Music composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles for various mediums such as television shows, feature films, videogames, advertisements, movie trailers...etc.
“I sincerely believe that working with my best friends is the most rewarding aspect of this job. I mean, seeing the final result (a movie trailer, for example) is incredibly gratifying, too. It validates all of the decisions I’ve made. Of course, when I was a kid all I wanted to do was to play the piano, so the fact that I get to write music every day — and get paid for it — is quite extraordinary.” Oscar Flores, Composer
“Every day is very, very different but for the most part I wake up around 8:30-9am. I eat breakfast and then I open my current project session (each music track is written in one session), check e-mails and do some research on YouTube and iTunes. Research, meaning watching new movie trailers and listening to new songs, film scores, etc. I don’t actually begin writing and mixing music till about 11am, but I have everything ready in case I get a request from a client.
I write, edit, mix or arrange music from about 11AM till midnight. I do take exercise, lunch and dinner breaks. Most days I try to work for about 10-12 hours but that can always vary. This is for weekdays. On weekends I try to work about 5-7 hours; sometimes less if I don’t have a deadline. Again, this changes all the time depending on a number of factors. It’s important to mention that I have an incredibly flexible schedule, which I think is vital for creative people. Some days I simply cannot force myself to write any music, so I may take a few hours and go to the beach or the mountains. These breaks are incredibly important for musicians. Count this as an extremely advantageous aspect of this profession — I don’t think people working a 9 to 5 office job get the luxury of doing that.” Oscar Flores, Composer
- DAW software: Cubase, Pro Tools
- Instruments: Piano/Synthesizer, guitar, other instruments
- Musical theory and composition
- Passion for music
- Being able to tell a story with music
- Established composer: Assist with his work, learn more about the craft and establish connections.
- Freelance: Music composers create music for all different kinds of things such as:
- Feature films
- Television shows
- Movie trailers
- Corporate videos
- Digital videos
“In terms of projects, I am a freelancer, so I don’t work exclusively for any single person or company. However, I will say that about 95% of my work is focused on motion picture advertising (i.e trailers and TV spots for Hollywood films). This is the work I do for Louder Productions. Other projects may include student, independent and feature films, video games, commercials, corporate videos and documentaries. Most composers are freelancers and work on a variety of projects. Some composers do have agents, publicists and other people helping them get certain films or TV shows. Having an agent is not necessary but once a composer is very well known and established, an agent becomes indispensable. Agents will pitch for jobs, including blockbuster and other big films, knowing the strengths of their clients. These pitches would be very difficult to make without the help of an agent. Film, TV, videogames, commercials require different amounts of music under varying deadlines, but in general terms, they are very similar in that they need custom music. Many composers work in all of these industries since applying the knowledge gained in one type of media is always applicable in the other ones. Again, this is speaking in general since music genres vary greatly!” Oscar Flores, Composer
- Competitive and hard to get a foot in the door, need perseverance: This career is not just about talent. It is about initiative.
- Isolation: “A very important part of being a composer is spending many, many hours alone — in isolation. We have to be very focused on our music and, thus, require privacy at all times. This in turn is very detrimental to our social lives. This may be the biggest sacrifice one makes in this profession.” Oscar Flores, Composer
- Long hours and a strong work ethic are a must: “Sometimes it feels like being on call at all times since clients will want revisions and changes done under very tight deadlines. These may come any day and at any time. More importantly, I never know when this will happen, so I always have to be prepared. It can be both very stressful but also very exciting. In terms of professional expectations, the people I work with do require the best quality music delivered on time. I think they also expect me to always be positive and not complain about whatever request they may have for a music track. This is not hard to do since it’s an amazing job, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s little tolerance for people with negative attitudes or unenthusiastic personalities. Remember, this profession is about simplifying other people’s lives, so being easygoing is perhaps the single most important attribute to possess.” Oscar Flores, Composer
- Played musical instruments.
- Noticed the film scores of films and television shows.
- Loved to create music!
- Music Composers generally hold a bachelor’s related to music, however, the most important qualifications are musical talent, skills, and a broad understanding of the music theory spectrum
- Many composers go on to earn a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts degree
- The National Association of Schools of Music accredits many music education schools and programs
- Courses may include musical theory, notation, history, software, recording, and business
- Try to study a range of instruments as well as singing. Have familiarity with the main instrument types — strings, woodwind, brass, keyboards, and percussion
- Practical experience is as vital as obtaining formal academic credentials
- Classical Music Composers must learn composition types including sonatas, arias, concertos, cadenzas, operas, chamber music, overtures, symphonies, cantatas, and movements
- There are several classical music genres tied to different historical periods, such as Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical/Romantic, and 20th/21st Century (each with several subtypes)
- Composers may also write songs, however, they are different from songwriters (who only write songs)
- For those who write scores for film or TV products, knowledge of drama arts and storytelling can be helpful
- Music Composition internships are a great way to gain practical experience and have fun
- Certifications such as Berklee Online’s Professional Certificate in Music Theory and Composition can bolster your credentials
“I would encourage everyone to get a college degree, and not necessarily just a music degree. While you can work as a film composer without a college degree — no one will ever ask you for your diploma or transcript — there are many valuable lessons related to this profession that can be learned in college. From negotiation and accounting principles, to improving writing skills (as in writing letters and emails; not music). Believe it or not, writing effective e-mails is as important as writing great music.” Oscar Flores, Composer
- Enroll in high school concert or marching band
- Take private music lessons and practice composing daily
- If you can’t afford private lessons, use books, magazines, and video tutorials to help you with self-study
- Learn music theory and how to arrange and compose music
- Listen to film and television musical scores, Broadway musicals, and background music for plays, dances, and other live events
- Get exposure to a wide range of different genres of music and singing
- Volunteer with youth orchestras, church choirs, or other local music groups
- Apply for Music Composer internships in your area
- Decide what type of music you want to compose — classical, jazz, ad jingles, popular music, etc.
- If you’re good enough, give private lessons yourself or teach small groups!
- Learn how to use music notation software such as MuseScore 2, Sibelius, Noteflight, QuickScore Elite Level II, Notion 6, or other popular programs
- Get familiar with audio recording, editing, and mixing software as well, such as Audacity, GarageBand, Adobe Audition, Ableton Live, and Pro Tools
- Interview working Music Composers or watch video interviews to gain insights into the career field
- Sign up for MasterClasses such as Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring or Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz
- Check out Udemy courses such as Video Game Music Composition Masterclass: Complete A-Z Guide
- Stay involved with your local music community, and consider launching a YouTube, Vimeo, or social media channel to grow your reputation
- Join professional organizations to grow your network and expand your knowledge
- Get involved in the arts community and score a project: “Get involved with friends who want to be filmmakers. Most people have a friend who aspires to be a director. Usually, they will start making movies during their high school years, so this is a great opportunity to start scoring projects. This is how I started and, incredibly enough, I still collaborate with one of those friends since he now works in Hollywood. You never know where people will end up after high school so do maintain those friendships.” Oscar Flores, Composer
- Write music for your high school theatre and band.
- Work with aspiring filmmakers in college: At this point, if your university has a film school, you will find a wide variety of scoring opportunities.
- Create a band, write and perform your own music.
- Intern: Both high school and college are great opportunities for internships. You can intern with a local film/TV/videogame composer, engineer, recording studio/label or even a movie studio.
- 15.1% with HS Diploma
- 5.2% with Associate’s
- 30.7% with Bachelor’s
- 18.4% with Master’s
- 3.9% with Professional
(% of employees aged 25 to 44 in the occupation whose highest level of educational attainment is)
- Gain credits and have many samples of your work. Build a music portfolio featuring a short video reel, project clips, audio files, notes on your compositions, and other details
- In the Education section, we discussed many ways you can gain samples and get credits. One particular way is scoring a student’s film or digital video.
- Network with people in the industry you want to work in (advertising, television, film, corporate, movie trailers).
- Go where the work is! New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Chicago are some of the hottest spots for music careers. Per BLS, the states with the highest employment rates for this field are California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois
- Sometimes to get your foot in the door, you just want to get yourself as close to the industry/company you want to work in as possible. When you are there, find the part of the company that hires the composers and submit your work.
- Remember, if you are not willing to work for free, you will probably not survive in this industry.
- Submit your resume and samples to different scoring gigs.
- Or get an assistantship or internship position with an established composer: Many students pursue this path, which is quite competitive but very rewarding.
- Ask your music teachers and any clients, supervisors, or co-workers with knowledge of your work to be professional references when the time comes
- Talk with your school’s career center for help with resumes, mock interviews, and help to find work
- Land clients on your own through freelance sites such as Upwork and Voices
- “Know how to adapt to changing trends in music.”: "For instance, movie trailers have gone through many cycles in terms of how they are ‘scored.’ Successful trailer composers have embraced these changes and have refined the way they work and the music they produce. I think this is applicable to film and television, too. It’s easy to note the changes in music from, say, a movie in 1985 from a movie in 2013. Those who are still part of the industry have evolved and adjusted." Oscar Flores, Composer
- Be nice with a non-conflictive personality: “In other words, people with no ego. Nice does not mean you should let people take advantage of you but, instead, it means being a person that gets along with most people and treats everyone with respect.”
- Work well under pressure: “You will be working on multi-million dollar projects where the pressure will be very intense and you will have to remain calm, professional and positive. Directors, producers, music supervisors do not want to work with someone with a negative attitude.
- Thick skin!: “You do need to have a very thick skin to thrive in this business. Your music will get criticized, altered, and rejected.”
- Passion for music!
- American Composers Forum
- American Federation of Musicians
- American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers
- American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers
- International Computer Music Association
- Society for Music Theory
- Society of Composers, Inc.
- Society of Composers and Lyricists
- A Composer's Guide to Game Music, by Winifred Phillips
- Music Composition For Dummies, by Scott Jarrett and Holly Day
- Music Composition for Film and Television, by Lalo Schifrin
- Music Theory and Composition: A Practical Approach, by Stephen C. Stone
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Composition: Methods for Developing Simple Melodies and Longer Compositions, by Michael Miller
- Writing Music for Commercials: Television, Radio, and New Media, by Michael Zager
“I would tell students to focus on their people skills. Focus more on real friendships than on networking and making contacts in the industry. You want to work with your close friends and not just with someone you met at a convention or industry event. Well, sometimes you’ll meet people, start working with them, and eventually develop a close relationship. It’s very important to be very genuine when meeting established individuals in Hollywood. They know what you want — they can detect if you are being honest or if you simply want something from them. Again, develop those relationships until they become real friendships. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable in Hollywood. Your friends trust you and will help you, meaning they will want you to score their next feature film, TV show, or videogame.” Oscar Flores, Composer
“Finally, I would encourage students to find a mentor. A mentor will already be an established composer in the industry and will guide you and teach you important concepts. Do not assume your mentor will get you a job because this is not always the case, but do assume that if you get a project, your mentor will be there to help you (hopefully). Be very selective when choosing your mentor. This could very well be the most important professional decision you make. You want to be mentored by someone that has the time, patience, and knowledge. Also, you want to get along with him and respect his work.” Oscar Flores, Composer