How to Work as a Film Music Composer

12.12.2018 by AleixR
Think about your favorite films - about that scene that gave you goosebumps. Would it be the same without the background music?
 
Chances are that it wouldnot, and film directors know that (usually). That's why being a music composer in a film is a role that comes with a big responsibility. And it can also be pretty well-paid! If you want to make a living from music, keep reading to learn more about this viable possibility: making music for films.
 

Your Tools

Nowadays you can create professional sounding tracks with just a laptop and good monitors (or headphones). When it comes to software, you will need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and virtual instruments of your choice. My reccommendation for beginners is to start with the Kontakt Fractory library and expand from that according to your needs. Big productions with big budgets might allow you to hire an entire orchestra, but for the rest of us mortals virtual emulations of orchestral instruments often do a pretty good job. Also, film music doesn't always have to be orchestral!
 

Getting the Job

But there's a problem in making a living from composing film music. It's not how much they pay: it can be a well-paid job, especially if you are confident when negotiating. The problem is finding the gig.
 
As in the video games industry, there seems to be a big line of musicians wanting to score every interesting project out there. And while it's kind of beautiful that there are so many artists willing to make music for films, it's a problem when one wants to make a living from it.
 
Ask a film director and he or she will tell you how many emails they receive from aspiring composers every month. Browse any film-related forum and you'll easily find various musicians offering themselves to score music for any kind of project.
 
While I personally appreciate the effort put into these attempts to find opportunities, they are mostly ignored. A director needs one composer every certain period of time. Trying to be selected among dozens of other composers applying for the same gig is harsh. Especially when you're starting and still don't have much work done to show.
 
But do not give up yet: do the following and you'll be light years ahead of most (or all) of that long line of composers.
 

Meet in Real Life

Most of the requests film directors receive are from online sources. Emails, forums, social media. While these efforts are not completely useless and might work, a much more efficient approach is to meet directors in person. Think about it: if you had been putting most of your time and resources in the last months or years into a film, would you give the responsibility to create the music for it to a random guy you've never met in person? Good directors are aware of the power of music in films, and they will choose their composers carefully. A great score can turn a good film into a great one, but a poorly written one can have the opposite effect.
 
How can you meet them? Attend events that people involved in films also attend. In the past article about writing music for video games, I recommended attending Game Jams. These are competitions for making a video game in a short time and are an excellent place to meet developers who will need a composer in the future. Unfortunately and as far as I know, nothing like that exists for films. So your best option is to attend meetups, film festivals, and even workshops - any kind of event or place that film directors or other film industry people frequent.
 
 
Show up, be friendly and don't behave like a salesman: film directors smell needy composers from far away! First focus on building a relationship. Show interest in what they do, and the conversation will naturally evolve into what you do. Let them know that you compose for films, but don't push it. If they need you, THEY will be the ones offering you the gig, not yourself (it makes sense, right?).
 

Follow Up Online

Once you've met one or more potential clients in person, it's time to follow up online. This is crucial: most film directors you will meet will not need a composer the moment you meet them. Maybe they already have a composer working on their current project or maybe they still don't need one. Or maybe they are not even working on any project at that moment. But most probably they will eventually need one, and that's when you have to be there. Keep in touch often to stay on top of their minds, and when the moment comes you will be the one they go to.
 
Some people prefer social media to keep in touch, while others simply stick with the traditional email. Whichever you use, set up reminders to get in touch again, at least once per month.
 

Show Your Work Online

As mentioned in another article, getting this kind of gigs comes down to trust. They have to trust that you will be able to do it. And for that you need to show them your music: you need to have some examples of your work online. Ideally, fragments of films you have scored music for. 
 
If you still don't have anything to show, start by scoring student projects or short indie films, for free or for a symbolic price. Take it as an investment in return for valuable experience and a portfolio. Keep in mind that this is the only situation I would recommend you to do work for free (unless it's for a charitable cause). Ask friends, ask in film schools, and as mentioned before, attend events to meet people who make films.
 
Make your work available online. One easy way to show your music is to put it on your Bbop profile. You can also easily create a website on your own with Bandzoogle. Or use a service like 2nomads.org if you want to get more serious about your online presence.

How Much Should I Charge?

The big question no one dares to answer! Most don't want to share real numbers, and as many will tell you, there's is no right or wrong answer. But in my opinion, the amount you charge should depend on three things: the amount of music, the size of the client and the style of music.
 
Amount of music: simply put, the more music they need the more you should charge. The more minutes of music they ask for the more you will be giving them, and at the same time the more time it will take you to make it. It makes sense to ask for more.
 
Size of the audience: even if it's not always possible to know, it should influence your offer. The bigger the audience, the more people will be enjoying a film enhanced by your music. A bigger audience makes your service more valuable. Price accordingly.
 
Style of music: when it comes to style, 5 minutes of orchestral music often takes more time to compose than 5 minutes of minimal techno. This will depend on your musical background, but it makes sense to charge more for music that takes more resources (including time) to be crafted.
 
 
Still, if you have no clue about how much to charge when you're new to this, I'll go ahead and give you my personal recommendation for beginners. Aim to charge at least 100€ per minute of music when working with small indie films. Start asking for more than that, and if it's too much for them you can always lower the offer. Asking for a good amount shows that you are confident that your music has value, and that's what they need.
 
Otherwise, you can simply ask what budget they have for the music. In general, the budget for music is around 10% of the total budget.
 
For the smallest projects you might even be asked to do some sound design. If you're in that situation and are inexperienced in sound design, get a good sound effects library and take the sounds you need from there. Buy one and try to include it in your price. Trying to download free sound effects from various websites is not worth it, since the quality is often pretty bad. If you're already creating music with a DAW you should be able create something decent with a good library.
 

Action Plan 

Here's what you should do to start right now:
 
1. Contact film students. Contact or visit a film school and offer them to score one of their projects, for free or for a symbolic price.
2. Start putting your work online. Create a website that will be your online CV.
3. Attend film-related events and meet as many directors as you can in person. Don't be pushy. Afterward, stay in touch with them online.
4. When the opportunity comes, do your best. This new experience will make you better and give you more proof of expertise.
 
Repeat steps 3 and 4!
 
As I always say, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Finding and completing projects is slow. But the rewards, economical and artistic, are there for you to take if you are persistent enough.
 
If what you need is quick cash, the fastest way for a musician is to sell an old instrument you don't use that much anymore. Here on Bbop, we make it as easy as possible for you. You can have your instruments for sale in less than two minutes, and since we don't charge anything for it all the money from your sale goes to you. Give it a try here!