Helpful Advice to a friend entering the music industry

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tips for beginning composers

This article was written by Robin Hall, the co-author of the Behind the Score series. Recently, he sent an email to his friend who was seeking advice on how to enter the music industry. In the email, Robin candidly shares his firsthand experiences as a full-time composer, reflecting on both the difficulties he encountered and the valuable wisdom he has accumulated over the past 10 years. We thought it would be beneficial to share this email on our FilmMusicTheory website, hoping it can help others too. We have made minor adjustments to protect any private information, but the majority of the content remains unchanged from the original. The email begins after the introductory paragraph.


A Few Words from Robin

Last year I received an email from a budding composer. He was looking for work in the media scoring world and whilst I couldn’t help him find a job directly, I did have some words of advice that I hoped could be useful. 

While I don’t consider myself an authority on the subject, I wanted to share that 2023 marks the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from Berklee College of Music. Over the past decade, I’ve been working as a full-time composer.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but simply some things that I have found to be true on my own journey.  I hope that sharing these thoughts may help others that are also trying to get their foot on the ladder. 

Robin Hall 


GENERAL ADVICE FOR NEW COMPOSERS 

I can only give advice based on my experience and you could talk to 100 different composers and get 100 different answers. In other words, what I tell you isn’t gospel, it’s just how things have worked for me. 

“This isn’t an industry that you can dip your toes in and out of and expect to see results. The competition is too fierce.”

This isn’t an industry that you can dip your toes in and out of and expect to see results. The competition is too fierce. You must be ‘all-in’ and be aware that you probably won’t make any real money starting out (how long that would be exactly is anybody’s guess). 

Talent is important but work ethic is more important. There are lots of talented people out there but those that seem to progress the most in this industry are the ones that are willing to go the extra mile. Who you know will help open doors, what you know will help keep those doors open. 

There are pros and cons to becoming a composer’s assistant

I decided against it after graduating college because I decided I wanted to be the person that people would come to for music, and not the guy helping the person for music. I don’t regret my decision. I’m not saying one is better than the other, you can succeed at both or fail at both, but this is just something to consider. 

If you decide to pursue assisting a composer then this is what I would advise based on my experience (and some friends of mine that have done it). 

When you approach a composer (or anyone in this industry, honestly) list the ways that you can help them and be specific 

Mostly they just don’t have the time to respond to people (especially other composers) asking questions, but they do like people that can help them solve problems and find ways to be useful to them. 

👉 Read Cubase Key Commands to Boost Your MIDI Editing Workflow

Become proficient in as many DAWs as possible

You need to know your way around Pro Tools, at the very least knowing how to set up sessions and print stems. Realistically you should know your way comfortably around at least 3 DAWs as most of what you will be doing as an assistant is technical support. 

When I first left college no one would hire me for love or money, the little work I did get was mostly unpaid and if it was paid it wasn’t enough to live off of, not even close. What I did with my time during that period was I continued to write music, I was writing all the time getting better, and building a work ethic that would serve me well a few years later when I really needed it. 

I always say to people, what use is a Composer that doesn’t compose? If you’re waiting to get paid to do it, you could be waiting a long time. 

I was reaching out to people/music production companies/film directors/editors daily,  literally multiple dozens of emails daily (as well as phone calls and meetings) for 2-3 years trying to reach anyone that would listen. 

Most emails went unanswered, some said “Thanks, but no thanks” but every 1/100 might lead somewhere. An opportunity to do something for someone, someone giving me a chance.  Those few small wins early on slowly snowballed into bigger wins, that’s how it works for most people. 

My first real opportunity came when I got to score a commercial for a large brand on national television. Someone responded to my email and gave me a shot at it out of the blue. I made more money from that one gig than I did in 5 years of scoring student films and low/no budget films. (I’m not saying that to brag, I’m just trying to highlight the disparity between those two worlds). 

That was when I realized that I wanted to focus my energy on carving out a niché for myself as a composer in the advertising world. Once I had that focus things seemed to start changing for me almost overnight. I’m not saying it was or is easy, it’s still a tough gig and the competition is still brutal, but understanding where to focus your energy is so important. Once people realize that you are reliable and deliver what they ask for when they ask for it,  they will come back, and they will recommend you to others. 

“However, despite all of that there really has never been a better time to be a composer. Many may disagree, but I truly believe this. “

Always under-promise and over-deliver. I appreciate some of this might sound disparaging, but I would be lying if I said otherwise. 

However, despite all of that there really has never been a better time to be a composer. Many may disagree, but I truly believe this. 

There’s more content than ever, streaming services, TV shows, YouTube series, films,  advertising, and a booming video game industry, all of which need music.  

It absolutely is possible to make a really good living as a composer if you’re willing to put in the time and understand where to focus your energy (and a little luck along the way certainly doesn’t hurt).

To quote the great Jim Carrey “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well  take a chance on doing what you love.

This article was written by Robin Hall, a composer whose music has been featured in advertising campaigns for numerous blockbuster films and TV shows. Some notable examples include “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount Pictures), “The Black Phone” (Universal Pictures/2022), “Ambulance” (Universal Pictures/2022), and many more.

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