A music student asked me some questions about composing for a research project and although I’m not a composer (apart from dabbling in library) I have been a fly-on-the-wall of several composers – it’s a fascinating process!  Most of my contact with composers has bee in media music – for film, TV and games.  It is not music for its own sake, rather it communicates and manipulates in relation to visual imagery and story telling.  I feel that movies and games are the natural home of contemporary music (OK, not exclusively) as these media offer a place to bring together every musical influence without prejudice, so in movies and games (both designed to play on our emotions to the utmost) we see more influences and genres mashed-up than in any other arena.

How do you become a composer?
The inventor Thomas Edison left us with many life-changing inventions, plus a cliche: “genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration”.  It’s a maxim that suits any creative process.  Composers not only have to generate musical ideas, they need the self-belief, determination, courage and commitment to carry them through, and that covers not only the crafting of ideas (arranging, producing, recording) but the strength to establish themselves as credible composers with the people who will commission them for scores.

Sure, to be a composer you need a knowledge of musical language and a willingness to develop musical ideas, but just as important is the passion to carry those ideas through and convince others of their worth.  This is a character trait – dogged determination and confidence in yourself.

Not all the composers I know have come through a formal musical education – the self-taught route is just as viable, as learning comes from experience.

Why did you become involved in composition?

Any creator must have an overwhelming desire to create – a drive that leaves them in no doubt that they simply have to do it and cannot imagine stopping.

What type of projects does a composer work on?

The commissions are incredibly varied; any media that tells a story and manipulates emotion.  Radio, tv, video, film, web-based, theatre.  LIbrary music is still a huge business – still music for media, but trying to pre-empt the brief with off-the-shelf compositions to fit imagined scenarios.

Where does a composer work?
Most composers I know do very little on paper any more – possibly some sketches.  They work at a piano keyboard linked to a computer, recording and developing their ideas in digital audio software (Cubase, Nuendo, Logic, Pro Tools, Sibelius and others), so the working environment is a studio.

Is the income of a composer reliable?
Income for a composer has a front end and a back end – commission fees at the start of the process and royalties in the long term.  Although any freelance work is inevitably ‘unreliable’, once a composer has established an identity and credibility, income can be surprisingly reliable – particularly if they build a long term relationship with commissioners (such as film directors, documentary makers, library music publishers or games producers) as the composer becomes part of a team and grows with the rest of the group.

What are the ‘working hours’ of a composer?
I think all of the composers I know have at some stage gone without sleep for days on end!


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