Truths About Being a Composer...That You Should Know #2: Understanding the function of a “work for hire” composer

July 26, 2017

These days, there’s no shortage of composers in most cities or the world for that matter. Most clients don’t even need to seek out composers as many will actively bombard their mailbox selling services. Truth is, there are many composers around, but not many understand the function of their role. The typical composer mentality is this: Write awesome music...and that’s it. The writing awesome music part is true as it is expected of any working composer. But not many understand the function of their role. The result is often clients lamenting the lack of composers they can work well with, even though there’s an oversupply.  


I’m sure you’re asking what is the function of a work for hire composer? It’s actually really simple: You just have to start seeing yourself as a humble part of a much larger ecosystem and not operate like a prima donna. Focus on serving your client like a first class cabin crew would to their esteemed passengers. In simpler terms, it’s to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Your creative ramblings are irrelevant if it serves only your creative ego and not to the greater good of whatever you’re working on. Your job is to relieve your clients of their problems, not add to it.


Sounds pretty logical and straightforward right? But most composers don’t get it...unfortunately. Most of what I say are common sense to most people, but for some reason putting it to practice is a different story altogether. Some composers learn it the hard way through experience of having bad rustles with their clients, losing jobs and not getting call backs. Some choose to overlook it and have their ego operate on their behalf. And some just never get it….


Composers who attended higher level institutions often don’t get told what their function is, or even if they do, they don’t get emphasized enough. But instead they get drilled exclusively in the arts of writing music and at the most given projects where it mocks up a “real world” scenario where the professors play the role of a client. This is not enough for composers to understand their function at a practical level.


As with most creatives, we, as composers have the tendency of seeing ourselves at the center of the universe. This could be partly permissible if you’re an artist selling your music directly to listeners. But for most composers, we are in the service of others, be it composers for Film, Tv, Ads, Video Games, Stage Plays, Musicals etc.. Basically, as long as you’re commissioned to write music, or in professional terms entering a “work for hire” relationship with your client, you’re in the service industry.


Since we’re in the service industry providing our services to others, it is important to understand that we’re being hired to solve problems for our clients. What matters is the person hiring you getting what they want, and by hiring you means that the client is confident that you’re able to meet his/her needs and having you exchange your services for money.


I’ve come across many composers, especially those new in the industry when in the service of their clients, tend to flex their creative muscles a.k.a "ego" more than they should, usually resulting in heated disputes and in some extreme cases getting fired from the job. The worst of all is getting blacklisted from the industry. In these types of scenarios, creatives love to see themselves blameless and placing all of it on the client. What they are actually doing is creating problems for their clients instead of solving them.


In simple language, this is called: bad attitude/unprofessional. But to me, it’s the lack of knowledge on the part of the composer about the function of his/her role. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a newbie composer or a superstar with grammys and oscars under your belt. If someone’s paying you, it’s your duty as a composer to deliver. Of course, this is not to say to allow unreasonable clients step all over you. There’s a difference between protecting yourself and being a dick to your clients. Even in your own defense against unreasonable clients, there are more “politically correct” ways of handling those situations - This we will discuss in another article.


As work for hire composers, we have to embrace an attitude that is focused on serving others. Think of us as being in the ranks of superheroes with special powers, and superheroes always put themselves before others. Those with special powers that are self centered in their own agendas are often called villains. Which would you rather be?


Most successful composers are not successful merely because of how great their technical abilities are, it’s the whole package of being able to produce breathtaking music and understanding their function as a composer in the ecosystem. If you’re a composer and feel that this is what you’re lacking, I implore you to start working on this and I guarantee that your chances of flourishing will multiply many folds.



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