Becoming a full-time composer can mean a lot of different things to different people. It can mean spending all of your time at a piano, composing dozens of pieces of music a week. It can mean paying your bills through composing jobs like jingle writing. It can mean creating a lifestyle of your choosing which is fueled by the work you do as a composer. No matter what it means to you, I’m guessing you are reading this to find out how to go about becoming a “full time composer”.
The first step, really, is to figure out for yourself what “full time composer” really looks like for you.
If you’re not sure, imagine I bopped you on the head with a magic wand and you could have the exact life you wanted, doing exactly what you wanted to do. What would this life look like? What would be the same and what would be different than your current situation? Get this vision crystal clear before moving on.
Now that you have this vision, you’re wondering “HOW do I get there?”. You know the good thing about driving through the night from NY to LA? You don’t need to see all 2451 miles in front of you, just the next 40 yards or so. Figure out where you are going, and then take small actions to get your big result.
Here’s how it works:
A) Commit to being a full time composer, and share this new commitment with everyone you know. This looks like: “Hey ____! I’m creating my career path and I am committed to being a full time composer.” You will be surprised how many people want to assist you in your passionate endeavors and want to connect you to others who could potentially provide opportunities for you.
B) Figure out by when you would like to be a full time composer. (Pick a date, any date, in the not-too-far future. I like working in 3 month blocks.) Star this date in your calendar.
C) Work backwards by asking yourself these questions:
1) What do I need in order to consider myself a full time composer? Most of my career coaching clients would consider themselves full time composers if they are able to cover their costs of living. So if that’s the case, you need to know what that amount of money is.
2) What do I need to have 1)? (This will most likely be a dollar amount)
3) How do I get 2)? (This will most likely be e simple than you think, like ‘I need paying composing jobs’)
4) How to I get 3)? (Again, think simple. Continuing with our example ‘I need a reel to show potential clients, and a list of potential clients to send said reel to’.)
5) So what is there for me to do now? (Create composing reel and gather contact info for at least 30 directors/companies/publishers etc to pitch my reel to.)
D) Write in your calendar by when you will do each action that you just figured out, and then DO those things when you said you would do them by as if you life depended on it!
E) Network network network! Go to film previews, conferences, Meetups and anything else that can connect you to the people creating the content that you want to score. Is it web content? Commercials? Films? Anything? Then get up and get going. The composer that hides in his studio hoping that his amazing talent will be found by the biggest new director is most likely not going to get the gig. We can be our artsy introverted selves once we’ve got a gig and the bills are paid. Until then, you’ve got to be a business person with the mind of an entrepreneur, the energy of a recent college grad, and the confidence of a seasoned composer. The conversations in your head saying “There are tons of other composers who could do this better”, “I’m not quite good enough/smart enough/experienced enough/talented enough etc to get paid for this”, “I don’t deserve to have a job/life I am passionate about”, “work should be hard” and all those other things the voices say to keep you small are now a thing of the past! Create new statements to live by, to grow by, to compose by.
F) Create a system for yourself. It’s a rotating research-pitch-followup-work wheel you’re now living. You have to research the work you want to pitch to. Then pitch, then followup and eventually get the work. When projects finish, you want to spend a day or two following up with old contacts and expanding the lists you already have. I like to spend one day a month researching new production companies and recently filmed movies, finding contact info for producers and directors to see who needs a film score. I try to add a new city’s worth of composing houses that I can freelance for. Once I have about 30 new contacts, I reach out to each of them, sending the appropriate work reel, and request a meeting.
F#) Please make sure that when you are pitching for work you are providing an opportunity for them, not just looking to see how they can help you. Also, make a direct, specific request that requires an answer. “Are you available for a phone call this week?” versus “check out my composer reel” is much more likely to get a response, and a positive one at that. Any email that doesn’t have a direct request usually gets tossed in my trash.
One final note: remember that when you go out in the world and present your past work in hopes for new work, there is always a new action to take. If you get a “no”, it doesn’t mean anything and there is more work for you to do (go pitch to more people, network, etc). If you get a “yes” and get hired, it doesn’t mean anything and now you have actions to take with that new project.
You can indeed create the composing career of your dreams. Stay diligent with yourself and look at this as your new business. I find this takes out the emotional artist in me who takes everything personally. It’s just business. One I happen to love very much.
Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a composer for films, commercials and web content for sites like collegehumor.com. The Cornell University grad has performed around the world promoting her 3 piano-pop records, has published an E-course for musicians called “In The Key Of Success” and has spoken at music conferences like SXSW about making it as an artist, sonic branding, and creating a career you love. Her company CBE Music LLC provides music resources for all video projects, tapping into her boutique catalogue of independent artists’ records in addition to her vast composition and orchestration skills. Cheryl is committed to constantly creating her career and helping others to the same. She is available for career coaching. More info at her site www.cbemusic.com. You can follow her on twitter @CBE.