4 Things You Should Know About Composing For TV (FAQ)

 

I often have people getting in touch asking how to get into writing music for TV/film/media, and looking for some advice. So I thought I’d put together a blog about the most common questions and give my thoughts on them, in case it helps anyone. I’ve tried to call on my experience from my work both as a composer/producer and also as a music supervisor when I was on the other side of the table.


*Quick disclaimer* – Of course, there are no “rules.” Everyone’s personal situations and experiences are different, so this advice is meant to be taken very generally. 

 

Q – How do I get work?/Get into composing full-time?

 

The first thing to say is that there is no linear route into making it a full-time job. Everyone I know who does it for a living came into in different ways. Some people come from a classically-trained background, through conservatoires or music courses at University. Others started off in bands or commercial music projects which became popular with TV/Film directors/producers and editors and then ended up being commissioned directly as composers. And other people got their break from being mates with directors/producers. Becoming an established composer’s assistant is another way in. Whichever way people I know have got into it, there seems to be two common characteristics that link them –

 

  • They have always been working – If you are always working you quickly develop your skills – whether it be composition, production, mixing etc. Work on anything you can find related to music or audio when you’re starting off. Be flexible and open-minded.The now worldwide reach of high-speed internet brings with it thousands of new opportunities to write and compose music across all fields whether it be for videos/games/ other artists etc. Each new job will bring new challenges and enable you to not only learn new processes and techniques but will dramatically speed up your delivery times on future projects whilst making you aware of pitfalls to avoid. Make your mistakes and learn your trade on the earlier, smaller projects and then when the bigger work starts coming you’ll have the experience and setup to produce the expected quality of work quickly and efficiently.

 

*Judging when the correct point at which you’ve got enough on your showreel and enough experience to start approaching the big name companies for work is up to you, but be reasonably brutal in terms of comparing the level of your work to what’s out there being used on TV/Film already. If the production quality isn’t up to scratch yet, then keep honing your craft until it is. People at major publishers/production music companies/TV production companies receive hundreds of unsolicited approaches from new composers each year, so first impressions are hugely important and it’s unlikely you’ll get a chance to make a second one.

 

  • They’ve got out, met people and established relationships

 

Although it’s possible, it is hard to break into an industry purely by staying in your room/studio and sending out unsolicited approaches to potential clients. Get out there and meet people. If you’re just starting out, find a local film course/club/school which churns out young directors, eager to make it in TV/Film. Get to know them and establish a friendship and potential working relationship early in their career. Or find a way to start working in TV/film in a non-musical role. Once you’re established in the company, get to know the music team on the production and express an interest in helping out or finding out how they work.

 

Generally just gradually build up relationships with people across the industry by being friendly, respectful, reliable and knowledgeable. Have an opinion and a creative voice and you’ll soon find others who have the same and you’ll enjoy working together. Don’t constantly contact/harrass different people purely with the sole intention of getting work from them and never use generic/blanket emails. Research what projects people have worked on already and take the time to watch/listen to what they’ve done and show a genuine interest in their work. Honestly assess whether your music is up to the correct standard and in the correct genre to potentially interest them.

 

Once you have established some good working relationships, make sure that everything you do that has your name on it is of the highest quality, you never know who is going to hear it and work can snowball from unexpected jobs/opportunities.

 

Q – I want to become professional but I’m struggling to find the time to work on music, I already have a full-time job doing something else and would like to dedicate more time to it. How do I do this?

 

There is no simple answer to this. Everybody’s personal situations are entirely different. The main point I can make here is that unless you are an exceptionally talented and proficient composer/producer/mixer from a young age then you will not be able to get yourself to a professional level without putting the hours in and making significant sacrifices in terms of personal and social life.

 

It’s a job which often requires 24/7 availability and if you can’t work at those times when a director/producer gets in touch, someone else will. You also need to keep up with current musical trends and keep your production/composition skills fresh and honed.

 

When my full-time occupation wasn’t yet composing, I worked during the day to pay the bills and then spent all my weekends and evenings building up my skills, equipment and contacts until I had the necessary expertise to start bringing in enough regular work to take it full-time.

 

You have to be incredibly perseverant and thick-skinned and the amount of time required by the job and the unpredictability of future work means it can place serious strain on both family and social relationships. It’s best to be aware of this before make it your sole aim. Lots of people find a nice balance of composing part-time whilst working another job as well to maintain a predictable and reliable income. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.

 

If you really, really want to make it happen and you are lucky enough to have a supportive partner, then you will find a way!

 

Q – I’ve been approached by a certain company and I’m unsure of what to charge them or what I should expect from the contract?

 

Pricing for bespoke requests is a personal choice which you have to work out, know your worth and experience and price accordingly at a level which you feel comfortable at and isn’t a ridiculous level for the size/budget of the client.
Spend a week at some point researching and reading up about everything to do with publishing and master rights. You need to understand this side of the business. Even if you don’t know everything about it (it’s a complex system!) having a working practical knowledge of how rights work across TV/film and media will stand you in very good stead in every piece of work you do.

 

Contracts tend to vary across different sectors of the industry and in order to utilise your skills effectively as a business and accurately plan your upcoming finances you’ll need to completely understand whether your rights to future royalties are being bought out at the beginning of a job or not. If they are then the buy-out fee should reflect that loss of potential future earnings. Make sure you find out when and where the work is going to be broadcast, how long for and whether the company are entitled to use your piece again for a different project under the terms of the contract.

 

I can’t emphasise enough how even basic research around stuff like this will dramatically increase your chances of taking it full-time. You’ll be able to accurately plan your financial year and how much you can afford to invest in developing the business/your equipment. Also you will quickly identify which potential jobs are worth it and which aren’t, as well as being able to negotiate expertly for bespoke work.
On a related note – This rule applies across the music industry (there was a big problem with this when I was in bands growing up as well) – NEVER PAY FOR “EXPOSURE” or “OPPORTUNITIES”

 

There are a few companies out there who will charge you to see opportunities to “pitch” on major projects or even just to be hosted on their website. These situations are exploitative and wrong. Any proper agent or publisher will take a percentage of the money from work you get through them once the work has being commissioned and paid for by the client. That’s how they make their money, not through up-front fees with no guarantee of income for you.  In all my time as a supervisor I never accepted “pitches” from these sorts of companies and honestly don’t know anyone else in the industry who did either. Notice how none of these companies ever have specific examples of successful placements on their websites. That should be a big red flag. Avoid.

 

 

Q – I’ve had some success but get really nervous when new jobs come in and wonder if I’m cut out to be composer?

 

Research “imposter syndrome.”

 

It’s a real thing and affects everyone at various points across all levels of the industry. Even if you’re scared, do it anyway. Otherwise, again, someone else will.

 

Even the most established composers never feel like they’ve “made it” and often worry at the beginning of a job whether they are capable of doing it. It’s part of the human condition, so don’t worry about it. Find some other people in the same industry and ask them about it and have a little joke and then move on. It’s seriously not worth worrying about.

 

Always be learning and developing your craft,  differentiate yourself by having your own sound and creating your own samples and libraries from scratch – you will find your own voice gradually.

 

Collaborate with other musicians to create something unique and special.
It’s hugely satisfying to hear and see work that you created at home or in your studio being used around the world and it makes all the hours and doubt worth it.

 

So as a final positive thought, it is entirely possible to make it into your job. Be flexible and open-minded about the route it will take to get there. Take your time and don’t panic! It brings huge joy and satisfaction when it goes well. The harder you work the more breaks you get, good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2017 – News – International Trailer Use

Haven’t updated this for a while as being busy with work and raising a mini-Warby, but will endeavour to update a bit more regularly this year!

Been working on lots of different projects for EMI and Endemol/Shine amongst others in 2016 which has lead to lots more stuff coming up, so looking forward to all the exciting projects in the pipe-line for this year.

A couple of nice recent uses of my music:

“Ash Again”, one of my collaborations with Hannah Hart has been used on the international trailer for “Fallen”, (from 00:09 to 00:45) and someone has created a fan video with the complete song as well, which is brilliant! I’ll post them both below, I’ve had a few people get in touch to ask where they can get hold of it –  the track is available to buy on iTunes at:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/gothstep-2-ep/id1135940810

And the Videos are here:

 

Also EMI chose “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (another collab with HH) as part of their “Best of 2016” which was great to hear as they have an amazing catalogue of music! You can hear the track and see the full playlist here:

https://www.emipm.com/en/gb#/browse/themed-playlists/group/1/437/Best%20of%202016

I often have people getting in touch to ask how to get into writing for TV etc so I’ll try and do a blog at somepoint soon answering the most common questions 🙂

Have a great 2017!

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The 10 Best Videos For New Composers For TV/Film

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Well, it’s been a while since I wrote on here. It’s been a very busy period and I’ll do a proper update at some point! But for now, this will have to do. I do a lot of talks at various workshops around the country for new composers and I always get asked a lot about equipment, DAWS and various aspects of how to produce/mix for TV/Film. So I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of free videos interviews/tutorials with some very established composers from various on-line sources, that I’ve found hugely useful in terms of learning new techniques and tips. I hope you find them helpful and informative, it’s very generous of people to be so open and free with advice about how they’ve got to where they are!

(In no particular order)

  1. Anyone who saw/heard the amazing soundtrack to the recent Mad Max film will be very keen to see how the excellent Dutch composer Junkie XL created it. He’s created a series of really in-depth videos explaining his techniques, here’s the first of the series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB1twfL5b28
  2. Probably the most famous/in-demand Hollywood composer of the last decade, Hanz Zimmer reveals all in this excellent 5-part series of interviews. Intros are in German but the interviews themself are in English: http://www.musikmachen.de/Stories/Hans-Zimmer-im-Interview
  3. Interesting round-table conversation between a number of very established Hollwood composers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdXqE-I7KwE
  4. Composer for the hugely successful BBC Sherlock Series, Michael Price answers questions from new composers in this 5-part series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzOdAXbiwH0
  5. Jake Jackson discusses techniques he used when mixing the music for BBC series “Silent Witness”, some really useful, practical advice in this for anyone hoping to write for TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqqUXsuq1ew
  6. Two of my favourite composers, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, answer questions about their work for “Gone Girl” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1OT3bBoRoQ
  7. “Steve Jobs” composer Daniel Pemberton talks us through various projects from his custom studio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK_5sdUbkiY
  8. Very in-depth chat with Lorne Balfe who has scored countless projects for TV and Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUaC30KhnYY
  9. Dave Porter scored hit US series “Breaking Bad” and the follow up “Better Call Saul”, here he discusses his journey into the world of writing for TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LK9trWhtKHc
  10. Brian Tyler discusses writing the percussion-heavy soundtrack for “The Fast and Furious 5” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxLYlXt_Nvo

 

 

 

 

 

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The 3 Benefits of Exercise on Creativity

 

Exercise is great. It’s one of the most natural things the human body is built to do. But our work-lives in the 21st century don’t often encourage it or leave much time for it. It takes effort. It also (particularly if you live in the UK) can involve getting very wet and muddy. It’s something that is very easy to come up with an excuse not to do. But it’s always worth doing.

It can feel exclusive, like everyone else finds it really easy and is good at it naturally. If you’re not particularly comfortable with your appearance or a certain part of your body, it can feel potentially embarrassing. At school I despised cross-country; it felt pointless because there was no ball to chase, I got breathless really quickly and it was humiliating as the faster people started lapping me even though we were only running round the school fields 3 times. But now I really look forward to a run or a long walk as something that makes me feel great, the more I did it over the years, the easier it got.

Although some people do seem to be able to spring out of bed with their Nikes on already under their slippers, for me and many others it’s something that takes a lot of will-power and effort to do. But the more you exercise, the more you enjoy the gains it brings you and subsequently, life in general is better and easier then when you’re not exercising. Without jumping face first into a snake-pit of hungry clichés, in the immortal words of The New Radicals – YOU ONLY GET WHAT YOU GIVE.

Fitting it into a schedule can be really difficult as well. But it will become a highly-valued part of your daily/weekly routine once you manage it. The most important thing is finding what activities work for you. It needs to be something sustainable and enjoyable. It’s easy to dive head-first into a new fitness class or healthy routine, only to let it slip after 3 weeks because you’re not enjoying it or you can’t justify it time-wise. But it only takes a bit of effort and creative thinking to make it part of your routine and soon you won’t want to miss it.

Personally I find a mix of running and walking, a regular swim, and the occasional game of football or golf suits me pretty well. I don’t go to the gym anymore as it doesn’t suit what I want to achieve at the moment and it can be pretty expensive if you’re not making good use of it. The great thing about running is all you need is a pair of good shoes, some shorts and a t-shirt and you can do it pretty much anywhere, also it’s completely free!

But it doesn’t matter what you do, it could be anything from a fast walk/cycle back and forth from work, a game of netball in the evening, or Zumba or circuit training on a Sunday morning. As long as you do some form of intensive exercise at regular intervals, you will notice dramatic improvements in your mental and physical health.

It’s particularly relevant if your day-to-day routine doesn’t involve a lot of movement. A lot of creative freelancers (myself included) will mainly work from a desk (although mine involves instruments and mixing desks, I’m still sat down for the majority of the time) and projects with fast turnaround times can demand hours of un-broken concentration and focus, without ever really moving very far apart from for the occasional cup of tea, stroke of the cat and scan of the BBC football pages!

Anyone who spends a lot of their day sitting down, whether at a desk writing music or designing artwork, doing admin in an office or driving a taxi will know the various slumps and dips in energy and the various physical aches and pains that will hit you at different points in the day.

Not only can you feel tired, fidgety or tetchy but it can also be very hard to stay calm and focussed mentally. Inevitably, your efficiency is affected and it can be very difficult to be creative and enthusiastic when your lower back seems to be bearing you an unholy grudge and your brain feels like it’s already put on its Batman pyjamas and climbed into bed even though it’s only 3.13PM.

With communication and the world of business being as quick as it is in the 21st century it’s also very easy to fall into a mind-set of feeling like you always need to be working. It can be tempting to try and improve your work efficiency and success by always being “on” – Trying to develop new ideas in any down time and always being contactable for all of the 101,080 minutes that we get each week. (Thought that was more interesting than writing 24/7!)

But exercise can be a massive help to all those issues. Here’s the big three reasons why getting out there and getting a bit sweaty can make such a difference to the our creativity and productivity –

  • It gives you more energy and makes you feel better physically

It can be very tempting to give an excuse on why not to do some exercise. In my experience, most minor niggles and injuries actually disappear as soon as you start exercising and the body loosens up. People are generally more ill, lethargic and have more complaints of minor strains and pains the less exercise they do. So don’t let “feeling tired” be a reason to not start in the first place. Once you have finished exercise your body will feel great. You’ll feel stronger, leaner and looser and it should give you more confidence in your appearance. You’ll be able to sit at your desk and feel comfortable and relaxed all day rather than tense and fidgety, meaning you’ll get a load more work done and don’t need so many breaks for coffee, chocolate or other short-term pick me ups which actually can make you feel worse as soon as their superficial effects have worn off.

  • It gives you more energy and makes you feel calmer and more organised mentally

When your mind feels like each thought is having to fight through a mile of sludge just to be heard, a bit of physical activity can feel like giving those poor, over-worked synapses a thoroughly good spring clean and de-clutter. Turning that black treacle into sparkling clear mountain spring water!

A period of reasonably intense exercise which raises the heart-rate and subsequently brings more oxygen to the brain, can work wonders for achieving clarity and calmness of mind. It will give you a more positive outlook for the day and get rid of all that clutter that can fill our brains by trying to keep up with Emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your Gran’s opinions on UKIP etc.

Also as welcome bonus, it also means you can also enjoy a treat or a snack without feeling like you’re getting increasingly unhealthy and falling into a downward spiral of ever increasing lethargy and low-self-esteem that only that extra slice of cake can get you out of!

  • It can spark new creative ideas and strategies

If you find yourself metaphorically (or occasionally literally) banging your head against your keyboard trying to work out that final verse for the song or scene for that script, a burst of exercise can suddenly spark the little moment of inspiration that spending hours stuck at your desk would never have triggered. Physical activity releases a number of hormones, including endorphins, which not only make you feel great, but also give your thoughts a whole new energy and positivity, enabling you to look at creative situations from a new angle and with a fresh outlook. It can re-invigorate interest in an old idea which you’d never been able to finish or can give you that final push over the line on a project with an impending dead-line.

 

So you can feel better, be more productive, be more confident and find work enjoyable and invigorating rather than tiring and stress-full, all just be building a little bit of regular exercise in to your routine. Hope that’s helpful, and let me know your own stories of how exercise has helped your creativity!

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Writing music for games and apps

Recently I’ve been doing a lot more work for games and app developers creating in-game music, menu music and various sound FX. It’s been really enjoyable. Each game throws up a different challenge, as they vary so widely in where they are set and what the music needs to convey. Topics and settings so far have varied from Africa, tanks & monsters to running, fantasy and dragons. So each time you have to turn your hand to a different style and use different musical skills and sounds to adapt to the genres.

I’ve also been doing a lot of custom songwriting for people, writing and recording songs for them for a special event or to give to their partner to commemorate an anniversary or something similarly important to them. This has been great as it involves writing a lyrics very specific to that person and really nailing the style that they have asked for, while also making sure the song is catchy and enjoyable to listen to. It’s also been a good exercise to take melody and lyrics snippets that people have already sketched out and fully develop them and record them as a full song. Each brief is very different!

We’ve also just got an upright piano in the new house, so I’m playing a lot more for pleasure than when I just had my keyboard in the studio. I’ve been learning a lot of Elliot Smith and Beatles songs. Both masters of voice leading and structuring chord sequences and using inversions cleverly to imply melody within the harmony of a song. It’s interesting the difference between learning their songs on the guitar and piano. On the piano it’s clearer to see how the chords are related, because if you work out your inversions correctly, you only have to change on or two notes between each chord, whereas on the guitar the chord shapes move around the fretboard more, so it’s harder to relate the chords to one another.

Hopefully the skills that I’m picking up from studying their songs  will seep into my upcoming songwriting work. I’ve already picked up some techniques that Elliot Smith used to create more interesting chords,  he regularly puts the fifth as the root note of the chord which creates some lovely, unexpected movements in the bass which create space for the melody to sit over unexpected roots. He also used a lot of chromatic bass runs and built chords around those movements, which gives the melody a lot of movement as it’s shifting key as it descends/ascends before generally returning to the home key by the end of the progression.

I’ve also learnt how to play the “Cheers” theme on the piano, as tune I’ve always loved, such brilliant harmony in that!

In terms of plugins, I’ve been enjoying using Trillian by Spectrasonics to get some great upriht bass sounds recently, and I’ve also been discovering the U-He Diva, which has some lovely analogue synth sounds modelled from various classic synths from the 70s and 80s.

Been experimenting with the brilliant Valhalla reverb plugins. You can create such cool effects with it really quickly which can totally change a percussive sound and place it somewhere entirely different in the stereo field.  Highly recommended.

Finally I’ve learnt an intersting lesson on Twitter this week. I managed to lose a large amount of  followers with one tweet the other night. I basically said that’s it’s important to always embrace change in creative industries rather than moan about it, as change is inevitable and you should adapt your business model to embrace it, rather than hoping it doesn’t happen. Seems like some people didn’t like that, oh well.

Please get in touch to discuss any upcoming musical projects you would like me to work on, or if you want to discuss that point!

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Busy few months…

It’s been a really busy few months since I completed the Hollyoaks Laters score. It’s been brilliant to have so much work, it just means it’s taken a while to update the website with everything!

My showreels have now been updated as well with the HL music and other projects I’ve worked on over the last few months as well, have a look on the Video page.

Following on from the HL score, I worked on some tracks for EMI/Sony ATV production music which has been a really exciting opportunity. You can hear them now on the Audio page. It’s quite a long process going from idea/brief, through the composition and editing, to the final mixes being ready, but it’s been very enjoyable and I’m really happy with how they turned out. It was great getting the live drums recorded for “Friends” which really added an exciting energy and feel to the track. I’ve had that song idea for a while as a demo, so it’s always really satisfying to take a demo idea to completion as a full song.

They’ve all been specifically designed to work for TV/Film and visual media, an area I feel really comfortable with. It helps knowing how to structure the tracks, making sure the rises/falls and edit points are in the right places and getting a balance between the type of sounds and frequencies that work well on-screen.

I’ve also been working with a few independent app and game developers, creating SFX and music for their releases. It’s been loads of fun adapting my skills and experience from other forms of media to work on these. I was lucky in that the people I’ve been working with have been quite clear in the type of sounds they wanted, and it’s been great digging deep into the sound-design features of Ableton to really manipulate the audio in an original way.

It mainly involves experimenting with stretching/resampling/distorting/reversing/chopping and layering waveforms and sounds and then using lots of automated filters, envelopes, bitcrushers and saturation to colour the grouped audio, whilst making sure the SFX and music carry a clear melodic/harmonic theme which makes sense across the different parts of the app.  You can hear some examples of the main musical themes I’ve been doing for the apps on the Audio page as well.

I’ve also been enjoying doing some mixing and mastering for other artists and bands, which is refreshing because it involves collaboration (a valuable change when you spend a lot of time composing on your own on short deadlines!) and tests your skills in terms of adapting your knowledge of plugins and production processes to other people’s recordings.

Talking of plugins, recently I’ve been really impressed with Izotope Trash. The saturation is really warm and easy to customise, and works well on synths/drums/vocals or even as a slight binding distortion on the master bus. I’ve also been using Izotope RX3 to get rid of some pops on some synth tracks that I’ve been having problems with for ages, and have been really impressed with the speed with which you can put together string parts using Cinematic Strings 2.0 as well. It’s incredible the sounds that modern media composers have at their disposal, if you imagine a sound, you can normally make it with a bit of effort!

I’ve been listening to a lot new music as well recently, been particularly enjoying Mogwai – Rave Tapes, Olafur Arnalds – Broadchurch and the new albums by Bombay Bicycle Club, Chvrches,Warpaint and Daughter.

I’ve got loads of exciting work coming up in the next few months,and I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2014, please get in touch if you want to discuss any music/sound design that you need for an upcoming project!

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