Composing : How to become a professional Composer in the Industry? by Samuel Estes

Samuel Estes

How to become a professional Composer in the Industry?

Hi Guys, Just wanted to let you know we will be doing a webinar next week on ways to break into and how to stay working in the film/tv music industry. We'll talk about our work with composers, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, Danny Elfman, JunkieXL, and many more. Really hope you all can join us. Best, Sam Estes and Michael Hobe Sonicsmiths

Joel Irwin

At the risk of sounding too much like a devil's advocate, I went through the outline and have some input. However, if you deem it inappropriate, I will voluntarily delete this. I believe I may have given similar input for the last one in 2014. I don't live in LA and have no intentions of moving out of Texas at this time. The issue in my mind would not be how limiting a 'career choice' that is - you do provide some information on that topic. The point I made before and will again here is that there is some commonality for being a composer in LA and somewhere else, but there are also many differences. I have no idea who the 'constituency' would be for this webinar but if it like my friend breakdown here - most of the composing types come from all over - from another state or even another country and I mean on every continent. They can have the opportunities to learn their craft locally and stay put without having to aspire to get well known and then shoot for a career move to LA. And what needs to be learnt is often a completely different set of tools and interpersonal skills than those who are California bound. I am so excited for y'all that you get to interact with Hans Zimmer and work on 7 figure films - but for those far away, we often are working with filmmakers who previously have done nothing more than borrow music from the public domain and have no clue what a cue, spot and hit point are. You pull teeth just to get music in the end titles. I am on my third film with a particular filmmaker and you would think by now he would understand about dealing with a composer and yet after a few interactions with him lately, he still does not understand why you often need music in a scene when there is no dialog. A vast majority of filmmaking outside LA is no budget and competitive based - whether it be 48 hour project or something similar. You don't have to do a lot of marketing to get on a 48 hour team when there are 60 to 70 competing. Most of the teams don't have composers. The techniques and tools and rules may sound similar, but composers, like others in the 'post' process, seem to often end up as a 'second thought'. And many non-LA composers need to balance filmmaking commissions with other music needs from the outside, whether be commercial, corporate, or sometimes artistic. One of the top two composers here in Houston teaches at a community college (yes, I know some A-list composers in LA teach at USC or UCLA). Some composers are in the songwriting biz as well or perhaps the live theater biz. All this and more is the real world of the composer outside of LA - whether it be in Texas or Barcelona, Boise or Nigeria. We want to write music for film and have the same basic learning needs to get started, but somewhere along the way very soon, there is a fork - the path that leads toward the major composers in LA and the other path which leads towards composing in place. I would hope that your seminar now or someday balances the needs of both camps.

Samuel Estes

Hi Joel, Thank you so much for your insight. Our webinar actually will be addressing working outside of LA too. I did my graduate composition studies in Boulder, CO and tried to do as much composition as I could there. However, I made a decision to move to LA, since the financial opportunities were not only much greater, but I could learn from professionals and "up my game". What we hope to do with Stage32, is bring resources that I have learned while working here to everyone worldwide. I see this market place becoming less LA/London centric and more global. The unfortunate thing about going global is you loose the apprenticeship on how to actually write for a film (which is much more than just assembling notes together). I have learned a lot on the 40+ films/tv shows/video games that I have been apart of, and while I am no expert, I do hope what we talk about will help and hopefully give some insight. I do hope you will join us and ask specific questions if we didn't cover what you wanted to know. Best, Sam

Tracy Kash

Is there a date for the webinar? Didn't see one. Thanks.

Samuel Estes

Thursday Jan 29th, 1pm (pst)

Joel Irwin

Sam, thanks and we all appreciate your sharing of your experience and expertise. What I have found at webinars is a rich amount of information about the non-technical aspects of the job - the economic issues, the processes that work (and don't work), who the various players are, the interpersonal skills issues and challenges, etc. Everything you need to know to find a film and work successfully on a film. Everything except.... The artistic aspects from both sides. Now this is something really challenging and subjective on many dimensions. But as you know, this is perhaps the hardest thing to learn and assimilate for both filmmakers and composers (i.e., from both ends). And unfortunately it can be touched on in a webinar, a college course or even a book but this sort of stuff gets learnt in many different ways and takes much more than an hour or two. From the filmmaking end, what I mean is how does a filmmaker know where to put music/a cue and once they have a cue, how do they know what it should sound like. From the composing end, you are given a scene to spot and now what? Some seminars, courses, and books teach you the basics of how to create the cue - the synchronization, understand the hit points, the tools, etc. But then, you have say a chase scene or a horror scene or a love scene. You may or may not have a temp track or instructions on what it should sound like. So what do you do? Firstly, what should the composition be - melody, chords, tempo, time signature, rhythm, heck even key signature. Should it be theme'd or themeless? For those who already know how to compose, what should it sound like? Then you have the arranging questions - how many instrument and which? should there be synth or acoustic or both? What should you do with the dynamics, the mixture of instrumentation (if not solo), should there be vocals or choir? What about the instrument articulation? This is the job of the composer and that's what they are hired and paid to do. Is it the same as writing a pop or country tune, or a rap tune or a classical piece or a jazz chart? maybe, perhaps, or maybe not. In our rush to teach or instruct those who know how to compose but now want to write music for films, we give them all the knowledge and tools and spend so little time on the actual process of creation. Sure there are courses on writing music for film. I can't speak for all the colleges and universities here but the one I know about has an excellent section of many weeks going over the history and listening to samples and discuss the works of those who have preceded us. That is important. But do we want our music to necessarily 'sound like' the great Jerry Goldsmith or Alfred Newman? Maybe yes, perhaps not. And who is the audience? The course at the college I take classes is in the audio engineering program and so it is geared towards MIDI students. You can't give them an orchestral score to study like I am doing now in one of the courses I am taking - Ravel's orchestration of Pictures At An Exhibition. They would have no clue how to read it, or analyze it. And since most do their work purely in a DAW/Sequencer, it probably won't be as useful to them in the long run since most have no way to conceptualize score and map them to other tools. So where does all this go? I have twice here offered seminars at no charge to filmmakers to discuss various issues surrounding deciding when to spot and how and what to spot. There are those here with knowledge to help those composers starting off or early in their career (I include myself) on learning what to score. We can share that and it can be at no charge - whether it blogs or posts here, for example. There are many ways to learn - words, music samples, film samples, scores, etc. Everyone has their own way to assimilate. The only concern I have and I brought it up with the stage32 people when they asked me to blog is that unlike colleges, we might/will have an issue of copyright - I am not sure how we would go about using well known samples with music (like the famous opening scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark where Harrison is about to pick up the artifact and substitute the sand - a very famous John Williams spot) - when I show samples to filmmakers or fellow composers and concentrate on the music style and content, they understand it better since as we know, when we watch a film, we don't consciously spend much time with the music. Happy to discuss further.

Duncan Whitcombe

Sounds like a great idea. will the webinar be recorded for those of us in awkward time zones as I am 15 hours ahead making this webinar around 3-4 am which is a little earlier than ideal ?

Shanika Freeman

Great opportunity. Hopefully I can make it to the webinar and listen in. :)

Samuel Estes

Thanks Brandi! You are also a valuable member to this community as well, I love all your questions and your enthusiasm! THANK YOU for being here - feel free to PM me with any questions after you watch the webinar, happy to answer what I can!

Gary W.W. II

Excellent, thank you!

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