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Film Music—-too late to start?

Hi, everyone. I’m 34. I’ve had to work a “normal” job (sometimes 2!) for all of my adult life. I went to school for music composition, and tried a few years breaking into the video game industry. I learned a lot from that, but ended up putting tons of effort into a few games that all entered production limbo, the developers gave up, etc. I’ve written entire soundtracks that’ll probably never see the light of day, with nothing to attach them to.
I’m giving film music a serious try, but I’ve no idea how to stand out other than to make what music I can on the weekends and try to attach it to some Creative Commons visuals. Joining this site, I hope, is a step in the right direction.
Anyone from any realm of the industry have any advice about not just finding work, but building a career in film music? Am I too old to be trying to make it in this field? I’ve watched and listened to what a lot do successful composers have to say, and it seems to come down to luck and connections; each path seemed highly unique to the composer. I’m not looking to be Bernard Hermann, just to make an OK living doing what I’m passionate about would be enough for me! So I guess I’m somewhat venting, and somewhat looking for a set of guidelines or tips so that I can direct my energy and what little time I have toward the kind of people and projects that will advance us all forward into this competitive industry.
I’d love to hear any thoughts, advice, or feelings on the matter of film composition. This site seems like it’s loaded with thoughtful and experienced people.

  • Never too late, always very hard. Most who should succeed, fail. Because there just isn't enough work.

    The whole industry is one where talent is just a ticket to try. Luck and connections are what you need, and you get them by networking. And, doing lots of stuff for free.

    Music is a "late" buy, after the money has been spent, so people with budgets tend to have been around a while and they call the people they know, who they know can deliver.

    The only PLAN for becoming a person they call is to grow with them from their no budget short days.

    But you don't know who will make it, so you do lots of free stuff for lots of people, hoping some do well.

    Treat as a serious hobby and don't worry about making money, because, looked at as a business, no would would ever start.

    Basically, keep the day job, spread the bait, hope to land the career making opportunity.

    5 months ago
  • Hey Saun,

    I'd highly recommend checking out the 'Perspective' forum on Facebook. They also have a London chapter I believe:

    Lots of encouraging advice on there, and if you join, and post your question you'll get a lot of support.

    And there's this video with specific advice for getting into indie films:

    There isn't really a given route for getting into composing; everyone's journey is different! But hopefully these links, and the many more you'll find down this rabbit hole, will start you on your way.

    Good luck!

    5 months ago
  • John Williams had his first big gig (Jaws) at 40. I'm 41 and while I do music already its mostly free or low pay. I plan on only very gradually upping that until I retire from my current job in about 12 years and get an immediate pension that I can top up with bigger fees. Alongside musical academic work. Definitely never too late. You just need a goal, a plan and good work ethic. Good luck I say.

    5 months ago
    • Thanks Huw, it’s always nice to hear about the struggles of the “Big Guys.” Williams was connected as a young guy, too, I think his dad was in with all those film guys like Alfred Newman and whatnot. He started out playing piano on some pictures! Things have changed, but I’m sure the core mechanics of appealing to the right people, right time, are still the same as ever. GL to you, too.

      5 months ago
  • What style of music do you specialise in? Which composers do you most admire? More specific details about your work would help direct it to the right people... ie are you interested in doing musicals, jazz, etc.?

    5 months ago
    • Full Orchestral, so I guess the style would be “neo-romantic” combined with “modernist.” I have the ability to do lots of electronic stuff, too. Or a combination of the two. Really just looking to do films, or maybe some of the more cinematic video games.

      5 months ago
  • 34 is still considered very young, musically.

    5 months ago
  • I think the temptation is always to look outward and ask how and to convince yourself of the obstacles. As far as i've observed and personally experienced, the only path forwards is to look inward and to do. You have to have enough passion about your craft and want it enough that you are carried through the difficult times, enough passion that your own desire to be creative overrides your mind telling you all the reasons why it's not going to work and why you don't have a chance.

    I would encourage you to offer to create music for as many projects as you can in order to develop your experience, there is no other path.

    There is a very large market of corporate / branded content companies always looking for music, who usually have to trawl through websites for hours looking for a match, i'd start there offering to create bespoke soundtracks along with short films on the side. I'd offer your services for free, then if your music is picked you are then paid for it's use at a rate in line with a typical music licensing site. Everything starts from humble beginnings.

    5 months ago
    • Keidrych,

      You’re absolutely right. I’m done being convinced and convincing myself that I can’t do this. I’ve never wanted to be wildly successful but it was definitely drilled into me that music is not the way.

      I drive a bus for a day job and then I scrap together whatever free time I have to do this, so at my age and in my circumstance, there’s always a temptation to try and get money right out of the gate. These days I’m focused on just reinventing my whole approach, advice like this really helps.

      5 months ago
  • In addition to all the great comments, I just wanted to add another recommendation for a Facebook group called ScoreCast London (from the podcast ScoreCast), which I have found invaluable and arguably learned more from members there than I did at university, particularly with respect to the commercial/business side of things.

    I'm 26 and at the beginning of my venture, but have so far written for production music libraries which is good for a passive income stream if you are with the right publishers. Other than that, I've scored a short animation film and currently working on a self-funded episodic web series, but of course nothing is guaranteed in terms of its eventual success (or lack of).

    It's always a mixed bag of opinions on whether you should work for free when starting off/giving music another go as a career. The main thing is to always retain the rights to your work so you aren't restricted if you wanted to re-purpose it for something else (like a library album). For me, I would hope to receive at least a small fee for my work unless I felt that the project was something special and I could relate to it. But that is only my view and I have been fortunate enough to have not worked for free other than when helping friends out with their short films.

    It's a long old haul but we're all in the same boat. I hope your journey continues to be as enjoyable as possible.

    5 months ago
    • James,
      Good luck to the both of us, and to all of us. Thanks for suggesting the production music library angle—I’ll have to check this out, more, maybe to get a trick of money going on because I’ve done and am still doing all free work.

      5 months ago
  • Hi Shaun,

    We regularly get students in their 50-ies on our MA Sound Design course here at Bath Spa Uni that are up-skilling and finding a way into the industry. Being worried at 34 is not necessary :-)



    5 months ago
    • Jan,

      that is a breath of fresh air. Don’t mean to turn this into a support group or anything, but I really appreciate that statement.

      My best to you!

      5 months ago
  • I had my first big film score at around your age.

    I had started scoring student films about a decade earlier.

    I then had a career another decade or so doing this, despite being a woman (I can't tell you how many men eagerly would put my work on their resumes because people didn't conceive of women doing scoring, particularly orchestral, and for some reason a lot of producers would never check credits to verify) but the internet arrived and royalties went down the (you)tube as a lot of the income from scoring those years came from broadcast as the fees upfront weren't so hot...but I chose the work I wanted to do because I believed in this or that director knowing the royalties would show up eventually.

    However, I grew tired of chasing the impossible to collect millions of downloads online and went into screenwriting etc. and today really want to avoid the endless tech catching up I went through those years on Performer and then fcp...I also grew tired of indie filmmakers more and more relying on "services" with premade stuff to throw in as "score" or turning film scores over to music supervisors who would make deals with the record companies to promote their bands by having them "score" films and everyone trying to get a score for at least in the big budget films the hiring came down to the few great film composers as work began drying up in the new millenium..

    Even at that time there were maybe 5 agents for film composers and my agent felt forced out she went into a music booking agency last I heard of her...anyway, hate to sound discouraging but you will have less problems as a guy first off, but my biggest tip to you are these...

    1. score student projects and/or original musicals if you are around playwright theaters...go to film schools literally and hang around the students...try to go to their screenings and YOU choose whose work you want to work with and tell them...

    2. you can do the same with new media study departments I would guess these days

    3. Once you have established a couple of meaningful credits don't be nice and work for nothing if a film has a budget, even a student film. If everyone is getting paid you should also, even if it isn't a lot.

    4. a goal you should consider IS to work for legit tv companies, like Disney that doesn't expect you to work for nothing...

    5.Film composers get hired because they know the director in film or the producer in television, or they know OF you because a film you scored won a big award, or you will be recommended from another project you worked on. Meet these people BY scoring student films that win awards and GO to FILM FESTIVALS and meet people like this at parties. HAVE a business card. Consider moving to L.A. if you're really serious and can because the film and music industry is there.

    6. USE shooting people and other organizations that are frequented by indie filmmakers looking to crew up and contact said filmmaker...have a REEL of your work or a film you've done you can direct them to...simply writing music is not enough they have to see how you put your work to picture, though an inexperienced or brain dead director may not know this and that will likely not be the director you want to work with...and

    7. I will stress most...CHOOSE who you want to work with DO NOT TAKE any project, even if offered money (well, unless you insist your name not be in credits and they want to pay you a lot to score their very amateur student film) because your work will be reflected by the genius of the DIRECToR...demand on a student film to see their work before you commit to a film don't do just any student film do the ones that have a shot in the festivals...and even if it's a first feature ask to see their shorts...and

    8. DON'T GIVE up your DAY job take a paid job on a feature that will demand your input fulltime from a few weeks to a number of months.

    Hope this helps and good luck.

    5 months ago
    • Jill,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your valuable experience in the industry. Even at the beginning I can already feel the frustration that comes with the uphill struggle of simply trying to matter to people who don’t know you. It’s not for the faint of heart! Kudos to you for paddling against the additional difficulties of being a female composer, but I’m positive you’ve helped to pave the way for current and future women composers out there.
      I’m intrigued about your move over to screenwriting and how that’s working out for you. Also seems like a cool aspect of filmmaking/TV.

      5 months ago