When you forget you’re “you”!

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I have a need to flesh out a rant of sorts. Ok not entirely constructed on the bed of venom or angst but more like sheer frustration. Not for me, not just for others striving with me, but the fact we do at times neglect our strong points and in the process we expect ALL RESULTS TO BE THE SAME!!!

My angle on this is music libraries once more. I feel a need to make return visits to this universe because

A its changing so fast, not all of the advice you give has a lifespan past 6 months.

B the common factors are still largely misunderstood.

And its the second aspect i need to get into. I hear so very often this statement and variations of it.

                                                                                          “I APPLIED TO THAT LIBRARY , THEY HAVEN’T PLACED ANY OF MY MUSIC?.”

The variation of this is legion. From why do you feel its such a good market, to “i need to try such and such.com as i heard they pay big upfront fees”. Or “im holding out for a deal and shopping around cos i know there will be something thats ideal for me”

well the last one has certainly got some mature adult thinking behind its motivation. We all want to make sure we get the best deal but the key thing is we are ALL very different and what we bring to the market is uniquely different to the next 20 composers.

This is part of where my frustration comes from. Why use XXX library/agency? they have never replied or given advice or placed any music. Your buddy writing for the same place has already had 5 shows placing 50 times and making good in roads. To the extent that the music supervisors now send you briefs for there projects knowing they have “there guy” onboard.

Did you ever apply to a regular 9-5 job and once you clocked in everyday, did you start to notice some of the other workers weren’t committed like you?, maybe there whole attitude as to what was going to happen over the next 12 months of employment was startlingly different to your mindset? There are often many interpretations to a request from your boss as to the efficient and timely manner it gets done.

This whole analogy of sorts applies in many ways to what we perceive and what that end result is. This negates for one moment all  the unique ways we compose, treat sound and understand and interpret the task/genre/ brief. So many variables.

And then we begin to digest our differences with a clearer understanding.Some people are hired onto a gig because they do have a certain one off take on approaching music. Its a good fit for the gig, for the show identity.How can we possibly expect every single composer to perfectly click with those needs and have a style and sound that mates up every time??

Is annoying for this reason – We place so much importance in developing or own styles and we spend years and years molding into our very own voice but as soon as we start pitching for work, we forget this immensely powerful and crucial factor.

You will always come out of this with some angle or twist that makes you “musically you”.

So my rant gathers pace when i say, quit moaning that your successful mission to become your own person with your own ID when you don’t have the exact same success rate as any other composer.IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!!

Its what you wake up for and yet its a road block and you built it.It is your key strength and unique take on the world as you see it. so what if you dont mirror the success as your colleagues in one chosen area. You cant compare someone over a 30 minute or less sound clod grilling session either. It just doesnt work like that.

You harness your “angry ears” over another composers music asking, why is this more right for the job, why is it that i THINK what i do is perhaps better, yet this guy is knocking it clean out of the park.Well you spent all your time learning all those skills, did you really think that you would end up as a clone of your peer? and is that what you really want?

Its when you see lists of music libraries and agencies and a rating next to them.People giving you a list of reasons why they have rated them and how successful you might become if you send in a bucket of cues.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! argggggggggghh It drives me nuts.The music business isnt like retail, hospitality etc. So stop trying to rate it like a nice hotel you stayed in or a airline you fly with. It just doesnt work like this

But Russ what about companies that screw you??? well to some degree, most would say that all of them have faults and as the landscape continues to shift, some part of any one deal will be considered workable for one guy, and repugnant to the next. so it doesn’t work does it.

What about the client list for each library?????

Well it sometimes holds water but mostly it works out a little more like this. You “think” a bunch of there clients are what you will be hitting each week. In fact they deal with dozens and dozens of clients and over a period of a few years, someone big throws them a bone.It doesn’t mean that seeing there boast list will apply to you.

It just meant after a persistent life on the phone, at meetings, they bagged a few chances.And if this big high brow list is more consistent,what makes you think you will be the guy who places???? read all the above. we are all different!

One more painful misconception is the networks they deal with. Your shaking your head at this point and walking away from all those smaller cable networks cos they just dont make any money.

Well this isnt true at all. In fact the opposite can be true with some good usable cues.Yu forget the survival of these shows is competing for space, airtime for sponsors. FOR NUMBERS. so they get repeated over and over, your cues get paid over and over.Before you know it, half of those shows everyone says ” i have never heard of this show” just paid for your mortgage for 3 months and settled the Xmas bill.so don’t knock it.

Libraries that promise big cuts of the licence fee and then all writers share plus some take of the publishing,assuming you have a self pub registered with your pro etc?

but exactly how long do you think you will be waiting on lots of placements if this is the deal they offer AND, they currently have extremely high submission rates from hundreds of composers??How on earth will you be seen??

Its all well and good saying you are signed to someone who will pay you the highest set rate for all your hard work when the chance to place comes around like Halleys comet.So you don’t like paying your bills??? lol i get it. your arty and will only sell when someone appreciates your artistic bent. good luck tell me how that worked for you …..

              I SUBMITTED CUES BUT DIDN’T GET ANY REPLIES….

Oh boy. ok so you and 3 dozen other composers that week sent in 5 tracks. Do you have any idea the man hours it takes to not only work through those cues, but tailor your clients request to some of this music you just received? and some of these libraries are so big, so successful, they get HUNDREDS of cues every few days .So you expect an email reply to every single composer??? you are dreaming im telling you now.

if you run a business like this, you will reply to the first dozen guys who have totally nailed it.first off they got it so tell them. then ask them for any revisions, then print off the stems and alt mixes and then point them towards other stuff you now know they can do.

if you operate a big business in any other working model, it had better be something special cos your going down.

But we are artistic creatives we deserve a reply?

No no we dont. its not an ideal world as we keep telling ourselves on facebook lol. Its a hard thing to do somedays to wake up and tick all the boxes and come out in one piece.The world doesn’t owe us a living but for some reason, music, not being a “proper job”, its ok to assume we have special rules and common sense goes out the window. But it really doesn’t.

we’re either hitting ir, or we’re not. id like to wrap this up with a Jerry Springer like final thought, or a joke, a food for thought proposition but im not going to do any of those trite things. I just want everyone i know around me who i know works fucking hard, to get everything they can from this. But ultimately to understand why its not life or death if they dont share the exact path of the next guy.

You fought so hard to be you, so you have to live with it.

Why Everyone Needs a Mentor

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There isn’t a single solitary person on this earth striving for something ,that doesn’t look up to someone or have sign post ideals. These ideals are the way we view everyone else’s career or there ‘press’. We all follow something.

Even those amazing visionaries who seem to be hurling along the train tracks at 300mph, they are still glancing out the windows looking around for inspiration or a guiding light.

Im a huge believer in having people in my life and spending time listening to the thoughts, ideas and stories of others. The music community we engage, is spilling over with very talented composers, sound designers, engineers,producers etc, and yet for a lot of us, we find it hard to just ask the questions.  Personally im at that stage in life now, call it post fatherhood realisation, that their is nothing to fear. Only everything in life to discover and to LISTEN to others.

There was a time and i think we all can relate to part of this, when you just shut down and we dont listen to a damn word anyone says. Not your mum and dad, not your school teachers, and certainly no one in authority. I think its supposed to be our teenage years but it can last a little longer……

The thing that pulled me up by my boot straps, was finally accepting that you will never truly know all there is to know. Not about life, people or indeed our art and creative world. You simply cannot possibly get to any stage and know all there is to know. From the most celebrated artists and one off genius we read about to the guy writing jingles for animal litter etc.

Its not about just looking up. Aiming for these crazy lofty ideals. I want to be this guy, that guy and as good as them. I want to score a 100 movies like that bloke and everyone to whistle my theme tune. I mean by all means do that but you get tons of stares walking down the street.

Its about looking left and to the right at your peers. Your friends. You can simply learn so much by respecting someone elses point of view. You may not work there hours, you might not write music like they do, for the gigs they do, in the exciting locations they do it in.

If you thought at the top of this post i was going to make a big thing about having a life mentor, then im sorry. Im going down a different road here. I dont believe any of this need be so idealistic and glitsy for want of a word.

I remember having a hangout online and one composer was talking about how he regiments his daily work flow. How he manages to get up and function and to have some form over his daily hours and his reply touched me deeply. He may not have reaslised it so much, but in every other answer he gave, he had stated that it was a virtue or manner that he had learned from his dad.

And from all those comments he made, the reflections and thoughts, he had me right then. I was LISTENING. he not only had something to say, but i knew right then, i can take something from this and improve my state of being. i can hone something.

And for the record, the guy has huge musical chops and is a very successful composer. He had put his money where his mouth is and followed his ideals and frankly it works

Im not saying we go out and sponge everything people do around us just because they are capable of landing a decent gig .”That guy just write the ad music for one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, what may i ask does he eat for breakfast??, does he dress to the left or right,” !!!! I mean there is a logical line in the sand here.

When i went fulltime, and actually a few months prior to this, i went on stroll and asked a lot of people how that transition affected there life. How they felt it change there outlook, their goals. I just needed to LISTEN and take something from this.

People are so very powerful. You can be lost in there words, controlled, pulled in, pushed away and every state inbetween. I came away asking was i ready to make this huge leap and leave a good career behind to start over???

And out of something mental like 50 opinions, only one guy said dont do it. His reasons were valid and to an extent, his solitary view was one i needed to listen to more and respect why his comment was in the minority, not just cash in all my approving replies.

Did i listen?? well in a way yes. I still went fulltime, here i am writing this but i learned so much more from his cautionary tale.

Whenever im pushing so hard to improve and grow, their are a handful of people i simply have to engage with and ask, “ok just lay it out, what dont you like”. what isnt working here??  And these are people i trust. I listen. Always listening.

Even the people you brush off when you think, “WTF do they know about me, music or this industry???”. well sometimes that distant layman, non attached and with zero emotional attachment stand point, is your most precious.

We forget that we are all here to serve. In some way or another, ultimately we serve. If we just do the opposite of what your audience wants ALL THE DAMN TIME, then dont be shocked if they dont pay to listen or clients hire you. Forget the attitude, be all smiley and shit when you do so but only playing by all your own rules to suit just you, is never going to work .

I hate some of the things i do hear!!! , i cant say i go through life without a big cringe moment over some colourful and frankly wild opinions when someone is so far out of their depth, they will free form an answer. like there in an oral exam and have to say something. its just a priceless moment. “i need to sound clever right now so…..”

Sometimes, you will go through life and your working life, and people will step up and share a lot with you. I would urge you to take a step back sometimes. Every once in a while and LISTEN. And if you dont agree,then damn well try and understand why they think differently.

Every huge famous composer has people around them to bounce off. Nothing comes out of the gate clean .It has all been run past a dozen people very good at what they do, who could offer a new light, a better way to help you send your emotive message. The biggest names today. Everyone does it. The guys who arent winning so much right now are those who listen to the parts they want to hear, and then not act on the parts that cause discomfort like working harder, longer hours, making an effort to see the other side. To dust ourselves off and do some stuff we really dont want to.

If you have creative and loving people around you who have something to say, think a little differently next time. You would be surprised at how everyone has the capacity to teach you a thing or too and a new perspective that will help shape the one you crave so much. To find your own voice, sometimes taking some time to hear others goes a long long way. Just a thought.

Rising Damp: The ascension of Quantity Over Quality

Quality Or Quantity Directions On A Signpost

This is a topic very close to my heart. I have battled for well over 2 decades trying to make music that has a overall finish and quality to it so that,

1: no ones holding there ears with screaming, random frequencies that could paralyze a dog at 100 paces

2: That the production and finish is as integral as the musicality of the piece.

Therefore as i see it, one cannot set sail in the absence of the other. But somewhere around the late 90’s when we just started to get affordable computing with some believable power, and virtual instruments that resembled there chosen mark, we entered a revolution that has changed EVERYTHING about music making, the industry, the expectations and the complete industry landscape forever more.

Now we all know that this is definitely a good thing no matter how your knickers twist. We didnt really want to have to mortgage the house 2-3 times to fund a studio, nor did we relish those ill gotten days of setting up a dozen synths and outboard just to work through a single session, cue.

It just had to happen. So where does that leave you and me right now??

For those of us writing music for commercial usage ie: for placement, for game audio, promotional ,advertising, film score et al, what are we now dealing with and how does it affect us??

The flood gates and the cliche that it rode on the back of, dictate that every revolution such as this comes with huge consequences. Not only can i write music through the day, export and print stems and then progress to a new project, i can engage on Skype with a client, order new equipment and buy new sound libs in the same day and hit the ground running.

My life, your life, has changed for the better indeed. But when you lower any bar be it financially or geographically, the gates dont just open, they alter the framework of the place you work. Your cues are worth less. Your cues get heard less. The client base is bigger than ever before. Start ups are as common place in their birth as new composers.

Id love to know the ratio of that hand to mouth “math” right now but i suspect we as creatives, greatly out number all our possible avenues of potential income and then some.

So the battle today, tomorrow and the next, is to deliver faster, more polished, more colourful music that wipes the floor with the competition. But how do you get that exposure?  I will be blogging heartily on all the methods of how to gain some headlines later in the coming weeks.

The problem i see right now which is the biggest hurdle is the competition ranges from me and you, the bloke next door who writes part time and aspires for greater things. (he i can relate to on every level), the teenager Xbox fanboy who thinks he can score the next big blockbuster first person shooter, and then everyone inbetween.

The argument that we cannot produce music at a fast rate died 10 odd years ago at least. The reply “i live on the other side of the world therefore i cant compete in those markets” died in the early 2000’s when broadband became common place. Even my older relatives have tablets, laptops and broadband connections.So the problem right now is a deluge of OK music. The mediocre.

Now lets set the statement in stone. I dont claim to be a big shot who can judge everyones music and say what is good and whats less so. But come on, we all have ears. We all know deep down what is good and what is utter lifeless crap.

Cant we???

Well all of us crammed into small studios busy in our “nerderies” tweaking away at Kontakt synths, building templates, monkeying around with advanced scripting etc, yeah we can tell the difference. Id hope thats the case!

But can ALL your potential clients hear what is great and what is not?? Well sadly not so much. The guy who delivers a fast set of cues is running away with half the market and the other guy is selling his cues for a fraction of the value and sometimes for free.

So the quality then becomes a side issue. A lot of developers are hearing some ok music and then pitching for it on the basis of game credits or a micro fee.

The swath of composers seeking experience with scoring will hand over all the musical rights and sometimes hundreds of hours of hard graft because they want to earn their chops = small fee to non existent. The same said composers might also crop up 6 months later in a heated argument wondering why they cannot achieve a decent project fee or creative fee alone. Why cant i have a budget for real performers?? why cant i record at Abbey Road??  im giving away All my share for what exactly??
Its the curse of todays technological gifts. The lord of code giveth, and he taketh away.

Suggesting that is both Intel© and or Corsair© are both deities is perhaps a step to far ok but you get the point.

The position i maintain and fight for is a little of both. Quantity, in that you have worked so damn hard you know how to dress good music for commercial usage, and quantity, that your not afraid to make quick decisions and write for the job at hand.

I think one of the biggest obstacles that are determined by any composer, is they wont let any music go out the door. We over reach on some projects. Sometimes it is just underscore, sometimes it is just a padding cue. Understand what the actual tv,film etc needs and write accordingly.

I get asked daily about how to write for TV show. Music libraries practically own reality TV. Its now highly unusual to see anyone solely writing for this specific market. Its a collaborative affair. The place where big blanket deals are strewn across your potential for future earnings, where choices are made on a handshake and a glass of wine rather than reviewing each cue by each artist.

You need to be able to write with a sense of detachment that permits the music to be finalised and delivered. The world sped up at an incredible rate and we now need to hang on before we lose all gravity.  The solutions to being seen and heard, i will try and cover shortly. Methods which i think can make a better mark out there than just posting up random new sound cloud pieces. Or once in a while updates that sheepishly nod to a new project.

The biggest changes to the musical world all just happened. Just over a decade. Its nothing in the history of musical growth. Its a blip, but boy oh boy what a crater it left.

Thinking Outside The Black Box

I have come to a recent and welcomed discovery of late. As much as I have become a collector of all things virtual, and the need to be up to date with sample libraries, and having the latest must have VST synth is deemed the way forwards, I’m now travelling full circle back to a world where hardware synths are not the enemy. I understand super fast productivity, I really do. I try and not let too many a day slip by without composing my heart into various cues. Even on a brief-less, project-less day, I’d prefer to sharpen my inner tool set and create. But I’m not powering up analogs waiting for temperamental VCO’s to reach barely tunable stability, I’m not loading in disk after disk of sounds via floppy disk (come on we still remember those, don’t we ??), or hoping a performance template on a Roland has recalled hours worth of tweaks. Oh no…..I’m firing up a basic work template and all my needs are up and running in a matter of seconds. On a bad day it’s a couple of minutes with a bigger template, it’s time absorbed into the duty of making coffee and scratching my behind in earnest. But for all those years of having it easy, and trust me when I say this, I’m a big fan of the way we have moved forward in music production – what has happened to the explorer??? What did we do with that inner kid synth tweaker? There is no love for anything that’s hands on much these days, and it scares me a little. I mean OK, if someone said to you the studio of the near future would be so seamless, you could just rattle off cue after faceless cue and spend as little time dwelling on the detail, this would surely be a good thing right???

I disagree, or at least I do now lol!

Once upon a very long time ago, I recall the utter joy and adventure of trying to coax a sound from a Prophet V. I know that wading through disk after disk on an Emu II+ just delivered so many A- HAH moments I have lost count of, that lost inspiration fix I got from hardware fooling that I don’t seem to get from virtual synthetics and Kontakt libraries. In fact it’s  little more some days than identifying what can be super useful for daily use, organising short cuts and mini templates, and making a mental note of where might be handy to go, again, in a super fast productive manner. But at what juncture in your composer life did you lay down and succumb to just plain ‘code’??

It all feels really disconnected and cold to me now. That quick fix joy of instant satisfaction is losing its appeal. I have a D50 that had spent years stored underneath my bed. A legend taking a long nap. But after spending so much time again harking back, I know that this precious time can offer so much more. So I took the leap of faith and bought a Moog Phatty and a Waldorf  Blofeld with more to follow. I just miss that exploratory side of me, when I’m able to really connect with an instrument. I know some of you might be thinking, ‘Yes but this is hardly being one with a classic Les Paul, a limited edition strat, a hand carved percussive instrument, or a luthiers wet dream of a middle eastern guitar of some kind!’, but its the exact same thing regardless of what you interact with. I do get some hands on vibes from my virtual gear, I won’t deny it, but it still feels somewhat disconnected and impersonal. Being face to face with just code and a GUI leaves me wanting so much more.I have no immediate plans to gather a world of synthetic hardware and struggle. I won’t be replacing all my instances with Kontakt, Omnisphere or Zebra with a poly Moog or a Elka just yet. But I will integrate, and whilst I’m making this cross over, I WILL be having fun again.

It’s not just gear lust, or being nostalgic. Ok, maybe just a little, but if  it does take a little longer one night (and let’s say we sacrifice watching our favourite TV show to spend an hour finding some amazing one off gems!), with our hands, connected, interacting, is this such a bad thing??

It’s what I miss about being a creative. I can program a virtual synth and I can mouse click my way through the process, but it ends up feeling just that, a coded process on a PC monitor. If you have any means to delegate some of your time to this lost part of yourself that you shunned in favour of a mouse gesture, I’d urge you to do it. Entertain the kid in you. That sweaty palmed teen who was so sure a Fairlight CMI would make you an 80′s super star, or that if you had one day with a wall of Moog modular you too would become Tangerine dream or Vince Clarke overnight. It’s good to feel this way. Its good to dream and be immersed. A lot of this hardware is very affordable now too. Ok, there is still an unruly price tag on a lot of analog classics, but search and you WILL find – that is for certain.

For those who remember fondly the good merits of hardware, that sheer moment of knowing you made it happen in a very direct way, that there was no super fast short cut, just time to digest sound, and a pallet of colour you forfeit when you just click preset sound after preset on Omnisphere etc – you will feel some of this longing too. And I swear categorically it will definitely make you 100 times the programmer you think you are now, or maybe you just don’t feel you are. It will instill that sense of joy and empower you with knowledge that directly connects you to the daily VST world.

So what about the cross over hands on tablet based apps I hear you mumble in discontent?? Well, you’re right. You’re so right. And the beauty of some of these is that with a little thought and not a huge financial investment, you can get that hands on buzz and a means to integrate into your setup with a lot less pain and potentially head scratching!

I would urge you to just take a leap of some kind. Even for the £12.99 app synth on a lazy sunday afternoon with the headphones on, trying not to annoy the dog with random saw wave/noise osc  meltdown screams, it does something positive to the creative in you. Even if it’s just that you play that guitar a little more than you do now, or dust off the drum kit in the garage/shed –  just make sure you have time to re boot and connect with expression and being connected with sound that doesn’t only involve your familiar PC/Mac rig. There is life outside of the box, trust me, and the rewards are there in spades.

Writing For Music Libraries

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How much music should I have online, and should I have different tracks in different libraries? Can I even do that, or do the libraries want my tracks exclusive to them?

Its a mixed bag with a large number of libraries wanting different specifics to there deal. Some prefer all tied in exclusivity whilst the rest can happily work with non exclusive music. Should you have music spread among varies libraries?? Absolutely, and this is the key to ensuring longevity when writing for varied markets and making sure you cover a wider base as possible.

Each library/agency, will be shooting for certain clients and some are very specific honing right in on there core strong performers and this is a reflection of what we as composers. You recognize the performing, money making areas and ‘adjust’ your focus from the responses and trends you see appearing in the market.

Having the ability to sell non exclusive clearly gives you added mileage to your work but you will find the exclusive deals more lucrative as one off deals upfront can really make a big impact on your immediate situation as making money from library music is no easy talk by any means! Its a calculated play on what you think will sell and sell again constantly making a small revenue stream against that one off deal that secures bigger money upfront over a finite period. I have several libraries i work with and you adapt to there needs, there system of working and what specific market they are tailored for.

For example, you may find one library agency has a strong ‘band’ or ‘live’ element to there client base.A lot of teen and music network commissioned shows use a great deal of these cues which are always thin on the ground when directly compared to ‘out the box’ home studio vst tracks. So effectively, your mind set has to perfectly hone in one each library.

A lot of these big network clients do specify exclusivity for there shows music.They really don’t want to switch on the box, flip a few channels and here the same cues placed elsewhere. Some of the bigger cable networks also work this way and prefer an identity to there final output that isn’t being diluted by the same work heard elsewhere.

In some cases the network and/or show supervisor works with several shows, has there deal with the library where they can licence a bunch of cues and drop them into the show that suits.So they like to have the exclusive take on a batch of cues they sign up for.

 Say I co-write something with someone else and we want to put it on AudioJungle or a similar place. Who does the accounting? Do they send us both a check or does one of us need to act as “accountant” and pay the other when the check comes in? How do we structure the agreement between the two of us as partners on the cue?

Audio jungle is a royalty free enterprise, that is to say, the client can pay for one of two main set licence deals where licence one gives them a certain amount of coverage and application and an extended licence basically means it can be used for anything from tv/movie placement, advertising etc at no extra cost to them.

Audio jungle is a perfect example of having a catalog of cues you can constantly sell over and over on an unlimited basis with either an exclusive rate which is around 31% or exclusive authorship approx 50% take on the final fee which is determined by track duration, package deals and special promotions.

Most people who write for these agencies especially AJ as a perfect example, often work as a solo composer, producer and therefore what you end up with is your pot to keep. Nothing submitted to AJ can be registered with a performing rights organisation. hats the whole point of how its run, so splitting any earnings in this instance as about as simplistic as it gets.

The account registered, lists in detail each cue and how much it has sold, on what month etc.The stats aren’t  fully comprehensive, but sufficient to establish how to divide payment if you do work as a partnership or larger team.

With tracks submitted to libraries where your tracks are registered to a PRO, these cues are tagged and depending on the library, meta tagged although some remove this meta data and replace it with there own.The agency i work for as my main concern, tags all the cues and registers them etc with BMI in my behalf.They do this as my publisher for these exclusive works. Such deals vary from 50 to 100% publishing so by all means try and grab those elusive deals where you retain all writers share and then scoop as much publishing as you can. Be sure to register with your PRO as a self publisher or that cash pot will stay on the table or be consumed by your agency. BMI charge around 150 bucks to register whilst im told that ASCAP do not make a formal charge for this registration. Other PROS my vary.

When you do co write music with another party, you can specify in writing to your agency the full details for you both including PRO member number and determine the split of your writers share. Asssuming you have settled for a 50/50% split of writers share, it need not become any more complex than it needs to be.

If its a collaborative album where several composers on the team submit a few tracks each, again, these will be registered and assigned to your membership account details.So if its entirely your cue on the next Inception trailer, then its your 100% share.

Any side ruling to this working relationship that specifies a split regardless, requires a very precise contract and a good lawyer.

Its worth reminding folks that having people session for you isn’t the same as a co writing credit and everything needs to be firmly established upfront before this cue is registered etc.If you come to an arrangement with a session player that there guitar riffing or sax solo is paramount to the core of the cues identity and/or motif, then this session has now morphed into a potential co writers cut.When you involve any session musician or  co writer, leave no detail unsaid,unwritten.Get it down and signed!

What should I have in place as a business entity to start writing library music? Should I “incorporate”, start an LLC, or be a sole proprietorship?

If this is something you are merely dabbling with  or testing the water in regards to selling your music for the first time, i would personally give it time before i committed into any specific means of representing yourself financially and as a official entity/brand/company etc.

The art of writing this music is quite a tricky beast to tame and some days you cannot get anything close to those given briefs and pitchs while other weeks will see you hitting a home run cue after cue.You need to get some solid returns and some evidence that this is something you will see yourself investing a great deal of time and expense over.

This is exactly what i did and road i traveled. I was working full-time doing a regular job and in those stolen spare hours, i would write library cues and create some sets.Lets say, 10 full on Die hard esque action cues, trailer cues,dramedy and more advertising friendly material etc.I would submit for various briefs and even cold calling on established libraries to garner some feedback on overall production quality, usefulness etc.

There came a point where these cues stared to sell by the set too.And the requests came in thicker and faster as they were being picked up,signed,placed and aired.

So i sat down with a good accountant and showed them everything in my world on the table in black and white.

Due to the amount of work i have been doing, my partner takes on a lot of the administration duties,helps look for new work for me, makes sure im doing everything i need to at the right time.Basically my wife is my live in PA!

So it was beneficial for me to start up my own company under my name.This gives a lot of breathing space financially as a company compared to a sole proprietor .Being a limited company provides a great deal of legal buffering.As such you are not liable, your company is.You wont lose your house, you can lose your bunnies etc.

You cannot be sued, the company can and on it goes.And depending on your forecast for potential earnings that you have hopefully gathered over a 6 month+ period, this can determine if a company status can serve you much better with returns and tax breaks.I would also like the freedom to know that if i chose to expand what i do now and possibly take on several composers and form a small production crew, my company is in place,my education as to how to run a company grows daily and trust me, you need as much business savvy as you can get.Listen and don’t be afraid to ask a LOT of questions if you know a legal eagle or live next door to an accountant or financial advisor drinks in your local bar.Be sure to thank them and buy them a few beers!

 Do you pay attention to current trends when writing? How do you strategize for the highest potential usage for your catalog?

Yes and yes!!

Researching your library/agency is probably one of the most simple but overlooked strategies there is.99% of those big library companies like to brag about who there hooked up with.Its a two way street as they want strong composers batting for them, and the whole world to know all those big client names they have under there belt. Its as competitive as you imagine it is.

Trends and fads are transient.They can last a few months,in some cases a year to 18 months and just rarely, a fleeting passing phase.But study and break down everything you hear.The structure, instrument choice, tempo,melodic content or lack therein and understand what is selling over and over again. Writing for popular big selling trend cues means working very fast.And none of this stuff is going to have a life span like more safe, tried and tested staple music thats used regularly .You need to get a batch of this music and hit the ground running.

Places such as Audio Jungle which we mentioned before, is a perfect proving ground for this. When i first signed on ,all i did was listen to the top authors who had sold several hundred of a certain cue.

Sometimes there is just a feel or a magical combination of sounds etc that just works.So break it all down and almost become a little analytical of it.To a degree it helps.It enables you to see inside the machine and what all those cogs and gears do.And then start hitting this yourself.

I know that when i write for certain genres, that some are always going to be reliable and sell.The most popular are the tension/action cues and the comedic quirky cues.But as safe a bet as they are, a 1000 other composers are also playing it safe in your back yard.So you then end up with a saturated market and a genre specific issue.

So trends can be for that short duration, your ploy to stick your head out of the crowd and break in.

I  have around 600 cues in my catalog and i would say over 2 thirds of those are signed and published.All of those bread and butter cues will always find a home at some point.Its a continuous steady stream of traffic and due to the rate of placements ive been lucky to get, ive benefited from having a solid reliable reputation.

So your odds of your catalog being ventured into become greatly enhanced by this.Its pure common sense.If your someone who comes up with the goods time and time again, your catalog becomes the most important thing you have.

This is why i write at high volume.Your standing and reputation plus the ratio of placements based on this, means your batting average is greatly increased = more fluid returns over and over.

The way to make sure you do get placed over and over?? Listen to the brief, if your not sure and need more info, ask and ask again.Research as much as possible to placed cues that are in this ballpark.Again, break it down and understand the basic mechanics of why they do work and go for it.

When you start getting briefs that you do nail, you have a happy boss,happy show clients and you move yourself into the prime spot on the shop floor.

Same principle as when you walk into a big chain shop and the good stuff is eye height on the best shelves with all the promotion around it. Thats effectively you and this market place.

If you sell often and your reliable, you move closer to the front of store and get more exposure,more chance of pitching for the bigger gigs.

If you aren’t selling well, you can end up further back in that store, less fuss being made of you and a bigger fight to climb back into the selling region you come to crave and love! 

How do you approach potential libraries runners and what is a good “pitch” strategy for someone like me who is unproven in this field?

The overall factor that’s sometimes a much bigger one than the music itself, is charm and approach-ability.

If your nice to speak to,communicate with, from the first talk, your on a good road.No one likes working with a smart ass regardless of how good the music is.You wont get a chance to prove how awesome your music is on screen and how much money it will make everyone etc, you wont get past the first post.

If you have no previous history this is not a big an obstacle as you would first imagine. Other peoples perception of writing music for tv for example, is as mixed bag but most assume your making phenomenal money left right and center and flying across the world every other day no matter what level your on in this work.

But its really not like this at all when your looking to leave the starting blocks.Its much easier to break into than you would appreciate.The shows being produced per week are countless, the amount of pressure the show producers are under is insane, deadlines are cut throat and relentless.

So if you submit some cues to a music supervisor or agent who deals with a lot of libraries as a mediator, and it happens that your music is what they need for the next episode of XXXX factor, that’s your ‘in’

It can be as simple as that. I work now with several library companies and each of them are very different in how they work and how an approach worked ‘for them’

In one instance, it was pure timing. I scoured the net for opportunities and someone was asking for music for a Discovery network show. A type of tension cue was needed. Well i know i had a ton of them and they were literally just sitting there doing nothing.

I had nothing to lose by submitting to this guys email.I was very polite and i kept it short and professional. Your not begging for the chance, your not so high and mighty that they owe you a meeting or a car outside your door either. You just take a shot.

I get an email back within 5 mins and was told they would pass these cues over to the library who in turn green-lit these to submit to the music supervisor for the show. He loved the cue and wants 10 more just like it.

And bingo, out of the blue comes an ‘in’ They had there backs against the wall, you appeared with 10+ cues that fill the brief. So you get asked again for other briefs.

Hopefully you have continued to do your homework and researched similar shows. So you write again and fingers crossed, some of these cues are picked up.

One of the other ‘ins’ for me was a composer already signed to a library and recommended me to them. The owner asked me to call him at a set time so that’s what i did.

We hit it off within seconds. I kept it short and sweet and just relaxed. hats the worst that can happen?? So just be friendly, be yourself. When you do get to meet or phone these guys, make the most of it.

Nothing comes across via email but when you meet or talk, you do get that shot to be charming! So use this for all its worth.

We came away with an agreement,im happier with a new additional place to home my cues and you move forward.

I think one of the worst pitch strategies you can employ is writing a lifeless generic email and copy and pasting this into everyone very full inbox.Not being personable, knowing nothing of what they do, what they need etc.To mind mind that is a pretty statistically challenged route.

But keeping your ear to the ground, looking for those chances and acting upon them appropriately are much, is a much more effective system of practice.

Have a very great looking website that’s very easy to use and make out on all platforms. All your mobile and tablet based platforms. Everyone is looking and listening on the move.So make sure those web based audio preview sites are working!!! That the quality of good enough for audition purposes and that navigating your site is a pleasure and not a chore. Don’t feel the need to over animate or clutter what your trying to show off.

How fast do you like to browse and find solutions???? Its the same for your client/library.Why should they feel any different?? If your name above the door looks messy,too busy and half of it doesn’t work, its not a great first impression and i personally wouldn’t be fighting my way through this to find your music etc.

Can i make a living from just library music alone as my main source of income??

Again, this one of those questions that has no definite yes answer that will work for everyone.It just has too many variables and too many people writing for libraries to say with any certainty that this is something you can invest ALL your working hours and see the returns you need to survive day to day.

Music libraries going back 2 decades, were not buckling under by the sheer volumes they are now.The crowd your fighting with is 100 fold than it was all those years ago.

The typical home PC is now powerful enough to get you into a basic position but guess what?? This now accessible to everyone down to the 16 year old with there dads home PC a midi keyboard a few plug in vst sounds a lot of which you can find for free these days.

So you will need to work harder than everyone else, produce higher quality music than the next guy, be more committed, be more focused,do more research and want it more.

If you have an edge or an angle you have a added asset not everyone has.You pay live guitar and you can sing,you just cut down your competition in half in one swoop.

As good as any virtual instrument or sound set is, its not as gritty and real and organic as the real deal.So if you can play more than one instrument, you have a big arsenal of places you can go where others don’t and when they do, they only sound half as good as you do.

Not only does this work you more desirable with a lot of genres, it means your chances for greater earnings as vocal cues,theme tunes and foreground cues make a lot more money than a fleeting 10 second background instrumental.

Make sure you become fast and proficient and that you don’t go to pieces when your asked to do more than 3-4 things at any given time.Be very flexible with your time and your attitude.

If someone does want that extra mix or a Mongolian hairy yak version of a cue you spent all night writing, then do it.With all the edits and 30 – 60 versions b morning.

Make all those sacrifices. If you need to invest in better tech, then somehow you need to bite the bullet.It means you can take on the next gig and be armed for future encounters.

A lot of libraries do not pay anything up front.This can be simply the budget for composers, the project/show your writing for is extremely limited and paying everyone to pitch is not going to happen.

Your looking to get 100% of the back-end royalties and getting those placements as often as you can.

Sometimes and in some cases which i have done myself, i have sacrificed more of the back-end on the basis that i can gain a lot more placements by sheer volume and there fore credits than waiting for the bigger better deal and none of my music is being used for a long long time.

I might be able to get 100% on the return but ive had to wait months for my catalog to be raided and those few elusive cues placed.

So i play across several knowing all there methods of working and frequency of placement etc according to the shows they facilitate, and rates of pay.

Making a sole living from this is brutal.You don’t get to drop off the face of the earth for 2 weeks on holiday, you need to be highly competitive and ultimately take the knocks as they come and move forward.

It can take a few years to get the material to bolster your catalog of works, making extra contacts and establishing a good reputation with those you hook with with.

I have been very lucky to some degree as i write for a up front money as one stream,royalty free for another,and just royalty returns for others and i keep them all moving constantly. You maintain what you build.So it is a constant environment of creating opportunities, maintaining what you spent all that time building and striving to be better, faster and more on the ball than the next guy.Using non exclusive libraries is another strategy in that once you have say, 100 solid cues, you can then upload these to dozens of places, all registered to a pro and all sitting there waiting to be licensed. Most non exclusive libs don’t pay upfront at all, Its rare so be warned.

But most do give you your full writers share and some offer a chunk of your own publishing which you should pursue as 150% of all available monies, can REALLY add up!! .The down sides i have noted are the sheer saturation of this kind of work plus a lot of networks and shows like brokering exclusive deals, blanket deal arrangements thus ensuring they have a pool of cues no one else has.

What makes a good library cue? And should i write in one style only, or is varied the best approach??

You have to take into account the wide base of library companies and for which segment of the industry they are aiming to breach.TV placement music isn’t the same market place as a movie trailer promotions company, and its also not the gaming audio sector either, despite the fact that sometimes these areas have been known to overlap.

If your writing music aimed for TV, then as i have outlined previously, you would need to research heavily into what is selling and by whom.

If you have begun to forge a relation ship with a library company, then you will be aware of who there client base is, what type of cues are common for them, what they need for certain show types and also the type of custom work you will need to undertake.

I never write blindly for any library music.There is always a reason im doing it.I never write in the hope that it ‘may’ be useful and may get picked up for some odd show scene.Its just totally counter productive to write for no purpose at all.

So find out what people do want to hear, what the production companies are hot for right now.

When you get yourself established with a company that is servicing the needs of lots of big shows, you will then start to get a number of briefs for needed cues.They can be as vague as ‘give me some mid tempo tension,no synths, play it straight’, you might get a lot of detail about the show and a rough idea of where that scene is going.

You rarely get to see any visuals as your not scoring to the show, you making the incidental music that allows it to progress and move.

A good library cue from all i have learned, is one that either doing every single thing the supervisor,producer wants, and/or you have a format that allows for easy editing and multiple applications, not just for that show, but for future shows and episodes.

No one likes to hear a minute+ of long winded intro.It doesn’t help propel the cue.Most of which can be placed for as little as 5 seconds right over a minute and onwards and everything in-between.

The cue needs have a intro means of bringing you gently into the content, then show them your theme, make some development,variation and move forwards with this, nothing overly messy and busy.

Break the cue down, and finally send it home with a strong developed main theme with a nice strong no messing ending!!

If the cue is picked up and the show requires it to be shorter,longer,instruments replaced, etc etc, then they will let you know! And quite possibly this process will carry on and on into the night as you re write,tweak and perfect the cue to there needs.Quite often you will say to yourself, ‘this would work better my way’ but the bottom line is, your not paying, they are.

So learn to separate yourself and your art, from the world of placement music.It is a commodity and it isn’t going to be awarded any Academy awards or Baftas etc.Its functional for the most part, so a good cue is one that adheres to all these staple trends and has the potential to be placed over and over.

The standard for a finished cue is very high.The audio quality of critical and you simply cannot ‘busk’ your way through hoping that no one will noticed the grainy effects or lack of production values.

All your competitors know this and so should you.The typical master format i use to deliver my files i exporting to a 48k 24bit file in Aiff format. AIFF is common place in most editing suites and allows seamless integration into those mostly Apple based applications.I have been asked to print off masters at a number of file types so expect to see a lot of requests in equal measures for the trusty Wav format.

48k is the broadcast audio rate for US tv.So i was informed a year ago, it doesn’t appear to phase anyone if you master down to 44k as they can convert to 48k with little to no loss from there end and at no extra time expense.Its clearly more professional and advantageous to get all these details right if you want a long working relationship with these networks and present your work in a professional and concise manner.

When its OK to be losing.

success

I realised recently, that I’m actually investing more time into ‘just trying‘ and by that I mean taking a risk in life and in this career trajectory. Its exact known route is a big a mystery to me, as anyone who knows me will tell you, but this is the key thing, isn’t it?  Trying, pitching and eventually, if we understand how we won those scars, the period in which we become a slightly better version of our former self. A composer 2.0 equipped for the next opportunity.

It’s tough to create an attitude based on being so thick skinned and relentless, but I truly believe it becomes second nature after a while. You pitch for so many gigs, you get so many rejection emails and calls, that you pass the gnarly patch of taking it all damn personally, and start to digest all the feedback and investigate the reason you came close but no cigar.

That thicker skin, that ability to learn is crucial for any creative. Being told no isn’t the big plague infested insult you perceive it to be. It’s a very powerful message and it’s up to you to take it in and move forward, to understand the failing and repair. I have had the conversation many times when your peers would discuss the merits of playing back your own work in a one man retrospective, a mixtape made just for yourself lol, and whether it has any value to do so. I’m a big advocate of doing this.I’m like most composers who want to identify what place they are trying to carve themselves out in the big ugly and brutal industry – some days I’m just convinced I’m the untapped game audio scoring king waiting to be discovered, the next day I’m thinking the day to day scuttle with placement and sync tv is my lot in life, and for those very special moments, we all bask in our own John Williams part of our mind. Admit it – you do this a little…….

But therein lies the point. You pitch for EVERYTHING, fear no genre or part of this global beast of a market place. Pitch for all your worth and shoot nice and high. At least higher than pitching for free film scores lol, pitch for things you have convinced yourself only the select few should be aiming for. And then what??? Well, wait and see. If you hit hard for 10 gigs and get 10 rejection notes, ask them why but in a constructive manner rather than “If you don’t tell me why you don’t love me, I’m going to burn your house down” kind of investigative probing.

This info arms you with something that is of great value. I’ve had so many rejections it tells me two things at the very least.

  1. I took part, I believed in myself and I had nothing at all to lose and all to gain.
  2. Every scrap of info I got in feedback allowed me to listen back to my work, and see what I did wrong.

So there you go. All ego encompassing retrospective playlists of works all by YOU, are by no means an evening with a narcissist – it’s an opportunity to see how you grew, how you digested that info and developed.

Ok, the reality is not everyone will tell you why you sucked, or partially sucked. Some producers, supervisors,agents,coffee boys, won’t get involved, you will just be told in the shortest sentence that is possible to type so they can move onto rejecting 10 other composers. But it doesn’t hurt to inquire. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When you do get a good chance to probe further or even get the elusive second crack at the title, LISTEN to what they told you. Some of this info is cryptic, and I mean really cryptic. The language in which most people speak in this industry (outside of any musicality or humour) is just so coded, we’re looking for another Rosetta stone made especially for understanding music supervisors. We’re still waiting lol!

I spend a few hours per week listening to older work, failed pitches and also all the pitches that you did win, digesting all the pieces of information from all this work and understanding why it isn’t important what your personal and critical taste is, you have to understand the commercial brand of taste and flavour. When you stop beating yourself up so hard, and wallowing in artistic self inflicted pity, you can step back and repair all your music and your bad habits. Don’t get me wrong here, I mean, seriously, who likes an email that tells them they sucked and why on any kind of regularity? But when you can translate that info into moving forward, those failed pitches will not only turn into shortlisted attempts, but positive wins and I stand by that 100%.

I also find this ‘journey’ you take whilst battling for work means you come to find a place you not only enjoy more, but you find areas of considerable strength. Not everyone will be the king of all things cinematic but will be much better than perhaps you or I at pitching for an album of flat out rock cues perfectly played, edited and sculpted for advertising. I’m no expert nor a spokesman for any composer, but I find it hard to imagine John Williams being the guy for epic dubstep! You, however, can be the guy who is winning those gigs.

So through a process of accumulating some battle damage, not taking it all so personally, moving on and trying again, you will become 10 times the composer in as short a time as 12 months. And in a remarkably evolved way. Then you can spend more time writing for genres and markets you excel in and let JW and co go back to being quite good at scoring really big films (and there is not one ounce of envy in that statement, I promise lol!). There is of course one obvious parallel to this entire blog, the guys who just won’t. And if it is you, then I’m not going to hurl abuse or become the almighty self righteous – it’s just up to you.

You only get something out of all this if you are prepared to really work hard and apply all the energy you do all in aspects of life into this. Imagine combining all the enthusiasm and positivity you carve up for all missions in your day/week, add them all up and then double it etc. It’s another tough thing to enter in to but it’s something that becomes a personal declaration that you will just devote so much time and energy into what it is you’re trying to achieve. But sitting back and being very angry at not getting anywhere, not being prepared to do any work, telling others how bummed you are, isn’t doing you or your poor friend any favours. Don’t get bitter, don’t project every emotion you can possibly have and bring everyone down around you 24/7. Just understand what it was you just spent time trying to achieve, and damn well try again. So the hell what if the next guy is telling you about this amazing big gig they landed??? Well that’s great, but after the congrats, what the hell does it have to do with you on a creative level?? Why are you now thinking this has any bearing on your ability? The kid next door to you came off his stabilisers on his BMX 3 months before you did, so what?? He didn’t turn out to be Matt Hoffman or Dave Mirra and it all has zero bearing on your path, and your growth.

No one out there pitches one idea and becomes a internationally adored composer with countless movies and extensive staff and catering in tow. Be relentless and remember, it’s ok to lose.