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Book Review: The Emerging Film Composer, by Richard Bellis

[Note: I originally wrote this blog for my MySpace page, but it is even more applicable here. I highly recommend this book for anyone who considers themselves an emerging composer.]

The Emerging Film Composer, by Richard Bellis

The key to this book lies not only in the title but the subtitle as well: "An Introduction to the People, Problems, and Psychology of the Film Music Business. Other possible variations of the subtitle would also fit: "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Being a Film Composer but were Afraid to Ask," or "Film Composing for the Rest of Us." This book fills a gap that no other book has filled to date and does the job so thoroughly, it may just be the final word on the day-to-day practicalities of being a film composer.

Can you work as a film composer without a college education? How much do you expect to earn per year as a film and television composer? Can you live – or more accurately – survive on that amount? Do you know how to break down the costs of doing a score into fees and hard costs? How many films would you have to score per year just to get by? And this is just the first two chapters.

Richard Bellis has been known to point out that he may not be a "household word" in the music business, but he may showing some humility here, because for certain, he is a household word in the film music business and highly respected at that. (See his credentials above.) He also knows his audience, and identifies that there are the eight or so A-list composers who make millions of dollars, the next level down in the six-figure category, and finally the remaining 90 per cent – composers working on movies for television, games, TV series, independent features, documentaries, commercials, and so on. That's us, folks. That's who this book is for, the emerging composer, hopefully on his or her way to even bigger and better things down the film music road.

Chapter 3 is about the most sought-after knowledge, "Getting Work." Here, and elsewhere in the book, Bellis paints a very realistic portrait of how things work – or don't work – when it comes to actually getting work. It is best summed up in his statement, "This is a buyers market." And this is typical of the knowledge that Bellis imparts on the reader throughout the book – it's a very no-nonsense approach which not only deals with the difficulties, but with the inequities of landing the gig. He describes the "randomness" of the business which can work in your favor or against it, but in either case, you should not be discouraged from pursuing the goal, better put in his statement, "When you realize that everything good comes 'out of left field,' your job is to go to the ballpark every day."

Bellis goes on to cover Spotting, the Writing Process, Recording and Podium Procedure, Delivery and the Dub, and fills in some of the blanks with Random Thoughts. As if that weren't enough, he wraps things up with great stories from other talented composers in the business, each filled with words of wisdom, sometimes in the form of truly hilarious experiences.

I have all the other books – great books – on the topic of film music. This one is a real gem. In addition to the great information it provides, it's written in a nice, easy style filled with wit the touches of humor. Because of that, it's more like a special treat – more like an invitation to hang out with Richard Bellis over a beer and discuss the film music biz. If you're an emerging composer trying to fill in a lot of the blanks, this book is a must-have. If you're an established composer trying to get a better handle on the biz, this book is a must-have. And if you're simply curious about the film music business and want a glimpse into how it all works, this book is, well you guessed it – it's a must-have. (But you can't have my copy, because I won't let it out of my sight!)

You can order the book directly from the author's website:

Music by Richard Bellis

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Comment by Apolosius on May 2, 2010 at 5:53pm
Very good book. interesting to read composers.
Comment by John Doryk on August 27, 2007 at 4:38pm
I concurr. Bought the book a few months ago, and read through in about 3 days...I couldn't put it down. It was like sitting in on a composer's workshop with Bellis right there, mentoring you. It told him, it felt like I got to sit in on one of his classes without paying the usual tuition. Very good book!
Comment by Bob Safir on June 10, 2007 at 2:27pm
Yes, indeed, Phil...I ordered "On the Track" on Amazon and will have it in a couple of days. I'm sure you'll enjoy Richard's book...I keep going back to it from time-to-time.
Comment by phil Kelly on June 10, 2007 at 1:41pm
Another note:

On the Track went OOP for a while and only recently did Fred Karlin do an update.

Along with the Jeff Rona book, these are the books I recommended when doing occasional film music seminars at colleges .( I'm sure Richards' new book will make that a trio of resources )

I just ordered a copy and am awaiting it eagerly with basted breasts :)

uh ..I meant ....
Comment by Adrian Ellis on June 8, 2007 at 3:25pm
Hi Bob,

I've heard many composers refer to that one as 'the Bible'... written by Fred Karlin, it includes 77 interviews, many score examples, and even a click book. I was going to provide an Amazon link here, but don't know how to do that with any finesse - the URL is several miles long... but if you type in the title, it comes right up. Cheers!
Comment by Susan Poliniak on June 8, 2007 at 3:05pm
I'm going to get this book just on the basis of your review and Adrian's comments. Bellis should give you guys a cut!
Comment by Bob Safir on June 8, 2007 at 9:22am
Adrian, I'm familiar with Jeff Rona's book, but what is "On the Track?" I haven't heard of that one.
Comment by Adrian Ellis on June 8, 2007 at 8:40am
Bob, I absolutely agree - it ought to be an instant classic, and a must-read for all ye about to enter here... I pre-ordered this one, and there was a bit of trouble with it at the border (ostensibly) which caused a delay. I emailed to inquire, and was promptly assisted by Mr. Bellis himself, who was truly fantastic.

There are other great books out there - On the Track is probably the most thorough, and Jeff Rona's Reel World is the most fun, but this one really fills in the blanks, as you pointed out. Richard Bellis manages to convey a sharp wake-up call regarding the state of the industry and what it takes to be successful, but cushions the blow with a healthy dose of humour and good-will.

I'll read this every time I go into negotiations to steel myself, and it's surely the closest thing to a road map to navigate the not always friendly seas of film music.

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