Learn about the typical projects and compensation a composer earns when working on films, games, and advertisements.
If you’re interested in composing music, you’ve likely been warned about the life of a starving musician, practicing their craft while waiting tables to earn a living. While music is a highly competitive field, there are multiple paths for a composer to write music and earn money in the process. Every time you turn on the tv or go to a movie, you’re hearing the work of composers.
Composers write and arrange music for a variety of media including film, tv, stage productions, video games, and advertisements. In these instances, a composer is tasked with creating a specific product to meet their client’s demands. Personal preference may need to be set aside in order to provide the service.
The work of a composer requires both musical ability and business savvy. In addition to interacting with clients, a composer needs to manage musicians and create a realistic budget for their projects in order to make a profit.
Much of the writing process itself occurs while sitting behind a computer using composition software. If composing music to go along with a tv show, film, or video game, the composer will watch relevant scenes while writing and arranging music to ensure coherence. The music should help guide the story without standing out. After writing the score, the composer will also play a key role in recording the music.
Many composers work freelance, thus the workflow can be unpredictable. Between projects, a composer may focus on practicing their instrument(s) and studying a range of musical styles, while also networking with artists and producers to seek new work. During busy periods, a composer might work over 100 hours a week while rushing to meet deadlines.
Compensation for this type of work varies widely. The same individual can see extreme fluctuation in their take home pay, since they are typically paid on a per-project basis. For a composer just starting out, that could mean earning only $2,500 dollars for writing the entire score for an independent film. The main payoff of investing time in low-paid projects is that they serve as a resume builder to gain more lucrative jobs down the road. A composer tasked with writing music for a big budget film could earn $400,000 to $2 million. Composers can also look beyond the film industry for projects. A video game composer will typically make $30,000-$75,000 for 30 minutes of music to accompany a game, while a jingle writer, on average, earns $500-$15,000 per commercial.
While the early years of working in this field may be rocky, a composer may begin to earn more and work on higher profile projects after developing a resume and reputation. Advancement in this field could also include getting hired for a more stable job, such as joining the in-house team for a video game production company or writing music for a tv series.
This article was adapted from the following sources: