Becoming a Successful Composer For Film and Television: Part 2
by Stuart Ridgway

Technology is Your Ally
The pressure that a music supervisor feels from her boss will often be redirected at you. She will want terrific sounding music immediately. Timelines shrink with budgets. The faster you can turn around your tracks and still have them sound great, the more she will depend on you (i.e., hire you). You will need a large and diverse chest of tools, and you will need to know how to use them well. You can always do things the hard way, over and over again, but you will quickly burn yourself out. Efficiency is the key.

Unless you are doing major motion picture work, you can record 99% of your cues digitally. Standalone multitrack recorders will get the job done, but you will have much more flexibility with a computer. This will be your largest investment and it will give you the most measurable results. It will allow you to do many of the jobs for which you used to subcontract other people.

Your computer will provide many important tools for you. With it, you can write your score, record your music cues, capture and play your client's video in sync with the music, mix and master your cues, burn your CDs, track your FedEx delivery, invoice your client, track your dialog with your client, e-mail your client, post rough mixes to an FTP site, build your Web site, create MP3 demo files, create your latest DVD demo, do your finances, and write thank you notes — whew!

In fact, there are so many jobs that a computer can do, that over the years I have bought three so I would never overload any one of them. My laptop is for all of my office work, one desktop is for recording and mixing music and creating DVDs, and the other desktop is for providing virtual instruments.

Macintoshes and PCs are your biggest players. They can both do the same jobs with the correct operating system and software. PCs are cheaper, but are more cumbersome to use. They have many more software options, but are prone to having conflicts, getting corrupted, and crashing. Macs are more expensive, but are very ergonomic. There is less software available for them but that also means there are fewer viruses that attack them. I use my desktop Mac to do my recording and my desktop PC as a fancy sampler. They each do their respective jobs very well.

Music Software Decisions
You should start with some basic music software. First, you need a sequencer that can record MIDI, record digital audio, and can play a digitized video. A sequencer allows you to record the MIDI actions of a keyboard or guitar synth directly into the computer. Once there you can manipulate it to your heart's desire… in with a piano, out with a tuba. This is called MIDI Sequencing and you should read up on it.

A sequencer also allows you to record with a microphone directly into the computer the sounds coming out of your guitar amp or mouth. You can cut, paste, redo, re-amp, and sonically scrub your tracks until they are perfect. This is called Digital Audio Recording, something else to read up on.

Finally, having the sequencer play back your video is a real time saver. Until last year, I was receiving VHS tapes from my clients with time code on the right audio track. I had to sync my sequencer to that time code track. It was cumbersome to set up and almost impossible to do any shuttling back and forth. Now I import the digitized video that was posted on my client's FTP site into my sequencer. I give it a start time and it immediately locks to my recording. You will still need to read up on frame rates and time codes.

The next piece of software to purchase is a dedicated two-track recorder. This is where you tweak your final stereo mix with various EQ, compression and FX plug-ins. It is also where you can make alternate edits, create MP3 mixes to post on your client's FTP site, and burn CDs to send out. A word on pirating plug-ins and software: Don't do it. For every stolen piece of software you have, someone else is pirating your best score.

The next software purchases are on a need-to-have basis. If your clients are sending you a lot of video tapes or DVDs to score to, consider video capturing hardware and some basic video editing software. It will make your life much easier. Remember, anything you can do to improve your turn-around time will keep you competitive.

If you are writing for orchestral instruments, then learn one of the music notation programs like Sibelius. You will have to make a time investment to learn it, but you will get all of that time back. If you are writing your parts on the sequencer, it is very easy to export those parts to the notation software. There you can easily add dynamics, expressions, fingerings, and other orchestration details. Writing with real pen and paper is a very important and useful skill. However, changing the key of one of your cues is much easier on a computer.

If you decide you want to put your demo reel on DVD, then you will need authoring software. There are cheap and easy solutions out there. You will be able to do a nice, if generic looking demo. If you want to show off your multitude of skills, then complex authoring programs are out there. They are not for the faint hearted, but you can put together a really impressive package.

There are several advantages to putting your reel on DVD as opposed to VHS. Besides the aforementioned cool factor, you will save yourself time and money in the long run. Blank DVD-Rs are about the same price as blank VHS tapes, but shipping them out is cheaper. The actual creation of a DVD is faster. For instance, my 10-minute demo takes three minutes to create: I put a blank DVD-R in my computer and push "burn." However, it takes at least 10 minutes to record the same demo onto VHS. Multiply that by 100 reels and you will begin to appreciate the time saved. You might consider hiring a duplication house to run small batches for you. However, if you dupe too many, you run the risk of having your demo become out of date before you have sent out all the copies.

Finally, if you are using a lot of keyboard sounds and plug-ins, make sure they sound up to date. Producers want music that sounds "today" not "two years ago." Have you watched a Sci-Fi film from a few years ago with lame CGI? Have you listened to a music track that sounds dated? It's pretty painful. Do yourself a favor and stay on top of the latest trends in sounds.

Internet Software Decisions
You absolutely must have Internet access, FTP capabilities, and an e-mail account. Most music software companies post the updates to their software, free add-ons, registration forms, and technical support on their Web sites. Were you to (gasp) update your operating system the day before your big delivery date, getting that fix for your sequencing software will be much faster if you can get it online.

FTP (file transfer protocol) software allows you to easily upload (post) and download files from your Web site. Many of them are free or cost less than $30. After you have written your cue and have recorded a rough mix, you will make an MP3 copy for your client to approve. Post it on your Web site and it is immediately accessible no matter where your client is. In fact, you can have the FTP software upload several files at a time while you go out for pizza.

You could set up a cool, upload/download interface on your site for your client that is password protected, but there is no need. We are trying to be efficient. Instead, use your FTP software to create a new directory or folder under your domain such as www.mysite.com/ClientsName. Then upload the MP3 file into that folder. Now all you have to do is send an email that includes the link: www.mysite.com/ClientsName/RoughMix.mp3.

Note: It will not be password protected, so once your client has listened to it you may want to remove it. Nevertheless, someone would have to be actively looking for folders with music on your site to steal it. How much pirated software do you have?

The last obvious piece of Internet software is an e-mail account. An important thing about doing business with email is the virtual paper trail that is created. You and your clients' agreements are easily traced if you keep your e-mails organized. Clients are people, and they sometimes misunderstand things. You never want to be in a situation where you said you would do one thing, your client thought you would do another, and there is no documentation either way. If you have an e-mail with his or her approval, then you can gently remind them of what your agreement was. It is also a good habit to quote the e-mail to which you are replying in your e-mail. A little CYA now will save you a lot of headaches later.

Besides the paper trail, you can also e-mail attachment files for scripts, contracts, directions to your studio, and invoices. Again, it is harder for your client to say he never got the bill when you have an e-mail from him saying, "Got it." I advise against e-mailing audio files. They are much larger than text files and can choke an e-mail server. Stick with FTP-ing.

Office Software Decisions
This last section on software is probably where you will get the most benefit for the least cool factor. Word. The software, not the interjection. The business world uses Microsoft Word and Excel. If a client e-mails me a file, it is always in one of these two formats. Scripts and contracts are sent to me as .doc files and cue sheets are sent as .xls files. The Microsoft Office suite is not cheap, but you can buy last year's version online for a lot less and still do the job.

Office also comes with Outlook for the PC and Entourage for the Mac. They are basic calendar programs but are essential nonetheless. When you have recording sessions, spotting sessions, and delivery dates, you cannot risk losing track of your schedule.

The last and probably most important piece of office software is your client database. I use a program on my Mac called File Maker Pro. I use File Maker to store, organize, and display all of the information I collect pertaining to my clients. I will get into the art of maintaining business relationships next, but realize that storing a potential client's name and number is just the beginning. You will also want to be able to track your contacts with him, have preformatted letters to send to him, create CD labels already laid out with his name on it, and produce invoices you can easily send.

Read Part 3.

Stuart Ridgway composes music for film and television. He is currently writing for NBC's Emmy-award winning, "Starting Over." Contact him at http://www.pyramidmusic.com.

Wanna' get your Songs placed in Movies and Television Shows? TAXI has gotten hundreds of its members Film and TV Music Placements. See if it's right for Your Music.