For better or for worse, “interest in being a film composer is at an all time high,” (Kendall, n.d., p. 4). The only way to succeed in a competitive environment like the music and film industry is through the cultivation of psychological resilience and social intelligence. My goals as a film scorer are tempered with the realism that this is a long and difficult path. I know what I need to do in terms of networking and learning from other people. Composing the music is the easy part; marketing myself, making myself hirable and easy to work with, and being interested in working with a team are the prerequisites for success.
My short term goals are simple: to acquire a strong and varied education, to get my feet wet by working on student projects and internships, and to build up my list of contacts in the film and music communities. Also a short-term goal is to expand my horizons by traveling. I wan to learn about different film and music cultures in other countries, thereby making myself more culturally competent, more marketable as talent, and also more inspired by other perspectives and approaches to film scoring. Even as an armchair traveler, I can learn a lot now by watching films produced in other countries. The best film scores draw from numerous creative impulses and inspirations; nothing is created out of a vacuum.
Also in the short term, I am interested in collaborating with fellow students and colleagues in the music industry on exciting projects. Those projects could be in a formal and structured environment, or might evolve more organically and informally. I am thrilled to work with other creative minds, putting our diverse perspectives and aesthetic tastes together to create something of value. Meeting my educational and professional short-term objectives is not difficult, but it will require daily regimens and time management skills. I need to dedicate daily time and energy to writing music, but also to studying the greats, listening to music, watching and listening to the best film scores out there, and working with my mentors.
I need to build solid professional relationships with my fellow students in school. Together, we can accomplish what we could not on our own. I see myself working with other student musicians on scoring projects, pooling our money so that we can make the best possible live demo tapes. I also see myself working with students in film and other creative arts, because I need to learn about where I fit into the big picture of film production. The more I learn about the daily life of a film scorer, the better position I will be in to smoothly transition into a professional environment. However, I want my education to be as much about breadth as depth. I want to learn about the business of the music industry, its history, and the liberal arts knowledge I need to enrich my musical career. Ethnomusicology, musical theory, and film theory are all important avenues of research for me.
Gaining access to the music and film industry as an insider will require persistence, but while in school, I will have the opportunity to work as an intern. Internships, paid or unpaid, will let me be the “fly on the wall,” who is continually listening to the latest trends and needs in the industry (Kendall, n.d., p. 3). While working as an intern, I may also learn about the day-to-day life of composers, editors, and producers. I will learn about what producers look for in musicians, what types of music work best in different types of films or in different scenes, and what social skills I need to develop. The internship opportunities will also be instrumental in helping me to network, the cornerstone of my future success. I intend to leverage my experience in my early career as a grunt, and am willing to put in the footwork needed to achieve my goals.
My long-term goal is of course to be a go-to film composer and film scorer. I am ambitious and believe that if I work hard, I can find myself a place among the greatest film composers of all time. This does not mean I harbor any delusions, but simply that every generation does need a pool of dedicated talent—the people who producers and directors look to as reliable composers who work on schedule, who listen to others needs and place them before our own, and who are affable and easy to work with. Having read Lukas Kendall’s advise for aspiring film scorers, I know that emotional intelligence and people skills are as important, if not more so, than the actual music we compose. Of course, I am not going to get far without compositional skills and practice, which is why formal training is part of my short-range plan. Over the long haul, though, I intend to work intensively in the music and film industries both. Real life experience will get me into the film production door. Ultimately, I would like to develop a signature “sound,” or brand, a voice that will distinguish me from other film scorers. At the same time, I want to remain flexible and adaptable, always learning new approaches to composition and to working in different genres of film.
In terms of genre, I want to be as flexible as possible because I have not yet found my niche. I appreciate the scores of sweeping dramas and large-scale fantasy epics, but I also understand the importance of a good score in a horror or sci-fi flick, where the audience often relies on the music to guide their emotions. In these key moments, the musician behind the picture has as important a role as auteur as the director. Because television shows have become sophisticated in their overall production value and presentation, I can also see myself applying my knowledge of the music and film industries to becoming the main music writer that gives the show its sonic brand. I love how some film scores engage the audience with dramatic changes and emotional roller-coasters, whereas others are so subtle and sit neatly int he background so that audiences barely know that we were there all along. Few things excite me more than the unique behind-the-scenes work of musical composition for visual productions.
My knowledge of the music business and/or entrepreneurship will help me in my career. I have a balanced view, whereby I know that the industry is highly social and political, while also being comprised of individuals who genuinely enjoy what they do. Passion is what helps us succeed. Yet we always need to treat our work from a pragmatic viewpoint. Musicians who have goals in film scoring need to know that their job is not to write just what they think sounds good or what they believe works well with the imagery or plot, but what the director and producer want to achieve. We need to work in a team. I also view my role as being a member of an organization. As a musician who intends to make this my career, I know that writing for film and television is one of many ways I can transform my passion and sense of purpose into making a living. “Besides writing hit songs, film composing is about the only lucrative job for somebody who composes music for a living.” (Kendall, n.d., p. 4). Learning about the music business will help me to solidify the professional foundation I need to succeed.
As Kendall (2009) points out, the most well-established film composers started out in the music industry, not the film industry: “Virtually all of the great film composers over the years were established in another musical field first, and they became successful in film because the existing musical they brought to film was so fresh and exciting,” (p. 1). For this reason, I am now focused on the music industry from a business and entrepreneurial perspective. I can work with other students to form a production company or a band, which will prepare us to work as a team and collaborate on projects. If I can set myself up early with a music production studio brand, I will have a much easier time marketing myself in the future. I intend to leverage social media for the purpose of brand building and networking, and will be attending professional conferences and events in my field for the same reason. These early experiences will humble me in the face of the competition, while also reminding me how social this world can be.
Musicians often focus on the creative elements of music, and bank on their talents as being able to propel their careers. While talent and practice in our own musical development is important, when we want to make money, we need to think like businesspeople. The only way to think like a businessperson is to approach the music industry from that line…