In today’s modern world, composers are not the rock stars they used to be. At Beethoven’s funeral, it was estimated that 20,000 people showed up. So this leaves the composers of today with fewer chances for fame and fortune. What options do you have for making a living as a composer? There are a few, and they all have their difficulties.
Becoming a film composer is obviously the best way to become well known. In fact, I’ve heard it said by several people that “Film composers are the classical composers of our day.” Now I don’t mean “classical” in the academic sense, but really in the sense of orchestral writing.
This is pretty obvious. John Williams commands much respect, both amongst the composing community (there are always naysayers) and definitely amongst the general public. And for good reason. John Williams is a great composer.
The tough part is, breaking into the business. There are several great places to check out online that talk about film scoring, including the Scorecast, Film Music Magazine, and Film and Game Composers.
But for most people, this is going to be a tough proposition. From what I can tell, to really make it, you have to be in LA. This is good for me (I am about an hour north of LA), but for most of the country or world, they are not.
You can always check out your local movie scene. Many states have a film board or some kind of bureaucracy. Here is the California Film Commission.
Another option is to become involved in the indie film community. I don’t just mean calling people up and looking for a job composing on their indie film, but actually getting involved with indie film makers before they make their films. Seek them out, on forums and other places. Offer advice about music, scores, etc. If you become an expert in their eyes, they will remember it. Don’t go for the quick pitch on your music, go for the long haul, and become a go to guy, you never know what will come from it.
Composing for Games
Games are the new hot industry, and for good reason. Games like Call of Duty are bringing in billions of dollars… thats billion, with a B. Making a living as a composer is much easier, if you are riding the coat tails of a billion dollar franchise. This industry is not quite as old as the film industry, so it can be a little easier to break into, but just like films, your best chance is to find an indie game maker, and try to get a job with them. You can approach the same with as with indie films, becoming an authority with all things music and sound in games.
Composing for games can be very different from films. Games tend to be much less linear, and usually loop. For many people my age and younger, this shouldn’t be a shock. Just think about Mario brothers, the quintessential game score.
A great place once again is the film and game composers website.
I haven’t read much on music libraries, because I am not too into the idea. For some people this works, and they make a pretty good living at it. The goal here is volume (not loudness). You want to compose as much as possible. This may be a good idea for you if you are still cutting your teeth on learning to compose, and specifically learning how to use the software required to get a good sound from your samples.
But beware, there are many different music libraries and they have different ways of selling and licensing your music. A great resource is the Music Library Report. I have looked around a little bit, and it seems to be a great resource with a lot of activity. They also have a Composer Corner with some great advice and interviews. One day, I will post a report about the music library report, until then you can check it out.
And then, last but not least, is going for a career as a concert composer. This is, like all other roads, a tough road to follow. The main reason is, most people want to hear other kinds of music. There is just not a huge market for traditional concert composing. In fact, I don’t even know what to call it, because people seem to get all up in arms when you use the wrong terminology. But at the risk of being politically incorrect for the composing community, I will call it what the vast majority of the public calls it… Classical… gasp! …silence…
In all seriousness, a lot of orchestras around the country are struggling. There are some shining stars, but for the most part, the return on investment for say, a Justin Bieber concert, is much higher than a classical concert.
So what is a composer to do? If this is the direction you are going to go, I recommend using a bit of logic. (This goes against what many people view as the traditional “artist” who must compose what is inside and nothing else. If you pander you are a nothing. You are worse than nothing.)
I recommend composing with your audience in mind. Your audience is basically the listening public that actually comes to these concerts. Looking at a study of music played by the majority of orchestras in America, there is no mystery as to what kind of music brings in the bucks.
This is a list of the most frequently played composers:
- Mahler (woohoo)
Aside from Mozart, and possibly Prokofiev, pretty much all of these composers are decidedly Romantic (I would put Beethoven in that camp as well, as he kind of started the romantic era). Mozart is Mozart. Prokofiev is still very accessible.
What’s the point? My point is, this may hurt you, but you should compose in the Romantic style. Yeah I said it. That is what people want to hear. And that is what you hear, not just in the concert hall, but in movies and games as well. Study them, emulate them, and take them to the next level.
This may go against what you think your role as an artist in this world is, but lets be honest, you’ve got to earn money to make a living as a composer. If you don’t, it’s just a hobby. A fun hobby that can be very fulfilling (and very frustrating) but a hobby none the less.
So in the end, making music as a composer will require you to do things that you may not necessarily want to do, like compose in the Romantic style (I do want to do that) or write for music libraries (I don’t really want to do that much, because it will probably require me writing in a bunch of styles I am not that into). Besides, the great composers all had their moments of pandering. Especially Beethoven. I talked about Wellington’s Victory in the last post. Beethoven himself said in response to a critic of the piece, “What I sh**, is better than anything you could ever think up!” I don’t think he would have described his 9th like that. So even Beethoven may have thought the piece was joke, but I bet the joke was pretty funny, because he was laughing all the way to the bank.