10 Tips For Soundtrack Composers

The following excellent tips were recently posted on the VI-Control composers’ forum by American composer Brian Ralston. They are in response to a question about ghostwriting:

1) The composer Basil Poledouris once told me you have to break into the “business of tomorrow” and not the “business of today.” Today’s working directors and producers already have established composer relationships that they go back to over and over. You have to find the up-and-coming directors and producers of tomorrow and work with them now before they make it in Hollywood. When they eventually get their first studio gig… they will usually go back to the people they know and trusted when they were struggling themselves.

2) Everyone’s path is different. Don’t think that by doing what the guy next to you is doing you will get the same result.

3) Music Composer (as on-screen credited on a film or show) is a department head job. The only way you will get bigger and better department head jobs (on multi-million dollar films) is to have a proven track record AS A DEPARTMENT HEAD on previous successful films. Being the assistant, ghost writer, orchestrator, musician on studio films do not count as DEPARTMENT HEAD and will not help a studio see you as less of a risk in the composer job. I have learned this from about 4 different studio level producers. Maybe this is a new thing… but that is all I have been hearing for the last 4-5 years and still hear it from them.

4) If you are not the On-Screen credited guy it really will not count to a producer hiring you.

5) A word-of-mouth recommendation is a more powerful influence to getting a gig than anything else. If you get a strong recommendation from someone they respect, they will hire you 9 times out of 10.

6) It is a business of relationships and those relationships take years to establish. Trust takes a long time to build and a short time to fall.

7) Be a good listener. Be a good communicator.

8 ) It helps a lot to be “production friendly”. Meaning don’t be myopic to the music dept. issues only. Learn about every other step of the process in making a film. Heck, produce your own film sometime and learn about all the other issues in shooting and budgeting for a film. It will help you better communicate with a director as the composer, and will make you a better composer in the long run. You will understand where everyone has just come from on shoot and why things are the way they are in post (which is usually the only thing composers care about).

9) A successful composer in Hollywood is not just there because they are good at composing music. Most all of them are great business people as well. They know how to market themselves. They know how to work a room at a meeting or at a social event. And… they know how to make a director feel like their film is the best film of the year. I know plenty of great composers – the ones who do not make it usually fail due to issues completely unrelated to being a composer. The ones who have made it to various degrees were not always the best composers but were great at the other things.

10) Refer back to #1.