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What Does a Film Composer Do?

Film composers work with orchestras to create soundtracks.
A composer writes music.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2014
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A film composer works with a director, producers, sound team, and musicians to create the musical score for a film. In addition to writing music, a modern film composer needs to have good recording and music software skills, and be able to orchestrate music. Since most composers are freelance professionals, the day-to-day job requirements might include seeking new jobs, meeting with a film's creative team, composing, or finding musicians.

The job of a film composer is equally a creative and technical position. Creatively, the composer must be able to understand the atmosphere, story, and dramatic tension of a film in order to create music that suits and enhances the finished product. Technically, a composer must be able to write the music down, perform it for the creative team, and create an orchestrated version for a group of musicians to play.

Music software has become an important tool for scoring and can ease the job of a film composer considerably. Some programs allow users to hook electronic pianos or guitars into a computer, and will transpose the notes played onto a written staff. Composers may also need to use recording software, and understand the correct usage of microphones in order to create the best possible version of a score.

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Most composers work on a freelance basis, which means they need to work hard to find jobs and advertise their skills. Some start out by creating a demo recording of different compositions to submit to directors and producers for projects. Many begin professional careers by working on student films or small independent productions, oftentimes for free. This tactic allows a composer to meet up-and-coming filmmakers and begin to establish a reputation and list of credits. After some professional work is done, a composer may be able to find an agent who will help him or her find jobs in exchange for a percentage of earnings.

When hired, a film composer will sit down with the creative team to establish basic ideas for the score. A composer may be hired while the film is still shooting, in order to start work on major musical themes, or may be brought on after shooting is completed. Once the film is cut together, the composer and director will go over each scene to determine where music should be added, how long it will last, and how to create the mood and desired effect. After the music is written, a composer may oversee the hiring of orchestra performers and even conduct recording sessions, though larger productions may hire additional professionals for these positions.

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Discuss this Article

bear78
Post 6

Music composition for film is a huge sector in India. Bollywood or the Hindi film sector dishes out more films per year than any other cinema sector in the world. And since almost every film is a musical, music is a very important part of the industry. Very few musicians actually make personal albums in India, most of the music is composed for films and the release of the music album of a film is a big deal.

I'm not sure how someone could go into this industry. I'm certain that connections and networking plays a role. But I also think that most composers start out small, for example, they compose music for short films or documentaries. It takes a while for people to move onto big productions.

donasmrs
Post 5

@SteamLouis-- I think that depends on the composer's working style and the requirements of the filmmakers and director. I don't think that there is a general rule that applies to all film composers.

A film composer must definitely understand the concept of a film, how else would he be able to compose appropriate music? So he will definitely listen to the story or the plot of the film from the writers and directors to understand what it is about.

Some filmmakers are very involved with the music composition process and will have clear expectations from the music. For example, the director may describe the type of music he wants for a particular scene or for the background score. Other filmmakers are not so involved and let the composer make most of the decisions.

It's really up to the composer to decide how this process will be. Some composers read the whole script or parts of the script before composing the music. Others simply have a discussion with the writer to understand the main points.

SteamLouis
Post 4

Does a film composer read the script of the film before composing the music?

MrsPramm
Post 3

@clintflint - Well, there must be someone out there making jingles and the background sounds for commercials and things as well though. Not to mention television programs. I don't think everyone has to make a leap from not being paid on low-budget films to working on big film music without any stops in between.

clintflint
Post 2

@Fa5t3r - He's making a good start if he's doing some smaller productions. That's the way most people get into this kind of work. It is all about who you know and you've got to put yourself out there in order to meet the right people. Movie composers are often hired because they have worked with the producer before and he or she knows that they can work well under pressure and that they have the ability to make a soundtrack that works for a particular director.

It is often the same composer who works with the same directors and producers every single time.

Fa5t3r
Post 1

One of my friends wants to do this and I think he's got a good shot at it because he's very talented. He's already done a little bit of composing for independent computer games and films, but I'm not sure how he's going to break into making music for films that were made by studios. It seems like you've got to know someone in the industry in order to get into the industry.

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