There’s a certain Je ne sais pas about being a composer. At first, at least for me, it was something I had to do. I had to sit down at the piano and write something. Every day. I couldn’t not do it. When I tried my hand at other jobs, other careers, I was always missing music. This told me one thing: the next career I would tackle is music. Fast forward 8 years and now that I have my own music career as a freelance composer, recording artist, and creative career coach, I get asked how I separate out the business from the creator, the income from the output, and how to keep the composing jobs flowing in when music is flooding out. Here’s what I came up with:
After years of trial and error, with as much of that time spent out on the road looking for inspiration as it was spent in my studio alone for days on end, I’ve discovered there’s a balance between the personal music creations and the communicating, out reach and networking that is required to craft a career out of making music.
Since I’ve chosen my job, I have started to treat it like a job. And that means doing a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t as fun as some other aspects. For example, I much prefer to be arranging strings for a live session over driving to the city for a big networking event where I don’t know anyone and I have my hand on my business cards at all times…. just in case. I give myself pep talks, declaring that I WILL be sociable, likable, and win over the hearts (and ears) of anyone who will listen to me about why music is important for their project/ad/video/web series/etc. and how I can solve their sonic problems.
So here’s the sitch: you have to get out of the “I’m an artist” mindset to make a sustainable career out of creating music. Here are a few ways to help get you out the door:
I admit, I’m not exactly an introvert. And while I don’t think networking comes particularly easy to anyone, I don’t dislike it. Networking was the first step to getting my career to a point where I felt like it was a possibility that I could actually make a sustainable income by writing music. It was after I spent 2 months going to music and film conferences, Meetups, alumni artistic events. The great thing about these kinds of events is all you have to do is show up and open your mouth. If it’s a particularly hard event (sometimes it’s just harder to connect to people), I try to play a game with myself: hand out 5 (or 10, or whatever) business cards and peace out.
2) RESEARCH AND OUTREACH
Every few months, if I’ve got a lull between jobs, I take a look at who my ideal clients are, and who I would like to be collaborating with. Sometimes I’m feeling like I’d like to score a film, other times, I think it’d be good to reach out to advertisers. So I get out my old Excel sheet of client contacts, and I head to google to look up some more companies, film directors, producers, or agencies. I give myself 2 hours max to find as many new contacts as possible, and I record the contact info for each one. After a break (sometimes a few hours, sometimes a day or two), I will then send an intro email to each new potential collaborator with a direct request to meet or have a phone call in the near future. I aim to get a reply, and replies are more likely when you ask a direct question. (Instead of saying “check out my reel”, say “would you have time to talk this Thursday about the possibility of collaborating?”.) Do this work regularly throughout the year and you will have quite a client list by the end of it.
I’ve been using the work “collaborate” when talking about working with companies and garnering new clients because it’s more of a partnership word that makes potential clients feel they can be part of your process. But in this bullet point, I’m using the word in the more intimate sense of its meaning…. collaborate one-on-one. Find other composers to work with. Find an animator and create a project together. Create relationships that are not built on “I’ll work for you if you pay me” but rather “let’s create something cool together”. These relationships often turn into opportunities.
Creating and then taking small steps in your new outreach strategy WILL yield results. I guarantee this! To be a full time composer, doing the work with 100% integrity doesn’t just mean writing amazing music. It means treating your music like a product, looking at yourself as a business instead of an artist, and making connections. Waiting for someone to find or hear you doesn’t give you any power in your career. It’s all up to someone else. Take the power back, and the easiest way to do that is to reach out and start a conversation. Only then are you in control of creating opportunities for yourself and garnering the career you desire.
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.