Thursday, April 5, 2018

Your Composer Fees - Free, Frugal, Fine, or Fu%^ed!

To My Fellow Composers:

If you are at all like me, creating music is the breath of life bordering on obsession.

In order to build a career, you've spent a lifetime studying your craft, paid a fortune on college fees, lessons, seminars, gear....

You'd work for free just for the chance to create.   One might imagine an addiction to cocaine would have made more financial sense.

And then it happens: you land a gig where someone is actually offering you money to create music.

At this point you have to figure out how to price your music, a process I affectionally refer to as deciding if your are going to be "Free, Frugal, Fine or Fu%^!"

Let's start with "Fine:"

When I landed one of my first gigs writing music for a network sit-com, I learned that I had been chosen when one of the competing composers called to congratulate me on my good fortune.   At the time this composer had more shows on the air than anyone in the history of television and I had lost out to him on dozens of occasions, and I had expected I would again.  Happily, I was wrong.

I found it a bit odd that he had found out about the gig before I did, but I took that in stride.  He was famous.  I was just getting started.

The composer then proceeded to tell me exactly his deal for such a show saying,
"This is what I would have charged.  This is what they can afford and what is fair per episode.  I also get half the publishing royalties.  Don't let them low-ball you and give you less. 
"They hired you because they felt your music would work better than mine.  They are not hiring you because they think you'll work cheaper than me - it's not about the money. 
"And remember, the moment 'the powers that be' think they can get great music for cheap, we're all Fu%^ed!"
I went into the negotiation with this information, and I was indeed "Fine."

Free or Frugal:

There's a big difference between working for free or for less than you want, and getting Fu%^ed!

Your music has real and tangible value and you need to demand fair compensation for it.  Still, there might be times when it makes sense to give your music away for free if there is some sort of alternative compensation in the offing.

When you approach such opportunities, you need to understand all the parameters of the gig and the alternative opportunities for monetization of your music. Then you can make an informed decision as to the value of the project as it relates to your time.  Maybe it's a high profile gig that will enhance your value as a composer?  Maybe it's a style of music you need for your reel?  Maybe there's a valuable collaboration?

Just don't let yourself be Fu%^ed!   Here's where the difference lies:
Whenever I am working for less than my real value, I never give away the copyright nor publishing to my music.  I own it and exploit it in other markets.  
Here's how I demand to keep my ownership:

I was asked to write the music for a low budget indie film.  I liked the film and felt it had a chance at getting some real distribution, but as it is in most of these cases, the music budget was appalling.  I insisted on a small orchestra, which completely ate the budget.  I may have even kicked in a bit of money.  One might think I was being Fu%^ed.  This was not the case.

The deal I made:  

In exchange for working below my rate, I retained all the rights to the music.   Working below my rate only made sense because at the time I was supplying music for many, many film trailers.  I understood the value of that alternative monetization.  I also knew that a single license for a trailer would pay more than the entire music budget for the film.

At first the client balked.  "What do you mean, I won't own the music in my film?  I have to own the music!  I won't be able to distribute the film without owning the music."

To which I explained:
"First, we treat the music composed for the film, like any song you might license, as if it existed before the film.  Then, with a proper Sync and Master License, you'll have all the rights needed to distribute the music with film.   You know filmmakers license existing songs for films all the time and it doesn't hinder the film's distribution, right?
This can be a win/win situation.  You get great music for your film, performed by a real orchestra at a budget you can afford, and I get to monetize the music in other projects to make up for the lack of budget."
Then there's the kicker - a dose of reality to the filmmaker.
 "As much as I want to work with you on the film, you really can't expect me to spend six weeks (or more) writing and producing 60 minutes of music (or more), and pay me less then my music gets for a single license for 30 seconds in a film trailer.   That's simply not fair and I can't do it.  You have to let me make a fair return on my time and my investment in your film."
Using this method of negotiating when working on lower budget projects, I have been able to build a personal music library of over 500 cues.  To date, the music has appeared in over 140 trailers ranging from the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises, to films like "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." My library is also used extensively on TV for everything from HGTV to The X-Factor.  Because I had access to these avenues of monetization, working for these films made financial sense - as long as I owned the music.


Each composer will face their own challenges in their career, and getting fair compensation for their work is always going to be an issue. And when you love what you do as much as we do, it's even harder to say no to an opportunity.

The key to not being "Fu%^ed," at least for me, has been my demand to own my music whenever the budgets are small. Otherwise, composing would have long ago gone from career to hobby.

Finally, for the new crew of composers entering the industry, I recall the words said to me when I landed that sit-com at the beginning of my career.
"...the moment 'the powers that be' think they can get great music for cheap, we're all Fu%^ed!"
Words to live by...

No comments:

Post a Comment