Becoming a Successful Composer For Film and Television: Part 4
by Stuart Ridgway

Being a Dependable Professional
Musicians have a reputation for being flakey and unreliable. Do not reinforce this "misconception." You are now in the business world which means you have to act like a business person. Your reputation—and therefore how much work you have—depends on this. Once you have been hired to write music for a production, then other people, their jobs, and their reputations are also on the line. It is no longer cool to show up late for the recording session, act overly familiar, or be slovenly. You want them to hire you again. Ninety percent of your work will come from clients for whom you have done a good job. You cannot give them any reason to doubt your ability to deliver.

You will not spend much time face to face with your client. Most often you will be communicating over e-mail or over the phone. With e-mail, be clear, concise, and cordial. Quote their last e-mail in your e-mail. Remember that you are "putting things in writing," as are they, so be prepared to back up what you write.

When communicating over the phone speak like a professional. Actively listen and ask leading questions. This may be the only time you get all of the information about the project that you need. After your phone call, follow up with an e-mail verifying everything you have discussed. Enter all of this information into your database.

Getting It All in Writing
Some of the things you have to have documented are: the amount of music required, the instrumentation, your fee, the cost for extra studio time and additional musicians, the time frame, the approval process, who owns the copyrights, who submits cue sheets to the PRO, the delivery format, the payment schedule and contingencies for rewrites. Normally your client will ask for estimates on these issues.

Once you have agreed on these issues you will need to create a formal document that stipulates all of them. This is not an option. You must have all of this in writing. It lets your client know that you are a professional and it minimizes misunderstandings. If for some reason the scope or requirements of the project change, create a written addendum to clarify the new terms. It may seem like overkill, but you need to protect yourself.

Writing agreements is time consuming and can be expensive if you have an attorney write each one. Instead, find a boilerplate agreement with which you are comfortable. There are many books out there that contain examples. Copy the one that covers all of your bases into Word or your database program. When the time comes, you can easily fill in the blanks with your client's information and the requirements of the project. Do not make extra work for yourself. Get a good agreement template and use it.

Collaborating Is a Good Thing
The few times you interact with your client in person include the time you are spotting the video and the time you are discussing changes. Even though you are a knowledgeable expert in writing music for film and television, you will not know everything all the time. Therefore, take advantage of your time with the client. You will spend a lot of time by yourself working on music, so enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with her. Listen to her. She will have ideas about what she wants to hear. Take them to heart. Incorporating those ideas will get you that much closer to hitting the mark the first time around.

Music is about creative energy. The sum of two people creating together will be greater than that of two people working in isolation. Just listen to any great Jazz duo. Enjoy your time together.

Carry this positive energy into the review process too. If a client asks for changes, you must have enough strength and faith in yourself to know that you are not being personally attacked. Chances are that you will not get it exactly right the first time you write a cue for someone. So what. "Right" is a subjective quality. Since the client is paying, it is her right to be right.

When a client asks for changes, look at it as an opportunity to help her clarify her "vision." Listen to her. Here is a chance for you to discover exactly what she wants to hear and figure out how to create it. This is how we learn and this is how we grow. Making changes is part of the process. Embrace it and make it work for you. The more open you are to giving the client exactly what she wants, the more professional you are going to appear. That means getting hired for the next gig.

Proclaiming Your Expertise
Once you have a few successful projects under your belt, you need to let prospective clients know about them. The first place to start is your web site. Ask your past clients if you can post one or two of the tracks you wrote for them on your site. Talk their projects up. Do what you can to show how positive and successful an experience it was for everyone involved.

From your client database, create an e-mail list of all of your prospective and past clients. Write an email that directs the reader to the page on your website that has the examples from your project. A word of caution, when sending mass mailings, put your clients' email addresses on the BCC (blind carbon copy) line. Do not inadvertently distribute your clients' addresses by putting them on the TO line or the CC line. Be very careful and respectful of your clients' information. When in doubt, send a few test copies to yourself.

Send out press releases to the paper and online production magazines. There are articles on how to write a good press release that will get your information printed. Find and follow them. Remember, press releases are not about hype. Just give them the right facts in the right format.

Use your film and video association to spread the good word about you. Get your fellow members rooting for you. If it has a listserv then submit the e-mail described above to them as well. Make sure you follow the listserv protocol rules. For example, some do not allow HTML or blatant advertisements. Be smart and creative.

Volunteer your expertise at your association's next panel discussion. Have they had a meeting on working with a composer? Why not organize and host one? Do they have a monthly newsletter? How about writing an article about one facet of composing that you know well? Are they having a big event coming up? Why not compose the opening music for them for free? Talk about creating good will and opportunities for yourself!

In all of these examples, you are the expert and you are letting everyone know it. This is not about bragging or exaggerating. You are just informing the people who might hire you that you have an incredibly unique skill. You are demonstrating that you are a professional and that you are someone with whom people like to work. That's gold.

Enjoy Your Success
As you can see, being a successful composer is literally a full time job. It is hard, time-consuming work. There is so much more than just playing a cool sounding pad on your new keyboard. It is a job that will tap into all sides of your creativity, intelligence, and resources. When someone recognizes it, take it in. Accept the accolades knowing that few people on this planet can successfully do what you can do. If a client actually writes you a note saying how pleased he was with your work, ask him if you can put it on the testimonials page of your Web site. Even if you are the only one who reads it, it will remind you of how important you are to the whole creative process.

Success will come in baby steps. Appreciate every accomplishment you achieve. When you have created your new website with great audio clips that will be quite an achievement. When you have authored your sleek DVD demo reel that will be another triumph. You will slowly move yourself ahead of the rest of the competition. As you credit yourself for reaching milestones, you will start to truly feel successful.

Imagine yourself as an accomplished composer, and be open to the steps that will require you to get there. They will present themselves. Above all, enjoy your work. You will be one of the lucky few.

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.

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