There is no magic bullet to getting a foot into this industry. Not unless you consider hard work, lots of rejection, or a healthy bent toward self-determination a “magic bullet”. Is there an easy way in? The answer, as with most things in life, is “no”. Most things that are worth doing don’t come easy. However, there are many tried and true methods as well as some proven principles that most of us here at SCO can safely say we’ve built our working careers on. While there would never been enough room to list them all, here are ten things that I’ve learned about getting a foothold and gaining some traction as a composer for film and television.
1. Find a niche – style? medium? geography? – differentiate yourself. Embrace your unique qualities. What can you offer that no-one else can? Why on earth should they pick you for the gig?
Whilst it is a good idea to keep on top of the popular styles that are being asked for (the obvious ones that spring to mind are the Newman, Zimmer, Elfman schools of music) what is it that makes your style unique and special?
Got some crazy mad skills on the thumb piano or theremin? Build up your sound from that to give you an edge.
I’d have to say that one of my defining niches would be my geographical location. I’m not based in any of the conventional media centres (LA, NY, London) but despite the obvious inconveniences, it does have the added bonus of meaning competition for local composition work is minimal. And my overheads are way lower so more of my profits can go into the business and my quality of life, meaning my work gets better.
That’s not to say that had I been based in one of these aforementioned media cities I wouldn’t have made it into the business, but I’m sure I’d be at a very different stage right now. Could have been better, or could have been much worse!
2. Get over yourself. Think about it – put yourself in the mindset of a director. Who would you want to work with to create the music to your latest masterpiece film? The guy with an ego the size of Alaska, delusions of grandeur, who bangs on and on about themselves and how awesome their music is or how no-one can possibly understand the torment of their genius… or the chap that will really listen to what you have to say, feels the same passion as you for your project and has a sense of humour to boot?
Headshots with you in your shades looking deadly serious in moody black and white may not be the kind of image you want to project. Whilst I’ve no doubt you’re an awesome composer, there’ll always be someone better (but with the same reasoning, there are plenty of people who are worse, chin up!). Projecting an image of quietly confident professionalism and approachability will get you much further with media clientele.
Offer to demo for free. Go above and beyond the call of duty. If they just don’t like it though, this is a prime opportunity to develop a thick skin and remain objective… don’t take it personally when you don’t get the gig. Learn your lesson and move on to the next assault. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.
In fact, this happened to me only this last week – the executives for a feature I had pencilled in to score later in the year decided they wanted classical Indian music score rather than my line of tunage. The director was very apologetic. But even though it’s a bit of a bump in the road, I don’t mind. It’s happened before and I know it might happen again. The same way I know I’m still going to have the busiest year workwise on the most exciting projects I’ve done yet. How am I so sure? Because I’m going to make it happen (by following these tips
3. Get Networking – It’s not who you know, it’s what you know. Going to a networking event? Prep your elevator pitch. You will most definitely be asked what you do, so get it summed up short and sweet. This is tricky and it really is worth rehearsing this in advance. You’ve got thirty seconds tops before the person opposite will get bored and zone out.
Then shut up and listen
Be approachable. Friendly. Smile! Ask questions, see if you can make connections, introduce and match-make, rather than constantly banging on about yourself, your music, your latest piece of gear (unless of course they ask!
). If you make a great contact, follow up after the event with an email or phone call. If you made no obvious contacts, don’t worry, sometimes these things are a slow burn and the chap you gave your business card to at the bar may know someone who needs your services down the line…
(Oh, and wear something red or brightly coloured. You’ll get remembered.)
Need to find networking opportunities? Google your town or city for production meetups/networking events, or if you’re in the UK your local film council office will probably run them or at least have relevant information for you.
Online networking opportunities are becoming more and more viable by the day. Get into Twitter to see if you like the format (hey, I got this awesome ScoreCast gig through Twitter!), and online forums may lead you to newbie director who may become the next big thing.
All of which should be leading you to…
4. Cultivate relationships
– with decision makers
– directors, producers, execs
– with the troops
– editors, animators, post-production supervisors, assistants, runners
– with everyone and everyone
, you never know who in your family or circle of friends knows someone who knows someone…
Every conversation is an opportunity
5. Broaden your horizons – short films, indie projects, computer games, music libraries, wedding videos… Get creative with options, do some detective work on what’s in production locally or nationally. Google is your best friend to start this search. Get digging. Once you’ve found your dream job that’s currently in production…
6. Be precise with your marketing – tailor your showreel and/or pitch package to the project you’re going after. The horror film director couldn’t care less about the romantic comedy short you just scored, no matter how lush the string samples. Get specific.
7. Have an online portfolio or presence, either your own site or hosted on any of the many and varied dedicated sites for this, with music and clips, a list of credits – always drawing attention to the best ones! You haven’t got any credits? Put up your music samples then work for free on student films to get showreel fodder, and it’s good experience. Attach a blog to your site, have opinions, share your knowledge. You never know who’s reading.
8. Don’t give up your day job just yet…
You gotta pay for the roof over your head, and (more importantly) your studio
. Plus your music’ll really stink if you’re starving cos can’t afford to eat. You get my drift. You’ll know when you’re ready to take the plunge, when the income from composing overtakes the rest of your revenue streams. ‘Til that point, stay focussed on your dream but keep your feet planted squarely on the ground. Don’t be an idiot.
9. Don’t give up your dreams, if they are what you truly desire. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the one thing that differentiates those that compose for a living from the others that will never make the grade is, simply, persistence.
The singlemost important tip I could possibly give you is to keep the unwavering faith and vision of the goal that drives your passion – to make this crazy business of media music a way of life.
Be persistent, but not pushy. There’s a fine line and you only Eternal Optimism is the greatest weapon in your arsenal (that and the latest string sample set from EWQL, of course).
10. I know I said there’d be ten tips… but here’s YOUR opportunity fellow SCOREcasters – share the love around! Insert your own gems of advice from your own experience in the COMMENTS below!
Based in the North of England in the UK, HEATHER FENOUGHTY is an award-winning freelance composer and sound designer. She has scored several feature films and documentaries for the BBC and ITV, and her credits also include nearly 100 short films including a BAFTA-nominated drama (Nits, 2004). She has composed music and sound designed corporate advertisements for Nissan and other multi-national companies, with clients based all around the world. She also creates soundscapes for cutting-edge contemporary theatre, and her scores have played on the West End and off Broadway. You can find her SCOREcast bio (and links to her other sites) here.