Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Different breeds – filmmakers, get to know your composer

As mentioned in my last post, I'm down in L.A. right now and won't be posting much during this week. However, thankfully, there's guys like Tony Longworth. If you remember, Tony's an indie music composer who works on a lot of indie films and most of them for little or no pay. So, we've got another post from him, this one about understanding and getting to know your composer... A lot of filmmakers don't know much about the whole music side, let alone get to know their composer and this will shed a little light on that side of the indie filmmaking process. Much like Tony's last post, I think what he's talking about here is equally pertinent to indie filmmakers and, as usual, if you have a questions about composing, music or anything at all, really, shoot me an email and I'll get it answered...

When you're dealing with music, indie filmmakers should spend a little time getting to know their composer to get the best out of them. In my time I have become aware of 3 different types of indie composer.

- Firstly, there’s the composer who writes music full time, who doesn’t have any other job to support themselves.

- Then there’s the composer who writes music in their spare time, who holds down another job to fund themselves.

- And lastly there is the rarest of breeds, the composer who has enough money to compose whenever they want. They don’t have to hold down any other job & they have all the time in the world to write music.

Now, I’m painting this picture in black & white and I know there are grey areas between these 3 types of composer, but if I covered every single type of configuration, this would be a very long & boring article indeed. For the point I’m making, I think these 3 different types should cover the majority of indie composers out there.

In my time I’ve never actually met the 3rd type of composer. I do believe they exist, people have told me there’s rich indie composers out there who just want to write for low budget movies. I have met many of the other 2 types of composer though.

I fall into what is probably the most common, I compose part time & hold down another job the rest of the time. This was a decision I made when I first got into music. Realising that I might never make any money from what I liked doing, I understood that I had to get a job to support my music. I wasn’t being negative about my music, I was just being realistic.

There are pros & cons that come with each type & I think filmmakers should be aware of these & understand where the composer is coming from.

A person composing full time has all the time in the world to write music. If you ask them for a certain piece of music, they’ll probably be able to churn it out in a day or so. The downside to this is that they possibly can’t afford to upgrade their equipment on a regular basis. This wouldn’t be a problem in a lot of cases as these type of composers will have spent a lot of time learning & tweaking their hardware & software to do almost anything but there might be times when their system just isn’t up to delivering what the filmmaker wants.

A person who composes part time has limited time to write music. If you ask them for a certain piece of music, they would probably take a lot longer to deliver it. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t be prepared to pull a few 24 hour shifts to get the music finished (myself included) but this approach tends to catch up with the composer eventually & they’ll end up sleeping in their spare time instead of writing music. The upside to this type of composer is that most of them upgrade their studio on a regular basis so you can be guaranteed that they’ll be able to write most things that the filmmaker dreams up.

The rarest composer, the one with all the money & all the time in the world, is in the best position, but whether you find one of these is another question. The other thing to bear in mind is that I guess they could be really picky over what project they work on; I mean they’re in a position where they can pick & chose what movie to go with.

I am happy being the type of composer I am, it works well for me & my lifestyle. I now have a family to support which I just couldn’t do if I wasn’t holding down a job – I’d be out on the streets by now or even worse, living with the in-laws !!

So filmmakers, get to know your composer. Find out a little about their background, their working patterns. Give them a little more time if needed. Give them a little more encouragement if they’re struggling. Get an understanding of who they are & what they are capable of at an early stage.

We’re all in this together so we need to help each other out as much as we can so we can achieve that one goal of creating a good movie.

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