Life as an assistant

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by streetster, Mar 15, 2019.

  1. streetster

    streetster Member

    Aug 7, 2014
    I'm curious about several aspects of a film composer assistant.

    1. Do most assistants actually create music or are you more doing the mundane tasks the composer either doesn't want to do or hasn't the time e.g.. mockups, template creation etc?
    2. What jobs typically does the assistant do?
    3. Does it become a 'job' after a while or is it a dream come true?
    4. When do you know when to on your own?
    5. What salary range do assistants make?
    6. How do established composers typically advertise?
  2. chillbot

    chillbot Sock Muppet

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    This, of course!
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  3. ghostnote

    ghostnote Vincit qui se vincit.

    Nov 3, 2011
    Some advice:

    Don't get into an assistant position if:
    1. You're more talented than the composer you're working for. (To be honest, yes this one is debatable.)
    2. You have the feeling that there won't be anything that will bring your career further. And the most important point:
    3. Don't work for a maybe.

    I don't say that hard work will result in success, you might even have the right attitide which can make a huge difference, but simply trust to luck is something I wouldn't consider doing.
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  4. Aaron Sapp

    Aaron Sapp Senior Member

    Sep 26, 2004
    What's your end-goal? To eventually take on films yourself? If so, I hardly think an assistant position will get you there. Your job will most likely include grunt work and menial tasks. All of which is fine if it lead to better things, but how often do composers eventually reward their assistants with both reputable scoring jobs and the respective credit?

    If your goal is to write music for films, I reckon there are more expeditious avenues to achieve that. You could argue that an assistant position will give you all kinds of valuable experience, but really, you can learn all that stuff on your own.
    streetster likes this.
  5. patrick76

    patrick76 Senior Member

    Nov 23, 2014
    I think the value is you have someone that you can use as a reference when looking for real projects. That's how I look at it.
  6. Jimmy Hellfire

    Jimmy Hellfire Senior Member

    Jun 28, 2015
    Man, it's quite weird to see "assistant" and "dream come true" in the same sentence.
  7. Jdiggity1

    Jdiggity1 Stroking The Frog

    Jan 31, 2012
    La La Land
    I can't speak so much for the "film composer" assistants, but I would remind anybody looking at the prospect of becoming a composer's assistant that television composers exist too, many of whom also need assistance.
    Each situation will be unique in its own way too, but I'm happy to share my individual experience.

    1. Yes, and yes. I "create music" in a way that assists my boss (the composer). I'm not here to get my name on anything. I'm here to help him do his job as best he can, as easily as possible. As one example, I might have a particular strength or skillset, such as (hypothetically) orchestral mockups. So it's common to be given a track that is 80% fleshed out and asked to add some lush strings, fill out an orchestration, or whatever. I may not be writing a full piece, but adding an original string arrangement is still 'creating music' in my book. Other times it might be creating percussion grooves, drones, FX and risers, or simply to fill in the holes however i see fit.
    As for the 'mundane' tasks, well yeah. That's pretty much why you're there. But if they are tasks that actually feel "mundane" to you, you're in the wrong job. Thankfully, I happen to love the techie stuff that either bores or irritates most others. So I'm always having a good time.

    2. You do whatever you can to keep the business running smoothly and like a well oiled machine.
    Firstly, this should involve learning the studio, and the equipment in it. Have all manuals handy.
    Other tasks might include: notating charts, preparing recording sessions, vacuuming, stocking the fridge, running recording sessions, re-installing windows and all the necessary software on a slave machine, re-authorizing best service libraries for the 9th time, running backups, installing new libraries and plugins, learning new libraries and plugins, teaching boss how to use said libraries and plugins, tweaking libraries under the hood for various reasons, troubleshooting crashes, VEP timeouts, and other software oddities, audio/music editing, sampling frog guiros, creating and maintaining spreadsheets, filling out cue sheets, mockups, gHoStWrItInG, charging the walkie-talkies, selling gear, buying gear, replacing dodgy graphics card, setting up networks, remote access, organize piano tuner to come in, organize another piano tuner to fix what the first one did, chop up and organize old recordings, hide and/or find hidden easter eggs, scout for talent, install new security cameras, update imdb profile, come up with track names, prepare 'travel bag' for when boss goes away, ... ummm....

    3. Of course it's a job. Which is why you need to be a right fit for it. I've had mine for almost a year now, and it's no less enjoyable than it was when I started. Is it my ultimate end goal? no.

    4. Guess I'll wait and see. Of course, you still need to do your 'own' work when and where you can. Eventually you won't be needed anymore as the assistant, and it'll be up to you to have the next step lined up.

    5. I believe I am paid on the generous side of fair for what I do. With the additional work I do on the side (sample editing, freelance work..) It's enough for my wife and I to survive in our 1-br apartment, in a nice enough area. Note that I am not working the 'crazy schedules' you hear others talk about. Perhaps one day I will be worthy of the #composerlife hashtag...

    6. I don't know. But I'd assume that they don't need to. I got my job, funnily enough, through vi-control. Somehow I was able to demonstrate i was capable for the job via online interactions.
    We live in crazy times. This is definitely not the norm.
    I imagine the majority of composers who need an assistant already have one to some capacity. When they need another one they'll either ask around - composer friends, ask their current assistant if they know anybody, etc - or they'd already have a shortlist built up from the dozens of applications they received over the last 12 months.

    Hopefully, somebody will chime in that you actually want to hear from. :emoji_grin:
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  8. kmaster

    kmaster Now in LA: let's get coffee!

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  9. ghostnote

    ghostnote Vincit qui se vincit.

    Nov 3, 2011
    Sad is the word I'd describe it.

    When I was around twenty years old I dreamed of beeing a composer, starting out as an assistant at RC or at another spot. I learned during those couple of years that that's not the way to get the right projects (Maybe if your at RC and can write like all the the others), but that still won't guarantee you a place in the business.

    What counts is personal interaction and attitude.
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  10. chillbot

    chillbot Sock Muppet

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    As a "maybe", this rubs me the wrong way a bit. I can see your point, but I would also point out a couple of things.

    1) Yes assistants often are smarter or more talented than their employers. That's actually a very good quality to have in an assistant.

    2) FEELING like you are smarter or more talented than your employer is a bad quality to have. Especially letting it be known you feel that way. Fired. If you are that smart, don't be an assistant go do your thing whatever that thing is.

    3) The important thing is none of that matters, what matters is who has the work. The work is everything. If you have the work then you don't need to be an assistant to someone who has the work. If you don't have the work then what else are you going to do. Doesn't matter how smart or talented you are if you don't have the work. If a dummy has the work go work for the dummy, make the contacts and connections, prove you can do the work, get the work.

    4) Ultimately being an assistant is the best way to get the work if you don't have your own connections. Every assistant that I know (including myself) who has 'succeeded' in their job, the success has come from eventually getting your own work through the connections and experience you get from being an assistant.

    Lastly to your point, yes if your goal is not to work in reality television then you probably shouldn't get a job working for a reality television composer. Because that's basically all that person has to offer in terms of work.

    (However, it's possible that that reality television composer is really trying hard to branch out, maybe as an assistant you can help them with that as well. OK getting too personal, nothing to see here folks.)

    Oh and should also point out, loyalty and honesty are the keys to everything. It's incredible how far they will go in this industry. People remember, and people take note, and everyone knows everyone now, word gets around. So all that stuff about getting the work, just make sure you're not using the job as a stepping stone always looking for the next great thing or worse, backstabbing. Probably goes without saying.
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  11. studiostuff

    studiostuff Active Member

    Dec 15, 2015
    I read the "don't work for a maybe" comment in a different way. I could be wrong.

    What if "maybe" doesn't refer to the provider of work...? Rather... it refers to the conditions of employment.

    "If you're a hard worker, and your coffee keeps me awake, MAYBE I'll let you ghost a cue or two. Did you get my cleaning yet...?"

    In this use, "don't work for a maybe" sounds about right to me. AND the employer is probably a "maybe" too.
  12. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    It's not like the working conditions are so hot if you are the main guy either. I work night and day -- often 16-18 hours, just like the rest of us. For months on end, it can be 20 hours a day.

    Music is hard, and deadlines are hard. It's just a rough business.
  13. studiostuff

    studiostuff Active Member

    Dec 15, 2015
    We need a new thread or two:

    Show us your studio futon.


    Show us the slot where they push the food under the door to your studio.

    Exactly like Steve McQueen in Papillon... "How do I look?"
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  14. Alex Fraser

    Alex Fraser Senior Member

    Jun 21, 2017
    (Quits Logic, notices clock says 3am.)
    I have no idea what you're talking about. ;)
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  15. chillbot

    chillbot Sock Muppet

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    Sound like you need a good assistant.
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  16. chillbot

    chillbot Sock Muppet

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    I want to add, as I've been thinking about it.

    5) There's an intangible which has nothing to do with 'learning' from a composer, as an assistant. Which is, just being paid to be around music/studio/gear all day for many days on end. Keeping on top of the latest gear/samples. Problem solving as problems come up. Finding ways to make things happen. Talking "producer"-speak about music. Real world applications. This may sound like it falls under learning/experience and it probably is, but what I mean is just being able to immerse yourself into an environment where everything revolves around music. Even if you're just taking out the trash you are still a piece of the machine that the ultimate goal is outputting music in some fashion. I call it an "intangible" because it's not learning specific music or theory or production (though yes, those too, hopefully) but just having a job where you spend 8 hours a day working in and around music, it adds up, significantly. I guess I didn't realize this at the time I was an assistant, but many years later I realize how much I picked up just being exposed to this world on a daily basis. AND, you can get paid for it too.
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  17. Daryl

    Daryl Senior Member

    Mar 25, 2006
    I think that when you decide to become an assistant, you have to be clear why you are doing it.

    1. Is it because that's really what you want to do
    2. Is it because you want to get industry experience
    3. Is it because you think it's a quick route to get some writing in the industry
    4. Is it because it is, at least, a day job that is connected to the industry, rather than just working in a call centre to pay the bills.

    Once you know why you want it, you must be very clear to your prospective employer. That way there are no surprises either way. Some composers are happy to open doors. Some are not. You need to go in with your eyes open.

    Having said that, there is so much to learn, having an assistant job that leads nowhere for 2-3 years can be a good thing, as long as you are learning valuable skills. For example, if your Pro Tools skills and editing, conforming, etc. become top notch, there is a whole world of Music Editing out there to consider, as well as composing.

    In terms of advertising, this always used to be mostly by word of mouth. However, these days, quite often, you'll see adverts placed at colleges, or even on boards such as this one.
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