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How to Find Work Composing Music for TV, Film & Games

Advice for musicians

Advice for musicians

A modern day media composer has never had so many opportunities for success, nor faced such challenges. Classical guitarist Mike tells us why he branched out into the world of TV and film composition and offers his tips for success.

How to Find Work Composing Music for TV, Film & Games

I am a professional guitarist and composer and have recently entered the world of composing for TV, film and games. It has been a constant learning experience in terms of finding work and acquiring the necessary skills to make effective music for a given situation.

I have always enjoyed composing my own material, and felt a strong desire to contribute to the world of music in some way, as opposed to merely performing cover material.

I quickly realised there are opportunities in the explosion of TV channels, video games and web projects around the world – all of them requiring music. The challenges arise from the sheer number of composers competing for work, with many offering to work for little or no money.

Therefore, for new composers, the challenge is in overcoming the catch-22 "no portfolio, no thanks" cycle.

There is no single starting point or avenue to explore as a composer trying to find work, but here are some of the main opportunities I have found for getting paid work as a composer:

  • Music Production Libraries. Music libraries provide music for all kinds of productions, from mainstream TV to movies to corporate websites. Clients browse these libraries looking for tracks to fit with their productions.

    The earning potential for composers is through back-end royalties payable to the composer when the production is aired. This can be a slow process and the level of payment is related to the size and networking scope of the music library.

  • TV/Film Scoring. Many TV and film producers and directors will hire a dedicated composer to create a unique sound to fit the production, from title/theme music to ambient underscores supporting the visuals.

  • Game Music Scoring. This rapidly growing industry presents opportunities for composers to score many different types of games, from AAA games to mobile, casual and indie games across many different consoles and mobile devices.

Getting started

Before even trying to find paid work in any area, the first thing I did was set up an online website or page with easily accessible information and music/video of my work.

This was a challenge at first, due to a lack of clients and examples of past work.

So I put a few of my best tracks online, along with basic information about me and the services I could provide. I started making short scores for free, connecting with people through social media, and through someone I knew who had started a fledgling production company.

Then I started reaching out.

How I found work

The advice I often read about finding work and success is to network. Get to know potential employers in the early stage of their careers. Speak to people at industry events and try to build relationships.

I agree with this advice, but also recognise that I earned my early composing jobs from simple emails.

The key to success with emails is to research who you are contacting, and to justify your value to the company as concisely as possible. Let them know what niche they haven’t thought of yet that you can fill.

To win freelance contract work, it is vital to provide links to your work within one or two clicks of the client's mouse, and for your work to be unique and professional.

While it is also important to possess an all-round set of composer skills, it is of a great advantage to specialise in some form of composition, be it an instrumental style or a certain set of genres.

My specialism in guitar-based music has proved an advantage when competing for certain jobs. It's all about carving a niche around your work and then selling that niche. Create your market – and let the work start coming to you.

Here's how I initially found work in the three areas mentioned above:

1. Music production libraries

First, I decided to contact production music libraries, hoping that one or two would like my style and agree to commission tracks for one of their projects.

After months of unreturned emails, I researched a couple of my favourite libraries to find out what I could offer that would fill a gap in their collection.

For example I found one library that didn’t hold any albums on acoustic guitar-based mood tracks, so I approached them with demos I had made with this potential niche in mind.

Soon after that I received a response – and had landed my first paid project. Having got my foot in the door, other library projects have inevitably followed via this and other such libraries.

2. TV & film scoring

My work soon branched out to other forms of paid composition work. The friend who started the production company began working with major broadcast networks and invited me to compose custom music for various programmes.

I also scored some short films and a feature length film. When you start getting your name in the credits, you can expect to start getting phone calls!

3. Games

More recently I have started composing music for games. My first such job was gained through a freelance jobs website. I applied for all the composer jobs I could find, and was eventually offered a composing job for a kid’s mobile game.

The casual and mobile game market is currently the fastest expanding area of the industry. It presents many opportunities for work, with more developers recognising the importance of quality tailored music.

How to Find Work Composing Music for TV, Film & Games

Tips for pitching music

There are some fundamental similarities when composing for TV/film and games. In both genres the music should support the visuals and enhance the overall experience as foreseen by the producer/director or game developer.

As a composer you need to put your personal preferences aside in favour of what is required for the project, while still retaining your own unique style. Mood and emotion are the main elements used to capture and enhance the music via the chosen sound palette.

There are also some important differences between mediums. When scoring for TV and film, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end, with the music flowing towards a single inevitable conclusion.

With games, this linear approach is often inappropriate: there is no way to predict what the game player will do and for how long. Therefore in-game music loops of varying lengths are employed, potentially looping the same piece of music indefinitely.

This demands additional skills and techniques from the composer to ensure the music does not start to irritate when looping a few times, whilst retaining identity and instant appeal. I find this loop-based approach one of the biggest challenges to master as a composer.

Good luck!

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