Maintaining a career in the ever-changing, shifting sands of the music industry has always been a challenge, and never more so than in the current environment where royalties are shifting, distribution platforms are transitioning, and the availability of music options, both custom and pre-existing, is greater than any previous time in human history.
As you, the composer, push forward in your career, here are five crucial and practical tips you can implement to maximize your chances of success.
1. Flip the script and look at yourself from your client’s point of view.
A client (director, producer, editor, writer) sees the entirety of the project -- the story, the script, the acting, the filming, the editing, the effects, and the score -- all wrapped up into one finished timeline stream with emotional and story arcs to take the viewer on a journey from a starting place to a destination at the finale. The music will be the propulsive emotional engine that will underscore the entire project. Immature composers might assume their work as if it was the second coming of Mozart. Seasoned composers understand that their music serves a larger purpose, and can either enhance and elevate or distract and subtract from the bigger project. There's nothing more fundamental to a composer's job than to grasp the essential character of the project -- its stories, its tones, its colors -- and then join the team sharing that perspective. Being a team player is often talked about; becoming part of the project's culture and fabric is a lot tougher, and is a vital skill set.
It’s our job to both stay relevant and to innovate.
2. Always be innovating and updating.
Whether it's before being hired, while working on a project, or after its conclusion, a composer who wants to remain relevant in the crowded musical marketplace should always push the boundaries of his or her abilities -- learning new skills, being exposed to new music, and incorporating new influences. When all that is done, the online reel should be updated to reflect the new work. If your reel is filled with old pieces of music from several years ago, it's less likely to be as effective. Time marches on and it's our job to both stay relevant and to innovate.
3. Keep up with the technology and what others are doing.
Technology advances quickly and enhances the abilities of composers to write new music. There are numerous helpful outlets -- especially YouTube and various training video sites -- that help composers experience and master the newest techniques, from DAW and sequencing tricks, to plug-ins, to dissections of other composers' pieces. Find the channels that feed you well, and devote a bit of time each day or each week to keeping up with them. Like going to the gym for a workout, you'll find the mental investment pays dividends when it comes to your growing creative strength over time.
4. Invest in image and branding.
It doesn't have to be expensive. But a well-crafted image, which may include logo, colors, and photography, can play an important part in making your online presence memorable. We increasingly live in a visually-dominated world, with Instagram and TikTok grabbing people's micro-attention. Every time someone encounters your image online, they form positive or negative impressions that over time can become quite memorable and semi-permanent.
We call this "branding," which some composers shy away from because their default is to see themselves as an individual and not a product. But branding isn't a dirty word; it simply represents the image that people see when they encounter you. Pay attention to how your online profile looks.
Don’t ever be shy about posting updates, photos, clips, or anything else...
5. Spread the word!
If you're a master of your craft but don't take the initiative to tell anyone about you or your work, I can virtually guarantee you that your circle will be small, opportunities will be few, and the chances of success will be low. For some composers, it's not first nature to speak about their work, perhaps for fear that they'll be perceived as bragging. Not so. There are natural and effective ways to let people know what you're doing, whether it's the smallest experimental demo piece or the largest orchestral masterwork you've ever written. Don't ever be shy about posting updates, photos, clips, or anything else that lets the world know about what you do.