VI Control Professionals in Film Scoring, Is abusive behavior really an industry standard?

construer

New Member
Short background:

I started an intense development of my music skills back in 1996. I was living, eating, dreaming music. Around 10 years later I got my first TV composing jobs (for short forms, like weather and horoscope shows, ads...). That led to a bigger gig for the top organization in my country, for which media production company I worked for got reward. That led to another gig for which I got the greatest compliment in my life by industry professional (not in person though): that my music is like Jean Michel Jarre's, only better.

Working with the TV producer I was working for was a blessing. I insisted on the long briefs and getting every creative information I could get. A demand he patiently met. Because of that, I have never had to recompose anything and producer was always baffled how can I integrate every single idea into a great music (his words, not mine).

However, my experience was an exception. Other artists (directors, actors, composers...) weren't that lucky. And a lot of jerky behaviors happened. As you can imagine.

Since I live in a developing country, I attributed that kind of behavior to a lack of money: when cake is small, everyone fights for crumbs.

But then an international high profile event happened for which a lot of us got very thrilled. At the end of that event shit hit the fan and a big abusive behavior from high profile industry professionals took place.


Alongside my composing skills development, another passion was growing. Psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy was my interest, hobby, good read... until I discovered constructivism. Blown away by structural thinking about human psyche I started my training in psychotherapy. That left me less time for music, but led to a practical work with people.

One type of abusive behavior that cause mental disturbance in people is double-binding or mixed messages. Imagine conversation like this:

A: Listen what I'm telling you: give me a glass of water.
B: Here is your water.
A: Why did you give me a water?!?!?!?
B: You asked for it.
A: You should've bring me a juice!!!
B: But you asked for a water.
A: Why did you listen to me?

At a smaller scale, this just pisses of people. At the largest scale this kind of behavior can cause severe damage. In between it causes anxiety.

This kind of behavior is what thousands of people got at the end of that high profile event I've mentioned earlier. People got pissed off. Felt disrespected. Raised their voices.

But then, different voices started to kick in, voices from professionals, voices like: all those snowflakes; you need to develop a thick skin; just move on; all those who complain will never get to work in the industry... Even THE Biggest Fish in the industry defended abusive behavior and abuser.

In psychology this is called internalized aggression(/aggressor) or internalized abuse(r). And is THE signal that person lives in a highly toxic environment and should be displaced if possible.

I always thought that if money and creative opportunities are no longer an issue, if artistic survival is secured, that humane treatment of another human being is unblocked and raised to a higher level.

Is top level film scoring industry really this toxic environment?


Alongside private psychotherapy practice, I work as a music teacher in a public music high school. I teach media composition. And I thought that media material that this big event provided was a godsend for motivating students, for providing them a feeling of a high profile project.

In the introductory classes I like giving insight into a cultural context in which composing happens. And I thought that when artistic survival is secured, composer's stress is about making the best creative decision and meeting a deadline.

I thought that mutual respect is a must.

Was it just my delusion?

If acceptance of abusive behavior is not economy related, then there is some other deeper issue in film scoring industry, an issue unknown to me.

Issue that screams: RUN!!!!
 

Morning Coffee

Active Member
The behaviour you are describing 'could' be some form of narcissistic or personality disorder or just highly stressful situations affecting people. The technique you described sounds like 'gaslighting' to me, where it is used to make you feel crazy or worthless or something to that degree.
 

Beluga

Arctic and sub-Arctic cetacean
I was offered a high-end teaching job in multi-media, almost that is, it didn't happen in the end. And I was kind of relieved because it felt like leading the young and hopefuls into a war zone or a minefield, that I'm not sure how to navigate myself.

I must be the worst self-promoter ever but I somehow got by over the years and it astounds me the first one that I did. I have seen so much abusive behavior that when I tell this someone who is not in this business they widen their eyes and their jaws drop. They are in utter disbelief.

So, YES, it is standard, unfortunately. But I do feel it's gotten worse in the last 5-10 years. A lot worse. Nowadays it's just like, I pick you up and use you and then throw you to the trash at the slightest inconvenience. And this at all levels from the indy producers to the high-end ones. Maybe it's this day of the Internet when all is just a click away and rather than working with someone it's quicker to throw him/her away and get a new toy. The lack of respect is just unbelievable. And it's expected that you go with it. Even worse when established professionals preach how that's how the world goes and so on. Suck it up, be a pro. To some extent, OK, but abuse is still abuse.

I can't go into the details about the abuse (as you didn't) for obvious reasons but as I always say, somehow composers are also responsible for this because there is an utter lack of self-respect within our ranks. Respect yourself, respect your talent, your muse, your inspiration, your hard work. And if you don't no one else will.

Of course, there are exceptions and I have also worked with wonderful people over the years and this is just the most wonderful thing in the world.
 
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I was offered a high-end teaching job in multi-media, almost that is, it didn't happen in the end. And I was kind of relieved because it felt like leading the young and hopefuls into a war zone or a minefield, that I'm not sure how to navigate myself.

I must be the worst self-promoter ever but I somehow got by over the years and it astounds me the first one that I did. I have seen so much abusive behavior that when I tell this someone who is not in this business they widen their eyes and their jaws drop. They are in utter disbelief.

So, YES, it is standard, unfortunately. But I do feel it's gotten worse in the last 5-10 years. A lot worse. Nowadays it's just like, I pick you up and use you and then throw you to the trash at the slightest inconvenience. And this at all levels from the indy producers to the high-end ones. Maybe it's this day of the Internet when all is just a click away and rather than working with someone it's quicker to throw him/her away and get a new toy. The lack of respect is just unbelievable. And it's expected that you go with it. Even worse when established professionals preach how that's how the world goes and so on. Suck it up, be a pro. To some extent, OK, but abuse is still abuse.

I can't go into the details about the abuse (as you didn't) for obvious reasons but as I always say, somehow composers are also responsible for this because there is an utter lack of self-respect within our ranks. Respect yourself, respect your talent, your muse, your inspiration, your hard work. And if you don't no one else will.

Of course, there are exceptions and I have also worked with wonderful people over the years and this is just the most wonderful thing in the world.
I think the main problem with composers is they don’t know how much to charge because there is no union protecting composers the way there is for orchestrators, copyists, musicians, directors, actors, producers, writers, recordings, gaffers, and crew. Plus, if a composer does not have a good agent or manager, and most don’t, then it is very hard to negotiate for yourself. I have found that other composers do not want to share how much they charge so no one knows if they are asking for enough money when the community is so silent about fees.
 

Daryl

Senior Member
I think the main problem with composers is they don’t know how much to charge because there is no union protecting composers the way there is for orchestrators, copyists, musicians, directors, actors, producers, writers, recordings, gaffers, and crew.
I think it's more a case of there is always someone else who will do it cheaper, or for nothing.
 
Only if the composers being hired had to be union members.
The idea is that all the major studios only are allowed to work with unions so anything produced by the majors would be union jobs. Independent films don’t pay well anyway. But let’s realize that there is no union protecting composers. PROs like BMI and ASCAP protect songwriters but no one protects film and tv composers.
 

JoelS

Member
One type of abusive behavior that cause mental disturbance in people is double-binding or mixed messages. Imagine conversation like this:
...followed by "Every conversation I have ever had with a client or A&R rep or music supervisor, ever"

So, maybe not all have been that bad, but a whole lot of them are. It often comes down to people being unable to communicate their needs or ideas, or the language of communication having multiple possible valid interpretations.

This happens all the time.

I have clients to whom various instruments are 'that high sound I don't like' or 'can you remove that violin,' when it's an oboe. They pay money that still works as a financial tool, so I deal with interpreting their requests.

I have clients who want a very specific thing, then that thing they thought they wanted which was quite specific and detailed and took a lot of effort to achieve does not sit well in the context they are using it, and they completely change their mind on what they wanted.

Music is a messy subject that means different things to different people and can be discussed in ways that are simple or sophisticated, but are rarely precise and never objective.

Those sorts of conversations are very common, at all levels of the music industry! If people who entered The Contest have not otherwise participated in the 'make music for money' industry, maybe they are imagining a very tidy and efficient career full of extremely thoughtful and well-reasoned encounters with their clients/bosses. From my several decades of experience, that is very much wishful thinking and nowhere near being reality.

I'll also add that in some sectors of the industry, the conversation the OP posited ends in the middle when you hand them their water, and they say 'thanks, but this isn't what we're looking for, try again next time we ask for a water!' and that's it. You don't get an explanation of why your water was wrong, or whether they thought you would hand them a glass of milk when they asked for water, or anything. Just a note saying what they received did not meet expectations, and a 'better luck next time.'

That's how the industry works, very very often.
 

Daryl

Senior Member
The idea is that all the major studios only are allowed to work with unions so anything produced by the majors would be union jobs.
I don't think anyone has to worry about fees on a major studio picture...! However, if I was a director, I would make the argument that it was my creative right to hire a composer of my choice, and not have to use a union stooge.
PROs like BMI and ASCAP protect songwriters but no one protects film and tv composers.
In what way do they protect anyone? AFAIK they just collect the Royalties and pass them on. I assume that you are talking about the rate of pay for Broadcast Royalties, in which case film and TV composers are also protected. The only exception being for theatrical release, and for some reason Americans chose not to receive any broadcast Royalties. When the films are shown on TV, they will get them though.
 
I don't think anyone has to worry about fees on a major studio picture...! However, if I was a director, I would make the argument that it was my creative right to hire a composer of my choice, and not have to use a union stooge.


In what way do they protect anyone? AFAIK they just collect the Royalties and pass them on. I assume that you are talking about the rate of pay for Broadcast Royalties, in which case film and TV composers are also protected. The only exception being for theatrical release, and for some reason Americans chose not to receive any broadcast Royalties. When the films are shown on TV, they will get them though.
Composers do have to worry about fees on a major picture and a major tv show. One composer may be offered $800,000 to compose the score for a film while another composer is offered $75,000 for the same project. Don’t think for a second that major studios don’t try to take advantage of film and tv composers who are not at the top of the A-list with major representation, they do. I was offered $5,000 an episode for a tv show produced by a major studio, only to find out after the fact when it was too late that they could have paid me 5x that amount, but no one in the industry would help me with the negotiation nor would any other composer mentor me by telling me how much I should be paid. This business can be brutal if one is not very lucky.
 

GNP

Member
...followed by "Every conversation I have ever had with a client or A&R rep or music supervisor, ever"

So, maybe not all have been that bad, but a whole lot of them are. It often comes down to people being unable to communicate their needs or ideas, or the language of communication having multiple possible valid interpretations.

This happens all the time.

I have clients to whom various instruments are 'that high sound I don't like' or 'can you remove that violin,' when it's an oboe. They pay money that still works as a financial tool, so I deal with interpreting their requests.

I have clients who want a very specific thing, then that thing they thought they wanted which was quite specific and detailed and took a lot of effort to achieve does not sit well in the context they are using it, and they completely change their mind on what they wanted.

Music is a messy subject that means different things to different people and can be discussed in ways that are simple or sophisticated, but are rarely precise and never objective.

Those sorts of conversations are very common, at all levels of the music industry! If people who entered The Contest have not otherwise participated in the 'make music for money' industry, maybe they are imagining a very tidy and efficient career full of extremely thoughtful and well-reasoned encounters with their clients/bosses. From my several decades of experience, that is very much wishful thinking and nowhere near being reality.

I'll also add that in some sectors of the industry, the conversation the OP posited ends in the middle when you hand them their water, and they say 'thanks, but this isn't what we're looking for, try again next time we ask for a water!' and that's it. You don't get an explanation of why your water was wrong, or whether they thought you would hand them a glass of milk when they asked for water, or anything. Just a note saying what they received did not meet expectations, and a 'better luck next time.'

That's how the industry works, very very often.
Agreed. What he said.

It's really up to the composer to decipher what the client wants, and if the client changes his/her mind, just let it go. But if the client KEEPS changing their minds and just can't seem to decide on anything, it's time to gently but courteously let them know that time and money is at stake.
 

Daryl

Senior Member
I was offered $5,000 an episode for a tv show produced by a major studio, only to find out after the fact when it was too late that they could have paid me 5x that amount
Union rates are only ever minimums. Maybe $5K is what the job pays. You want more, you have to negotiate.

Look, I'm not standing up for the studios, but a union might or might not be the answer. Certainly there are many cases of unions actually losing work for their members.
 
Union rates are only ever minimums. Maybe $5K is what the job pays. You want more, you have to negotiate.

Look, I'm not standing up for the studios, but a union might or might not be the answer. Certainly there are many cases of unions actually losing work for their members.
The problem often was that everytime I was offered work I would reach out to other composers in the biz, entertainment attorneys, film/tv composer agents and managers and ask them how much I could possibly negotiate for and no one would say a word. I couldn’t even get them to negotiate on my behalf most of the time even though they would be getting paid. I found the industry to be incredibly unhelpful. I have always tried to help people my whole life and yet that is not the case when I certainly could use help from others. When I hear other people being helped and mentored by others in this industry I have no clue what they are talking about. That is not been the world I live in. I don’t know what it’s like to get major help from anyone ever. I’m always helping others too, yet that Karma never comes back to me no matter how good a person I am.
 
I don't think anyone has to worry about fees on a major studio picture...! However, if I was a director, I would make the argument that it was my creative right to hire a composer of my choice, and not have to use a union stooge.


In what way do they protect anyone? AFAIK they just collect the Royalties and pass them on. I assume that you are talking about the rate of pay for Broadcast Royalties, in which case film and TV composers are also protected. The only exception being for theatrical release, and for some reason Americans chose not to receive any broadcast Royalties. When the films are shown on TV, they will get them though.
Yes and no. TV composers are protected by the PROs if their music is for major prime time evening shows on the major networks as there can be a lot of royalties for the right time slot on a major network. But in general, there should be minimum creative fees for writing music for film and tv. Even the WGA has much better protection for tv writers than film writers. One could write a screenplay to a billion dollar box office smash hit movie and only get the $100,000 WGA minimum, that’s absurd. The WGA should secure minimum backend royalties for screenwriters not just for tv writers but they don’t. And, film and tv composers are far too at risk for being taken advantage of. The A-list is gonna get huge fees to compose, while everyone else could get easily screwed over and low balled. I would have never been taken advantage of by major studios if those in the biz simply communicated how much one can get for that kind of a project or if I simply had good representation which never happened.
 

GNP

Member
Those sorts of conversations are very common, at all levels of the music industry! If people who entered The Contest have not otherwise participated in the 'make music for money' industry, maybe they are imagining a very tidy and efficient career full of extremely thoughtful and well-reasoned encounters with their clients/bosses. From my several decades of experience, that is very much wishful thinking and nowhere near being reality.

That's how the industry works, very very often.
There ya go.
 

JJP

I put dots and lines on paper.
In my experience I would not say that abusive behavior is a standard. However, it is not uncommon. Both my spouse and I work in Hollywood and we have seen and dealt with it in various forms. We have also worked with some absolutely delightful, successful people who think and care about those around them.

I think we often talk about what makes our industry unique, but many of us lack of experience outside our little niche and that often blinds us to the similarities with other industries. I should also add that most of us in this industry like to think that we are special, and we have an almost reflexive negative reaction to any suggestion that we may be similar to other industries in many ways.

The corporate world in general can be a abusive place as well. However, there are HR departments to attempt to mitigate some of the damage of that abuse -- particularly damage to the corporation, the employees are protected when it is perceived as to the corp's benefit.

We don't have HR departments in much of the film/TV music world because of outsourcing and contracting. This creates smaller businesses and compartmentalization. Some of this is by design by the larger producers/studios/networks who wish to insulate themselves from cost and responsibility for those creating their product. Thus when abuse occurs it can continue unchecked because there is no higher authority to hold perpetrators to account.

The comments about the lack of a composer union or guild are another good point. Music editors, writers, film editors, directors, all work in a similar freelance fashion and have joined together to collectively negotiate minimum standards to protect themselves in their workplaces. There is no reason why composers, or perhaps composer assistants, couldn't do the same. Residual and royalty structures can be accounted in a structure like that.

Again, we are not as different as we think. ;)