If you're looking to get into making music for media, there are a few things to consider before you start deciding who to contact in the search for work. It's good practice to spend some time considering which companies would be most likely to need your services as a composer. This can end up saving you time, and can increase your chances of success dramatically. If you follow the five steps I've listed here for you, you'll avoid the common pitfalls in putting together a well targeted prospect database, and get your first music contract a lot sooner.
You'll be looking to contact video game developers, TV production companies, advertising agencies and various other types of media production company. Your portfolio should be targeted towards the prospects you want to work for, so try to narrow it down at first according to the work you have on display.
It can be very tempting to just try to contact every company on your radar when you're looking for a client. This approach will eventually work, but you're looking to get a project soon right? So when you're deciding who to contact, the following statements should be true:
The Company Requires Bespoke Audio For Their Projects
Perhaps it's quite an obvious point, but you need to consider how important audio is to a company you're going to contact. If they're not too bothered about the background music they use in their media, they might just tend to use cheap stock music every time. Ready-made stock music can be bought with a single-use license from online libraries for a very affordable price, so this is usually the preferred option when a media production company has a very small budget, or the use of music isn't important.
For example, corporate training videos often have very bland soundtracks, and because they're hardly seen as an art form (although some of them are hilarious!), the use of music isn't deemed very important. The same goes for music in elevators.
This of course means that they aren't ever going to need to hire a composer, and it may not be worth contacting companies like this. Occasionally however, these production companies will begin a project that has a much bigger budget, and does require bespoke music. This is of course where you come in. So, the main point here is to get your name out there to companies who might be able to use your services at one point.
It's a good idea to begin talking to this type of company, and get feel for whether they might one day be able to hire you. Then if it seems likely, add them to your database. Sometimes it may come down to making an educated guess.
The Company is Willing/Able to Pay Your Rate
Quite a lot of new freelancers attempt to specialize in providing services for non-profits, student projects and charity organizations, but these companies are the least likely to be able to pay you. One of the things you need to be doing is thinking like a businessman, rather than a struggling musician. There's nothing wrong with working for charities, but it will more often than not be volunteer work, and you have a business to run!
It can sometimes be quite a difficult thing to guess, but if you can judge whether a company has a decent turnover before you contact them, you'll save yourself some time. You'll usually be able to tell through the quality of the work displayed on their website, and how long they've been around.
It can be tempting at first to work for free just to get a project on your portfolio, but this isn't advisable, as I can guarantee there will be a company out there who will pay you. When you're starting out, at the very least you should expect to get your business expenses covered. Your time is valuable, and you don't want to devalue your craft.
Also, as you begin your career, you'll find that a company generally won't pay you more for your work the second time they hire you. No matter what they say. This means you have to be getting paid a decent rate from the beginning.
The Company Isn't Too Well Connected
Once a media production company has reached a certain level of success, they will have several circles of contacts set up. This will usually include several composers and sound designers that they know and trust. Unfortunately for you, it can be very difficult to breach these circles when you're on the outside.
To make a living from composing music, it's important to have a set of clients you're getting work from semi regularly, and become part of these concentric circles. Your approach will involve getting involved with companies that are yet to blow up into success, and work with them when they are still considered to be small to medium sized. This will enable you to be one of the composers in their circles as they reach success.
So you need to be able to judge the size of a company before you contact them. Luckily this can be very easy to do, because you can have a look at their past work, and see how well known they are.
Another effective technique you can use to tell the size of a company is to search their name on LinkedIn. If they have 1-10 employees, or 11-50, they'll be considered small to medium sized, and you'll know they're not too well connected for you to contact them.
You Can Provide the Style They Require
Again, looking back at a company's past work, you can get an idea of what styles of music they might require you to make. This isn't always a sure fire way to tell what type of music they might need in future though, as new projects can be very varied in their content.
The more adaptable you are, and the more different styles of music you can make, the more employable you'll become. But there will be some styles of music you simply don't enjoy making, or don't have the skill set for.
Interestingly, a few composers who I've spoken to who I'd consider to be making a ‘pretty good living' from what they do, say they'd never turn down a project. I'd probably pass this advice to you because to be honest, one of the biggest challenges as a composer is the search for work. When you find it, you'll be grateful. These guys will literally deal with any project that comes their way, no matter the style. I have a huge amount of respect for these composers, but something tells me they aren't likely to make much more money than they already are if they carry on this way.
Composers who are making a great living from what they do and are well respected, seem to have really strong distinguishable styles. Think of the biggest composers out there currently. Hans Zimmer, Jesper Kyd, John Williams, John Powell etc. You could hear a track from any of these people and instantly be able to tell who wrote it. Most young composers end up imitating a successful composer at first. They set the precedent for the younger generations.
I have an inkling that these guys search for projects that work within their style, and generally try to put their stamp on a project to a certain extent. A company knows that they won't find their sound anywhere else, so they're happy to pay huge creative fees to hire them.
If you can develop your unique sound, and commit to finding projects that enable you to show off your best work, you just might be able to craft a career that earns you considerable amounts of money for the rest of your life. This is not an easy thing to do, but if you do your detective work well enough, you might be able to make it work. Keep this in mind when you're looking for your first paid project.
They Have A Project Coming Up Soon
While it's a good idea to be on the search for prospects to add to your database, it can also be a very good idea to specifically search for upcoming projects. This is an effective way to find work that will fit within your style, because you have the opportunity to hunt down a project that suits you.
One way you can make it work is to simply ask the prospect directly what projects they have coming up. Now this approach won't always work because in a lot of media industries, especially in the video game industry, some companies don't like to tell anyone what they're working on.
Sometimes it can be as simple as looking for upcoming projects from a Google search. It generally depends on the size of company, and how much exposure they're getting.
Either way, when you can find out this information, you'll be able to judge whether a project will suit your strengths as a composer. From there on, putting together a speculative demo reel and pitching your talents to the prospect will become a lot easier. Also you'll be sure that it's going to be a project you'll enjoy.
Guest Post: Oliver Denyer is a composer who specialists in sound for interactive media. He runs a music production company called Undercurrent Audio, who have provided the soundtracks to several mobile and pc games, and other software. He's currently running a course to help amateur composers find their first paid project. http://www.howtodiscoveryoursound.com/first-paid-project/