Following up from my post, yesterday (The 5 “Don’ts”), I generally like to end on a positive note. Today – having listed what I feel are the most common and egregious online errors that young film composers make – I’d like to continue with some suggestions about how to foster active, positive, social media habits. Our situation will only improve if we stand up for ourselves, behave with unfailing professionalism, and never undervalue ourselves or our colleagues.
We are not our competition.
We are our professional network.
Here we go…
The 5 Social Media “Dos” for Young Film Composers
1. DO seek out new projects in interesting places.
I often find paid work on terrific projects in unexpected online places. Ask yourself what your niche is, as a composer, and where filmmakers who share your interests might congregate. Rather than post broad and desperate calls for Attention To Be Paid (again, this simply does not work), instead, micro-target your offers to projects that you feel you’d be the best suited to tackle.
Make direct contact with directors and producers. Send them short, to-the-point, gracious, bullshit-free, introductory emails, containing easy-to-click links to your Soundcloud page and your Demo Reel. If they want to see more picture, then follow up with a link to your YouTube page. Apart from your Demo Reel, don’t lead with images. Often, when someone hears a piece of music – together with picture they don’t like – it is tough for them to divorce the imagery from your music. Let the music speak for itself, and allow them to visualize your music in conjunction with the images in their head – or in their project – first.
Find where YOUR people are, online, and let this lead your search.
2. DO use your social media presence to judiciously post about what you are doing and what you are going to be doing (and other cool stuff!).
As I said yesterday – and this bears repeating – making general offers on social media is not an effective way of attracting new projects or fans. But so…How do you best utilize your social media presence in order to cultivate both new clients and devoted followers?
There are three answers and they all work together in harmony.
Call it the Holy Trinity of Online Self-Promotion.
A) What Are You Doing?: If you are recording with a musician, working on a great project, going to a screening, giving a performance, collaborating with an amazing person, or whatever else; post about it! Since we work in a position that involves us completing multiple projects months (or even years) before anyone sees them, you need to start threads for each thing so your followers can…well…follow you.
For example, I had two separate recording dates with brass players for the short film, Bowes Academy, earlier this year. I took pictures at each date, and posted them on that day, also linking to the film’s trailer. This then engaged the musicians – and all of their friends – in the project, drawing more traffic and broadening the audience. Each new person you engage in even one of your projects is someone who might mention you to their director friend, come to a screening, etc.
Also – and this is really important – don’t over-post. Space them out – 1-2 per day – so that people don’t get sick of you. Respect your audience’s virtual space and actual time.
B) What Is Coming Up?: Did a film you worked on get into a film festival? Is there something coming up that you want people to attend? Post about it! Invite people to join you at things in, you know, real life. This plays off of A) by directly engaging your followers to actively participate.
I’ve been working on a documentary called Alex & Ali for 2 years. Producing the score involved over 25 musicians and staff. As I’ve gone through the process, I’ve posted pictures from score prep, recording sessions, mixing sessions, and other steps along the way…tagging as I went. So now that it’s finally having its world premiere at the end of May, the groundwork has been laid and the payoff is teed up! Additionally, since the premiere is in Toronto, the staff and musicians in Chicago and LA are getting excited for premieres in their respective cities (which I will soon start dropping hints about).
Keep track of your threads, and keep up the anticipation for what you are going to do next!
C) Other Cool Stuff!: Don’t just use your social media presence to promote yourself. You also have a powerful way to engage with people who have similar interests to you. I’m obviously a long-time Doctor Who fan, and I often post Who-related news and fun stuff. I’m also passionate about science, film and several other subjects and issues that have nothing to do with my work.
Don’t just use your online spaces to toot your own horn. You will be surprised how many people will become interested in what you’re doing, simply because you DIDN’T post about yourself.
3) DO be willing to negotiate.
Since you will not be offering free work anymore (See yesterday’s post), how do you deal with situations where budgets are miniscule or non-existent? I have come across this many, many times, and I’m sure you have, too. The answer is simple: If you are contacted by a director who wants to work with you, your reply should open with this (and you can quote me):
“Thank you so much for getting in touch with me! I’m really excited about working on this project with you. What is your music budget?”
Asking them about their music budget right off the bat will show you immediately, a) whether or not they’ve even thought about a music budget, and b) if they actually have one.
This is where you need to activate your bullshit detector.
If you get the now-infamous: “We spent all of the budget on shooting, and we’re doing this for the love of cinema, and this is going to be an awesome resumé-builder, and it will be great exposure because we’re going to be in ALL THE FESTIVALS, and we’ll pay you for some other gig in the future” line, then I invite you to educate them as to why that’s patently offensive, and politely decline. This answer is absolute garbage, displays zero professional courtesy, and insults intelligence. You don’t need to burn bridges, but don’t be afraid to inform them as to why it is that this is not the way to do business with us.
If you get: “We have no money, but here’s our gameplan, here’s what we’re doing to compensate you down the line, and here’s what we can offer you now.” You can work with that. This is a BS-free answer that shows the director is being on the level with you, and respecting you as a professional. Maybe you need a new demo reel put together, or headshots, or website design, or a music video done? Barter/Trade is totally acceptable, and you never want to pass up the opportunity to work with someone who has their shit together. You never know where it might lead.
If you get: “We have $x set aside for music.”: WIN! Negotiate, go forth, and do excellent work.
4) DO be selective about projects that you actively seek out.
Every film composer has their own unique voice, perspective, aesthetic, and demeanor. Not every project – nor every director – is a good match for every composer. Some projects are, however, perfect! Actively seek those out.
Don’t just hurl yourself at everything that has a blank space for the composer credit. If you are selecting what to work on, choose projects that interest you, intrigue you, or look like they’d be an excellent challenge for you. Play to your strengths. Do a little research. Tailor your musical examples and your reel to show off those strengths.
If you find you are finding nothing but projects you hate, you might be in the wrong business.
However, keep in mind…
5) DO say yes to every good-faith offer of paid work.
Commercials for wedding bags. Bat Mitzvah videos. Promos for assisted living communities and extended care hospitals. Over-the-counter genital herpes medication commercials.
What do these all have in common?
They are all projects I’ve done because the client was excellent, they paid entirely reasonably, and/or they treated me and my work with the utmost professional courtesy.
Glamorous? Not really.
Excellent experiences that led to bigger and better things? Absolutely!
So while you are being choosy with the projects that you actively seek out, never turn down good-faith offers of paid work.* These jobs will pay some bills and allow you to keep going forward. They also will help you establish what your rates are, help you optimize your workflow for various types of projects, and give you things to post about (See 1 & 2, above).
I hope you’ve found this helpful.
I honestly believe that if every professional film composer embarking on a new career implements these 10 rules, our rising tide will float all of our boats.
Please feel free to share this, should the spirit move.
Thanks for reading! ______________________________________________________________________________* The only exception I would offer for this is if the project runs counter to your personal beliefs. I – for example – would never do an ad for Koch Industries.