchestrated, and composed the music, section by section. They were hoping that somehow they could push a button, load up some loops or that just buying an orchestral library,without any training and practise in orchestration,would allow them to do the same thing. I explained it was sort of like buying a Steinway grand piano. Just buying the piano is the first part, now all you need is lessons and practise for 20 years. It's amazing that I would have to explain that to people who call themselves "composers"


In songwriting, nearly anybody can afford a guitar and some lessons and then call themselves a songwriter, and enter the industry, play gigs, and send out demos. Distribution of badly made demos with poor music is probably why it's so hard to get a demo heard - flooded A&R desks, gatekeepers... it makes it harder for good music to get heard by 'the industry'. This also means that as an artist you spend a lot of time getting past gatekeepers, networking, getting business savvy, scheming. However, in the end, hopefully the cream still rises, etc. But with even more people out there doing 'it' with inexpensive tech., the doors will likely slam shut a little faster, a little tighter, and it will be even harder to find work that pays in an industry that is over-saturated with hopefuls.

John, really interesting experience you shared. I think I'm super lucky to have grown up in a musical family; since before I was born I was being constantly exposed to symphonic music, hearing scales and pieces being endlessly practiced. Just this listening, just this exposure has had an impact on my musical abilities. I wonder at many whose first experience is a movie seen as a preteen, falling in love with a John Williams soundtrack and the glamor of hollywood. I've been playing and creating music for about 16 years - just now, at the age of 30, do I feel like I finally have a good, solid grounding as an 'artist', and confidence that my work can hold up to scrutiny. As an analogy, a common conception is that someone with a black belt in Karate is an 'expert'. I believe that when you get a black belt, you have mastered the basics, and can now, just now, really begin applying those naturally and really get to the learning of the art. I feel the same about music, but I think, especially because in the pop music industry, 18 years is your 'prime', and you are 'over the hill' at 25 (I was actually told this at a NXNE panel a few years back), there is no time, and the idea of maturing as an artist is not even on the radar.

Which is really too bad. I mean, we all want big success of some sort, but let's be realistic - we push and fight and go for our dreams, but if you fall short of being the next John Powell - don't you want to say, wow, I had a great time doing this and I have a lot to show for a life as an artist?

One of the reasons I asked this forum question was to get some feeling of what others were doing - a lot of members are long time veterans of this game; I am fresh as today's offerings at the farmers market. I look at the industry and I think, wow, there is a lot of change, a lot of upheaval - looks scary. I wonder if my chances of success are going to be greatly increased by diversifying - I don't live in a major film center, and I feel I should work locally. When not working on films, I do some producing, a little recording, and music related consulting - all of which I love - I just want to do music as much as I possibly can. This sort of seems to be where you are at currently, Chris.

For those of us who are outside of major centers, who are not LA-bound, do you feel that this is a key to success, or is it film-or-nothing?
hehehe yes sir! I rent the upstairs from the largest commercial recording studio in Dayton. While it is not the same as the largest studio in LA by any means, it is still significant for the area and the A room is awesome. But every day I meet people that call themselves composers, especially rappers, that come in and because they wrote a limerick and rapped it onto a pre-built groove from fruity loops they feel elated over their "composition". Since it is not illegal, even though I think it is unethical and very akin to plagiarism, there is nothing I can say other then say "ahhh you are a composer? cool! how did you write those loops? what drum sounds? where did you get the bass sound?" and to do it in a constructive way. I guess its why I was going off so much on the FMPRO list about loops ;)

I think it's easy for people like us to get discouraged: needing to live in a film production "center", competing with different styles/technologies/perceptions, looking for that elusive "big break". But I would also contend that there are many ways to pursue what you love. I'm an example of a person who got his start in a production center(south/central Fla/Orlando/LA) worked episodics and feature film and chose to move and live elsewhere and partially because of the internet, partially because I bust my butt networking, partially because I've diversified my scoring work into documentaries, indy films, educational, childrens programming, radio drama,and sound design I've been able to make a comfortable income living in a place that suits my lifestyle and family. I've also realized how important it is to both find niches you really excel at, and enjoy...and develop relationships. Ultimately, you'll be happier and more successful if you do something you love for people you like. Getting to score for big budget features is great but you really need to understand what that life is like and what the cost(personal, financial, spiritual) to get there is. Then again, for some people that's the only path that will work for them and, if they're willing to pay the
Thanks, John,

Yes, you are really nailing it on the head for me, great advice/wisdom.

Balance - work and life - what are you willing to sacrifice? I've heard the nightmare stories of some "successful" Hollywood composers (not necessarily the "big 10"); working on features. It's 24/7, they neglect themselves and their family. They have bucket-loads of cash, and the are absolutely miserable. Is that success?

Doing it for love, and nurturing that - many seem to lose perspective, doing only what it takes to reach goals, forgetting why they got into it in the first place, and finding themselves hating music, hating their work, hating the people the work with/for. Then it's just a job you have to quit to enjoy creating again.

It's very heartening to read your response - you seem to have a career that is balanced and enjoyable, rewarding, and challenging. I enjoy switching it up, and my model career currently runs very close to what you describe.

A few words from the "dinosaur"

Although being in a major recording center ( LA, NYC, N/Ville ) has its
plusses, it also has the minuses of overpopulation in the composer area, and is also unfortunately loaded with lots of lesser talents ( hummers, loopers, gladhanders, etc ) who suck up a lotta work merely by looking good and being experts at taking meetings and doing lunch. ( Or is it the other way around? I get confused ) :)

It also has the disadvantage of being at the mercy of producers who thrive on the imbalance between the available work and the number of people trying to get it. This is the genesis of the current situation where these bottom feeders feel they can ask you to give up all your rights" to build your reel " . And sure, they'll all "pay you later when we get it released " ..riiiight ..and I got some swampland in Death Valley to sell you too!

The facts are: With the vast arsenal of computer based gear available today, and the internet as a distribution medium, where you live will eventually become far less important. In fact, you may get more chances getting started in a secondary recording center where some work still exists and if you can deliver the goods, you WILL get paid for it!

Take my own case for example: Although I did live and work in both NYC and LA for an aggregate of about 5 years, I spent about 30 years in Dallas, where I managed to make a very respctable living . ( including a decent income, re-use fees, and national clients that would come to me because they liked my reel, not because of where I lived. ) At the time Dallas had about 10 studios competitive in every way with the big guys
( except a lot cheaper hourly ),and a cadre of excellent musicians to choose from. If the clients reqquired either a NY or LA project, no sweat ..I'd go there and do the gig ..or fly talent into Dallas if someone wanted a specific soloist or such.

John Ds' comment about the personal costs of what it takes to get to the level of scoring A level films are very well taken. It is a hard fact that talent always doesn't "win out" anymore comes down to a lotta extracurricular factors ..and a lotta luck!
All excellent points, well taken. Thanks for sharing your wisdom of experience, Phil!!
"hummers, loopers [and] gladhanders" Hahah I think my next composition must be called that! Thanks John and Phil. I am in a similar place as Adrian I think. While all my income is from music I am chompin at the bit to do some film/tv work and am searching for a path there that leaves at least a shimmer of my musical soul intact

You may at some point in this business ( in fact probably will ) find you might have to give up on that "shimmer of my musical soul" part ... :)

The good part is if you stick it out long enough without going
ballistic and disemboweling some tin eared philistine producer or client ,you eventually will score a musical pearl may not be the best paying gig you'll ever do, but it will be musically challenging and satisfying!!
I am hoping that I won't have to move away to one of the major towns to pursue my career in film scoring, as I like my living environment here, and the people that I socialize with. At the same time, most of the projects I'm working on are American films. Technology may make it easier to communicate in the future, which will be to the advantage of people outside LA, NY, London, Tokyo etc.

As for having to do all the work yourself: Seeing those long credits lists of big budget Hollywood flicks, with music departments of 10 people working for the composer (I think Christopher Young has 12 people working for him - a friend of mine was his intern during the Spiderman 3 post-production/scoring) I must say that it hasn't been anything different here. In Europe (and of course on small independent films), the composer often does more of the work himself, traditionally. No music editors/supervisors (maybe a copyist), no orchestrators, no MIDI programming & transcription teams, not always music mixers (composers may have to hire a mixer from their own budget) etc. I think it's a good thing, because the composer is forced to learn production, orchestration, the business side and knowledge of the relation between sound/music & film, and possibly having to perform some of the instruments on the score himself.

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