5 Tips To Become A Film/TV Composer By Oguz Ozcanli (FOX, Netflix, NatGeo)

  • Considering a career in film/tv composition?
  • TV composer and string arranger, Oguz Ozcanli, gives us his 5-step process for landing film/tv composing jobs.

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Considering A Career In Film/TV Composition?

The process starts with having a conversation with the picture. If you are able to emotionally connect with what’s in front of you, music starts to flow naturally. This is the very basic instinct of any capable musician.

My film-scoring professor at Berklee College of Music used to say “emotions in/music out”. Even though music can be argued as an innate talent, it’s simply not enough to become a successful composer for visual media. You need to learn the technology behind it and combine with additional musical theory and practice.

Music Composer Career Paths You Can Explore In Film/TV

Contrary to what you might think, musicians, songwriters, and instrumentalists across all genres can actually compose for film/TV.

The film and TV industries are growing rapidly. New reality shows, documentaries, adverts etc all require an endless supply of fresh music.

Then there are also music libraries, which are great sources to place your music to movies. And you don’t have to put out Hollywood hits to be successful — you can actually make a decent living writing for music libraries, too.

Here are 5 lucrative career opportunities that are present within the film/tv industry.

1) Film/TV Composer

Film and TV composers create the musical scores that accompany visual media as well as write the themes, background score, and source music used in television shows. The average salary of a film composer depends on the budget of the project they are working on.

The average yearly salary ranges from $2,500 per indie feature to $2mil per studio feature.

2) Selling Stock Music On Sound Libraries/Production Music Writer

Music libraries are a huge source of work for freelance composers, which are formed for synchronization (or “sync”) placements. This is where a composer’s music is synchronized to film, TV shows, video games, or advertisements. Music library composers make money from royalty earnings.

The average yearly salary of a production music writer ranges from $2,500 – $80.000.

Oguz conducts his composition ‘A Song For Love’ at Futura Studios in Boston.

3) Music Supervisor

Music supervision is the art of selecting and licensing preexisting songs or recordings for use in visual media like film, television, video games, and advertising. A skilled music supervisor might choose the perfect song to enhance a dramatic television moment, help an advertising producer make smart, inspired music choices, or find a cost-effective workaround when a film’s plot requires a particularly expensive, hard-to-license recording.

The average yearly salary of a music supervisor is in between $2,000 per TV project to $500,000 per high-budget feature film.

4) Music Editor

Part-sound editor, part-project manager, and part-musician, the music editor is an all-rounder who oversees the creative, technical, and logistical aspects of composing and implementing music in film and TV.

The average yearly salary of a music editor is in between $1,000 – $5,000 per week. Package deals vary depending on the project.

5) Sound Designer

Sound designers are responsible for creating or compiling high-quality audio assets for interactive media projects like video games, applications, and operating systems. The audio assets that sound designers are responsible for include sound effects, background score, and voice-over.

The average yearly salary of a sound designer ranges from $40,000 – $120,000+.

Editor Tip: If you’re looking to get upskill your music production and break into a film/tv scoring career, check out Hans Zimmer’s Masterclass. This comprehensive walk-through spans 31 featured packed and content-rich lessons aimed at preparing you for a career in film scoring.

Preparing Yourself For A Career In Film/TV Composing

Step 1: Understand How The Film Music Industry Works

Around the globe, thousands of movies are produced either by big production companies or independent filmmakers. Every film production consists of team members including; producer, director, screenwriter, production designer, art director, cinematographer, music supervisor, and a composer, etc.

So how does the hiring process work for film/tv composers?

Well, usually composers get hired during preproduction or production phase. In some cases, a composer can be hired during the postproduction phase of a movie in case the producer wants to hire a new composer, etc.

Nowadays independent moviemakers are on the rise and by self-funding their own projects they become fully in control and free in every aspect during their movie-making process.

Step 2: Preparing a Professional Portfolio & Resume

When a filmmaker/director asks to hear your music you’ll want to present your highest quality work through a user-friendly platform.

Soundcloud is a great platform to present your music. I would suggest making categorized playlists according to film music genres such as drama, tension, comedy, action etc. This will also help you pitch the right music for a specific project.

In the case of resume writing — preparing a custom resume for a specific job will greatly increase your chance of landing a gig. For example, if you are applying for a composer’s assistant position your resume needs to indicate how you helped other people/companies/organizations in the past and your experience with software and organizational skills. When sending off your music to pitch for film/tv composing jobs, it’s often a good idea to send 2 to 3 tracks as opposed to sending your whole musical portfolio.

When applying for a composer position, your resume needs to include your previous experience as a composer. Having a presence on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook is also very important, as it will increase your chances of being discovered.

Step 3: Applying For Gigs & Creative Ways To Land TV/Film Jobs

In my experience, you need to leverage the same creative energy you put towards your music, into thinking about creative ways to land gigs.

For example; there are many video game design schools in Europe, and as part of their curriculum, students have to put together a fully produced/published video game. Naturally, they’ll be looking for composers (and that’s where you come in).

Reaching out to video game students could be a massive opportunity to land work for a video game production.

Outside of media, there are many independent fashion designers who also require music for their videos or even live fashion shows. These are high paying opportunities that you shouldn’t dismiss if you want to find paid work.

As a film/tv composer it’s always a good idea to have an IMDbPro account so that you can get contacts of directors/producers to e-mail them if they are ever in need of a composer.

Attending conferences like GDC (Game Developers Conference) is also a great way to connect with people and land future gigs. Even playing live shows might bring you invaluable opportunities. There is always the chance that you could meet a guitar player who scores big movies, or a filmmaker in the audience you meet that might recommend you.

Step 4: Protecting Yourself! Understand Your Contractual Rights

No matter how proficient you are musically, you need to think and operate like a business in order to remain successful. For me, learning about the music business has been a lot like learning a musical instrument — I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learnt from them.

Once you start getting regular work, it’s critical for you to have an entertainment lawyer you trust.

Joining a Performing Rights Organization such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC is also paramount — they provide opportunities for composers and music publishers to maximize performance revenue and allow you to take advantage of educational, networking, and promotional programs.

If you’re looking to pursue a career selling on music libraries, you should take time to properly understand the legal frameworks.

Licensed music from composers can be sold on an exclusive or nonexclusive basis. Both come with their individual pros and cons.

Larger music libraries generally work with composers on an exclusive basis, and retain rights to the master recording as well as the music publishing.

In non-exclusive contracts, the composer submits music to the library but retains all rights, including the right to license his or her music on other non-exclusive music libraries.

If you are going to be in the business of writing music, educate yourself about music publishing and licensing and follow up on the business side of things.

Step 5: Networking & Keeping Momentum Going

Building strong relationships lead to success in the music business. This goes far beyond cold calling and harassing people — I’m talking about you putting yourself out there and making real friendships and lifelong connections.

Attending both musical and non-music related events are also important. If you can, become involved with organizations such as The Recording Academy, The Society of Composers & Lyricists, BMI, ASCAP — these could all be very beneficial for helping you to meet the right people.

One last tip from me is to take care of yourself. If you want a long-lasting, healthy career, then you’ll have to be disciplined, but also be know when to take time off for yourself and your family. Eeating healthy, exercising, meditating — these have all been keys to my success. My mantra is that success doesn’t come purely from work — it comes from balanced life choices.