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Your advice to a concert music composer

Discussion in 'The RedBanned Bar & Grill' started by Kim Arnesen, Mar 6, 2018.

  1. Hi!

    What advice would you give to a composer who have only written so-called classical music for concert performances, but who have an interest in writing music for film & TV?

    What are the biggest differences as you see it? Other than not being the boss of your own music anymore... And where to begin?

    So far, for me, the biggest challenge has been to not just being a composer with a notation program delivering scores, but a producer who have to deliver the sound as well.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  2. Hmmm........ Well, this was my path. Big topic so I won't be able to cover everything with this post.

    What I would advise is for anyone to get really clear on what they want, and want to give/ receive from your goal.

    (All the following are rhetorical questions: no need for you to reply back to me with your answers)

    What are the reasons why you want to write music for film ? What is your definition of success ? What would your ideal day look like ?
    What gives you energy and joy in your work ? How much money do you need to be making from your music ? Where do you want to live

    (Etc....etc.....etc........this could go on and on)


    Just some bullet points from someone who has walked this path:
    • Humans tend to over-estimate what they can accomplish in the short term, and under-estimate what they can do in the long term. (expect it to take a few years to get established)
    • There is often a giant cost to being THE BEST. Be open minded to a compromise. It might make you much happier.
    Let me pick up on the last point. It's counter to the ethos of the day. Let's say your goal is to be President of the US., or Mr. Zimmer.
    Think about what that goal symbolizes. Maybe you care deeply about politics, and want to make a difference. Great !
    Running for the city council is going to be vastly less pressure on you, and more sanity for those around you. (Pressure is not even the right word....more like bullshit)

    The same is true with being a "Film Composer". If you want to score blockbuster films, and be the next Zimmer..... then there is an enormous amount of demands that will be placed on you. Also, pack your bags and move to LA. You might find that you enjoy writing music for small independent films. It could be documentaries that further a social cause, or animations because of the exciting visuals. You might find this is exciting and rewarding to work on these types of film and they let you live outside LA, having a career pursuing concert music.

    If you are simply in the position of having graduated from conservatory and facing a "oh shit how do I make a living"... Then consider offering your services where your strength and training will help others.

    This could be : Sheet music preparation, Orchestration, Arranging, Transcription, Instruction in (Sibelius/Finale/Dorico etc.)

    For film: you have to love film. A director is not looking for the greatest composer in the world. They are looking for the perfect composer for their film. How you collaborate, communicate, handle surprises (etc.) are all a part of it.

    Just be really clear on what, and why.

    About 10+ years ago, after my post-grad at conservatory I thought I might look into Video Game as that was an emerging field, and I had to pay rent. Living in NYC was not cheap or easy. So I contacted the Heavy-Melody guys (their sample side is Heavy-ocity) and got an internship with them.

    Well, if you have ever heard my music, we were the classic odd couple. (They were great ! I have only positive things to say about them as people)
    It's just I simply don't give a shit about video games, and sitting around playing game and shooting things felt weird to say the least.
    Basically, I am never going to be a game composer. It was sort of a carrot on the stick as $$$ was a need. But I had no interest at all.

    It was a good thing to acknowledge that and move on.

    Lastly don't write shit like "so-called classical music for concert performances". It's you.... it's your music.

    While I know what you mean, anyone is well served be learning to speak directly to the "listening" of others. No director is wanting a composer of
    "so-called classical music for concert performance". While it may seem trivial for me to harp on about this, I think this is a crack that gets back to the heart of the topic: Why are you passionate for this dream ?

    For myself, I used to say to directors that it was all about story-telling.
    That I am fascinated with how to take human emotion/experience and convey this through sound.
    My compositions strive to take people on an emotional journey; regardless of wether it's for a chamber group or a film score.

    It simply conveyed more of a core message.

    One final thought. Expect to get negative pushback from one tribe if you try and pursue both concert and film music.
    I have hung in there longer than most, and have had more than one door closed in my face due to working on higher profile Hollywood films.

    While there are indeed exceptions and more places putting on "Film music concerts" there is a wall between the two. (Mexico did not pay for it however)

    Just letting you know........ from someone down the path. It's not personal...... it will happen to pretty much anyone for a number of reasons.

    I wish you the best, and hope this slightly helped.
    Mike Worth and Matthias Calis like this.
  3. #3 Kim Arnesen, Mar 7, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s interesting to hear from a composer that does both.

    My motivation comes from a love for film, and the combination of music and picture. Also, I think my way of writing could suit this way of using music quite well. My main focus is themes and emotions.

    As I’m a full-time composer already, this is not something I have to do to make a living, but I’m very eager to explore it because it might give me some new challenges, one of them would of course be to work for a director and not just doing what I please. But I sometimes miss teamwork, and being just one part of a project (the composing life can be lonely). Also, I don’t want to be stuck doing one thing, so working with film/TV could hopefully give opportunities to write in many different genres and styles.

    I don’t have a goal to be the new Zimmer or anyone else, but just continue to be able to do what I can and love, and reach as many as possible. But I’m humble enough to understand that your first jobs in this field won’t be the most lucrative, so I’m ready to start where it has to start. What that is, I don’t know yet. At the same time, I’m not desperate :)

    And yes, on both sides I guess some might not respect you, but I really don’t care. (I was the music university student with green hair who also wrote pop music) My two teachers in compositions worked with classical+film+theatre and classical+jazz, so I had role models who weren’t afraid of that either. Doing something meaningful for others through music is what matters.

    I apologize in advance for any English mistakes in this post.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  4. Man, spot-on advice as usual Doug.

    This was a fairly big decision point for me, and I feel much more at peace with it. I initially was going through the checklist of "what do you need to be an X composer", and you're dead on about the cost to "the best". I decided I'd rather be the best at doing what I want to do, and fitting projects into that. Much less stressful to teach music over Skype and have other eclectic income sources than hauling my family to LA (blech, that alone is a deal-breaker for the long-term) and trying to make rent by doing paper towel commercials (kudos to anyone that can pull that off, that seems rather lucrative). Ditto about short and long-term accomplishment, I need to write that down somewhere...
  5. Kim, you'll have to forgive my curiosity, but I googled your name and frankly, I don't think you've got much to worry about. As far as I'm concerned you've certainly got the musical chops required to do a great job as a film composer. I can list a few key advantages you've already got:

    #1 you've already worked with live performers, that alone is a huge boon you have over DAW-strapped, basement composers like myself (though I will finally have a chance at some live recording this autumn).
    #2 If those pieces you have composed were commisioned, then you also already know how to work with deadlines and how to deal with the egos involved in realizing a musical project.
    #3 coming from an concert background, you will know how to really develop ideas over a long stretch of time. This, in my view, is an invaluable skill. It's certainly something that is very challenging to myself at the moment (I tend to switch things up fairly quickly) and I think it would've been less of an issue if I had come from a concert background.

    There are of course some things you'll have to consider. First and foremost, you're likely going to have to give up some degree of ownership over your work. Not only in licensing terms (this can vary per project), but more in terms of having to now work together with a director. This is a whole different dynamic. Your music is adding to an existing work (the film) and while it would be great if it could stand on its own too, that's no longer the primary job of the music (nor is it easy). My point being: it's no longer just your piece. You're adding to a whole and at times this will mean having to compromise... unless you're Bernard Herrmann of course, who was rather well known for blatantly ignoring anything and everything the directors/executives said.

    Secondly, you might encounter some serious musical illiteracy along the road. A director might know all about pop music, but that doesn't mean they know anything at all about how film music works. The best way to counter this is to educate yourself in the ways of film making. How are scenes structured? How are shots composed? Familiarize yourself with the director's terminology and you'l earn their trust in return. Trust is hugely important, and not something you can take for granted here. Consider that most directors are basically bringing you their baby: their film that they slaved on for months, perhaps even years... and here you are telling them that their choice of temp music is wholly ineffective. If you don't have their trust first, why would they believe you? By the time they're coming to you for the music, they're probably groggy, tired, and just waiting for the project to please finally end so they can release already... not the most receptive state of mind, shall we say.

    However, if you can show them that you know how they composed a shot, and why they did so, and if you can tell why one scene logically follows from another, you will be much better equipped to make arguments in their language. It will help you better read the film too, which will help you write appropriate music for it. You don't have to go knee-deep into all the aspects of film making, just know the basics of shot composition, scene structure, some basic cinematography and lighting, etc. Just make sure you have some vocabulary in common.
  6. #6 Paul T McGraw, Mar 10, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
    @Kim Arnesen I like your music. I also admire your creations as a form of worship to our Creator. Sadly, the world of film here in the USA is not friendly to Christians. A few survive it without losing their faith, for example Chris Pratt comes to mind, but why take the risk? I am merely an amateur composer, with no interest in music for media, so my advice is not worth much of anything.

    There is a growing Christian film industry, perhaps you could specialize in working on Christian films? Anyway, good luck and God bless you.
    Kim Arnesen likes this.
  7. As Mike posted, it's not friendly to people who want to retain any degree of moral integrity in general. But isn't that precisely what's needed -- people willing to go against the grain? Ryan Amon is an outspoken Christian and did Elysium, Bloodborne, etc. It's a grueling industry from the looks of it, but perhaps moving to LA and completely immersing yourself in it may not be necessary if one wants to simply pick and choose. You may have to sell your soul to do it full time, but there's certainly room for picking and choosing, if Mike is any indication.

    The Christian film industry could certainly do with some serious refinement, and music is a good place to start (as well as acting, directing, production, philosophy/message, etc).

    PS -- I always find Scandinavians funny (along with a handful of other northern-Euro countries) -- politely apologizing for bad English while writing it more competently than most people I'm friends with.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  8. @Rohann van Rensburg your reply is very thoughtful and appreciated. Whether a few Christians could change Hollywood, or whether Hollywood would change them, is an interesting question. But I will avoid theology since this is a music forum.

    The Christian film industry is extremely uneven. For every really excellent film, like "Facing the Giants" there are 5 or 6 that just make a person cringe with embarrassment for the people who made the film. Still, I try to see any Christian film in which the topic even remotely interests me, and there are millions of others who do the same, in order to support the industry. "War Room" a Kendrick brothers film, grossed $74 million a few years ago, and cost only $3 million to make. Not bad for a Christian film. One thing I have noticed, none of the Christian films I have seen feature a truly great score. I'm not sure why. But there is a real need for outstanding composers in the Christian film industry.
  9. Historically, the Church has always been good to composers :)
    Kim Arnesen and Paul T McGraw like this.
  10. Good point! To artists in general, really -- I'm not sure any other organized group has employed and valued art/music in such a profound manner throughout the last thousand years.

    Great point Paul -- I shouldn't paint with such a broad stroke. There have unfortunately been a few films in recent years that fell prey to the "message over delivery" philosophy that came across more as low-production propaganda (in some ways) than a legitimate film, but that approach certainly isn't all of them. It can simply be upsetting to see bad films garnering attention, especially when the philosophy/message contained does little more than create caricatures. It's sort of like the average Christian contemporary radio being representative of the whole, while ignoring the works of people like Arvo Pärt.

    Massive digression though, sorry for the interruption!
  11. #11 Kim Arnesen, May 14, 2018
    Last edited: May 15, 2018
    I'm sorry for being here so late in the day. I was certain I had turned e-mail notifications on but apparently, I didn't. I've been too busy checking the forum the last months and I presumed there weren't more posts in this thread.

    Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I take the opportunity to listen to your Soundcloud tracks as I write this, and enjoying what I'm hearing!
    I agree with the advantages you mentioned. Regarding #1, you might say that the opposite is a disadvantage for me. Meaning the fact that I have so much to learn about using a DAW and samples, and that the requirements for professional audio are so high. With music for live performance you "only" have to know how it WILL sound, while in a DAW you have to make it sound like that, or as close as you can get. So, I'm still a bit scared thinking about that, but I learn every day now.

    You are so right about ownership over the work, or even having the final word about the music. Most of my works have been commissioned, but in concert music there are no conductors or commissioners telling you how it's supposed to sound. The only limitations are usually an approximate length and usually, the instrumentation, sometimes also the text if it's a vocal/choral piece, but I'm always the one with the final word on the choice of text. But I'm prepared to work differently when it comes to TV and film, at least I think and hope so, because I know I'm the servant of the director. I would need to count on one finger if I want to write whatever I please for TV.

    And yes, learning about filmmaking is a very good point, and something I definitely want to learn more about. Perhaps that, and the world of DAW/samples is the greatest challenges so far, and even if I live on commissions for what I do now, I don't take it for granted at all that I can just become a film composer because I want to.

    Do you think starting small is a good idea here, like commercials and trailers? Is that a step into this?
  12. #12 Kim Arnesen, May 14, 2018
    Last edited: May 15, 2018
    Hi Paul, thank you so much for the kind words and apologize to you too for the late response. I didn't know Christian films where a thing until now actually, as we don't have any of that here in Norway. At least not that I know of, and I guess this is not films that appear on Netflix, HBO and similar. I basically grew up in a cathedral singing in a boys choir and that's the main reason I've written so much for choir. Not all of it is sacred, but I think most of it is. If I ever get the luxury to choose film projects based on what I like, it would be more the quality of the story and the people working on it, and what kind of music they want, than a specific message or audience. Now I have to google Christian films to see what that's about :)
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  13. Haha, well we Scandinavians are so shy we sometimes have to apologize for even being alive. OK, exaggerating a little bit but...
  14. I think unfortunately "Christian films" tend to span a relatively wide range of quality, so some curated recommendations might be in order. Ditto re: quality of story and people working on it. The better films even in the Christian genre obviously tend to have this as priority.
  15. I'm Canadian so I very much understand.

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