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.
I recently brought up some “Dos” and “Don’ts” for composers entering the film business to a professional development presentation for a class of grad students, and I thought I’d take a moment to share these with you. I see these mistakes being made all the time on forums, Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else. If you want to be a professional, it’s best to start presenting yourself to the world as a professional. Anything less than that hurts all of us. So here we go:
5 Social Media “Don’ts” for Young Film Composers
1. DON’T make general offers of music on forums, message boards, or any other public site.
This casts way too wide a net, makes you look desperate, and is a waste of time, since no-one really listens to these posted tracks with any degree of seriousness, anyway.
2. DON’T make general offers on any of your social media pages.
It’s very easy to think that your social media pages are perfect advertising billboards, but it’s important for you to consider how you are advertising. Imitating a TV lawyer and going with the “Do you need a film composer? Then I’m your guy!” route is not the way to go.
3. DON’T beg.
Too often, young composers are so hungry for work that they will run around the internet begging for random projects to hire them. This, again, makes you look desperate, and is also unprofessional.
4. DON’T enter contests.
You are a professional. If anything, you should be helping judge contests. This is not ancient Rome. We are not on the floor of the Coliseum.
5. DON’T ever offer anything for free.
You devalue yourself, your work, and you lower the bar for all of us. Have you ever wondered why it is that filmmakers feel like they can ask for your work for free? It’s because too many of us offer it up for free all over the place. Do. Not. Do. This.
Tomorrow: The 5 “Dos”! Be sure to come back and check them out.
It’s been a very busy few weeks here at Blue Police Box Music, and there will be a lot of opportunities to see what I’ve been up to coming up in May!
Scary Normal, our little feature that could, is screening – in competition – at the Golden Egg Film Festival in Cancun, Mexico, April 30th – May 7th. We are in the running for Best Feature, Best Feature Director (Jennifer Bechtel), and Best Actress (April Cleveland). It’s an honor to be nominated, of course!
I’ll be on an industry panel, entitled “Rockin’ Music, Rollin’ Film: Creative Collaborations of Musicians and Filmmakers” as part of CIMMFest 2014. This Sunday – May the 4th (be with you) – at 2:00pm. Collaboraction in Wicker Park. I’m thrilled to be on a panel with John McNaughton, Wendy Jo Carlton, and some other serious pros. Hope to see you there!
I’m currently working on the brilliant short film, “Get The F K Out Of Paris” – which will knock your socks off – and getting ready to hit the ground running on TV, film, and dance projects this summer!
Thanks, as always, for listening and spreading the word!
I just had the pleasure of working with Director William Donaruma and Cinematographer John Klein (Fate Accompli) on this beautiful short for the DHARMA Project. DHARMA is a student-led team from the University of Notre Dame, that has been documenting international heritage sites with a 3-D laser scanner, giving us the most accurate depictions of them, possible. This film deals with their work on the Roman Forum. I was thrilled to work with this team, and I’ll be sharing more of our collaborations in the future! Enjoy!
It’s a very busy next couple of weeks, here, at BPB! Here’s the scoop:
- Love Taps, the full-length tap opera that I originally wrote, with Chicago Tap Theatre Artistic Director Mark Yonally, in 2010 is being remounted next week. With a new script by poetry slam creator Marc Kelly Smith, and a live on-stage band playing the brand new arrangements, it’s going to be a really exciting show. The audience gets to be a dating website, to choose a different second act every night! Running March 14, 15, 21, & 22 at 8m, and March 17 & 23 at 3pm. Stage 773. 1225 W. Belmont. Go here for tickets!
- Outer Voices is a brand-new vocal group – founded by composers Kenn Kumpf and Robert Reinhart – dedicated to the performance of obscure one-per-part vocal repertoire from before 1750 and after 1950. I’m really thrilled and quite humbled to be performing with this group in their debut concert on Sunday, March 16th, at the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville. It’s a free concert, and suitable for all ages. We would love to see you there.
- At the beginning of February, I had the pleasure of heading out to LA to work on the final sound mix of Alex & Ali, the highly-anticipated documentary that I’ve been working on for almost 2 years. Director Malachi Leopold, Associate Music Producer Gabriel Dib, and I had the incredible honor of working with legendary sound mixer Geoffrey Rubay (Basic Instinct, The Fifth Element, Serenity) at Sony Studios in Culver City, and the results are nothing short of stunning. We’re looking very forward to sharing this film with you later this year! Special thanks to the BPB team, Jordan Lewis, Brittany Dunton, and Logan Stahley, who worked incredibly hard to get this thing in the can.
- As if the beginning of this year wasn’t crowded enough, I just completed work on the scores for two amazing short films; Bowes Academy - the operatic tale of a young man’s efforts to get into a prestigious boarding school (with a secret), and Safe Word - a disturbing comedic exploration of one couple’s forays into the world of role playing. Both feature large orchestral scores; one is a cinematic John Williams-esque epic and the other is a Kubrickian texturalist fantasy. We’ll be recording with brass players and putting on the finishing touches over the next couple of weeks. You will want to see these.
- Scary Normal, our little indie film that could, will be screening at the True Colors Conference in Connecticut later this month, and in the Golden Egg Film Festival in Cancun, Mexico in May.
- Coming up later this year: A new Dorkumentary, the rest of Trep Life Season 2, the short films The Photographist and Angle of Incidence, the pilot for the new UK TV series, Light & Shadows, and some other big projects that I can’t talk about yet.
I’m incredibly pleased to announce that Love Taps is once again hitting the stage here in Chicago, in the spring of 2014. Originally conceived by Chicago Tap Theatre Artistic Director Mark Yonally and me in 2010, Love Taps introduces you to a cast of lonely urban dwellers, and then invites the audience to play match-making website. Every night the choices are the same, but the endings can change, based on what the audience chooses.
The original score featured lyrics from a number of poets, lyricists, and writers, but – for the new version – we’ve pared all of the songs down to their instrumental roots. The new arrangements – created by music director Kurt Schweitz, my associate Jordan Lewis, and myself – will be performed by a small ensemble of multi-instrumentalists – guitar, bass, keyboards, piano, mandolin, and accordion – live on stage at every performance. The script – or bible – for Love Taps has been beautifully rewritten by Marc Kelly Smith (creator of the poetry slam), and will feature some new music written especially for the revamped version of the show.
Starting March 14th at Stage 773, we hope to see you there!
Here is some music from the original to whet your whistle.
I had the great privilege to be one of the judges, this past weekend, for the Urbana Pops Orchestra’s First Annual Student Composition Contest. Junior High, High School, and College students from the Champaign-Urbana (IL) area were invited to submit original compositions – written for orchestra – to be considered for a premiere by the UPO at their space-themed concert, “That’s No Moon!”. We had three excellent submissions in the Junior category, carefully scrutinized by my fellow judge, LA-based composer Kyle de Tarnowsky, and me. The winner, “Cold Moonlight,” was written by 16-year-old University High School student Daniel Stelzer, and given its premiere, between Holst’s Planets Suite and John Williams’ suite from Star Wars, this past Saturday. Not bad company for your first premiere! His lyrical, evocative piece was a lovely contrast to the other pieces on the program, and a remarkable work for a young composer. We were so pleased with this experience, and we’re looking very forward to see what the talented young composers in the Champaign-Urbana area bring to us for next year’s contest. Again, congratulations, Daniel!
On a personal note, I got sing in the choir on “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars Episode I, which – with the full orchestra – was exhilarating. Thanks to the UPO for asking me to join them for that. Getting to be a part of a big ensemble executing this legendary film music gave me a renewed appreciation for the power, complexity, and brilliance of this music, and the importance of live music, both in film and in our lives. Bravo to the UPO, and we’ll see you very soon.
My first-year graduate student Steven Spiel conducted a very nice interview with me for the Columbia College graduate blog. You ever wondered about my life story? Here it is – in a really small nutshell, with several periods omitted. Ha! Enjoy! Pictures by Gabriel Dib.
As many of you know, I had a little pop project going on in NYC between 2003 and 2007. It was called Cellardoor. We put out three albums (all are on iTunes and Bandcamp) that I recorded in my bedroom in Brooklyn (dear Rugby Road!). I got to work with some amazing musicians, including Ami, John Carlin, Soren Anders, Jennifer Houseal, Alden Terry, Tim Keiper, Jeremy Clayton, Micah Bucey, Paul Kolecki, and Jennifer Bechtel, and it was truly a lo-fi labor of love. Revisiting it today, I was reminded of what a lovely creative time that was. Here’s a link to the newly remastered edition of “i didn’t get the memo”, at a low, low price!
The wonderful feature film, “Scary Normal”, written and directed by my dear friend and frequent collaborator Jennifer Bechtel, is getting ready for its world premiere at the Midwest Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender Ally College Conference in Lansing, MI on February 9th, 2013. I was so thrilled to work on this film, and especially thrilled that I got to create a unique sonic palette for the film in conjunction with Associate Music Producer Gabriel Dib. We took a selection of pots and pans from my kitchen, along with some other household objects we purchased at Home Depot, and spent a couple of days banging on them with mallets, brushes, and wooden spoons. We then chopped up the samples and used them to create Kontakt and EXS instruments, to be used liberally throughout the film. We also sampled an open-tuned acoustic guitar being played with snare brushes, and threw in some other quirky sounds to create a sound we felt married perfectly with the milieu of the characters. You can hear some excerpts from the score right here!