HoboKa

Getting work in music industry

8 posts in this topic

How do you guys find work in the field?  What sort of steps have you professional recording artists taken to succeed?  Someone had suggested crowdfunding to me, another a custom website featuring examples of your works.  But well, I'm at a loss, really. 

 

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I get basically all my music work from one of two places, session work and teaching.  Teaching is basically irrelevant to what you want to do so I'll leave it out completely.

The other thing is session work.  At this point I've all but abandoned arranging and composition of music in my career due to factors that make those areas really unattractive to me right now.  Generally I just record horn, but I also do stuff on trumpet and trombones as needed.  As a result I get a decent amount of work, not enough to survive off of but then again I'm not aiming to survive off that work, and as a result I'm not regularly and actively seeking it out.  (most of my time goes to teaching, and that's where my income comes from).  Upside is that I get to pick and choose what jobs I take, downside is that it isn't going in the direction I would like yet.  But it has led to some fun projects that have been decently successful, and it does add to the resume.

I've known of plenty of people who entered the industry as a session musician, then after building that reputation could move on to more of a frontman role in either performance or also arranging/composition.  One example is trumpet player Wayne Bergeron who was active as a performer from the early 80s until releasing his first album in like 2002.  During this time, however, he established himself as the go to lead trumpet player and recorded on many projects for quite a few big names.  By the time he wanted to make his own album, he already knew so many people that he recorded with that finding people to perform on his album was relatively easy, and his reputation as a performer removed the "proving himself" phase of being a solo artist.

A lot of music is who you know, and it is no different being a teacher, solo artist, sideman, or composer.  If you aren't really well known for anything, then it's really difficult to get known.  But if you play guitar/bass/horn/what have you for somebody who has a reputation, then that's a credit on your name.  Enough of these credits and people know you from one area or another, and then you can start building a thing.  By the time he recorded his album, Bergeron had already had something like 250 credits to his name with big names in the industry, as well as recording on quite a few movie soundtracks.  Similarly, Jerry Hey became really popular as an arranger for Quincy Jones, Earth Wind, and Fire, and other names like that.  His experience as a trumpet player led to arranging work which opened that door.

There are plenty of musicians on youtube that are REALLY great musicians, but they average 50 views a video, and maybe have 10 subscribers.  On the other hand, there are some musicians who really aren't that great, but they get 70k views a video and have 20k subscribers.  Difference?  People know who they are.  Other difference?  Marketing.  Some of the ones with basically no views and no subs are not really sticking out.  If there are 1500 guitarists all doing fairly similar metal covers of Megaman music, nobody is going to look through all 1500 of them.  A good majority of those will stay in obscurity no matter how good they are.

A lot of this may or may not apply to you, but for a question like this, any thoughts given help because of new perspective.  As for starting your career as a recording artist, I don't really have many thoughts because I've never tried to do that, and don't forsee it happening in the near future in my own career, so I've never really looked into what it takes exactly. 

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The only thing I can add is composing for production libraries or original scores for different kinds of media.

In either case, orchestral and hybrid music is the most in-demand, but also the most expensive to create (those high-end sample libraries and requisite computing power don't come cheap) and may not be your thing(?)

Regardless, stock music that is used in advertising can be very lucrative if you have a popular track and/or get placements in big advertisements. Probably the biggest are movie trailers, but the trouble there is that most of this music requires you to be, at once, terribly generic and still somehow different enough from the convention to stand out. Competition is fierce.

Best you can do is find libraries like position, liquid cinema, etc. and submit a portfolio when they are accepting them and see what happens. You can try doing it yourself through places like AudioJungle, but these places generally offer mediocre deals (to put it lightly) and there is so much crap that it's hard for a potential licensing opportunity to find you: It's basically where people who failed to get into the big leagues go to die; harsh as it sounds.

The next one is composing for films, games, TV. I'd seriously consider it since you're in BC and TV and film are popular there; I'm actually working on a short film from Vancouver atm.

Of course, finding paid gigs can be tricky and you'll have to accept garbage gigs that pay nothing in order to get anywhere at all in the beginning — those IMDB credits matter. The only way to get into this is to get out there and meet people and other composers in the business (perhaps most gigs come about by referral!), perhaps become an assistant to an established composer, etc...all combined with a considerable amount of luck. 

I know that, obviously given this site, video games are popular and I've seen many articles that brand them as the great frontier of opportunity for composers, but it has been my experience for the better part of a decade now that this is quite far from the truth, I'd actually argue that it's more difficult to get into, but I'll not elaborate so as to not go on a huge rant. I wouldn't focus on it specifically, is what I'm saying.

 

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I had one of my students ask me this the other day and my advice was simply 'network' (Well, it was more than that but that was the gist of it!).

In this industry it can literally boil down to who you know rather than pure skill or talent. Self-promotion is also a crucial factor as whilst you could be the next Zimmer or WIlliams, no one will know who you are unless you put the effort into getting yourself out there. That's why its crucial that you get yourself an electronic portfolio of work together, be in SoundCloud, Dropbox whatever. Me personally, I have a portfolio of music/sound effect work on Dropbox that I link to prospective clients in my emails.

If you want to get into game audio, I cannot strongly enough recommend Indie DB. Whilst it is primarily aimed at Indie game development, they also have a jobs section that has a mixture of paid and unpaid work. Its been my personal experience that some jobs advertisements can turn out to be pretty flaky but you gotta keep trying regardless. Start off with unpaid stuff, build your portfolio, and then start looking at paid work once you build up some reputation in the industry.

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6 hours ago, RAZ3 said:

I had one of my students ask me this the other day and my advice was simply 'network' (Well, it was more than that but that was the gist of it!).

In this industry it can literally boil down to who you know rather than pure skill or talent.

I'm really quite sick of this answer every time the question comes up; not because it's false but because everyone who simply punches "network" like a buzzword over-simplifies it down to the point of ineffectiveness and it is an irritating cliche.

Yeah, "networking" can be pretty useful for getting music jobs, but "networking" practically requires a social talent in and of itself to succeed; the gift of gab, the gift of sales, the gift of moxie, the gift of charisma and the gift of being able to do kick-ass music on top of all that. I'd argue if you have to be told what all that is, you don't have it in the first place. Rather bluntly, a lot of composers with little experience in getting commissioned work for their art don't have great business skills (it's sort of a natural trade-off in gaining skills in art, IMO) and instead of going on to get training in business communication or such, what I see them do then is friend request all the successful music composers, and every one of their friends, and join every forum, Facebook group, collective and whatever, and then fly out to every convention going on... and then don't do much to spread their name out except hand out the same business cards game developers have already seen 400 times and post that they do game music. These composers are pretty much fated to mediocrity because they've only managed the hollow aspect of "networking" - they got their name out and expect being friends with Zircon and Virt on Facebook will mean one day they'll say "Well, I'm kinda filled up on game music jobs right now, why don't you try HoboKa"?

It doesn't work that way. You got your name out there, but so what? Game developers don't need more names, they have hundreds or more applying for them every time a dime is freed up in the audio budget. Game developers who want to hire a freelancer want someone with some artistic significance and cool accomplishments to their name. The crop of newb composers treat their work like they're an essential function of society - like they're plumbers, contractors, auto technicians, farmers and such - and that, I'm pretty confident about, is exactly why they have trouble getting work in the first place. When people hire a plumber or repair person, they don't want an artist, they want an expert to do the work. When people hire a musician for something, they want an artist.

They want someone who can deliver something awesome and unique.

They want someone who stands out from the crowd.

They want someone who has done some cool, kick-ass things in the past and established themselves as an artist.

They want someone who cares about the significance of each track and note they do.

They want someone who does this kind of stuff not just to get a payment and some fame, but because they also do it for the art itself.

That's why so many Ocremix artists have gone on to do pretty successful careers in game music - Ocremix is all about the art. People who pushed the envelope for what game audio can do and mean and made it awesome just because they felt like it. We hone our art and skill and develop unique sounds and personalities here. That's how Ocremix artists manage to make networking succeed for them.

You're not going to get the answer to how to find good work in an industry that is 150:1 overstuffed with supply of composers versus demand for game music with a single word answer. It just doesn't work that way. For a "teacher" to answer their students with such an oversimplified thing to a very complex subject is something I would consider infuriating. Being successful at "networking" for game audio is a whole book, "networking" isn't even the full title of the book cover!

 

 

 

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Ah, it seems you may have misunderstood the intention of my post. It was rather vague so allow me to elaborate.

By 'networking', I do not simply mean 'hand out business cards at corporate events' or 'friend every composer on social media'. To do so in such an industry can be seen as both pretentious and desperate.

However, it is also folly to sell people this rose-tinted version of 'being an artist' or 'being in it for the art'. Talent alone does not suffice in this modern age. Art itself does not put food on the table or keep a roof over your head. It may seem like a nice romantic idea when you are an angsty teenager still living at home but when you have left home and are faced with making your own way in the world, priorities change and bills need to be paid. The truth is that artists get where they are through a holy trinity of talent, business know-how and a good degree of tenacity. Most aspiring artists and composers will be told at least once in their career that they are not good enough. Give it up and get a real job. The difference between those who truly believe in their art and those who do it for the fame/money comes down to those who won't take no for an answer. And this is where networking comes into further play.

(I might also add at this point that the saying 'Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life' is a dangerous one and one that is frequently shared with this dreamy view of being an artist. It sets up false expectations that can be fatal to the aspiring composer. Its one thing to be inspired but another to be aware of the dangers on our path and how we might best avoid them)

This site itself is a prime example of networking working in tandem with talent and tenacity. Aspiring artists post their work looking for peer feedback. Most will (lets be honest, this could also be read as 'should') take this feedback on with a good deal of humility and go away to hone their craft. With any luck, learning one or two things along the way. So they come back and post again, receiving more feedback and going away once more to tweak their work a little more. This goes on and on, post begat feedback, feedback begat change. Eventually they may submit their work to the OC judges and are either given the thumbs up or told to come back again another day. Once more allowing the circle to begin anew. And remember, this is just one example of networking in action.

You say that artists need to stand out from the crowd and deliver something awesome and unique. But who and how do we decide that? We do through the sharing of information and opinion on social platforms, electronic or otherwise.

Ultimately, it is what happens to work for the individual through their own process of research and a period of trial/error reflection. In other words, don't look to one person for the answer. Find out what works for you through the amalgamation of different views and experiences. There is no magic formula for 'making it'. Furthermore, I might add that teaching is not about giving the answers to a blank slate but rather facilitate the learning process so that answers can be sought out by the students on their own merit. I would prefer my students to be 'infuriated' with my answers, and go away to try and prove me wrong. This itself gives them the drive to find out the answers for themselves and ultimately come to their own conclusions. This, I'm sure you would agree, allows for a more holistic style of learning that benefits all those involved.

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So the takeaway from this is primarily... If I hadn't dropped band in gr. 9 I'd have that foot in the door much sooner.  Maybe it's not too late to pick up my trumpet again.  Anyone here near the Vancouver region and is savvy with the music culture/environment here perchance??  Sorry if I sound emo here.  I'm depressed and its hard to mask it a lot of the time.

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IMO, networking is less about "who you know" and more about "who knows you".

I can't be bothered to find it atm, but some years ago I saw a forum post written by Laura Shigihara (Plants Vs. Zombies composer) where she said that the trouble with networking is that it causes you to see people as a means to an end and most people can pick up on that. Meeting people means little to them; your work is what matters.

So the takeaway from her post was essentially that word of mouth is more important than actually meeting people after a pretty short while. Every successful composer out there who is repeatedly scoring worthwhile games, films and TV shows doesn't actually have to go to every developer conference and stuff. What happens is that they meet enough people in local scenes so that everyone knows "he/she is the composer" and if they do a project and it (or at least the music) turns some heads, because those are the heads who may call them when they're looking for a composer for their project. Do well enough and maybe an agency who frequently works with big names in entertainment will pick you up.

I learned it myself: I only had to attend nearby conferences and such a few times before all the regulars knew me as "the music guy" and if they're interested in having me do something, they'll call and if they like what I do they'll hopefully tell their friends. The same goes with referrals from other musicians and sound people.

The lesson to be learned here is that networking is important for getting your foot in the door, but once you do...do the best fucking job you can, because it's important that people notice.

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