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Spreading your risk

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by robharvey, Jan 12, 2018.

  1. robharvey

    robharvey Senior Member

    Apr 22, 2016

    I've always lived by the mottos "Spread your risk" and "Make your own luck".

    The latter is basically the former when it comes to making a living through music in my opinion. Pretty much every composer I know doesn't compose full time unless they've put in a lot of work in years past.

    Personally I teach musical instruments and work as an engineer in a busy studio that does kids parties. The kids parties are basically glorified karaoke. It's definitely a laugh!

    Do you or how do you spread your risk when making a living in this industry?
  2. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires Senior Member

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    Why would you want to “spread the risk”? Is it even necessary to take risks?
  3. Jaap

    Jaap Best audience ever...booh!

    Find a good balance in things that keep you motivated to keep growing and staying creative. I work full time but spreaded things in my own way to keep me going. I do work as library composer and publiser (since recenty as you know!) and sound designer, but also doing a lot of classical compositions and commisioned work. Just finished last year a 70 minute music theater work which was commisioned and all these completely different things fit my mindset and keep me motivated.
    You know yourself the best and try to find that balance in the things your good at and keep you going and also provide you with the income needed :)
  4. OP

    robharvey Senior Member

    Apr 22, 2016
    The risk lies in one day work drying up, or the company your work for might not have their licence renewed etc. How have you structured your work to keep this eventuality from having a large impact?
  5. OP

    robharvey Senior Member

    Apr 22, 2016
    I didn't know you did musical theatre too. That's awesome!

    Balance is important. I've been listening to ex special forces talk about how they got through their intense training recently, and the thing that they all say is actively pursue rest when it's down time. I think high level composers have the same mindset.
  6. mc_deli

    mc_deli n trepreneur

    Feb 22, 2015
    I'm risk averse. So, I don't risk failing at making music.

    Spread hummus, not risk.
    Make gabba, not luck.
    CorgiKing likes this.
  7. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires Senior Member

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    Of course not!

    I just make this music and shop it around.
  8. Greg

    Greg Senior Member

    Mar 16, 2012
    Los Angeles
    I try to walk the line of writing orchestral concept albums that also double as library music. Most of my work is published by a trailer library but I also release the same album to my fans and promote it as much as possible myself. I got lucky and found a publisher that's willing to let me do that and keep the royalties. It's great being able to release the music and get feedback without having to wonder if it will ever get a placement in a trailer.
    Saxer and dannymc like this.
  9. MPortmann

    MPortmann Senior Member

    I have been 'all in' from a young age. Never had a plan B. Foolishly or not, I believed all my teachers and professionals I was lucky enough to have worked with or met along my journey. Never looked back once, no regrets, go for it, and learn to live with never knowing where the next check or gig would come from. Not for everyone, I know that. As long as I made progress and improvements in my skills, I would continue. I can only sleep well at night knowing I gave my all in whatever the pursuit. I saw this in all of my music mentors and apprenticeships. And it was never about the money when I saw them working. I saw many falling asleep on their keyboard or mixing console at 3am trying to get the take 'just right'. So how could I quit or go home or get tired if they were still there? I'm sure I sacrificed many things along the way being completely and at times obsessively dedicated to music. Working on having more balance in my life today! Whether full time, part time or hobbyist, I feel we are all blessed to have any part of learning, creating, collaborating and being fascinated with this endless pursuit of the magic of music.

    I continue to learn, discover and be inspired from this vi-control community. It's such a unique and great resource for composers!
  10. wst3

    wst3 my office these days

    Apr 2, 2010
    Pottstown, PA
    I kind of fell into the idea of spreading the risk about 30 years ago. I worked full time as a telecommunications system engineer. I would have been perfectly happy with that career, except of course for the part about music<G>. Immediately upon graduation I not only took on a full time job, but I started a business doing studio maintenance for recording studios and broadcasters. It was a good business, and I was months away from making it my sole means of feeding myself.

    Except I wasn't, and I had already started to spread the risk, but rather unknowingly. How naive!

    In addition to studio maintenance I had already branched out into studio design. And all the while I taught guitar, took occasional gigs as a guitarist, and did lighting and sound design for local theatres. I also wrote for a couple magazines, and even tackled a couple product design projects. For me, in my early 20s and single, it was really a lot of fun. But it was the studio maintenance that was going to pay the bills. And even that wasn't enough, I was slowly building my own studio with the goal of helping new artists make their first demo tapes (yeah, tapes!), and eventually reaching the point that I could start producing my own music. Music for advertising was still very much alive, and I had lots of contacts through my broadcast engineering projects. Composition and sound design was always the end game, even if I don't think I fully appreciated it yet.

    Anyway, I thought this was a great plan! Even my bank thought it was a low risk plan. Lots of avenues for revenue, some big, some not-so-big, yet. Yup, seemed like a pretty good plan.

    And then the ADAT and the Mackie 1604 hit the market. Suddenly, and I mean darned near overnight, studios were ditching their large format consoles and large format tape decks, and cutting their rates. No one wanted to be the last to reduce their rate cards.

    At first I landed some larger projects decommissioning old gear and sometimes installing the new gear, but even I recognized that the studio maintenance business was about to roll over and be dead. When studios were charging $200/hour for studio time they thought nothing of paying $100/hour for maintenance, and they knew they needed the maintenance. What none of us recognized is that the whole free-lance maintenance guy thing was the result of the studios no longer being able to afford a full time maintenance staff. The bigger studios kept a couple technicians on the payroll, but used free-lancers to cover the gaps. The smaller studios depended on free-lancers.

    But I recognized that this revenue stream was going to disappear, and disappear soon, and lucky for me I figured this out before I spent $10K on a fancy new test set. The loan was already approved, all I had to do was make a call, but somehow I figured out that it was not going to pay for itself, and pulled the plug.

    Studio maintenance represented well more than half my income, and studio design was a big chunk too. I did not quit my day job<G>!

    In fact I was pretty disillusioned but the changes, and spent the next several years focusing on the "real" job. I still taught, and I still took on the occasional theatre project, but that was it. Music for advertising dried up almost as quickly as the studio business itself. I still don't understand the correlation completely, and it could even be a coincidence, but local advertisers just didn't want custom music anymore, further fueling my loss of interest.

    Eventually, I realized I had all this gear, so why not build myself a studio anyway, it was time, not money, and I could have fun making recordings even if it was just for me. So I did.

    I became fascinated with the idea of slaving a computer (sending MIDI to synthesizers) to a tape deck. It worked! Who knew?

    Of course the music production tools marketplace was heating up, with amazing advances arriving several times a year. You could ditch the tape deck entirely. Then you could start ditching the outboard gear. And the console. None of this was terribly beneficial for the larger studios, $500K consoles were not easy to sell, but everyone else was building these personal project studios. I wasn't quite ready to ditch anything, but I was having fun rebuilding my studio. And whattaya know, that was a service I could offer. It wasn't ever going to be as lucrative as studio maintenance had once been, but it was income, and I could fit the projects into my day without upsetting the apple cart.

    And as my studio grew in capabilities I started bringing in work again. It was mostly demo projects (couldn't call them tapes any longer), and it was a LOT of fun. And again, I could fit it into my schedule.

    I even started writing again! Although I was pretty gunshy at this point, and didn't think seriously about writing as a source of income.

    Which is unfortunate I guess, I probably could have entered the library music space early and maybe set myself up, but I'm not a big fan of regrets, so that's just the way it worked out.

    And then I (finally) got married, and we started a family. A steady paycheck was suddenly very attractive! So all of this ended up on the back burner for a while.

    My wife was very supportive of my musical endeavors, and even thought that a business doing a little bit of a lot of things could ultimately be successful - at least as successful as we needed it to be. She was very smart about business. And she loved music. She encouraged me to write scores for a few theatrical productions at one of our community theatres. They worked out pretty well, the first two were even played live during the runs. And she encouraged me to explore these sample libraries a bit more, I think she understood where they were headed before I did.

    Four years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two months ago she died. (I think I reported that here already, if not I apologize, it's been a strange couple of months.)

    Needless to say the last four years were difficult, and any efforts outside the day job, and caring for Judi fell by the wayside. I needed to stay focused.

    Which didn't happen completely! Three years ago she decided she wanted to try acting. She auditioned for a show, she was cast, and I ended up writing the music for the show. It was fun!

    But as I think about it, that's really the only big project I tackled since the diagnosis. I never even noticed. That's odd.

    Even stranger, the side business still exists. I have a couple on-going projects which I've been able to hang onto, and I am starting to look for other opportunities. I need to be careful, of course, and not over-extend myself. But hey!

    All this (and that turned out to be quite a bit) to say that I think anyone that wants to work in media or the arts is wise to spread the risk - maybe not at first, but it has to be on your radar.

    It is fine, probably preferable, to start out with a laser focus. There is no faster way to succeed then to throw all in. Plan B can be a distraction. No plan B can be disastrous. Wish I Id the key to that puzzle!

    If you are fortunate enough to make it to the A-list you'll have to keep that focus. You'll simply have to stay on top of your game. Not a bad thing at all.

    But in between you need to keep your wits about you. You may need alternate sources of income just to survive. You have to survive to write.

    Some will be able to compose for different marketplaces, and that will be enough.

    Some will need to teach, or do other related tasks, and that's cool too.

    Some will need to hold on to their day jobs. If you enjoy the day job the only downside is that this will slow your progress as a composer. But even that isn't all bad. And being able to support yourself, regardless of how you do so (assuming it's all legal and ethical<G>) is still a noble cause.
    hawpri, Alex Fraser, JJP and 3 others like this.
  11. JJP

    JJP I put dots and lines on paper.

    Apr 29, 2008
    Los Angeles
    I do a combination of orchestrating/arranging, transcribing music, music copyist and librarian work, and a bit of music contracting (hiring and booking musicians, studios and personnel for recordings).

    I started out as a performing musician, so I never felt I had to be a composer to be happy. I merely saw myself as a musician. Over time the other work led in unexpected directions and became the bulk of my income. I found myself assisting Howard Shore with orchestrating the Lord of the Rings films, arranging and proofreading music for years on Dancing With the Stars, over a decade of transcribing music for Disney's biggest features and television, and this year my wife and I will be supervising music preparation and working as music librarians in the orchestra pit for our fourth time at the Oscars.

    I could be seen as a failed composer and performer whose side work overtook his career. Composing and performing are only occasional opportunities for me now. On the other hand, I've had the opportunity for musical experiences I never imagined or even knew I would enjoy.

    Spread the risk? Indeed! At the same time be open to the other possisbilites your skills may present. We often focus too narrowly on what our careers "should" be and miss what they can be.
  12. dannymc

    dannymc Senior Member

    Jan 10, 2015
    this does not sound like failure to me.

    NoamL likes this.
  13. AllanH

    AllanH Senior Member

    Oct 11, 2015
    Central Coast California
    It makes complete sense to diversify. It's just impossible to know which project/activity will yield a good return and which will not. Someone even got a Nobel prize in economics for figuring this out (so it must be common knowledge):
    SillyMidOn likes this.
  14. Saxer

    Saxer Senior Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    All music but different jobs. Live musician in different bands (musicians pool) from big band to dixie or dance music duo. Arranger for band or orchestra projects (jazz/pop). Collaborations (co-composer) with other musicians working on films, TV, commercial spots, audio dramas. A children song project with a singer. Lot of playbacks for live performing vocalists. Additional strings or pop brass tracks for songs. Most of my clients are musicians.
    SillyMidOn likes this.
  15. Daryl

    Daryl Senior Member

    Mar 25, 2006
    I don't see it as speading risk; more as making myself employable. At times I have earned my living as a teacher, Violinist, Pianist, Orchestrator and Arranger, Composer and now production company owner. I can return to any of the above, should my current work dry up.
    SillyMidOn and Saxer like this.
  16. SillyMidOn

    SillyMidOn Senior Member

    Nov 5, 2013
    When you start out you pretty much HAVE to say yes to anything that comes along, be enthusiastic, reliable and positive so that you get asked back. I've made money from performing, transcription, sheet music arrangements, as accompanist for grade exams (I hated that, all those nervous students....), orchestration, teaching, lecturing, set up a publishing company as well which I eventually sold, and over the years somehow it all crystallised down to just composing these days, so all the other jobs just faded away.
  17. fixxer49

    fixxer49 Bouncing Consultant

    Jan 13, 2013
    New York, NY
  18. My "regular" career is totally non-musical...I'm a Power Engineer, and have been since I stopped touring as a drummer 20+ years ago. However, I always pursued music as a secondary career. You are right, there are definitely highs and lows in the industry, and no guaranteed work. I do earn a second income from music, and it is very, very fulfilling. Not only do I composer music for national live theater, film and television, but I also still drum professionally. I doubt the music will ever pay what I'm earning now, but I have no complaints or regrets.
  19. MatFluor

    MatFluor Senior Member

    Jan 11, 2017
    I currently am working 80% as scientific researcher at a university (non-music related) and saving up cash to go fulltime.

    I don't have much to say here, I only have plans. I plan to give guitar lessons and take other side-jobs that come along. My Goal is to live off music alone later on, fortunately a wife that supports me throughout (as long as I can generate some income).

    I am fully ok with having a dayjob, but it's hard to find dayjobs that are low percentage and homeoffice - giving me time to work for music. I am just starting out, but I have planned out a lot. I am in one exclusive library, but honestly, library music making is not what I want to do (or rather, I have severe problems composing for such things, since I have nothing to make the music for). I have made music for 16 years, never without a goal, be it live gigs or selling CDs, so my music should have a purpose ;)

    As said, currently 80% dayjob, learning composing/orchestrating properly, forging plans for the future and saving a financial bed to live off of in the starting 2-3 years of fulltime. Switzerland isn't the most music-friendly country. I personally started a VLog to document my journey, from practically 0 to hopefully "hero", maybe if that VLog is something people like, I will open a patreon to get some side-income. But who knows.
  20. FriFlo

    FriFlo Senior Member

    Jun 13, 2011
    Looking at how most music is done today (in TV) and what is expected from it I tend to think most composer jobs will vanish in the coming years (a trend that already started years ago). The only ones that will stay are:
    1) Projects/Media white a deep artistically mind that requires a highly individual composer.
    2) Projects where money is of no concern. :)
    3) Composing library tracks or feeding elements for AI apps that will combine those elements based on parameters entered by a editor or other non-musician working on the project.

    There will be a lot of jobs left, but I am very convinced the number of jobs will decrease the better software and AI will become. However, this will not only decimate composer jobs, but almost all segments of work! I see something like a basic unconditional income at some point in the future (which might be close in developed countries) as something without alternative, if we want to continue to live in a peaceful (well, kind of ...) society. I won’t plan my future on that idea, yet, as it might take longer, but I think it will come within my live time.
    Based on that, my primary concern besides earning some money today is trying to grow artistically as much as possible (not easy in the world of film and media!). To spread the risk a little, I do also teach.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018

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