Below are some of the questions which I am often asked when being considered for a composition role in film or game scoring. I tried to answer these questions thoroughly and to the best of my ability, but if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This list may be updated in the future, should further questions arise frequently. I hope this FAQ helps you find the answers you are seeking!
What is the benefit of hiring a composer vs downloading royalty-free or stock music from a website?
•Uniqueness – Royalty-Free or stock music is based on the principal that anyone can buy it and use it, but no one person can own the rights (except the composer). Therefore, if you manage to find a track you think fits your role, well, so have a hundred other people. A contracted composer can provide music that is completely unique to your project and will never be replicated in anyone else’s work. Your characters can have their own unique themes, the environments you have created can have their own themes, even less tangible things such as love or hate or ocean waves or weather can all have their own unique themes. This translates to the audience in a subconscious way, and draws them closer to your characters, strengthens emotions, and ties a sound with a place.
•Quality – Let’s face it. A large majority of royalty-free music simply isn’t very high quality. And anything worth licensing is about the same price you would pay for a composer who can provide a unique score individualized to your project. Consider how much time and effort has gone into your project and ensure you are making decisions which best benefit the project you worked so hard to create.
•Customization – A composer is an instrument to design your musical vision. If you wanted a portrait of your family, you wouldn’t go to Wal-Mart and buy a frame with a stock photo family in it and say “good enough” would you? Of course not. You want your family in the photo, your vision realized, and a composer can translate your musical vision into reality. In addition to that, you can have a piece of music altered in pretty much any way imaginable. Something you cannot do with stock music. An experienced composer also has the skills to paint a musical picture even more vividly that you may have imagined it.
Say I decide to hire you as the composer for my film or game, what is the first step?
•The first step would be to discuss the expectations and direction in which the music should go. A description of the characters, the plot, and the setting being the primary factors. It also helps to know if the director/developer has any thoughts on instrumentation or style. Some times you may have a very distinct idea of exactly what you want, other times you may wish to leave it open to interpretation. Both are perfectly acceptable – however it is important to establish this early on, in order for the final product to be reached in a timely manner. This requires some planning from the director or developer ahead of time, whether it’s establishing minor constraints or an exact vision. Communication is really the key factor here. Once the project’s parameters are clear between both parties, an agreement upon terms and conditions should be discussed so that both parties are on the same page as far as compensation and timeline expectations.
How long should I expect to wait for a finished product?
•This is something that would be discussed and implemented within the timeline we agree upon from the beginning. Generally speaking 1-5 minutes takes approximately a week to compose and produce. I also try to allow extra time for revisions, in case anything needs to be changed or a scene is altered causing timing to change. Turn-around time varies based on three primary factors: instrumentation, tempo, and inclusion of live recorded instruments. A large instrumentation (such as a full orchestra) requires more time to put together than a small instrumentation (such as a 5-piece chamber ensemble) simply because there are more instruments to work with, and each instrument has it’s own intricacies to deal with. As far as tempo is concerned, a higher tempo track means there are more measures of music within the allotted time, therefore a high tempo track will sometimes (not always) take longer to compose than a medium- or slow-tempo track. In film scoring, an action sequence may take longer if there are several events that need to be accented in the score and timed precisely with the picture. Lastly, the inclusion of live instruments or voice also requires more time in order to setup a recording schedule with an artist and record good takes. This could increase a 1-week workload to 2 or 3 weeks. However, you may only need a real instrumentalist or vocalist on a couple tracks, while you don’t need them on the rest of the tracks. In this situation you would not lose any time, because work could be done on the VSTi (virtual instrument) tracks while waiting for the instrumentalist/vocalist to come in and record.
Who will own the rights to the music?
•Ultimately that is a decision between the employer and the contractor that is stipulated in the contract. Most commonly, the composer is a worker-for-hire, and the rights will be held by the developer or production so that they can use the music whenever/wherever they feel. Which means they could freely use the music in advertisements, videos, other episodes in a series, other games in the series, etc… On the other hand if the composer retains the rights, they have control to use the music how they see fit. Which means that if I think certain track(s) would do well in the public licensing arena, then they may be licensed for use in other media.
What is the process for scoring a film?
•Scoring a film is a process that begins with communication between the composer and the director to achieve the vision the director has for the film, and thus the score to the film. It is very important that both composer and director are on the same page from the beginning. Getting a grasp on the characters, the setting, and in a more general sense, the feel, is very valuable for the composer in creating a great score. Each composer has their own method. I may not use the same method for each film or even each cue. Some scenes, say and action sequence, may require precise timing and high energy – in this case I would likely start by getting the timing down for each event that needs to be accented in the music. Another scene may be heavily focused on character development – the music may reflect this by gradually adding rhythmic complexity to a character theme. Each cue in the score is it’s own individual piece of music, but there are overarching elements that recur throughout.
Here is a breakdown from the score I composed for “The Cure”, which serves as an example of the process of composing an action sequence cue.
If I hire you to score a film/game, what do I need to send you?
•The most typical method is during post-production, in which the director may send a rough cut, temp score, and/or cue sheet. Additionally, the composer and director may meet to discuss timing together – also known as a “spotting session”. The rough cut is necessary for achieving optimal timing between the music and picture. The temp score is not always necessary, but it helps the composer in establishing the sought after musical direction. The cue sheet is basically a breakdown of when the music begins and ends for each section of music, as well as any other information that provides direction to the composer.
•Another method, usually only done for series, is to compose a portion of the music prior to post-production. In a series, the production of each episode must be streamlined in order to produce episodes as quickly as possible. If each episode was scored completely individually, this would take a significant amount of time and would require that the episode be in the composer’s hands with plenty of time to create the score. This simply isn’t possible – or at least would be extremely inefficient. So the composer may create a library of music for the series ahead of time. This library may consist of varying versions of the same pieces, so that they fit in a variety of situations. For example, a character’s theme may be divided into a full orchestra version, a flute-only version, a slower piano version with chords underneath, a version with only the chords but no melody, etc… These would then be edited into the episode by the editor. For these situations, the most important thing is communication of ideas between both parties. The director/producer may send a breakdown of the characters, a script, and any other information that might help with artistic direction. If a particular scene or scenes requires additional music specifically composed for them, that can then be done without hindering the production timeline.
•The world of games is incredibly diverse. This can be complicated by the fact that the same thing will never happen the exact same way twice (except cut scenes of course). For some situations, the music may play a more static role, something that has a steady tempo and loops continuously. In this case, generally all I need is direction from the developer; that might be through descriptions of game-play, screenshots of a level, a video capture of game-play, or even a rudimentary copy of the game, so I can play through the level myself. However, it’s typically not necessary to send a copy of the game to understand the musical direction.
•Other types of games or levels may require something more dynamic. There are different methods to achieving this, depending on what element is considered variable. For example, a boss fight might have a brief intro that leads into the main battle music and an outro that depends on winning or losing. Obviously this complicates things a bit. This could be achieved by the developer implementing the music through coding. There is also middleware like FMOD which can dynamically alter a piece of music by adding/subtracting layers based on set triggers. This can be done on the composer’s end, but requires close collaboration with the developer. The possibilities are quite endless! In these dynamic situations having a video capture of game-play or having a copy of the game is more beneficial, as it allows me to access the variables which would alter the music.
What are your rates? Do you accept revenue share?
•This is obviously one of the main concerns of most people looking into hiring a composer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide accurate numbers in a general sense, because each project is treated completely individually. Much like turn-around time, rates depend heavily on a number of factors. The primary factors of concern are instrumentation (large ensemble vs. small), stylistic traits, live instrument/vocal recordings, and turn-around time. Let’s go through each one, and how it factors into the equation:
- Instrumentation: Fairly straight-forward. More instruments require more work and time, therefore the rate for a full orchestra will exceed that of a small group.
- Stylistic Traits: In games, it is important that the tone of the music reflects the values of the game. If I was composing a space exploration game, a more ambient tone might be required with more synthetic elements that play into the openness and eeriness of space. In a high-intensity strategy game, I may compose an orchestral piece that emphasizes the epic nature of the fighting taking place. For a mobile game about kittens, I’m probably going to go for something more playful with a good upbeat feel to emphasize the playful nature of the game. Each of these has it’s own details that need attention paid to them, but generally, it comes down to the importance of the realism of the music and production value. A game with a very serious tone, means that a lot of attention must be paid to making the instruments sound as real as possible – whether that means spending extra time perfecting the VSTi qualities or hiring a live musician to record parts. For a less serious game, attention is paid more to the rhythmic and melodic aspects and keeping the right mood throughout without it getting repetitive and boring.
- Live instrument/vocal recordings: Adding even one live instrument to the mix of virtual instruments can take a score to another level and give the mix a much more realistic sound. When incorporating live instruments into a score, it means that someone will have to come in and record. Simply put, it is difficult to find anyone to use their talents and their time to do this for free. And frankly it would not be fair to ask them to do so. Therefore, adding live instruments to the mix results in higher expenditures. This is a factor that would be discussed in great detail before composition began, as it has the potential to change the price point significantly, depending on what is needed.
- Turn Around Time: In most cases, this is a non-issue. However, occasionally you may find yourself needing a track in a matter of day(s) rather than week(s). Usually, it is entirely possible to do this, but it requires extra effort (and coffee) on the composer’s end. Much like over-time in any other job, an additional fee may be incurred for extra time spent to get a track out as quickly as possible.
•A revenue share agreement is always negotiable, but in most cases only accepted if at least 50% of the asking price is paid up-front. Again, this varies project to project, so nothing is out of the question.
If you have any questions regarding pricing for your project, please feel free to get in touch any time and I am more than happy to discuss rates and options in further detail. Some people may feel reservations in discussing rates because they don’t know what to expect or think they don’t have enough to offer – but this is something I take very seriously and will treat every project, no matter the budget, with the respect it deserves.
If I decide to hire you, when do I pay? Do I have to pay all at once?
•Payment methods are negotiable. On a short-term contract, typically payment is made either up-front, per-track, or half now/half upon completion. On medium to longer contracts, payment may be spread out over the course of weeks or months. There is no obligation to pay up-front unless a revenue share agreement is in place which requires a down payment, and even then, larger payments may be split up into week-to-week. Payments can be made via PayPal. For large scale projects, payments can be made with check, or via direct deposit through a company account.
How can I be sure that I will receive what I pay for?
•A legal contract will be made between the employer and contractor which binds me to provide the services requested, and binds the employer to pay in a timely manner. Both parties will be held accountable to fulfill the contract unless both parties agree to dissolve the contract. Otherwise, legal action can be taken. It is important to read and understand the contract fully before signing! In addition to the contract, the employer can request a pay-per-track method of payment to ensure that the employer only has to pay each time a new track is received, thus ensuring they get what they pay for.