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Transitioning to Composing Full-time . What has been your experience?

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by rconn, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. rconn

    rconn Active Member

    Sep 28, 2017
    As I am embarking on transitioning to composing/music as a full-time career, I have a couple questions for those of you currently doing it.
    1. What was your experience like and how long did it take to transition?
    2. Has location been a factor to your success or setbacks?
    3. What were some pitfalls, that had you know ahead of time, would have changed the way you did things?
    4. What genre's or niche has been your most consistent income generator? (ie. commercials, indie movies, documentaries)
    Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.
  2. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    I'm a nobody, but

    1) I got lucky almost right off, and part of it was due to my Rock background. After I scored several collegiate/very independent films the right person (a well known Rock producer who had worked on the engineering of a few film and concert scores) heard my music.
    2) It became less and less a factor as technology triumphed on...
    3) Don't trust anybody. Get a lawyer as soon as you decide to go full on pro. Don't even hesitate on this, and don't cry because you don't want to spend the money. You'll save so much later.
    4) Independent film scores, trailers for lower level films...though I haven't scored anything beyond very small un-notable stuff (and not even a whole lot of that, to be honest), it adds up. But I also get commissioned for my concert music (and rock CD reissues), and the latter two have by far made me the most money.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
    rconn likes this.
  3. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    The way to make a living keeps evolving, sometimes discontinuously (abruptly, in other words). What worked 10 years ago or even 5 no longer is reliable.

    I think the watchword is to keep your eyes and ears open, and keep being a good human being. People may appear not to care about that in entertainment, but in fact being a good fellow gives you the chance to build relationships with people over the long haul. And it does the soul good.

    So, volunteer to feed homeless, or treat your spouse right, be patient with those who are not as sharp or gifted, tutor someone struggling. All these things are good for you and good for others, and -- they give you something to talk about in a meeting OTHER than music. Nobody really seems to like to talk about music (meaning producers / directors / even music supervisors). It actually seems to make people uncomfortable. But anecdotes about a human experience -- a smile, a quirky person, someone with a story, something that happened while you were helping with some synagogue / mosque / church outreach programme (don't have to mention religion or even be religious to do those things) makes for a human interaction that could be a lot more memorable, and it is just a good thing to do anyway.

    Also, it helps if your music is excellent.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  4. OP

    rconn Active Member

    Sep 28, 2017
    Do you think that your location (California) has helped at all? I would imagine the interactions you talk about may go further in an area where you are more likely to run into producers/directors/music supervisors.
  5. Kyle Preston

    Kyle Preston I accidentally do things on purpose

    Aug 11, 2016
    Seattle, WA
    Composing generates ~ 70ish% of my income. Take this with a grain of salt:
    1. My transition was terrifying, but motivating. Not having the safety net of a steady (soulless) day job puts the fear of god in me every morning. How long did it take? I’ve been writing music since I was 5 but only recently started allowing myself to believe one could make a living as a composer around 3 years ago. Like Parsifal, I too was very lucky right away (something I’m told over and over again is rare in our field).
    2. Technology (specifically the internetz) has made location less important. Nearly every gig I’ve earned came from a well-crafted email AND being the right person (and knowing I was the right person) for the job. I’m sure there are things I’m not privy to here in Seattle that LA composers have access to, but this is a hard thing to quantify. I’d encourage you to figure out what YOU want first, then think about moving, preferably somewhere you can meet other composers.
    3. Successful composers tend to recommend their own path as one that works. Which was true for them, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you or your specific set of circumstances. And I’ll echo Parsifal’s third answer above, though I don’t think you should distrust everyone (just the people in LA :sneaky:). But I do have a jaded view of the music industry and people in it. I’ve spent too much time around shady-douche managers and scumbag A&R people that I’m always in fight or flight mode with business stuff, which isn’t healthy and not something I encourage others to adopt. The important thing is that you know who you are and what you want, it makes those pitfalls easier to avoid. Also, while I’m here in the number 3 section, try not to let your convictions (or your musical tastes) become too hardened. It took more time than necessary to find (what are now obvious) streams of income because I was such an asshole about how I thought the industry should be instead of how it actually is.
    4. Vidya games and music licensing have been good to me. Where you flourish will depend on your style of music.
    But more importantly, be nice to people and take care of each other. Especially online where it’s easy to stay anonymous. You’re not talking to digital avatars, you’re talking to human beings.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
    InLight-Tone, jiffybox, JohnG and 2 others like this.
  6. chillbot

    chillbot Forum Bot

    Feb 6, 2014
    La Canada Flintridge, CA
    There have been at least a dozen threads in the past four or five years about the pros/cons of moving to LA. You could search a bit, might help. I know this comes off as being abrupt but I am actually trying to help, just don't want to keep retyping the same jibber jabber over and over. Here is the most recent one:


    EDIT: Oh and I remember there were some other "should I move to LA?" threads that both Charlie Clouser and HZ had responded to. Worth searching for. I think it was "LA or bust".
    Jaap likes this.
  7. TheKRock

    TheKRock Senior Member

    Apr 19, 2017
    This is 100% correct...the entertainment biz (especially film) runs on relationships - people want to work with people they know and like and will most always choose people (composers in this case) they know and/or have worked with before and are good people in general (good to work with as well obv). Be awesome to people you get to compose for because they will recommend you to others and they'll tell 2 friends and they'll tell 2 friends and so on and so on...
  8. Dr Belasco

    Dr Belasco Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2018
    Any kind of relocation requires extreme reconnoitres of local golf courses before any decision can be made.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
    chillbot likes this.
  9. Daryl

    Daryl Senior Member

    Mar 25, 2006
    As you mention "composing/music" as your aim, what skills do you have? If you're employable, relocating or giving up the day job is no big deal. If you have very few skills, then it is a big deal. You need to know which category you reside within...!
    Jaap likes this.
  10. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    Of course if you are in London, NYC, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris -- any large or capital of culture in a country -- you are more likely to run into a producer or director.

    But here's the thing -- is your musical craft ready?

    If you somehow meet Red Hot Producer at the market and he is willing to listen to an MP3 (two big 'ifs'), will he groan and think, "another one?"

    It is a very good idea to be ready if you do get in the door. How? Maybe work your way through student projects, charity projects, annoyingly low paying projects first. Why? Because they always teach you something about dealing with others, trying to interpret what they mean if they like or don't like what you've done. Or play in a band, live -- in front of an audience. It is fun, can pay, gives you experience at what people respond to ("turn it up, man!") and reminds you that, as great as they are / were, Bartok or Hindemith are not happening right now. Hopefully you are.

    Los Angeles is packed with would-be everythings. People call it the City of Second Chances, but remember, it's packed with chancers -- people who are faking and misrepresenting their past and their abilities. Consequently, though people are reasonably courteous in Los Angeles, they are very wary. Hence @chillbot 's comment that it's all about relationships, personal referrals. It is enormously hard to get someone to open the door to a new person. After all, the Red Hot Producer already knows one or two (or ten) composers, and he's not really desperate for another composer. He might be willing to talk to you if he meets you playing ultimate frisbee, or at a soup kitchen where you're helping someone out.

    In my entire career I was hired only one time straight off a demo. Every other time they want to get to know you, or obtain reassurance from another friend.

    On a personal level, as important as music is to all of us, your relationship with your spouse, your friends, your children and all that are far more important. Plenty of people come to Los Angeles and forget what matters to them. Considering the likelihood of it panning out the way you picture -- low -- don't neglect that side of life. And Los Angeles is wicked expensive.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  11. Symfoniq

    Symfoniq Senior Member

    May 8, 2013
    Good stuff.
  12. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    I don't mean to bang on but two other mistakes I made initially:

    1. Your music has to sound great, not "considering that..." great. What I mean is, it can't be great "considering it's a student orchestra," or "if I only had the entire Spitfire library / best guitarist in town playing." It needs to sound great as in one of your favourite pieces on TV / the movies. Don't put mediocre stuff up on the internet or send it to producers. They will just ignore you forever after.

    2. Don't chase an agent. Agents represent people who need someone to handle their deals, not someone who doesn't have any jobs. It's not like the literary agency or acting agency side of things. Unless you have something they can sell (like you're a former Spice Girl or something) they won't take you when you're just starting.

    I wasted a lot of time on that initially.
  13. gsilbers

    gsilbers Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com

    this is something i found interesting culturally when i came to LA. I lived in boston and NYC and then relocated to LA and onething i found odd was that poeple just didnt trust anyone could do something unless it was refered by a friend or had a big name attach to it. in NYC i found poeple automaticlally assume you knew your stuff since you where in a studio and that kind of vibe. so it felt i needed to sell myself more in LA, which is wierd to me. but slowly realize that in the places where i worked and friends of friends etc etc , that a lot of poelpe didnt have the level needed to do production and post stuff and just moved in from minesota or seattle etc to see if they could make it cuz they loved movies.
    i kept meeting actors and producers to later found out they worked a day job in another field and they didnt have any credits or only student film credits... but at the party i totally thought they were legit and that they worked in the biz. i would make a connection and be nice and if they need anything i would help and colaborate cuz you never know and if they are cool then better... but thats not the point... its that there are so many poeple waiting to be discovered that
    its hard to tell if they can do that specific thing. or in other workds faking it until making it. which is why major studios only will hire a composer who has done a similar budget movie... catch 22 of course but thats how they roll just in case they get a noobie friend of a producers and fails to deliver.

    nothing releated to this thread.. just found it interesting culturally.
    JohnG likes this.
  14. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

    Sep 7, 2015
    E. YeeHaw, Indiana
    I also lucked out by having both a lady (s.o.) and a family member who supported me in every way imaginable. Having a strong back up system, including someone who isn't related to you, can help a lot.

    But John has a point, things have probably changed a lot since I started out.
    JohnG likes this.
  15. StevenMcDonald

    StevenMcDonald stevenmcdonaldmusic.com

    Jul 27, 2012
    I'm very new to the full time thing but I seem to be afloat still, so I'll share a bit

    1. I got lucky but was able to capitalize on it. Someone who works for a small TV music library found my stuff on youtube and invited me to contribute to their library and custom music requests. After a year of writing while holding a full time job I went down to part time, then did that for 2 years before dropping the day job all together.

    2. Since everything I do is through libraries location hasn't been important. But it has helped that I live in a low cost area so my cost of living is manageable.

    3. I would have focused on getting better at production sooner. Now that I consider myself good at mixing I've been able to get in with more publishers.

    4. Reality TV, because that's all I did for 2 years. But I've been adding Trailer and Advertising to my regular TV work as I've been devoting more time to music.
    jonathanparham likes this.
  16. AllanH

    AllanH Senior Member

    Oct 11, 2015
    Central Coast California
    Here are few "pitfalls" to factor into your decisions:
    1) make sure you have insurances for health and liability in place before you go solo. Healthcare is especially difficult to buy when you need it.
    2) it's worth recognizing that you'll be composer, paralegal, custodian, accountant, and salesperson all at the same time. I suggest organizing your day so the "other duties" don't interfere with the creative process.
    3) make sure you have sufficient funding for the first 'n' months providing zero income. Last time I went solo (different business), I gave myself 6 months to make observable progress and a year to be net profitable.

    If you have a significant other, make sure to plan this together. Spousal/BF/GF support is invaluable.

    Best of luck.
    chillbot likes this.
  17. There are two huge factors to consider IMHO...

    1) What type of income do you consider "full time"? If want to earn $100K per year, you are going to be hugely disappointed unless you have golden horse shoes up your butt.

    2) Even if you are doing well with music right now, how long can you sustain the full time career without plunging into a financial nightmare? Work is scarce, and not guaranteed.

    And to reiterate what AllanH mentioned, you are left on your own for any type of benefits...if you get sick or injured (and don't have insurance), you are hooped big time.
    Desire Inspires likes this.
  18. scoredfilms

    scoredfilms Beethoven Wanna-be

    Mar 10, 2016
    I'm a nobody no one's heard of yet. Some things I've learned:

    1. Take the harder road every time.
    2. Don't do what everyone else is doing.
    3. Get used to being dead broke.
    4. If you're married and have kids, get used to no one else outside your immediate family believing in you.

    I went full time 2 years ago, from odd jobs with a post house I have a good relationship with. Then I had a nagging feeling I couldn't ignore that I had to focus on my writing and writing how I wanted to write (and discovering what that is even). So I stopped taking TV spots, stopped buying samples, started trying to compete (in my own mind) with JW and HZ's writing. And since then I've gone dark. My wife is the only real breadwinner right now (something my ego suffers from) and I'm working on a road-map I made and have done well to stick to. As soon as my next 2 big items are done I'll be looking for film work or shooting my own film if I have to. I don't live in L.A. and never will. And despite what others think, will I succeed? Absolutely. If you believe it's possible, and believe enough to bother looking for a way and working on it non-stop, you'll find it. Most people I've ever met (even great people, mind you) neither believe enough to try nor work very hard if they do. It's probably human nature to take the easiest road we see by default: self doubt, being lazy, etc, etc.

    I believe the real question is whether there is anything that will stop you. For me, there is nothing. So the only real advice I'm trying to give, from my perch of yet-success, is to determine yourself— completely.

    -Sean (a guy on the move)
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
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  19. That!

    However, there's nothing wrong with accepting your losses and working a regular day job to make ends meet....as long as you commit to pursuing your passion on a regular basis. If not, you quickly succumb to the rat race and become a cynical, miserable SOB. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Although my "musical pursuit" only accounts for a small portion of my income, it has kept me happy and fulfilled all these years (even while raising my family) and you just never know when that big break will come (and they do). It's just like the lottery...your chances are slim, but if you don't play the game, you can't win. It's mostly about luck and being in the right place at the right time.
  20. mverta

    mverta One with the Force

    Jul 10, 2008
    Los Angeles
    Having a long-term career in music is for people who are okay with a lifetime of walking a tightrope with no net in hurricane winds over a pit of boiling lava on their way to best blowjob ever.

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