Plenty of our colleagues take part in seminars, talks and panels to shed light on their careers. We’ve often found however that the true insights, and sometimes dirt, came out over a glass or three and a bite to eat. So we treated three veterans of the UK media composition scene, and two future stars, to talk through how they broke and are breaking into the heavily fortified fortress that is the music and film industry, and how you don’t always need an AAA-pass, but a friend ON THE INSIDE CAN HELP YOU GET PASt THE BOUNCERS ON THE DOOR.
We’d like to thank Daniel and Ty for giving us Spitfire composers so much of their valuable time and company. We also value the incredible insights that they have given us into breaking into the world of film, TV, computer games and other forms of applied music. Here’s a summary of the (very paraphrased) highlights.
- Don’t use early ‘bad’ experiences to colour your expectations of the business.
- Don’t use early ‘good’ experiences to form your expectations of the business.
- Until you break through - and by this we mean work for a major broadcaster or indeed earn a sum of money that enables you to not have to work elsewhere (even if it is just for that one month) - treat this time as valuable practice. When it hits, you’ll be amazed at how hard it is, and how quick you’ll need to be able to turn stuff around. If you’re not versed and match fit, you’ll cave under the pressure, so all those failed pitches? Good practice!
- Until you break through use this time to develop your own voice, and try to be as challenging as possible. You’ll draw on this later to set you aside from your peers.
- When you’re starting out take EVERYTHING. When you’re flavour of the month take EVERYTHING. When you’re flavour of the month assume it is just for that month and again… take EVERYTHING.
Flavour of the Month
- Once you get a seriously cool project or run of projects, an award or series of nominations… DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING. It will fuck with your seedling brand…but more importantly, make your IMDB page read like a portfolio of a madman/lady.
- No matter how hard a job is, and how much of a bastard they’re being towards you. FINISH THE JOB. It is not only directors who get you onboard, a producer or editor may approach you and say “listen, I suggested you for this job as I saw how much shit you put up with on that last cluster-fuck and how you still managed to deliver something that resembled music”.
- Biscuits for clients work. As does “don’t get a bus back, I’ll order you a car” (the word car being key as it implies its a vehicle you or your company will pay for even if it is just an Uber).
- The idea that you form a relationship with a single director and she or he will take you on a joint partnership toward Oscar and retirement glory is a naive understanding of the industry. Imagine instead a director as having an invite to an exclusive party; it’s not a plus one but he or she says they will get you in. Don’t blame the director for their lack of persuasive powers, nor indeed the vehemence of the bouncer on the door.
- Don’t be an artistic prima donna, especially towards yourself. Sometimes you will simply have to churn. By making your best work the absolute best it can be, this will help you tip the balance sheet to favour you, when having to churn out a bit of crap for a director who should (but doesn’t) know better.
- Don’t put anything in a demo that you don’t want to be broadcast / released. Often you won’t be at the dub, they’ll compare the demo versus the final master, and all that effort you’ve gone to replace that Rolling Stones sample you used for “illustrative effect” will be wiped away with a single ruinous “you know, I think I prefer the original”.
- Try and spot a smouldering ember before it becomes a bush fire. Pull your directors and producers off temp as early as possible. Especially if that temp is by the likes of Elgar or Debussy.
- Enjoy what you do, and if you’re not, look at the way you’re doing it. Understand that you’re lucky, you’re doing something that you love, and understand when you’re being lucky, being lucky doing something that you love! Save up the good memories to get you through the bad experiences and try and accept a midpoint between these two poles of ecstasy and agony as a good middle ground in which to shape your professional approach and personality. Once you’re centred you’ll be able to enjoy the most valued thing you can offer your client as an experienced head of department or “HOD”: your honest and balanced opinion.
- Something we failed to get on camera was brought up by Daniel as we packed up - no matter how much you have on, no matter how busy you are, or indeed where you are, always pick up the phone. Most people judge people’s inability to answer or return calls as a sign of being unreliable.
I think it’s also important to point out that everyone involved in this video provided a view; an experience that is a snapshot of the industry today and how they got there. Daniel started out making interesting dance music on four track cassette recorders, Ty won a singing completion, Christian was a pornographic film music composer when hardcore was still illegal in the UK. These doors of exploration have long since shut, but what faces you, the next generation of music makers, is a whole new corridor of openings that we probably won’t understand. So concentrate on what should be the end-game for us all, to sustain ourselves whilst doing something we love.
Thanks again to everyone involved in making this candid and intimate film. Apart from our amazing contributors and crew, we’d also like to thank the excellent Riding House Cafe for putting up with us, but more so providing us with such an excellent meal and succulent selection of wines. If you want to book a table, or indeed the private room we used, go here.