I have the impression that many composers who are looking for work actually don’t know much about the business end of it. They don’t know how to start their career, or how important some of the details are. Therefore, I would like to focus on some ideas and thoughts concerning the business side of our work.
Being a successful composer (that means a composer who can make a living from his music) requires not just the ability to write good music. Nowadays, the word “composer” includes many aspects that go much further than writing notes down on paper. In most cases the composer must …
- introduce/promote himself on the market (advertising/marketing)
- establish contact with potential clients
- write/compose the music
- perform the music (using real instruments or sample-libraries)
- record the music (within the DAW or in a studio)
- produce the music (mixing and mastering)
- distribute the music to the client
- Note: list might be incomplete
Note: It’s important to be aware of the fact that every single bullet point may be a reason why some artists are getting one job after another, while others are sitting by a phone that never rings. It usually isn’t the most talented composer who gets the job; it’s the one who knows the ins and outs of the business. Of course, you have to write high-quality music, but more importantly, you have to understand that it is a business. There are reasons why one person is more successful than another, and it has nothing to do with luck.
Build Your Business Around Your Work
It might not be a great idea to advertise with a slogan like “Get the best music here” (even if it’s true)! Why? Your best advertisement is not a slogan; it’s the product itself. Every client seeks out the highest quality product they can find. So, high quality is not a feature; it’s the standard. The first and most important thing to understand is that you must truly believe that you can create the world’s best product. If you don’t believe in that, how are you going to convince potential clients to buy your product? This is the start of your business; take a look at the following graphic in order to get the idea of how these things are connected to each other.
First, do whatever is necessary to believe in your own work! You have to know exactly what you do, and how well you do it, or you will not be able to develop trust in your work. If you need a deeper knowledge of music theory, go get a teacher. If you can’t afford a lot of money to buy the gear you need for the production process, find a business partner who can handle the production for you. Again, do whatever is necessary to believe in your work! Excuses are not an option.
Important: Clients usually don’t buy your music just because you are good. (I’m not referring to the consumer market; I’m referring to the business market.) Clients buy your music because they believe in you, and they believe in what you do. Why? Because, the more they believe in you, the less risk they are taking on when hiring you. Clients always want to minimize their risk. After all, it is a business.
Let us assume you are able to create the best product in the world. The next step is to get in contact with clients and let them know what you can do. Give them a reason to take notice of you (in a positive way, of course). In this day and age, composers have to promote themselves. Put yourself in the client’s shoes; if you are seeking to hire someone you have never met or worked with, how do you know if they are actually a pro? What information (references, testimonials, current projects, etc.) can you find out about him? In such cases, a personal website might be the key. The more professional your website looks; the more trust clients will place in you.
Note: Setting up a professional website might be an expensive and time-consuming procedure. However, the way you are introducing yourself to the client is very important. It defines the basis of your business profile. If you are serious about being a composer, you need to have a professional website (unless you are well-known already, but, to become well-known you have to prove yourself many times).
When doing a (paid) job, it is important to keep in mind that you, the composer, are required to serve the project. If a project only needs a slow and soft strings passage playing in the background, don’t try to incorporate a rock band just because you like rock music. It’s always about the project, not about the composer himself.
Social networks have gained more and more influence over the last few years. Don’t forget that clients are people, and probably have a Facebook or Twitter account (or any other social networking site). Therefore, it might not be the best idea to post impolite messages or upload embarrassing photos (which show you screaming with alcohol in both hands) while you are trying to establish your own business at the same time. This might not be an issue right now, but Google, Facebook, and many other similar sites save your data for a long time, maybe forever.
Note: Social networks are public. Do not destroy your business profile with your private accounts. You wouldn’t go to the center of town and pull your pants down, but on the internet these things seem funny. If you want to be professional then act like a professional.
Apart from that, social networks are an easy and very effective way to promote your work as well as yourself.
The business end of our work has many facets. For now, it is important to understand that your music won’t be heard if you don’t take care of the business side of things. If you don’t want to handle this issue by yourself, find someone who wants to be responsible for that part. It is also your job to give your client reason to believe in you …
- develop solid skills in composition and orchestration
- know exactly what you do in order to be able to believe in your own work
- you primarily serve the project; it is always about the project
- be a pro, every time you are in public
One last thing I have experienced over the years: Most clients don’t know much about music theory or composition devices. Therefore, clients are not looking for the best composers in the world. They are looking for partners who are fun to work with. Make yourself into someone with a positive personality, who is a pleasure to work with, and you will get the job. Furthermore, if you are one of the world’s best composers at the same time, even better!