Are You a Composer or a Businessman: A decision that can make or break your career
By Aron Schoenfeld
Composers compose and businessmen do business. At least this is what you think when you come out of school with a degree in music and decide to go on the musician career path. The thought of doing business scares most composers away as it is very often foreign to them. Music is a gift of beauty, emotion, and artistry, while the business side can sometimes end up in a whirlwind of paperwork, legal issues and cutthroat negotiation. These are two seemingly contradictory worlds but yet, for every composer or musician, they are intertwined.
Early on in a composer’s career, you take any job that presents itself to build relationships, gain experience working with producers and directors, and also hone your craft. Regardless of the size of the job, the composer must be prepared to negotiate things like who owns the publishing rights to the music, synchronization rights, creative fees (in some cases the demo fee), as well as track and monitor on the back end. For a young composer starting out in his career, this can be extremely overwhelming. Most composers cannot afford a lawyer early on and therefore, either buy a book about contracts for the music industry and use that as a guide or just read the contract and make sure it makes general sense. While this may work when dealing with a startup production company or a film student looking to make the next best indie, the need for business acumen is extremely important. You never know when your song or piece of music may get use beyond your original expectations, especially in this day and age of constant exposure to music on the web with a download just a click away.
A second important part of business is sales. As a composer, you are your own brand. Your logo, website and most importantly, your music, are your business and your life. You need to make every decision with that in mind. You need to make sure that your best foot is always put forward. Don’t be afraid to spend some money to have a logo done professionally, hire a web designer and create catchy/intriguing looking demo reels. Your brand should differentiate you from others and make you unique to your music.
Here are some of the other keys every musician needs to know to help ensure their success:
- Learn the business of music – There are many books that you can read to learn the basics of the music industry. Buy them and read them. Learn how the industry works and what rights you have as a composer. If you don’t know your rights, you are opening yourself up to letting companies or brands take advantage of you. They know money will peek your interest, but that doesn’t mean they can pay you pennies and keep ownership of all rights to your music. This is wrong. A composer’s rights are often infringed upon out of convenience for the company hiring you – the composer’s rights we all fight for are for the composer. Do not let anyone take these away from you!
- Get a lawyer – Many of these big companies bury things in the contract that work to their advantage. While you may think you can review contracts, the Unions and performing arts societies (such as ASCAP, SEASAC or BMI) can refer you to various lawyers and organizations that can give you pro-bono or cheap legal advice (cost – not cheap advice). Remember, spend a few bucks now and you will make it up in the long run – I promise!
- Balance your schedule – If you are out doing business, you aren’t composing and if you are composing, you are not out doing business. Part of what has made DreamArtists Studios successful is that we have a separation of workload between our businessperson and a lead composer. Neither of us can do what the other does and it allows us to focus on our strengths. Composers should find people they trust who can help them with the business side or at least help them create a business plan that they can follow through on to get to the next level.
- Learn to communicate – How you talk to people in person or communicate via email can make or break a relationship/opportunity. In an industry where relationships are an important key to long-term success, you need to make sure you use effective methods of communication to keep yourself relevant and easy to work with. Remember, you are one of thousands of people vying for a job, will your email or call get lost in the clutter? Or will they respond?
- You are what you tell people – As a composer, your credits are your resume. How you list your credits is essential to survival in the business. When dealing with intangible property, it is very easy to run into an issue dealing with how you should properly list your credit or split credit with others. Make sure you have agreements in place before you start work with a partner. If you co-compose a track, list yourself as a co-composer front and center. If you do a demo that doesn’t get accepted by an agency or producer, don’t put it in your list of credits. You never know who will see your site, demo, or resume, and if it contradicts what someone knows or someone finds out a credit is not as it should appear, you have just killed your reputation. You must be able to produce an audio or video file of anything you list, make sure it is something that properly represents you as a composer.
These are just a few of the basic things that every musician or composer should know and focus on when pursuing commercial music. There are many other issues that will come to light as your career grows that you will be forced to deal with. How you respond to these will make or break your career. Be sure to reach out to your advisors, unions, performing rights organizations, and anyone else you trust so you can be sure you are not going in alone. You are your own brand and have to protect its reputation!
Aron gave permission to use this article from his blog http://www.acomposersview.com
Aron Schoenfeld is the co-founder of Dreamartists Studios and currently manages their business operations. For more information or to contact Aron, please visit his website at www.aronschoenfeld.com
A Schoenfeld Recommendation: Start with Why by Simon Sinek