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A composer is someone who writes and directs original music used to produce various types of media entertainment. The scores written need to be technically correct in order to create flawless performances by choruses, musicians or instrumental ensembles. Sound recordings produced from the score vary in style and may reflect the classical, country, folk, jazz, techno or pop genres. A composer's job is to help tell a story in a film, television story, play or video game without distracting the viewer. The soundtrack they create must suit the project and convey the appropriate mood and tone.
Successful composers are versatile with effective collaboration skills, allowing them to work on a variety of projects with producers and musicians from various backgrounds. They have extensive knowledge of the industry and a passion and talent for creating sound recordings. Most composers are often skilled in playing one or multiple instruments and have a good ear for music.
Composers create and arrange musical scores for anything that requires a soundtrack. Movies, television shows, video games, plays, commercials, songs and orchestras all require composers to bring their projects to completion.
Depending on the job, composers will work at home or in a studio to create, arrange, compose and direct original scores for various forms of media. The score might bring mood or emotion to a dramatic scene in a play or provide a tempestuous backdrop for a ground-breaking action scene in a film or video game. Typically, a composer needs to have a very good understanding of technical recording and sound equipment, as well as software used to optimize the sound of the score.
Composers will also spend time meeting with directors or producers to discuss the requirements of their contract. Discussion focuses on subjects like the mood and tone of each scene so that the composer knows what direction the soundtrack or score should take. Scores will sometimes need revision and it is the composer's responsibility to produce a sound recording that will complement the film, television show, video game or play production.
Composers traditionally contract their work with media or performance companies. After finishing one project, they look for the next, which could be with a different company or could even be in a different city. As a result, composers often work long, irregular hours at changing locations. When on the job, they write scores, or travel to and from rehearsals to direct and fine tune performances.
In today's world of state-of-the-art technology, composers also work with advanced electronic sound equipment to perfect sound recordings on the digital level. Composers work to arrange technical aspects of each recording like harmony, rhythm, melody and tone, and then perfect them with highly technical recording equipment and software packages.
No matter the origin of the composer, sound recording is in demand worldwide. Many composers will travel far from their home country to pursue their interest in film scoring or working with performing arts companies in major metropolitan areas like London, Paris or New York.
When filling out a job application for a composer position, there is rarely a degree requirement for the job. In fact, there is rarely any application at all. For example, aspiring film score composers usually spend years working a side job while trying to land scores for independent films. Once they have developed a substantial portfolio, an agent may pick them up and begin marketing them for more commercial projects.
While a degree is not required in all cases, it remains a useful tool for composers who want to hone and master their skills before jumping into a highly competitive industry. Many accredited schools have recognized the need and now offer bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees with a major in composition. Students also have the opportunity to pursue an advanced masters or doctoral degree, and certificates or associate's degrees are available for those seeking a less long-term educational commitment.
Still, a degree is no guarantee of a career in composing. The real components of a successful composer are a mixture of raw talent, individual style and unwavering dedication. Once a candidate begins to develop a portfolio, talent and individual style will set him apart from the rest of the potentials. Still, every candidate will face rejection in this highly competitive field, so rock solid determination and the ability to network effectively is essential to success. The qualities most often seen in successful composers are intelligence, competence, trustworthiness, organization, friendliness, professionalism and a genuine passion for the art form.
Many people think that all composers are dead men with puffy white hair. It’s not true. There are plenty of us that are showing signs of life, we’re just sequestered at home trying to find time to apply for grants, answer e-mail, chase down payments, send out scores, and maybe even write music.
Back in October I was interviewed by Cornelius Dufallo, a fine violinist who recently performed a piece of mine. He sent me a list of questions, the last being, “Any advice for young composers?”
Since the mid/late 1990s, music libraries have exploded and the vast majority of scores for television are done with “electronic” samplers, sometimes with some live players added.
We offer a few tips for those looking to break into the industry.
I’m currently reading the very interesting 48 Laws of Power, which is sort of an updated version of Machiavelli’s controversial work but with a modern perspective. I started thinking, becoming a world-renowned composer is a process not unlike overthrowing a medieval princedom, so what would Machiavelli’s advice be to young 21st-century composers?
There is no single place called “Hollywood.” There is, alas, no one place you can send music for it to be considered for a film—it is not like writing a letter to Santa Claus and addressing it to the North Pole, although that might bring you better luck.